We’re eyeing potential legislation in our state and beyond, examining police reform rollbacks, and celebrating a win for free speech lovers
There has been lots of hot legislative action in the last week or so, so we thought we’d go around the horn and give some updates from Washington, Idaho, and DC.
The race is on for fledgling bills to become full-grown Washington State laws! Our state’s legislative year started in mid-January, and since 2022 is an even-numbered year, it means lawmakers are currently powering through a “short” 60-day legislative session. (In odd-number years, our legislators start with a “long” 105-day session. There’s a whole two-year cycle.) They have ‘til March 10th to hammer out bill details. But like sea turtle hatchlings inching toward the ocean, not all bills will make it. Here are some we’re watching.
For more info on Washington State’s 2022 legislative session, check out RANGE’s podcast episode Mr. Billig Goes to (Olympia) Washington with Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig of Spokane.
“Concerning access to psilocybin services by individuals 21 years of age and older.”
Sponsored by: Sen. Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline
What It Would Do: Allow adults 21 and up to receive therapeutic use of psilocybin, the active compound in “magic mushrooms.” Multiple scientific studies have revealed psilocybin’s potential to alleviate certain behavioral health disorders and end-of-life suffering. This bill would let WA residents receive treatments at “safe, legal, and affordable psilocybin service centers” and establish licensed growers and producers of psilocybin, to be overseen by the department of agriculture and the liquor and cannabis board.
What It Wouldn’t Do: While approving therapeutic use of psilocybin is a progressive step in destigmatizing promising mental health solutions, the bill wouldn’t decriminalize personal use and possession of psychedelic mushrooms. Nor would the bill vacate charges of incarcerated people serving time for psilocybin-related charges. As-is, SB 5660 sounds more akin to a ketamine treatment center model. We hope this bill is a step toward real decriminalization.
“Relating to responding to extreme weather events”
Sponsored by: Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place
What It Would Do: Deadly, extreme weather events caused by the global climate crisis aren’t stopping anytime soon. In response to that reality, HB 1620 would create and implement a “grant program for the purpose of assisting political subdivisions and federally recognized tribes with the costs of responding to community needs during periods of extremely hot or cold weather” or wildfire smoke. Leavitt told Hallie Golden at The Guardian: “The grants would be flexible to accommodate each area’s distinct needs, but could be used for such things as adding additional cooling shelters and HVAC systems, or even simply providing more fans and water for those in need.”
“Relating to the creation of an endangered missing person advisory designation for missing indigenous persons”
Sponsored by: Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow (District 40)
What It Would Do: The bill would create a statewide emergency communications alert system — much like existing Amber and Silver Alerts — to better notify the public when a Native American person goes missing. HB 1725 is designed “to compensate for the unique challenges that indigenous communities face accessing media coverage and the ability to share information” by, among other actions, having Washington State Patrol maintain a clearinghouse and missing persons hotline. It also aims to strengthen information-sharing links among media, schools, state government, tribes, and even social media pages.
Read more about the bill from Luna Reyna at Crosscut here.
The “Secure Election Act”
Sponsored by: Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, and Sen. Regina Bayer, R-Meridian (Idaho)
What It Would Do: HB 549 is a voter identification bill that would essentially make it more difficult to prove a voter’s identity without a state-issued identification card. This bill would make it so Idahoans would be able to use a concealed weapons permit as valid identification, but not a student ID card. It would also eliminate same-day voter registration at the polls in Idaho and make it so voters won’t be able to sign an affidavit verifying their identity on Election Day.
This bill would also make provisional ballots harder to get counted, making voters who can’t show proper ID at the polls go to the county clerk’s office within 10 days or else their ballot would be discarded.
The “anti-‘ballot-harvesting’ bill”
Sponsored by: House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star (Idaho)
What It Would Do: This is a resurrection of the anti-ballot-harvesting bill from 2021 and makes it illegal to collect and turn in an absentee ballot for someone who is not in your household. The bill exempts relatives of the voter, election officials and mail carriers, but not neighbors, co-workers or friends. It also makes it a felony to turn in more than 10 other people’s ballots.
The issue of ballot-harvesting more recently became a hot-button topic with the voter fraud claims of the 2020 election. Each state has varying laws on the third-party collection of ballots, but some experts say the option helps citizens participate in democracy.
Read more about these bills from Clark Corbin at the Idaho Capital Sun here.
Short for “Law Enforcement Officers Preventing (Drug) Abuse Related Deaths” Act
Sponsored by: Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA)
What It Would Do: Usually my hackles of suspicion go all the way up when lawmakers propose giving police “more tools,” but this bill by Dan Newhouse actually seems helpful? The LEOPARD Act would allow law enforcement officers to purchase and administer Narcan (naloxone) in drug overdose emergencies in order to prevent opioid-related deaths. Newhouse’s bill specifically directs half of grant funding toward officers in rural communities.
PREVENT Pandemics Act
Sponsored by: Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. and Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC
What It Would Do: The Prepare for and Respond to Existing Viruses, Emerging New Threats, and Pandemics Act (PREVENT Pandemics Act) (Did we really need to make this an acronym?) is still in draft form, but is supposed to create an independent task force to look at what public health officials at every level did right and wrong in the Covid-19 pandemic. It would also include steps to improve coordination between health agencies and stockpile supplies of medical equipment. The bill would also require that the CDC Director be confirmed by the Senate to “ensure the CDC’s accountability and leadership.”
Read more from Orion Donovan-Smith at The Spokesman-Review here.
And finally, back to Washington for some …
POLICE REFORM ROLLBACKS!
The moment the law enforcement reforms from the last legislative session went into effect in Washington — and, let’s be real, long before anyone knew whether the reforms were working or not — the backlash from cops was fierce. In the midst of that pressure, the legislature is taking another look, and seems likely to roll the reforms back, over the cries of reformers and despite an ACLU analysis that tied a 62% decline in police killings to the legislation.
We had the author of that study, Enoka Herat, on RANGE in September for a primer on the laws now under scrutiny. It’s complex stuff and the conversation really helps.
There’s a lot under consideration, including bills that would actually tighten restrictions and others that opponents say would roll back many of these brand new protections. Rich Smith of the Stranger has a good rundown from a pro-reform perspective on what all these bills would do and where they are in the process.
It’s basically all bad news for reformers. To quote Smith:
…more substantive measures to reduce police brutality look dead on the vine. A bill allowing people to sue cops for violating civil rights (i.e. ending qualified immunity) died this week, as did a bill to give the Attorney General's Office more freedom to investigate and prosecute cops who kill.
Senate Bill 5919 more clearly delineates the force that is allowable during short investigative stops (known as Terry stops) and lowers the legal threshold for traffic pursuits from “probable cause” to “reasonable suspicion.”
Enoka Herat called the bill "a dangerous step backward," but it passed the Senate easily Wednesday night, 31-18, including a yea vote from Spokane’s Andy Billig.
A companion bill in the house, HB 2037, is still in committee. It has greater limitations on Terry stops than 5919, but the definition of use of force is the same.
There’s still time in the process to make your voice known. As always, Spokane nonprofit PJALS (Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane) makes it easy to contact your specific legislators directly about each individual bill.
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SELAH SETTLES FREE-SPEECH LAWSUIT
In the thick of 2020’s nationwide racial reckoning sparked by the murder of George Floyd, the Central WA city of Selah — population about 8,000 — suddenly became a battleground for free speech.
City officials admitted to removing yard signs that bore phrases like “Black Lives Matter” and “Hate has no place in Selah.” City employees also hosed away temporary sidewalk chalk art with anti-racist messaging — mostly drawn by kids — calling it “graffiti.”
A group of about 700 residents from Selah and neighboring Yakima formed SAFE (Selah Alliance for Equality) and raised funds for more signs, including a design calling to “Fire Donald Wayman,” the now former Selah City Administrator partly responsible — along with Selah Mayor Sherry Raymond — for the sign-and-chalk-art removal. Wayman, a retired Marine, called Black Lives Matter “a neo-Marxist organization” and said, “Their slogans are based on falsehood.” He criticized racial justice marches in the Yakima Valley and even encouraged private citizens to destroy SAFE’s signs.
The conflict made national news, drawing coverage from The New York Times and Newsweek. In 2020, SAFE filed a federal lawsuit against Selah officials over the censorship. Emily Goodell of KAPP/KVEW News reported:
“The lawsuit argues the law is unconstitutional because it regulates signs based on their content. Additionally, the lawsuit argues city officials enforced the law in a selective, unconstitutional way, targeting SAFE signs for removal while leaving up other signs ‘illegal’ under the city code.”
Two years later, SAFE and Selah have now reached a settlement that involves more than just monetary damages. SAFE will receive $300,000.
And the City of Selah? Well, they’ll have to:
“Create and pay for a mural…up to $25,000” and “issue a proclamation warning residents and visitors not to tamper with signage” as well as “abstain from selective sign enforcement” themselves.
There’s also a directive to add the name “Chief Owhi Park” to Selah’s existing Volunteer Park sign, to honor the historical Yakama figure. However, Yakama Tribal member and lawyer Jack Fiander (who happens to be Owhi’s great-great-great-great grandson) filed an objection, saying that while he believes SAFE members had good intentions, “They’re negotiating something about us and we’re not involved.”
In addition, the city must provide staff diversity-and-inclusion training plus “implement a plan for increasing diversity in the city’s job applicant pool by posting employment opportunities on websites that target job seekers of color and underrepresented minorities.”
Finally, Selah will “revise the standards of decorum to allow residents to criticize the official actions of city officials and staff during the public comment period at city council sessions.” If you’re surprised that last freedom wasn’t previously allowed, you’re not alone.
Despite Selah officials’ attempts to quash free speech, this time the people’s right to be heard prevailed.
GOOD NEWS, AS A TREAT
Spokanite Briann January signs with Seattle Storm
We get happy tears when we see Spokane athletes succeeding and representing. Former Lewis and Clark High School star Briann January signed a one-year deal with the Storm last week for her final season with the WNBA. The 35-year-old point guard is planning to retire after her 14th season.
Read more here.
RANGE had not one, but TWO pieces of original reporting this week. Grab a cup of coffee (or a handle of whiskey, depending on your emotional needs) and be sure to read them over the weekend.
- The Man of No Mandates: Even before his censure last Monday, freshman City Council member Jonathan Bingle was preparing his next battlefield: bringing a resolution preemptively condemning vaccine mandates.
- The Grift of Gab: Far-right Comic and “Holistic Coach” JP Sears Left a Wake of Concerns After His November Shows at Spokane Comedy Club.