Police officers’ slayings get state Senate to debate constitutional amendment

OLYMPIA — The state Senate on Thursday endorsed a package of legal changes, including a proposed constitutional amendment, in response to last fall’s slaying of four Lakewood police officers.

The proposed amendment, which was approved 43-4, would allow judges to deny bail for people charged with crimes that carry a mandatory sentence of life without parole. The Legislature would set standards for judges to consult in such cases.

At present, the constitution only permits judges to deny bail for people charged with capital murder.

The shooter in the Lakewood case, Maurice Clemmons, had posted bail less than a week before the Nov. 29 slayings on an arrest for child rape, which could have brought a life sentence because of his previous felony criminal record. Clemmons eluded police for days, but was shot and killed by an officer in Seattle after a massive manhunt.

“That is what we’re getting at, the worst of the worst,” said Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, a sponsor of the measure.

Gov. Chris Gregoire convened a task force of the state’s law enforcement community to examine potential law changes after Lakewood police Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards were killed in November.

Family members and law enforcement officials spoke at the beginning of session, urging lawmakers to act.

Critics of the constitutional amendment have said the state could be moving too fast by changing the constitution in response to a single crime. But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said legislators are taking a thoughtful approach.

“We don’t take this job lightly, amending the state constitution,” Kline said.

Legislators aren’t finished debating the constitutional amendment. The House approved a different version last week, and the final approach that lawmakers settle on will also have to be approved by voters in November.

“We’re going to come up with a good amendment to present to the people, and I’m convinced that they’ll approve it,” Carrell said.

Other bills approved Thursday night included plans to strengthen the punishment for aiding a criminal and for assaulting a police or community corrections officer. Senators also voted to create a task force to review the state’s bail system.

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