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Washington state lawmakers consider police pursuit and parents’ rights initiatives

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Two conservative-backed initiatives that would give police greater ability to pursue people in vehicles and declare a series of rights for parents of public-school students were considered by Washington state lawmakers Wednesday in back-to-back hearings that occasionally became heated.

These initiatives are just two of six certified after a conservative group submitted hundreds of thousands of signatures in support of them. The Legislature has considered three this week, while initiatives to overturn the state’s landmark carbon pricing program and tax on the sale of stocks and bonds will likely head straight to voters.

The police pursuit initiative would mean law enforcement officers would no longer need reasonable suspicion that a person inside a vehicle has committed such crimes as a violent offense, sex offense or domestic violence assault to initiate pursuit. Instead, it broadens the requirement, saying responsible suspicion that “a person has violated the law” would be enough.

“We are at a critical point in this state’s history and the public safety of the people of this state,” Republican Rep. Jim Walsh, who filed both initiatives heard Wednesday with the secretary of state, said during the hearing. “Initiative 2113 takes a very narrow touch to do the one thing, the single action we can take, to most effectively fight crime in Washington state.”

The rules in the initiative would be base requirements, with individual agencies able to institute more rigorous pursuit standards.

The proposed change comes three years after the state enacted a controversial pursuit policy at the height of racial injustice protests following George Floyd’s murder that toughened requirements for officer pursuit by requiring probable cause. In 2023, this was rolled back through a new law stating that police just need reasonable suspicion that a person inside a vehicle has committed or is committing certain crimes.

Historically in the state, police have been authorized to use force to briefly detain someone if they have reasonable suspicion that someone might be involved in a crime. Probable cause, however, is based on evidence that the person committed the crime and is considered a higher standard.

Geoffrey Alpert, researcher at the University of South Carolina specializing in high-risk police activities, said during the hearing that he used to support police pursuits, but has changed his mind after examining the numbers.

“If all you’ve got to do is enforce laws, chase everyone. Do what they did in the ’80s. Chase them until their wheels fall off. But the carnage on the roadways is going to be horrible,” he said.

Alpert chaired the working group that produced a report in September by the Police Executive Research Forum, a national think tank on policing standards, that called for police not to start a pursuit unless a violent crime has been committed and the suspect poses an imminent threat.

Washington’s other initiative would give parents of public-school students 15 specific rights, including to examine textbooks and curriculum in their child’s classroom, be notified of any changes to the school’s calendar and inspect their child’s public school records. They would also have the right to be notified and opt out of any assignments or activities that include questions about such things as their child’s sexual attractions or their family’s religion or political party.

Many of these rights are already current law, Democratic Sen. Lisa Wellman said during the hearing. This initiative would simply help parents better understand their rights.

“It’s confusing to understand the full scope of parental rights that already exist because they’re not easily accessible or published in one space,” she said.

But others brought up their concerns with the initiative’s broad language that some described as unclear.

“The overly broad and vague language of the initiative may create a chilling effect that poses a safety risk to youth,” said Erin Lovell, executive director of the Legal Counsel for Youth and Children, an organization in Washington. “Youth who need support outside of the home may stop confiding in and asking school staff for help fearing a report back and retaliation at home.”

If the initiatives the Legislature is considering are not adopted, they will head to the November ballot. The Legislature also has the opportunity to propose an alternative, which would then appear on the ballot as well.


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