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Bill to loosen some restrictions on WA police vehicle pursuits clears House committee

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A bill that would change the state's controversial law limiting police vehicle pursuits cleared a key House committee in Olympia Thursday.

It would lower the evidentiary threshold for engaging in a pursuit from “probable cause” to “reasonable suspicion” of a crime, as was the case before the law was changed in 2021. It would also allow police pursuits for a wider range of offenses, including domestic violence.

Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) chairs the House Community Safety Committee. In unveiling his compromise legislation, he noted that there’s “a lot of dissonance” regarding the right direction for police vehicle pursuits in Washington. But he said he worked to craft this proposal so that conversations can continue this session.

His version of HB 1363 passed the committee Thursday with bipartisan support, though some of that support was reluctant. Rep. Tarra Simmons (D-Bremerton) said she personally would like to maintain current restrictions on police pursuits but understood that many constituents supported the proposed changes.

“I represent a district and even though I might personally not want to vote for this policy, I think my community wants me to, so it’s really hard,” Simmons said.

Rep. Darya Farivar (D-Seattle) was the lone vote against the bill.

“I truly believe that standing up to this and opposing this legislation is the right thing to do for my siblings of color, for individuals who have lost their lives as a result of pursuits,” she said.

Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia) heads the Senate Republican Caucus. He called the proposal’s advancement good news, saying it allows legislators to keep debating potential changes to the law on police pursuits.

“We know the law put in place in 2021 has restricted them considerably, and we’ve had growing lawlessness since then,” he said.

But Braun said it’s not clear majority Democrats in the Senate will allow the bill to be heard, despite what he said is bipartisan support for changes in the Senate as well.

“I know there are folks in that [Democratic] caucus who want to hear this bill, who want to vote on this bill, who want to address the issue,” Braun said.

Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Remond) chairs the Law and Justice Committee and has declined to hear proposed changes to the pursuit law so far. Through a spokesperson, Dhingra commented that “The bill still has to run its course in the House.”

Gov. Jay Inslee said in a press conference Thursday that he supported more flexibility for law enforcement around police pursuits, saying “we’ve learned some things” since lawmakers enacted one of the most restrictive policies in the country two years ago.

“I’m open to those ideas, but obviously I can’t sign a bill that doesn’t get to my desk,” Inslee said. “So I hope legislators will continue to discuss that.”

Law enforcement officials have welcomed the latest proposal. In a statement, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs said it supported the new bill.

“This important legislation will fix the 2021 law that severely limited law enforcement’s ability to pursue fleeing suspects. The 2021 law has hampered the investigation of crimes and contributed to increased crime,” the statement reads.

The Washington Coalition for Police Accountability has championed the current law as protecting the lives of innocent bystanders. The group opposed the compromise bill, saying the state should study best practices before making any changes.

The group said in a statement that relaxing the restrictions on police vehicle pursuits could result in unintended and unnecessary fatalities and injuries, adding, “we know that current law has reduced fatalities from what everyone acknowledges is a very dangerous tactic.”

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