OLYMPIA – Legislation to toughen punishment of juvenile and adult auto thieves has passed the House of Representatives.
Rep. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, is the prime sponsor of House Bill 1001, which passed on an 80-16 vote Tuesday night and is now in the Senate awaiting consideration.
The 30-page bill would make stealing a vehicle of any value a first-degree theft and would make it a crime to possess tools used to break into cars.
The bill also would send repeat adult offenders to state prison by their third conviction for auto theft; it can now take up to seven convictions.
And it increases punishment of juveniles convicted of auto theft. The bill mandates a minimum five days of home detention and a fine on a first conviction with longer sentences for subsequent convictions.
“I know this is tough legislation. But it is also smart legislation,” Lovick said during the House debate on the bill. “I can guarantee you that the auto theft rate in the state will go down.”
More than 100 vehicles are reported stolen each day in the state, according to the Washington State Patrol.
Lovick introduced the bill at the start of this year’s session and fully expected smooth sailing since 55 legislators signed on as co-sponsors. Yet it stalled for days as Democrats debated amongst themselves on the bill’s treatment of juveniles.
On Tuesday, all 16 dissenting votes were cast by Democrats. Among them were Brian Sullivan of Mukilteo, John McCoy of Tulalip, Ruth Kagi of Lake Forest Park, Maralyn Chase of Edmonds and Mary Helen Roberts of Lynnwood.
Attempts were made Tuesday to axe or modify the sections of the bill dealing with juveniles so there would not be mandatory detention or lock-up of convicted offenders. Those efforts failed.
Roberts said when the Legislature began its work in January she intended to help combat auto theft and would support the bill if it focused only on adults.
The state’s justice system for juveniles is successful in reducing recidivism among youth offenders, she said. This bill would undermine that work, she said.
Following the vote, Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said getting repeat offenders locked up sooner and longer is a key element. He said juveniles carry out a large percentage of the crimes and need to see there are consequences.
“People are upset with what they see as a revolving door policy for thieves and that these guys are getting their pinkies slapped,” he said.
“This will guarantee that the real bad people are going to be behind bars.”
Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or email@example.com.