Editor’s note: Today’s editorials originally appeared in The Seattle Times and Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
Just last week, thousands of Washington citizens rose up and said no to the Legislature ramming through important, controversial legislation over a two-day period.
They successfully pushed Gov. Jay Inslee to veto Senate Bill 6617, a fast-tracked bill that would have allowed state lawmakers to skirt government transparency rules.
Yet just a few days later, state lawmakers appear to be falling back on old habits. Members of the public will have maybe 24 hours to review the final version of the state’s 2018 budget, which lawmakers negotiated behind closed doors and had yet to release Wednesday afternoon, one day before they were scheduled to adjourn.
This isn’t an unusual timeline for passing a final budget out of the Legislature. But that’s exactly the problem.
The legislative session ends Thursday, leaving little time for public input at this point. The final bill is expected to combine elements from earlier House and Senate budget proposals. Once the deal is already struck between the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, leaders will allow few, if any, amendments to the spending bill before lawmakers are expected to pass it and go home.
The secretive nature of the budget is already proving disastrous. Late Tuesday, Democrats introduced a new plan to divert $935 million in 2019 property-tax collections to an education fund, attempting to sidestep a requirement that they put most of that money in the state’s constitutionally protected rainy-day account. Normally, tapping this emergency fund would require a 60-percent majority vote, meaning several Republicans would have to agree. Naturally, GOP leaders objected to Democrats’ late-game maneuver that they said cuts them out of the process and could put the state on less stable financial footing going forward. State Treasurer Duane Davidson also raised an alarm.
This is an idea that should have been vetted in public. Yet it never received as much as a public hearing, contributing to a last-minute political meltdown that could have been avoided.
Last year, legislative leaders introduced and passed a two-year budget over the course of about 12 hours while rushing to avert a partial shutdown of state government.
That two-year spending plan involved a landmark overhaul of the state’s education system, a complicated and messy endeavor that many school districts later said created unforeseen consequences for their budgets.
This may be the way Washington’s government has often worked, but it shouldn’t be. Members of the public, along with businesses and state agencies, need time to digest complicated legislation and offer substantive feedback. This process of holding public hearings and debating bills at length helps avoid oversights that can lead to problems down the road.
If lawmakers have learned anything from this year’s public-records debacle and last year’s rushed budget, it should be that listening to the public is a key part of their job. They should take that lesson to heart and stop cutting citizens out of the process by leaving some of their most important work until the last minute.
Compromise on deadly force by police needed
When police officers, sheriff’s deputies or state troopers are confronted by armed suspects, their lives — and the lives of others — hinge on split-second decisions.
And that’s why laws have been adopted to give law-enforcement officers some protection from prosecution in deadly-force situations when mistakes are made. If police did not have this type of assurance, officers would be paralyzed in doing their duty.
But in Washington state, the law seems to be overly broad and thus makes it nearly impossible to prosecute an officer who clearly went too far. Some tweaks to the law are needed to insert reason.
Unfortunately, state lawmakers have failed to come to a compromise, which led to citizens taking it upon themselves to write a new law through the initiative process.
This move seems to have gotten lawmakers moving in the right directions in the final days of the current legislative session to avoid having the initiative on the ballot.
The Seattle Times reported compromise legislation now looks likely because community advocates and several law-enforcement groups are close to a deal that would usurp the initiative. This would be a welcome move.
While the initiative process is an important part of our political system, it should only be used as a last resort — when lawmakers aren’t following the will of the people. The give and take of the legislative process generally results in better laws than initiatives, which are written by special-interest groups that usually only look at one side of an issue.
The new proposal, House Bill 3003, was the subject of a public hearing in the House on Tuesday and will be heard in the Senate today.
Currently, a law-enforcement officer can’t be convicted of a crime for using deadly force if she or he acted in “good faith” and “without malice,” or what the law describes as “evil intent.”
“If we are able to enact this now ... we can avoid a contentious, adversarial fight on the ballot that would worsen relationships between police and the community,” said Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland.
Goodman said the proposed deal removes the word “malice” from the law as it applies to the use of deadly force. And it provides a new definition for “good faith” that community advocates and several law-enforcement groups have agreed to, he added.
“The ‘good-faith’ test will be much more workable under our clarifying bill,” Goodman said.
Officers need to have reasonable assurances they can do their jobs without being targeted for prosecution if they believed they had no alternative but to use deadly force.
Ultimately, this compromise has to make it clear to officers on the street or patrolling the roadways that we, as a society, trust their judgment to protect us and themselves.