Police pursuits and drug decriminalization are top issues in Olympia this season
The following e-newsletter was sent to Sen. Shelly Short’s subscribers March 13, 2023. To subscribe to Sen. Short’s e-newsletters, click here.
Dear friends and neighbors,
We’ve just finished an avalanche of business in Olympia. We’ve passed 280 bills in the Senate, most of them in the last two weeks. I’ve been in the thick of it, as Republican floor leader in the Senate.
Now we have a chance to breathe for a moment, before we start on the 331 bills the House passed and sent over to us. Let me tell you about some of the key issues so far in our 2023 session.
Sen. Shelly Short, 7th Legislative District
Police and drugs are top debates
Law enforcement is the issue in our two biggest debates this year. One is restoring police pursuits, and the other is recriminalizing drug possession.
Two years ago, legislative Democrats went too far in weakening the hand of law enforcement. Today our state faces an absolute disaster, and I think most legislators in both parties recognize it.
On police pursuit, law enforcement officers are now prohibited in most cases from chasing suspects even when they have “reasonable suspicion” that a crime has been committed. Crime has gone through the roof – vehicle theft is up 50 percent – and police across the state tell us criminals are simply speeding away when they see red-and-blue flashers, knowing police can’t follow them.
We’ve even had some fatalities as a result. In a tragic case in Sunnyside two weeks ago, police couldn’t chase a reckless driver, and were prevented by law from stopping a head-on collision. Two young children were killed.
On hard-drug possession, we barely have any penalties at all. Drug use is a major factor in the rise of the homeless encampments we see in our major cities. The state Department of Health came out with new figures last week – drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death in this state for people under age 60, bigger even than cancer.
Half-steps toward progress
If we are going to end this crisis, law enforcement needs its tools back. Most legislators understand this. But our friends from Seattle are having huge fights on their side of the aisle. Several are convinced law enforcement is a bigger problem than crime and drugs. Others came up with a couple of weak proposals — the strongest their team could accept, They asked for our votes, because without our help nothing could pass. It was a tough call. This is how things work in the Legislature.
Our team provided the votes that were needed, but only enough to get the bills over to the House.
The pursuit bill (SB 5352) offers only a partial restoration of the rules police need to keep our communities safe. It does not restore pursuits for reckless driving, stolen vehicles or other non-violent offenses. The drug bill (SB 5536) turns possession of drugs like heroin and fentanyl into a gross misdemeanor, and if addicts fail to respond to treatment, eventually they may do jail time.
I voted no on both of these bills, yet remain hopeful these bills can be strengthened in the six weeks that remain to us before adjournment.
One of our biggest debates was on Senate Bill 5599, a measure that interferes with family relationships by allowing teenagers to stay in shelters or “host homes” without notifying parents, if they are seeking gender affirming care or treatment. Imagine the anguish of parents who do not know why their child has disappeared. I was among many who spoke out against this bill. Unfortunately, it passed the Senate 27-19.
Growth management reform
State land use regulations are one of the biggest reasons for the affordable housing shortage we are seeing across Washington. The Growth Management Act, our state’s land-use law, is a particular frustration to many of us who live in our state’s wide-open spaces. Designed for our state’s fast-growing urban regions, in areas like ours Growth Management is a square peg in a round hole.
I am pleased to report that two bills that would have massively expanded the reach of this law were defeated in the Senate. SB 5651 would have added race and “environmental justice” as issues that must be addressed in land-use decisions. SB 5203 would have done the same with climate change. These bills would have become magnets for litigation and administrative appeals. Issues like these are entirely subjective, and we might think of them as bills to give government power to do anything it wants. Unfortunately, another version of the climate-change bill passed the House, and we may have to deal with it after all.
On the other hand, we did experience two successes. I passed two bills in the Senate that enact modest reforms recommended by a legislative task force, reducing planning burdens on small cities. Senate Bill 5374 allows them to adopt county critical area ordinances, rather than conducting inventories of their own of wetlands and other critical areas. Senate Bill 5457 reduces the frequency of planning updates for slow-growing cities. These bills await consideration in the House.
Health benefit managers
Another big concern for me is the effect of health benefit management entities on patient access to local providers and increased costs, especially in the area of prescription drugs. Initially, these entities were used by health insurers to administer plan benefits. Over time, these entities have gained tremendous control over patient healthcare decisions. Unfortunately, where pharmacies are concerned, they frequently steer business to mail order firms or chains with which they have business relationships. This harms local pharmacies and your access to providers you trust, and it is a big problem in the smaller towns of our part of the state. I introduced Senate Bill 5066, which passed the Senate, requiring health benefit managers to disclose business relationships to the Office of Insurance Commissioner. Unfortunately, a bipartisan bill I cosponsored, SB 5213, did not succeed. That bill would have regulated the way pharmacy benefit managers do business, increased transparency for patient costs, and protected your access to your trusted local providers. Stay tuned on this issue – we are far from done.
And a few more
Here are a few other bills I introduced that made it through the Senate and await action in the House:
Senate Bill 5065 encourages school districts to educate high school students about the importance of bone-marrow donation programs, and the ways in which they can become donors when older.
Senate Bill 5145 clarifies liability issues when you are boating, swimming or fishing near federally licensed dams.
Senate Bill 5306 launches roadside inspection stations by the Department of Fish and Wildlife during hunting season, for hunters wishing to have game inspected for animal diseases.
Mailing address: P.O. Box 40407/ Olympia, WA/ 98504
Website address: https://shellyshort.src.wastateleg.org/
Legislative Hotline: 1 (800) 562-6000