By Brian Everstine Associated Press
OLYMPIA The state Senate on Thursday unanimously approved a proposed state constitutional amendment giving judges more power to deny bail, a change spurred by the November deaths of four police officers who were gunned down during a coffee break.
The measure would let judges deny bail if a suspect is charged with a crime carrying a possible life sentence and, based on evidence, is considered a danger to the community.
The Senate and House have been debating how far to go in denying bail for most of this years legislative session. But this week, representatives from both chambers met with Gov. Chris Gregoire to craft a version that could win broad support.
Weve gone a long ways, said Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, the amendments chief sponsor. We got what we need.
The four Lakewood officers who inspired the legal change were killed in November as they sat at a coffee shop in a suburb of Tacoma. The suspect in the case, Maurice Clemmons, had been released on bail less than a week before the shooting.
Clemmons escaped the shooting scene, launching a massive police manhunt. He was shot and killed several days later by a Seattle police officer.
When the Legislature convened in January, relatives of the slain officers and law enforcement officials met with lawmakers to urge action in response to the shooting. Since then, several versions of the proposed constitutional amendment have circulated the Capitol.
This is an example of how the Legislature is supposed to act, said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Adam Kline, D-Seattle. We reached across the aisle, we spoke with the governor, we spoke with our colleagues in the other body. … I cant think of a better reason to be in this body than what we are doing now.
Civil liberties advocates had worried the changes would go too far in stripping away constitutional bail rights, particularly if lawmakers rushed in reaction to a major crime. But on Thursday, legislators said they had found a reasonable solution.
What we did was the necessary, Kline said. What we avoided was the over-reaction.
The proposal now heads to the state House, but will have to be upheld by voters in the fall to actually take effect.
We could not leave the session without this, said Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw. This is the most important piece of criminal justice legislation in decades.