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Gov. Jay Inslee signs fix to amend, clarify I-940

(AP)

Governor Inslee signed the first bill of this Legislative session Monday afternoon — HB 1064 — which makes several fixes to I-940, the police accountability measure passed by voters in November.

RELATED: Bellevue police chief on I-940

Getting the bill to the governor’s desk has been a long hard fought battle. It all started back in 2016, when a joint legislative task force recommended changes to the state’s law regarding deadly use of force by police.

Specifically, the task force recommended removing both the “good faith” standard, and the more controversial requirement to prove an officer acted with “malice” in order to prosecute cops for unjustified shootings.

That standard was deemed by many to be one of the highest bars in the country.

Those recommendations turned into a bill in the 2017 Legislative session from Democratic Senator David Frockt that ultimately failed, largely due to push back from those in law enforcement.

Frockt warned at the time the bill’s failure would lead to a citizen’s initiative, which it eventually did.

A group of community members — including family members of those killed by police — came together to form De-Escalate Washington, starting a grassroots effort to get an initiative to the ballot.

The group gathered well over the necessary signatures for I-940, an initiative to the Legislature that lawmakers took up last session.

Law enforcement groups had concerns with some of the language, and negotiated for months with De-Escalate Washington, lawmakers, and others to clarify the language in the bill.

This in turn led to a separate bill all sides agreed to by all sides, HB 3003. It also included the support of many law enforcement groups.

The agreement was celebrated by all involved in the negotiations. The Legislature passed I-940, and the clarifying bill, HB 3003, to make the agreed upon changes to 940 as soon as it took effect.

But, that ran afoul to the state Constitution, which only allowed the Legislature to approve I-940 as is, do nothing, and send it to the ballot. The either option was to amend it, in which case both I-940 and the amending bill – HB 3003 – would have gone on the ballot.

The process the Legislature used did not pass constitutional muster with the state Supreme Court, which shot down the clarifying bill and sent only I-940 to the ballot. It passed overwhelmingly in November.

All sides, including the I-940 backers, had promised to make fixing the bill the top priority for 2019’s Legislative session.

However, once I-940 was passed as is by voters, some had doubts there would still be enough residual support to make the changes.

But that’s exactly what happened, and within the first few weeks of the legislative session all sides once again came together to support the amending bill – now in the form of HB 1064 but identical to the version from last year.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate passed it unanimously as promised, and Gov. Jay Inslee signed it into law Monday afternoon.

“It’s really a credit to the law enforcement and the community groups who figured out a way to come together,” Senator Frockt said.

The bill tightens up the language on the good faith standard for use of deadly force, clarifies independent investigation requirements, and makes it clear that cops can secure the scene and ensure public safety before rendering first aid to someone they’ve used deadly force on.

RELATED: Bill to clarify I-940 takes huge step forward

From the House floor last month, Republican Representative Morgan Irwin — who is also a Seattle Police Officer — noted that not everyone in law enforcement backs the bill, including his union, the Seattle Police Guild. He did still vote in favor of it, though.

Irwin spoke on the bill after its passing

And the reason why is because we worked together and we came up with a deal; a deal that both sides said that they would adhere to and a deal that said that they would be here to try and make Washington work better than it does. When you have a deal it’s very important that you live up to your side of it. So this is a tough one for me but I am voting for it.

Democratic Rep. Roger Goodman — who led the negotiations to get to the clarifying bill — said from the floor that it could not have happened without both sides listening to each other with empathy and understanding.

Understanding that our law enforcement have a really tough job — they say goodbye to their loved ones in the morning not knowing whether they’re actually going to come home alive at the end of the day. And for many in vulnerable, unrepresented communities, a greater understanding of what it feels like not to get the respect they deserve, and to feel like they’re getting shot at. Members of those communities, they don’t just say ‘see ya later,’ they look each other in the eye, shake hands, and say ‘be safe.’

Lawmakers involved in the effort hoped the collaboration would be the example for how to get things done from here to Washington, D.C., and help rebuild trust between law enforcement and communities of color.

“Let this measure and the collaborative process that led to it be a beacon to the nation, that we can protect the safety of our communities and also respect the individual liberties of everyone in the communities and respect and enhance civil rights,” Goodman said.

Most law enforcement groups, including the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, respectfully opposed I-940 but strongly support the clarifying bill many of them helped craft.

However some police unions oppose both measures, including The Council of Metropolitan Police and Sheriff’s, which warned in a statement the new law would still put cops in an unsafe position.

The group issued a statement on its position.

Just like I-940, HB 1064 is just as detrimental to communities across Washington State, as both forge a clear path to politically prosecute Public Safety Officers for doing their job. The ill-defined deadly force “good faith” language within HB 1064 is untested.

It is intentionally crafted for people to believe that an officer could not be prosecuted if a reasonable officer would have believed that the involved officers’ actions were reasonable.

HB 1064 will lead to a breakdown in Public Safety, as officers will hesitate in fear of being politically prosecuted for unfortunately making that human split second difficult decision of using deadly force.

At this point, it appears that ship has sailed, with the majority of law enforcement groups in the state, initiative backers, lawmakers, and the governor all supporting HB 1064.

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