A critical moment in policing reform; nurse staffing debate

Here’s what’s happening on Day 45 of the 2022 session of the Washington Legislature.

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2022 Washington Legislature, Day 45 of 60

Everett Herald political reporter Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com | @dospueblos

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OLYMPIA, Feb.23 — It’s Wednesday and stress levels are rising.

That’s because Thursday is the cut-off for policy committees to advance bills.

It will be a critical moment in the debate on whether policing reforms passed last year went too far.

The House Public Safety Committee is wrestling with Senate Bill 5919, which would revise the rules of engagement for vehicle pursuits. As proposed, officers could engage in a pursuit when there is “reasonable suspicion” a person in the vehicle has committed or is committing a violent offense.” Current law requires “probable cause,” which is a higher bar.

The Senate Law and Justice Committee is considering House Bill 2037 to revise definitions and standards for physical and deadly force. A key change would retool existing law to permit the use of force, if necessary, to detain someone as part of an investigation.

Cops contend they’ve been handcuffed by the 2021 laws. They argue the bills make needed clarifications to ensure potential suspects don’t walk or drive away from officers who believe they lack probable cause to stop them.

Families of people killed by officers and police accountability activists — whose voices drove last year’s changes — argue the opposite. These are not clarifications but a rollback of policies that have reduced violent interactions with law enforcement, they say.

To this point, each bill has advanced with bipartisan support and opposition. How committee votes pan out Thursday will be interesting to see.

Dire warning

The Washington State Hospital Association warned Wednesday that passage of House Bill 1868, prescribing nurse staffing ratios, will make permanent the kind of delays in care experienced throughout the pandemic. Leaders contend rural hospitals may even have to cut services, like obstetrics.

Nurses in particular and organized labor in general argue —and Democrats are listening — that hospitals can afford to staff up but choose not to. This bill will push them in that direction, they contend.

The legislation is queued up for a vote in the Senate labor committee early Thursday. The association would like to keep it bottled up. Failing that, this latest missive seems timed to put pressure on moderates in the Senate Democratic Caucus who could keep it from reaching the floor.

The lucky six

One of two Senate galleries reopens to the public Friday. Up to six people will be allowed into the north gallery — with proof of a negative COVID-19 test. That proof will come via a self-administered test (think home test), which visitors will be provided on-site, no charge. The other gallery is reserved for the press.

One other thing: Weapons are banned. Visitors must go through a security portal for admission.

Meanwhile, starting today, 27 House members will be allowed on the chamber floor. The maximum had been 20 the past two weeks. No word on whether the public will be allowed into either of the House galleries before sine die on March 10.

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