As lawmakers reflect on the 2021 legislative session, it will certainly be remembered as the session of the COVID pandemic, the first to include mostly “virtual” committee meetings and floor debates. Processing federal stimulus dollars, debating the largest state budget ever, and pushing back on new tax proposals were all key moments of the session. Like most sessions, there were many bills approved that will benefit our state.
House Bill 1168, for example, takes a major step forward for state forest management and wildfire efforts. It establishes legislative intent to invest $500 million over the next eight years for wildfire response, forest restoration, and community wildfire resilience. This is welcomed news given our unfortunate history of devastating wildfires, especially now as our hearts go out to the Methow Valley residents struggling with the ongoing impacts of the Cedar Creek and Cub Creek fires or Wenatchee area residents shaken by the Red Apple Fire. Each day a wildfire burns, courageous first responders help to keep us safe and protect us. We are grateful.
Like our firefighters, our law enforcement officers also put their own lives at risk in their work to protect us. During this past session — with much of the public’s attention directed to school closures, federal stimulus measures, vaccine distribution, and tax increases — a series of sweeping police reform bills were passed and signed into law that could forever change our state’s law enforcement practices. Many of these bills were inspired by the tragic killing of George Floyd and the national focus on social justice. While I can certainly appreciate the spirit of these bills, I could not support such sweeping changes that could make our families less safe, put our courageous law enforcement officers at risk, or lead to numerous unintended consequences in communities across our state.
As our state senator, I want all people to be protected, including those suspected of committing crimes. Everyone should have access to a fair and honest law enforcement system, but these bills went way too far and have resulted in ambiguity and too many unanswered questions. We must all acknowledge that members of law enforcement— those tasked with keeping us safe — are engaged in a very dangerous job. No laws should force these brave men and women serving our communities to second — and third —guess themselves when addressing potentially fatal situations. These new laws create an unfair burden to our law enforcement community and, despite being approved as an effort to protect people, could actually make us all less safe.
A collection of police reform bills approved during the 2021 legislative session include House Bill 1054 (police tactics), House Bill 1310 (police use of force), Senate Bill 5051 (police oversight), Senate Bill 5066 (duty to intervene), and House Bill 1267 (independent investigations). I voted against all of these bills. Any single bill in the list represented significant changes for law enforcement. Given changing dynamics within the Legislature in recent years, all of the bills were approved by comfortable vote margins and signed into law by Governor Inslee.
The 12th District solidly supports law enforcement and the safety of our communities and officers, but with the same members of the legislature and the governor returning next year, it is unlikely that these laws will be repealed, either in a special or regular session. My hope is that the outreach meetings and community discussions occurring throughout the state will lead to requested changes to make these laws much more workable for law enforcement. If needed changes can be identified statewide, especially from western Washington’s law enforcement communities, hopefully the original Democratic sponsors of these reforms and others will agree that modifications need to be made. Statewide law enforcement organizations such as the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs should be consulted to help identify needed changes and clarifications. If there is enough statewide support, modifications can be made to any law, once lawmakers return to session.
Thank you to the courageous first responders who help keep us safe. Our community supports and appreciates you!
Brad Hawkins serves as the state senator for North Central Washington.