Backers of vehicle pursuit law may hit a wall in the Senate

It is Day 10 in the Legislature. A wealth tax arrives and debate on lawmakers’ records continues

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112

2023 Washington Legislature, Day 10 of 105

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

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OLYMPIA, Jan. 18, 2023 — Good afternoon. Just like that, 10 percent of the 2023 session is gone.

So too might be a priority of many Democrats and pretty much every Republican. I’m talking about a rewriting of the state’s vehicle pursuit law.

Sen. Manka Dhingra made it clear Tuesday she’s not interested in retooling the language. At least not in ways now being proposed.

That’s a big deal because she is chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee through which any proposal must eventually pass.

“It is so politicized that I don’t believe the Legislature is the best body to now make changes on this,” she told reporters Tuesday.

A quick recap. Used to be cops could initiate a chase with “reasonable suspicion” if they believed a person in a vehicle had committed a crime. Now they need “probable cause” and a supervisor’s OK before launching a pursuit.

Concern that suspected wrongdoers are fleeing from those with a badge has incited mayors and law enforcement officials to pressure state lawmakers to reinstate the former language.

Bills to do that have been introduced with bipartisan support in the House and the Senate. Forty lawmakers have already signed onto the House version.

Dhingra said she’s not hearing the Senate bill and will wait to see what the House sends over.

“I think that language is problematic because it takes us backwards to a time when we had innocent people dying because they just happened to be at the wrong place the wrong time,” she said.

The Washington Coalition for Police Accountability said this week there’s been fewer deaths with the new standard: 11 in the year before the change and 3 after.

When lives of innocent people are saved “it is very hard” to change the policy, Dhingra said.

Taxing billionaires

A group of Democratic lawmakers will unveil their newest tax proposal at lunchtime Thursday. Dubbed a wealth tax, it takes aim at Washington residents with the deepest pockets.

It will “create a narrowly tailored property tax on extreme wealth derived from the ownership of stocks, bonds, and other financial assets,” according to a release. It will exempt the first $250 million of assessed value as well.

Similar bills will be introduced Thursday in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, and New York, the Washington Post reports.

When asked about the wealth tax earlier this week, Republican leaders said Democrats introducing new taxes is not very newsworthy.

To redact or not to redact

Lawmakers are learning what city, county and school leaders have known for awhile: Complying with the Public Records Act isn’t easy. There are no short cuts.

Roughly three years ago the state Supreme Court concluded legislators were not exempt from the law, clearing the way for their emails and other records to be made available for those who want to request them.

Then a few started asserting something called “legislative privilege” to block out stuff they didn’t want everyone to read. Shauna Sowersby of McClatchy got on this first and Joseph O’Sullivan of Crosscut has been digging into it deeply of late.

A court will decide if such constitutional protection exists. What’s clear is the process employed in the two chambers invited overuse. That process is changing.

Before, lawmakers would be told if material in a record might be covered by legislative privilege and asked if they wanted to assert it. If a week or so passed without a response, the silence was interpreted as a ‘yes’ to assert.

No more. Lawmakers must own it. If they are silent, material will get released. As O’Sullivan reported, previously redacted records are about to get unredacted as lawmakers look to erase the privilege that had been asserted in their name.

Stay tuned.

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