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Washington lawmakers pass modifications to controversial police pursuit law

The Washington Legislature is making minor changes to the state's rules around police car chases.

The state Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 5352 Monday, that aims to give police more leeway to pursue suspects in vehicles. The legislation passed 26-22. The bill now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee's desk where he's expected to sign it into law.

RELATED: One WA police chief's argument for changing state vehicle pursuits law

After the bill passed, both Democrats and Republicans have commented that more work needs to be done.

"I know how dangerous many of these high-speed chases can be,” said Sen. John Lovick, who previously spent 31 years serving in the Washington State Patrol. “They are some of the worst situations our neighbors and officers can be in. It is my hope that we follow this bill with renewed calls to continue our work to build safer, healthier communities, as we know the issue extends far beyond the officer and chases.”

Lovick, a Democrat from Mill Creek representing Washington's 44th Legislative District, also said that the larger goal for lawmakers is to "reach zero high-speed chases and find technological alternatives to a scenario that is dangerous for law enforcement, the community, and the suspect." Lovick added that officers have a "duty to limit them to only the most serious situations.”

Republican Rep. Gina Mosbrucker of Goldendale represents the state's 14th Legislative District. Her office says she "reluctantly" voted in favor of the police pursuit bill in the House, and argues the law still "limits the ability of law enforcement officers to chase vehicles."

"The vote was 57-40, and the goal is to get back to reasonable suspicion so that law enforcement can do their job," Rep. Mosbrucker said following the vote.

"This bill didn't quite get there, but it was a step forward, so we had a difficult decision to make," Mosbrucker said. "There were reasons for 'yes,' reasons for 'no'. I support both sides of that, but I had to keep it moving so that we can continue this dialogue to make sure we do get to that reasonable suspicion for law enforcement, and the community."

RELATED: Police pursuit debate in WA Legislature involves dueling data sets

Washington's law will now allow for officers to pursue a vehicle in cases of vehicular assault and some domestic violence cases. Police can also pursue in response to sex offenses if they have reasonable suspicion (previously, the standard was probable cause). Sen. Lovick notes that reasonable suspicion is the current standard for drunk driving.

The legislation comes after lawmakers passed police reforms in 2021 that restricted when and how police could conduct car chases. Law enforcement officials across the state have argued that the 2021 law is too restrictive.

Republicans have criticized how Democratic leaders in Olympia have handled this year's bill, calling it a "half-step" in the right direction.

KUOW's Dyer Oxley contributed to this report.

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