Initiative to repeal police pursuit restrictions certified, ballot likely next

Jan 12, 2024, 5:18 PM

Photo: Seattle Mayor Harrell has decided to conduct an outside investigation of SPD....

Seattle Mayor Harrell has decided to conduct an outside investigation of SPD. (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

If state lawmakers don’t take action on the rules for police chases, voters likely will.

On Thursday, the Washington secretary of state’s office certified Initiative No. 2113 (I-2113), confirming it has at least 324,516 verified signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot. It is one of six measures spearheaded by the political action group Let’s Go Washington and its founder Brian Heywood, a hedge fund manager and a significant Republican donor.

The initiative promises to “restore the authority of a peace officer to engage” and chase suspects when there is reasonable suspicion a person has violated the law.

Law enforcement news: Initiative to ‘restore’ police pursuits in Wash. gains enough signatures for Nov. ballot

If passed, it would fully repeal the law passed by the legislature in 2021, which increased the threshold for evidence required for a pursuit. Lawmakers altered the language last year to loosen the standards and allow police pursuits for a limited number of crimes, including violent offenses, sex offenses, escapes or DUIs. But many law enforcement communities — and elected officials — claim the changes didn’t go far enough.

“In my district, which has several cities in South King County and East Pierce County, every police chief and mayor I’ve talked to has asked for the rollback and a return to the status quo that existed before,” House Minority Leader Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn) said last week ahead of the start of the legislative session.

Some members of the Democratic majority, like Rep. David Hackney (D-Tukwila), agreed.

“Right now, I’m told by the police chiefs in Renton and Tukwila that drivers just don’t stop when police turn on the lights,” Hackney said. “They recognize they will not be pursued.”

Let’s Go Washington has previously cited Seattle Police Crime Dashboard data and highlighted a 42% rise in car thefts in Seattle since 2021, attributing the rise to the police pursuit law.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU) campaigned against the initiative, and the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability opposes I-2113. The organization said the current law “is not broken” and it worries the initiative would increase risk for bystanders in police chases.

What happens next for I-2113: Olympia gets it

Now that the initiative is certified, it heads to Olympia where lawmakers have a chance to consider it. But despite the growing calls from both Democrats and Republicans to take a second look at the restrictions, Democratic House Speaker Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) said this week she does not expect changes to materialize during this session.

The main reason is if I-2113 passes, it would repeal the entire existing law, overruling any changes lawmakers try to make, according to Jinkins.

“It makes it hard for us to do work on (the law) this year unless it’s an alternative, which might be considered,” Jinkins said this week.

Lawmakers have two choices: They can choose to pass the initiative exactly as written, with no changes. If they do, it will become law more quickly than if it went to the November ballot. If lawmakers decline to pass it or take no action on it, then the initiative will almost certainly be put before voters in November.

The legislature does have the option to create their own alternative measure which would then appear on the ballot alongside Initiative No. 2113. Jinkins acknowledged that possibility, but also said they probably will look in other directions.

“I think what we are likely to focus on is making sure that we continue to grow the number of police officers in Washington,” Jinkins said.

She also said that some local communities, including Tacoma in her district, already have policies in place that are even more restrictive than the state law.

More on the Let’s Go Washington initiatives

Jinkins also said she’s disappointed these six initiatives are being pushed through by people like Heywood, who she called “an ultra-wealthy multimillionaire, buying his way onto the ballot and putting initiatives on the ballot that are going to benefit his ultra-wealthy status.”

In addition to I-2113, Let’s Go Washington is focused on I-2117 (“Stop the hidden gas tax”), I-2124 (“Opt out of state-run long term care coverage act”), I-2109 (“Repeal the capital gains tax”), I-2111 (“No state income tax”) and I-2081 (“Parental notification — Parents have the right to know”).

But her colleagues, including Rep. Stokesbary, pointed out the initiatives all appear to have received more than 400,000 voter signatures, though some are still awaiting official certification.

More from Kate Stone: Wash. voters sound off on biggest priorities for new legislative session

“A very small number of (these voters) have any meaningful financial gain, they just want to do what they think is best for the people of Washington,” Stokesbary said. “They want more choices and feel like they’re dissatisfied with some of the policies that have come out of Olympia.”

Senate Minority Leader John Braun (R-Centralia) agreed, saying the initiatives deserve to be a priority during the 60-day session.

“We’re going to get some of them, and we ought to be focused on them right away,” Braun said, acknowledging that some of the six might not be certified in time for the House and Senate to consider them.

You can read more of Kate Stone’s stories here. Follow Kate on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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Initiative to repeal police pursuit restrictions certified, ballot likely next