Note: The following e-newsletter was sent to Sen. Chris Gildon’s subscribers Feb. 15, 2023. To subscribe to Sen. Gildon’s e-newsletters, click here.
See your 25th District lawmakers Saturday morning at the Puyallup fairgrounds
In-person town hall meeting starts at 10 a.m.
On Saturday, I’ll be hosting an in-person town hall meeting in Puyallup with my seatmates, Reps. Kelly Chambers and Cyndy Jacobsen. I hope you will be able to join us as we discuss the many issues we are considering during our 2023 legislative session. We’ll be taking your questions about Olympia and state government. We look forward to seeing you there!
Date: Saturday, February 18
Time: 10 a.m. to noon
Where: Heritage Museum at the Washington State Fairgrounds
The year’s biggest issue: Getting our drug epidemic under control
It’s no secret we have a drug crisis in this state. In Seattle, deaths from drug overdoses have doubled over the last two years. Statewide, drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death for people under age 50 and will likely be the leading cause of death for those under age 60 when the final numbers arrive. These statistics illustrate the ineffectiveness of the new drug possession law adopted by our state Legislature two years ago. Finding a better solution is a top priority for the Legislature this year.
Until 2021, state law made it a felony to possess hard drugs like heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl. Our law enforcement agencies and the courts were able to use the threat of a prison sentence to force addicts into treatment. But our state Supreme Court threw out felony statutes in a case called State v. Blake, and forced the Legislature to come up with a new law. You can read about this debate in this e-newsletter I released at the time.
Ultimately the majority party adopted a weak solution, transforming a felony into a barely enforceable misdemeanor. On the first two incidents of possession, all police can do is offer a referral to treatment – and leave the decision to addicts themselves. This law expires on July 1. If we take no action this year, we will have no law against possession at all.
I am a cosponsor of Senate Bill 5467, a bipartisan measure I think strikes the right balance between compassion and accountability, and recognizes law enforcement needs to play a role. Drug possession would become a gross misdemeanor, police would be able to take action on the first instance of possession, and courts could dismiss charges only after completion of substance-abuse treatment.
Also under consideration is a more permissive measure, SB 5536, which would give judges more discretion to dismiss charges, requiring only “meaningful engagement” with a drug treatment program.
King County public health officials are telling us the morgues are overflowing with overdose victims. We are becoming more aware of this problem every day, as we watch a drug-addicted population dying slowly on our streets. This is not something a civilized society should accept. We shouldn’t simply be jailing people for their addictions – but a smarter, tougher law can make a difference in people’s lives.
On the Air:
I recently spoke with Brandi Kruse on KIRO radio about this year’s “Blake fix” bills. You can listen to this interview by clicking here.
In the press:
Police pursuit update
Police pursuit legislation has become one of the hottest topics of the 2023 legislative session. Here is a video I shared earlier on this topic. On Feb. 3, I contributed the following op-ed to The News Tribune of Tacoma.
Washington must fix its police pursuit law. We can’t let liberal Democrats prevent it
By Sen. Chris Gildon
Since the passage of several reforms regarding law enforcement in the 2021 legislative session, violent crime and property crime have soared across our state. Our communities, especially in the central Puget Sound area, feel less safe.
The most criminal-friendly of these “reforms” came via House Bill 1054, which made it nearly impossible for police to pursue suspected criminals. Word of this bill spread through the criminal community like wildfire, and we began seeing the negative repercussions almost immediately.
This is most clearly evidenced by the dramatic 99% increase in vehicle thefts between March 2021 to March 2022. The Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority has even said that “over the past 18 months, our state has been shaken by an auto theft crisis. Criminals know law enforcement cannot pursue them.”
The consequences, however, aren’t simply limited to property crimes. They have dramatic impacts in many different areas. Last month, for example, the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office said that Washington’s current police-pursuit law initially prevented deputies from pursuing a child sex offender who had a warrant for failing to register — because such a warrant is no longer grounds for pursuit under the law. Only after the suspect hit two police vehicles were officers permitted to give chase. That is unacceptable.
Rocked by the absolute influx of data, many Democratic legislators are beginning to see clearly and are joining Republican efforts to right the ship. During the 2022 legislative session both the House and Senate passed similar versions of a bipartisan bill to address this issue. I was happy to co-sponsor the Senate bill. Ultimately, this legislation did not pass on the last day of the session, as a few key Democrats blocked it.
This year, I am again among the bipartisan group seeking to correct the issue. Senate Bill 5352 is the vehicle to correct the law, but the bill appears to be on a direct collision course with Democratic state Sen. Manka Dhingra, who is the chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee. Committee chairs are gatekeepers and have the authority to determine which bills get hearings and which do not.
Senator Dhingra has said she will not allow her committee to consider this bill and that those who support it are simply being emotional. She has also suggested that it isn’t necessary because suspected criminals get caught sooner or later. Wow. I could not disagree more. Please bring that argument to someone who can’t get to work because their car was stolen or who is now on the hook to replace or repair necessary items they can’t afford due to a crime committed while we waited for “sooner or later” to arrive. More crimes, more victims.
Senator Dhingra also cites data indicating the restrictions have reduced pursuit-related fatalities by 73%. However, that assertion has now been publicly questioned and criticized by Democratic state Rep. Alicia Rule and Professor Matthew Hickman from the Department of Criminal Justice, Criminology and Forensics at Seattle University. The data “lacks sufficient methodological rigor to draw any valid and reliable conclusions about the effectiveness of HB 1054,” Hickman said.
If Senator Dhingra insists on being a roadblock, there are alternative routes. First, Senate Democrats could easily replace her as committee chair and pass the bill. Second, courageous and reasonable Senate Democrats could join with Republicans and invoke the rule that allows a majority of the 49 senators to bring a bill up for immediate debate and vote on the Senate floor at any time.
Restoring justice in this area would be a huge step toward reestablishing public safety across Washington.
One way or another, it needs to happen this year.
Thanks for reading — it is an honor serving you!
Sen. Chris Gildon, 25th Legislative District
Deputy Leader, Senate Republican Caucus
Serving you is my most important duty. If you have a comment or concern about the direction of state government, or you have a problem with a state agency, I hope you will contact my office. You can reach me and my legislative assistant, Caylin Jensen, using the contact information you see below. You also can leave a message for me or for any member of the Legislature on the Legislative Hotline. Please — stay in touch!
PHONE: (360) 786-7648
MAILING ADDRESS: P.O. Box 40425/ Olympia, WA 98504
LEAVE A MESSAGE ON THE LEGISLATIVE HOTLINE: 1-800-562-6000
NOTE: Written communications are subject to disclosure under the Washington Public Records Act.