Narrow Senate vote approves collection of gun violence data

February 21st, 2020|

From the Sequim Gazette

The Washington Legislature is closer to creating an Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention to collect data on gun violence and suicide following a 25-23 vote in favor of Senate Bill 6288.

The office created by this legislation would be tasked with identifying new ways to collect gun violence data, analyzing and sharing that data, as well as making policy recommendations based on the data collected.

The office would work with law enforcement agencies, county prosecutors, researchers, and public health agencies across the state.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said the legislation is intended to bring a research-driven and data-based approach to recognizing the impacts of gun violence and suicide.

Dhingra said the legislation is about transforming the state’s criminal justice system from a crisis response model to an early prevention and intervention model.

She said programs such as King County’s Shots Fired project save taxpayers money because it helps to prevent deaths, injuries and incarcerations that burden our societal systems.

“This bill is about understanding where violence occurs in our communities and how we can intervene to address it—and making sure that we are helping victims of violence,” Dhingra said.

Adrian Diaz, Assistant Chief of Collaborative Policing in Seattle, testified to the Senate Law and Justice Committee in support of the bill. Diaz said the legislation would help fill gaps in gun violence data and develop policy solutions to improve community safety.

The bill would also create the Washington Firearm Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program, which would be managed by the office.

Through the program, grants will be awarded to gun violence prevention initiatives and organizations in disproportionately affected communities in King County.

“Through my violence prevention work in Seattle, I have seen how effective holistic and community-based programs can be in reducing violence,” Diaz said in support of the grant program. “Research on similar programs in cities like Oakland, Milwaukee and New York has found the same to be true.”

Republican senators have raised some issues with the legislation.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said he is concerned the Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention could end up being an advocacy group used to push gun regulations and take away gun rights.

“It just bothers me to have another bureaucracy and more tax dollars going to promote a particular viewpoint,” Padden said.

Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said she is concerned that data collected for a database could be misused or targeted.

The bill will now have to pass in the House before it has the chance to be signed into law.

By Cameron Sheppard

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    Editorial: Pass bills to reduce firearm violence through research, limiting magazine capacity

Editorial: Pass bills to reduce firearm violence through research, limiting magazine capacity

February 19th, 2020|

From the Seattle Times

The first step to reducing gun violence is understanding it — and its causes. Lawmakers should support potentially lifesaving research by passing SB 6288.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, would establish a state office to coordinate and promote state and local efforts to reduce firearm violence. The office would work with law enforcement, county prosecutors, researchers and public-health agencies to track gun-related deaths and injuries and identify effective interventions. It would oversee a grant program to advance evidence-based efforts to reduce gun violence and save lives.

This should not be a controversial proposal, freighted with Second Amendment tit-for-tat arguments. Rather, the approach is in alignment with the American College of Surgeons’ recommendations to tackle firearm injury, death and disability as a public-health crisis rather than a divisive political problem. It would yield valuable information to help policymakers and the public find common ground.

Opponents say the bill is driven by gun-control advocates’ political agenda — their concerns mimicking the slippery-slope arguments that helped stifle federally funded gun-violence research for two decades. In fact, more research and greater access to data can help eliminate misguided and ineffective gun-control legislation by helping decision-makers create targeted policies, support violence reduction programs that work and craft legislative proposals based on more than an educated guess.

This is happening on a small scale, through local efforts such as King County’s Shots Fired project, which collects and standardizes data from more than a half-dozen law enforcement agencies to create a clearer picture of the number and types of shooting incidents. Last year, the state awarded a $1 million grant to Harborview Injury and Prevention Research Center to fund gun-violence research. It was the state’s first meaningful investment in this vital inquiry in a decade. Expanding the breadth and scope of inquiry only makes sense.

Lawmakers are considering a number of firearm-related bills this session, including two that would ban high-capacity magazines.

SB 6077, sponsored by Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, and HB 2240, sponsored by Seattle Democrat Rep. Javier Valdez, would restrict firearm ammunition magazines to 10 bullets or less. Nine other states have limited magazine capacity to 15 or, more commonly, 10 rounds.

This is a reasonable restriction that would not interfere with legitimate uses of firearms. Legislators should usher the bills into law.

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    State House passes legislation for survivors of child sex trafficking

State House passes legislation for survivors of child sex trafficking

February 19th, 2020|

From the Kent Reporter

The state House in Olympia passed ‘Safe Harbor’ legislation (House Bill 1775) to better help child survivors of sex trafficking.

“Children cannot consent to sex. They are victims of serious crimes,” said prime sponsor Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, in a Washington House Democrats news release. “Traffickers target the most vulnerable, which means our foster youth are the most at risk. These are kids in all our communities, and they are experiencing severe trauma and abuse that can last a lifetime. We need to help them heal.”

The legislation would:

• Prohibit charging anyone under the age of 18 with the crime of prostitution

• Allow law enforcement to take youth victims into custody for their protection when the child is in danger

• Create liaisons within the Dept. of Children, Youth and Families to connect youth to services

• Pilot two therapeutic receiving centers, one on each side of the Cascades, where law enforcement can take sexually exploited children instead of detention. Youth will be able to receive intensive wrap around services to begin the process of recovery

The legislation passed on Tuesday out of the House 96 to 1. It now moves to the Senate for consideration. The 60-day legislative session will conclude on March 12.

“These young people have experienced enough trauma for a lifetime. They need help, resources, and a trauma-informed care approach, and that’s what this legislation will provide,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, who sponsored the Senate companion (Senate Bill 5744).

Washington state has one of the highest rates of commercial sex trafficking in the United States. In the Seattle/King County alone, law enforcement estimates between 300-500 youth are trafficked each year, however sex trafficking is an underreported crime globally.

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    Washington considers new agency to study firearm violence prevention, safety

Washington considers new agency to study firearm violence prevention, safety

February 19th, 2020|

From the Spokesman-Review

Washington could get a new state agency dedicated to reducing gun violence and improving safety under a bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday.

And that wasn’t the only gun-related bill to move forward in the Legislature: The House passed a bill that would require a background check on certain parts needed to build a firearm.

On a narrow 25-23 vote, the Senate approved setting up the Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention within the Department of Commerce. Democrats turned back a series of amendments from Republicans who called for more emphasis on suicide prevention, narrowing the agency’s purview to safety or expanding it to all forms of violence, and limiting where the agency could give state grants.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said the agency should stick with promoting safety and giving grants for that purpose.

“Does anyone here not promote safe firearms practices?” he asked.

That would change the entire purpose of the bill, Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said. She’d be willing to look at a separate bill if Schoesler wanted to propose one.

Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, a certified firearms instructor, wanted to add a section on developing safety programs for pre-K through high school, with groups including the National Rifle Association. There are other bills that do that, Dhingra, the bill’s prime sponsor, said.

Three-fourths of all firearms deaths in Washington are from suicide, Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said, and the agency should have a focus on reducing those deaths.

“We have multiple groups and task forces working on that issue,” Dhingra said.

The bill does list the problem with firearms suicide in its opening section, which describes the reason for the new agency.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said he was worried about the costs of setting up and running a new state agency and called for a restriction on state grants to any group “owned by a billionaire.”

“They’ve got billions and billions and billions of money, they don’t need Washington state taxpayers’ money,” Padden said.

Democrats did, however, promise to add a word that was inadvertently omitted and that Republicans said suggested the agency would be trying to reduce firearm use in general.

“One could only assume we’re going after law-abiding citizens,” Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said. “Law-abiding citizens have never been the problem.”

Senate Law and Justice Committee Chairman Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said the concern was a result of a line that called for “an evidence-based firearm reduction initiative.” The word “violence” belongs between firearm and reduction, and will be fixed when the bill goes through the House, he said.

In the House, Democrats approved a bill to expand background checks dealers must conduct on anyone seeking to buy or transfer certain parts of a gun, such as a frame or a receiver, that can be built into a functioning firearm. A person who doesn’t pass the background check can’t purchase those parts.

The FBI has stopped conducting federal background checks for firearms parts.

Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, said building firearms is a “cultural thing, a family bonding thing” for some people. The bill is another attempt to incrementally infringe on fundamental rights to keep and bear arms, he said.

It will only affect law-abiding gun owners, said Rep. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley, and “do nothing to keep firearms away from criminals.”

The bill was sent to the Senate on an 56-42 vote.

By Jim Camden

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    Washington needs more sexual trauma nurses, but who trains them becomes a statewide debate

Washington needs more sexual trauma nurses, but who trains them becomes a statewide debate

February 17th, 2020|

A 2019 Department of Commerce report found that nine counties across the state have no hospitals with Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs). Nineteen counties have only one hospital each with SANEs. There are 290 SANEs practicing in the state, but rural counties, many of which are in Eastern Washington, continue to be underserved.

Now, state lawmakers are attempting to fund the training of more SANEs in rural communities.

Advocates say a program should be created and funded at Washington State University. But the UW’s Harborview Medical Center is balking at the idea, arguing that they should remain the sole training program, and that an additional program would jeopardize its already unstable funding.

Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, introduced a bill last year to fund a SANE training program at WSU, and is pushing for the funding again this year in the form of a budget proviso, as lawmakers are halfway through their 60-day session.

“There’s been pushback from Harborview Medical Center, which is very frustrating,” Mosbrucker said.

This is not the first time the UW has opposed an expansion in WSU’s medical education. In 2015, the Legislature approved the creation of WSU’s medical school, which had intense opposition from the UW, which had previously monopolized medical education in the state. Some lawmakers who had to mediate the spat saw it as a territorial feud.

“Us or them”

In Washington, 45% of women and 22% of men experience sexual violence in their lifetime, according to the Commerce report. But just a fraction of victims report their assaults, often citing, among other factors, how re-traumatizing the process can be.

Administering a rape kit involves performing an invasive forensic exam that can take hours. Yet, they are recognized as being vitally important in helping preserve DNA evidence in sexual assault cases that land in court.

As part of Harborview’s training, nurses undergo five days of trauma-informed training, learning how to administer the multistep forensic exams. Nurses are given in-field experience and are trained on how to testify effectively when a rape kit is introduced as evidence in court.

Some advocates say Harborview’s monopoly on SANE training has led to the regional disparity in access to SANEs.

Once or twice a year, Harborview’s SANE program travels to a rural community to provide training, but the trainings are abbreviated and less in-depth.

“These are rural, small hospitals that don’t have the ability to call in another nurse and to send you to Harborview,” Mosbrucker said. “Plus, they have to take care of daycare, plus they have to pay for a hotel … we can just do so much better as a state.”

Because of these barriers, some rural nurses are administering rape kits with informal and inadequate training, according to the Washington State Nursing Association. The association says these nurses fear losing their licenses, but administer rape kits anyway so that rape survivors aren’t turned away.

WSU’s College of Nursing has been pushing to start its own pilot training program with the eventual goal of getting accredited by the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) — something Harborview’s program doesn’t have.

According to Kim Day, grant projects director at IAFN,  there is no reason why a state, especially one as geographically divided as Washington, could not have multiple training programs.

Terri Stewart, Harborview’s SANE program director, argued that a second training program may not be up to Harborview’s standards, and that the programs are “exceptionally expensive.”

Stewart said there should only be one program — “us or them.”

However, Wendy Williams-Gilbert, program director for the WSU College of Nursing, says other kinds of nurses are trained in different nursing schools throughout the state and country.

“Just think about how many nursing programs we have, and they all produce good nurses,” Williams-Gilbert said. “That argument is a weak argument.”

Stewart would not disclose the cost of Harborview’s program, but the Department of Commerce estimated that a more “robust, reliable state-level training,” with more frequent trainings, more locations, and scholarships to cover travel expenses would cost $375,000 annually.

Williams-Gilbert said WSU would need $50,000 from the state to start its pilot program.

Lawmakers are currently working on a supplemental budget, which would adjust the current $52.4-billion, two-year state operating budget they passed last year.

Williams-Gilbert said the college already has the community support, with volunteers offering to help start the program. She added that the college has reached out to Harborview in order to collaborate, to no avail.

“I was shocked,” Williams-Gilbert said. “I assumed we would all just work together because it’s so important for our communities to have these hospitals.”

Moving forward

Last year, lawmakers passed a bill limiting the amount of time hospitals can delay telling a sexual assault victim that they cannot, in fact, administer a rape kit. Untested or destroyed rape kits have also been a topic of discussion.

But the issue of hospitals being able to administer kits in the first place remains unresolved.

Last year, Commerce report concluded that in order to address the lack of SANE availability and access, Washington needs a “more robust, state-wide approach.”

It cites Massachusetts, which has a state-wide SANE program funded with $3.8 million from the state budget. The state has 178 SANEs and 29 hospitals staffed with SANEs, according to Joan Meunier-Sham, director of Massachusetts’ SANE program.

Although Massachusetts only has one training location, Meunier-Sham said it’s not an issue in the relatively small state, as nurses rarely have to drive more than two hours for training.

“Our program often gets looked at as a golden standard across the country,” Meunier-Sham said.

Oregon has a statewide certification system and multiple training locations. But its sexual assault forensic task force says there’s still a lack of SANE-trained medical staff.

Without a statewide system, Washington is struggling to get hospitals to coordinate sexual assault care. Currently, SANEs can only administer rape kits at hospitals they have been contracted with, Stewart said.

“We can’t even send a nurse to the UW without a contract,” said Stewart about Harborview.

Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, is sponsoring a bill that would require the Office of the Attorney General to create a task force with the ultimate goal of developing protocols for hospitals to have “coordinated community” responses when rape victims present.

Dhingra said the hope is that every hospital, whether they can administer a rape kit or not, will have a plan to help victims in a timely and trauma-informed way, letting victims know their resources and helping them get to a facility that can provide proper care.

Andrea Piper-Wentland, executive director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, expressed support for the bill, saying hospitals’ responses to victims is a “critical point” where individuals need to be connected to all of their resources.

While testifying in favor of the legislation last month, one woman told lawmakers that after being raped, the closest emergency room “shrugged their shoulders and said ‘we don’t do rape kits here,’” telling her instead to go to Harborview.

“I was drugged and was in no position to drive, and I could not afford an ambulance, so I went home,” she said.

Another survivor testified that the emergency room she went to after being raped couldn’t administer a rape kit, and sent her “on her way as if I was asking for brunch reservations.”

“I sat in front of her (ER staffer) sobbing,” she said. “You’re left to figure it out alone in trauma.”

Senate Bill 6158 has passed the senate and is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Feb. 20.

By Claudia Yaw

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    Improved data could help Washington state get ahead of gun violence, says bill sponsor

Improved data could help Washington state get ahead of gun violence, says bill sponsor

February 10th, 2020|

From The Seattle Times

For nearly two decades, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was effectively barred from conducting research on gun violence, making nationwide data difficult to gather, and forcing local governments or smaller research organizations to pick up the slack.

The result was significant gaps in data that could inform policymakers on how to effectively address gun violence.

Now, Democratic state lawmakers are pushing to create an office on firearm-violence prevention in order to improve data sources, collection methods and sharing mechanisms statewide. Senate Bill 6288 would also help fund local evidence-based violence-reduction initiatives. SB 6288 passed its committee vote in January, and is currently in the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

King County is home to many of these initiatives, which work with community partners to intervene in the lives of young people who may be headed toward violence or crime.

Proponents of the bill say it would allow communities to decide how to best address their unique experience with gun violence. For example, some rural communities may face more gun-related suicides than interpersonal violence.

“This is a way of getting ahead of gun violence in our state,” prime sponsor Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said. Dhingra is a senior deputy prosecuting attorney in King County, and hopes that improved data can help jurisdictions understand the root causes of gun violence in communities.

But some Republicans say the bill is simply another partisan push for gun control. Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, argues that creating another state office is unnecessary, and is skeptical as to whether the proposed office would act as an advocacy group for gun restrictions. Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler said he doubts there will be any support among the Republican caucus.

Although emotional testimony regarding mass shootings and other forms of gun violence is being heard by state lawmakers, Sen. Jamie Pedersen, chair of the Committee on Law & Justice, said that legislation needs to be data-driven rather than “anecdote-driven or emotions-driven.”

Currently, there is gun-violence research happening in the state, although there is no statewide infrastructure to merge data.

Last year, Washington became the third state to fund firearms-related research, giving Harborview’s Firearm Injury & Policy Research Program (FIPRP) $1 million to study how firearm violence can be reduced. But Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, an epidemiologist who helps collect such data, says there are still significant gaps.

The key to a deeper understanding of gun violence, Rowhani-Rahbar said, is merging data, which is difficult when some data doesn’t exist, and others aren’t reliable. For example, emergency rooms across the state have not been consistently collecting data on gun-related injuries.

“If you link data from multiple different sectors, you learn something new that you didn’t know before,” Rowhani-Rahbar said. FIPRP has already researched connections between factors like beer taxation and firearm homicide, firearm access and suicide, and mental illness and risk of firearm-related injury.

One significant finding of Rowhani-Rahbar’s research is that individuals who are hospitalized from firearm-related injuries are significantly more likely to be the victim of, or the perpetrator of, another firearm crime. The finding suggests that violence-reduction strategies should be hyper-focused on individuals.

The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has taken a similar approach, adopting a public health model and acknowledging that gun violence is concentrated within “small, identifiable social networks.”

Dan Carew, who works with the office’s Shots Fired data-collection program, said data is difficult to collect in King County, which has roughly 40 law enforcement agencies, each with their own data-collection methods. Carew also noted that while those agencies are required to report gun-related deaths, nonfatal injuries are often not documented.

In testifying for the bill, Carew discussed how the program uses data to pinpoint specific communities that are most likely to experience gun violence.

Rowhani-Rahbar says FIPRP’s research indicates that communities need to be involved in firearm-violence prevention, as different communities experience gun violence in their own ways.

In addition to collecting data, SB 6288 would create a grant program to fund community-based intervention programs.

Leaders of the agency Choose 180, a youth diversion program in South Seattle, say they could benefit from the funding. Choose 180 intervenes in the lives of young people who have been charged with a crime, and offers them an alternative to the criminal justice system. According to Executive Director Sean Goode, 90% of 12- to 24-year-olds who participated in the program did not return to the criminal justice system in the year after their intervention.

Goode said the key to Choose 180’s success is intervening early, and helping young people develop meaningful relationships within their own community that can address some root causes of their behavior. He also noted that additional funding, along with improved data, would benefit the program.

“Violence is a disease,” Goode said. “And if you’re not tracking the spread of the disease, or the hot spots where people are most likely to be infected, then it doesn’t reflect a strong intention to stop the spread of that disease.”

By Claudia Yaw

Bill Would Create Office to Collect Firearm Violence Data

February 10th, 2020|

From the AP

Democratic state lawmakers are pushing to create an office on firearm-violence prevention in order to improve data sources, collection methods and sharing mechanisms statewide.

The Seattle Times reports that Senate Bill 6288 would also help fund local evidence-based violence-reduction initiatives. The measure passed its committee vote in January, and is currently in the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

King County is home to many of these initiatives, which work with community partners to intervene in the lives of young people who may be headed toward violence or crime.

Proponents of the bill say it would allow communities to decide how to best address their unique experience with gun violence. For example, some rural communities may face more gun-related suicides than interpersonal violence.

“This is a way of getting ahead of gun violence in our state,” prime sponsor Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said. Dhingra is a senior deputy prosecuting attorney in King County.

But some Republicans say the bill is a partisan push for gun control. Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, argues that creating another state office is unnecessary, and is skeptical as to whether the proposed office would act as an advocacy group for gun restrictions.

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    More drug offenders would be sentenced to treatment instead of prison under proposed law

More drug offenders would be sentenced to treatment instead of prison under proposed law

February 10th, 2020|

From The Peninsula Daily News

Proposals moving through the Legislature would expand the eligibility of incarcerated people to receive treatment for substance abuse in lieu of, or concurrently with, prison sentences.

Senate Bill 6211 was heard by the Law and Justice Committee in an executive session Thursday. Its companion, House Bill 2334, was considered Saturday in House Appropriations.

Both bills expand the eligibility for the state’s existing drug offender sentencing alternative to people convicted of crimes, such as certain sex offenses, that make them ineligible presently.

For example, the Senate version would extend the alternative to those who “have been convicted of a sex offense, so long as the offender is no longer required to register; and have been convicted of robbery in the second degree, if the conviction did not involve the use of a firearm and the charge was not reduced from robbery in the first degree within seven years before conviction of the current offense,” according to the bill report.

“We all know that access to substance abuse disorder treatment is something we all need to work on and provide more of,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, the Senate version’s primary sponsor.

“This bill takes a look at some of the barriers that individuals have in accessing that treatment and helps address those barriers.”

The bill also broadens the eligibility of an offender to receive a residential-based sentencing, as opposed to a prison-based one.

“Current law unnecessarily shuts the door on many offenders who want that treatment, without which they would be susceptible to committing crime to support their addiction,” said Joel Merkel, King County deputy prosecuting attorney, during a Thursday public hearing on the Senate bill.

“This bill will allow more non-violent offenders who want treatment to choose treatment over incarceration,” Merkel said.

Under the bill, the court will be authorized to sentence in-patient treatment lasting up to six months for the prisoner, which may include confinement in jail for up to 30 days for the purpose of facilitating a direct transfer to the treatment.

The Department of Corrections is also required to submit a report on the effectiveness of the alternative treatment program on the offender every five years.

Corrections officials raised concerns over the expansion of residential patients to the jail population.

“You do see in the governor’s budget an expansion of DOSA beds,” said Melena Thompson, Corrections executive policy director.

“We believe that expansion will only address our current wait list.”

By Leona Vaughn

Washington state lawmakers back down from flavored vape ban

February 5th, 2020|

From The Seattle Times

Lawmakers have backed down from their proposal to ban flavored vape products and address the epidemic of youth vaping and nicotine addiction.

Originally, Senate Bill 6254, introduced at the request of Gov. Jay Inslee, would have made permanent the emergency ban on flavored vape products that was approved by the Board of Health in October. But the legislation was drastically amended Monday in the Senate, and now allows for the sale of such products  to those 21 and older — in line with Washington’s new tobacco and vapor law.

Inslee’s senior public health policy adviser Molly Voris says the governor is “disappointed” with the amendment, and that they are still pushing for a broad ban on flavors. Voris also noted that although the amendment excludes menthol and tobacco from the definition of “flavored” vape products, Centers for Disease Control data shows that youths are still using those products.

According to Voris, the emergency ban will not be extended, despite the weeks-long gap between the end of the ban and the implementation of any potential legislation. Flavored products could be back on store shelves by Friday.

The 120-day statewide ban, which expires Thursday, came last year after the U.S. Surgeon General proclaimed youth vapor use an epidemic. In 2019, more than 5 million youths vaped — an increase of about 1.4 million since 2018.

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, who introduced the amendment, said the emergency ban was appropriate at the time, but officials have since identified Vitamin E acetate as the cause of the mysterious vape-related deaths last year. She said her amended version of the bill still bans vape products with that chemical, limits nicotine levels, and puts a 37% excise tax on flavored vape products. Cleveland said the bill “continues to meet primary goals,” like preventing vape-related deaths.

However, the CDC says even legal products are harmful to young people, and the high levels of nicotine can hinder brain development and impact learning, memory, and attention span. The CDC has also said that young people who vape are more likely to smoke regular cigarettes in the future.

In a health impact review of the bill, Caitlin Lang-Perez, a health policy analyst at the state Board of Health, told lawmakers that there is “very strong evidence” that a flavor ban would decrease initiation and use of vape among young people.

To those who argue that flavored vapor products helped them quit smoking, Kathy Lofy, of the Department of Health, said there is no definitive science to back that up.

“We wish that we had definitive science around the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a cessation device or as a harm reduction strategy, but we do not have that science,” Lofy said. She noted that many adults who vape are also smoking cigarettes, increasing their nicotine intake and making it harder to quit.

Public school students have also showed support for the ban, telling lawmakers that their bathrooms have been turned into “juulrooms” — a reference to the Juul brand of vaping products — by intensely addicted kids.

Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, chair of the committee on Health & Long Term Care, did not sign on to the original bill, but signed the amended version. Coming up on the first cut-off date, when bills must be out of committee, Dhingra says the amendment “simply gets it out of committee, but this is not the final wording.”

Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, introduced the bill but is not on the Health & Long Term Care Committee. Kuderer said she did not know of the specific amendment beforehand, but was aware that lawmakers had concerns about the impact on vape shops, adults who vape in order to quit smoking, and the black-market.

House Democratic Speaker Laurie Jinkins said any legislation should be based on the CDC’s research and recommendations.

“I’m not going to judge my colleagues,” Kuderer said, noting that she is hopeful that the House will change the legislation back to its original intent. “But I’m going to work very hard to make sure that flavors are banned.”

By Claudia Yaw

Senate could toughen penalties for crimes involving threats, guns

February 4th, 2020|

From The Spokesman-Review

Washington laws could soon crack down on a person threatening mass violence and on those who try to harass someone by making a false report to 911.

Bills considered by the Senate Law and Justice Committee on Monday could also increase the penalties for felons trying to buy guns when they aren’t legally allowed to and lengthen the wait for felons to have those rights restored after completing their sentence.

More than half of all mass shootings are preceded by verbal or written threats from the shooter, the committee was told. But while current laws cover threats made by one person against another, or a person against a racial or religious group, there’s a gap in what it covers, prosecutors said.

“We do not specifically have a crime based on mass violence,” King County Deputy Prosecutor Pat Lavin told the committee.

A bill under consideration would make issuing a threat of mass violence a felony, punishable by as many as five years in prison, and allow law enforcement officers who respond to the threat to seize firearms, ammunition and any concealed carry permit if they have probable cause to believe they would be used in a threatened incident.

Jane Weiss, whose niece was killed by a mass shooter who issued a manifesto before murdering seven people, called it “a tool to intervene before it’s too late.”

But Vitaliy Kerchen, of the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the proposal isn’t needed because there are already crimes that cover harassment, stalking, cyberstalking and bomb threats.

“This bill criminalizes something that is already criminal,” Kerchen said.

Another proposal would increase penalties for “swatting” or making a false 911 call, sometimes with a false name or masked phone number, resulting in a response by a SWAT team or other large law enforcement presence and leading to injury or death.

Under current law, making a false 911 report is a gross misdemeanor. But some prosecutors won’t pursue it because they don’t believe it’s worth the time it would take for a charge that carries no more than a year in jail.

Roxana Gomez, of the American Civil Liberties Union, said it’s an important issue but argued a new felony isn’t the answer. Instead, the Legislature should focus on the “militarization” of police and better training techniques.

New penalties could also be levied on felons who try to purchase a firearm when not legally permitted. Under current law, they can be charged with illegal possession of a gun, which is a felony, if they manage to buy one.

But that law doesn’t cover trying to purchase a firearm and being rejected during the background check. Instead, they can be charged with “false swearing” for submitting the application, which is a misdemeanor. Under the proposal, an illegal purchase or attempted purchase would be a felony with as many as five years in prison.

Felons who were convicted of a crime in which they used a gun could have to wait between three and 10 years to have those rights restored under another proposal. The wait would depend on the seriousness of that crime, and they couldn’t have been charged with a new crime during that waiting period but have completed all the conditions in their sentence from that original conviction. They also couldn’t have a protection order issued against them in the previous five years.

Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, called it a “cleanup bill” to fix inconsistencies among different jurisdictions in restoring firearms rights.

But Sharyn Hinchcliffe, of the Pink Pistols gun-rights organization, said it was too strict. Felons who “do their time” should have their rights to own a firearm restored when they have their voting rights restored, she said.

The committee is scheduled to decide on Thursday whether to send the bills to the full Senate.

By Jim Camden