Monthly Archives: January 2015

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    Gun responsibility legislation introduced to aid families, law enforcement

Gun responsibility legislation introduced to aid families, law enforcement

January 28th, 2015|

Legislation to help families and law enforcement when someone is at extreme risk for committing violence against themselves or others was introduced today by Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle. Companion legislation will be introduced by Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma.

The legislation would allow family members and law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily remove a person’s access to firearms when there is documented evidence that there are at an extreme risk to harm themselves or others.

Under the legislation, Extreme Risk Protection Orders temporarily remove access to firearms for 14 days. A hearing is then held to evaluate the case and determine whether the Order should be continued. Those requesting a suspension of firearm access must provide sworn evidence and can be arrested for knowingly presenting false evidence.

A person experiencing a crisis can exhibit signs that alert family or community members to the potential for violence. But under current law, a person suffering from mental illness is not prohibited from purchasing and possessing a gun unless he or she has been formally and involuntarily committed for more than 14 days or has been found not guilty by reason of insanity.

There is clear evidence that many individuals who ultimately participate in shootings, including mass shootings, demonstrate their intentions beforehand. Eighty percent of individuals committing suicide give some indication of their intentions prior to making an attempt. Thirty eight out of 62 mass shooters in the last 20 years were re­ported as displaying signs of dangerous mental health problems prior to the killings.

California, Connecticut, and Indiana all have versions of this tool in place. California passed its version of Extreme Risk Protection Orders into law in 2014 following a University of California Santa Barbara shooting that claimed six lives.

The shooting was exactly the type of case that Extreme Risk Protection Orders were designed to prevent. Law enforcement had been unable to remove firearms possessed by a shooter despite demonstrations of extreme distress and threats of violence observed by the perpetrator’s family.

“The tragic shooting that claimed the life of my niece Veronika and five others last year occurred, in part, because neither the family of the perpetrator nor law enforcement had the tools to temporarily remove his access to firearms from a deeply disturbed individual,” said Jane Weiss, a Washington State resident and aunt of UC Santa Barbara shooting victim Veronika Weiss. “Washington State has taken an important step today in preventing tragedies like the one that claimed Veronika and so many others with the introduction of Extreme Risk Protection Orders. Extreme Risk Protection Orders will help families respond to signs that a family member is in distress, rather than leaving them powerless. This measure will save lives while protecting Second Amendment rights, and I urge the Legislature to swiftly take action to pass it into law.”

“Too often, families and law enforcement can see the signs of a tragedy coming,” said Frockt. “When people are in these crisis situations, the presence of a gun can be a dangerous factor in escalating a situation and somebody might do something in a moment that could change their life or the lives of others forever. Families and law enforcement should have the ability to intervene when they see these crisis situations and help keep everyone involved safe.”

“We’ve seen the unfortunate impact that a seriously mentally ill individual with a gun can have,” said Jinkins. “Along with more and better mental health care, we need to make sure that people in crisis can get the help they need to protect themselves and others. This bill will give families and law enforcement a needed tool to literally save lives by reducing the risk of violence both in the home and on our streets.”

Bright Futures autism screening legislation introduced

January 22nd, 2015|

All infants and toddlers would receive the recommended autism screenings to identify developmental issues and disabilities, under legislation proposed by Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, and Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle.

Currently, all private insurance plans in Washington cover screenings for autism and other developmental disabilities for infants and toddlers, as these screenings are part of the nationally recognized standard of well child care. By comparison, the most vulnerable children in the state, who receive health care through the Apple Health for Kids program, only receive one of the recommended five infant screenings. This legislative proposal would ensure all children in Washington receive the full screenings to identify developmental issues and help them receive the care they need.

While providing the screenings would carry an upfront cost, it is expected to save the state money in the long term, as studies show that 30 percent of children whose developmental issues are identified and treated early do not need special education services by age 3.

“These screenings are a proven medical best practice that we know will make a huge difference in the lives of these children,” said Dr. Lelach Rave, a trustee of the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “We know we can do a better job addressing development disabilities in children the sooner we identify them, and these screenings are a crucial tool. We want to ensure that every child has the chance to receive this care, including those on Apple Health for Kids and Medicaid.”

“These are some of the most vulnerable children in the state, and they deserve the same chance at a successful life as any other child,” said Riccelli, the House sponsor of the legislation. “Families on Medicaid or Apple Health already have a tougher time than most, and it doesn’t make things any easier when their children could be growing up with a developmental disability without treatment because no screening ever caught the issue. This is a basic guarantee we should make so that every child can get a fair start.”

“Making sure that every infant gets their life off on the right track pays off down the road,” said Frockt, the Senate sponsor of the legislation. “If we can make sure all children get the help they need in the first few years of their life, they’ll do much better and require less support as they go into school and onto the rest of their lives. This is a chance to make an investment now in these children and it will be easier for them to live successful lives in the future.”

Tenant protection legislation introduced

January 14th, 2015|

Advocates, tenants and legislators gathered today to present legislation to protect the affordability and fair availability of rental housing.

Four bills were introduced – creating a model screening report for prospective tenants to reduce costs from repeated screening fees for those struggling to find housing, outlawing discrimination in housing based on a renter’s participation in a government assistance program, ensuring accuracy in evictions reporting and providing a 90-day notice for rent increases.

“As rents skyrocket across Washington, we need to continue to fight for affordable housing for Washington families,” said Michele Thomas, Director of Policy for the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. “Rent in King and Snohomish county jumped 8 percent in 2014 – four times the rate of inflation and some of the highest rent increases in the country. Some households have reported rent increases of 100 percent or more. You can’t expect working families, seniors, students or most anyone to be prepared for their rent to suddenly double. We need solutions, and our legislators have stepped up.”

The first step in getting housing is the application. A survey by Seattle-based nonprofit Solid Ground found that the average renter pays $166 on screening fees for rental applications before they find housing, even though most of those screening reports provide duplicative information. The Fair Tenant Screening Act would create a comprehensive screening report allowing a prospective tenant to pay one fee and use that report to apply for multiple rentals for up to 30 days. If a landlord wanted a special screening report different from this model report, they could acquire that, but the landlord would pay that cost.

“I was living in a homeless shelter in Tacoma and was trying to find a rental apartment,” said Thomas Green, who attended the event. “I had budgeted enough money for the average studio apartment in Tacoma, including first and last rent, a deposit, and at least three tenant screening reports, at roughly $35 each. My transition from shelter to home took three more months than I expected. I had to keep paying for repeat tenant screening reports that various landlords requested during my search. After I ran out of money paying for the reports, I had to stop my search until the next paycheck. If I could’ve purchased just one standard report that all landlords had to accept, then I could have applied to more places and moved into my new apartment much sooner. And had I been able to leave the shelter sooner, I could’ve saved Tacoma money and opened up space for someone whose situation was worse than mine.”

“We’re not trying to be punitive to landlords – we want a solution that works for all parties involved,” said Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle and sponsor of the Senate Fair Tenant Screening Act. “The model report we propose would provide landlords with all the information they need to make a decision that protects themselves and their other tenants, while prospective tenants wouldn’t have to pay over and over for screening reports that all say the same thing.”

“If you’re a young person attending college or someone trying to get off the streets and into a home, it’s hard enough finding the money for your first and last month’s rent and a deposit,” said Rep. Brady Walkinshaw, D-Seattle and sponsor of the House Fair Tenant Screening Act. “These are people working hard and trying to get their lives on track the right way. We should make it easier for them to focus on school or get their lives on track, not harder. These screening fees are a real cost and a serious barrier to housing for people on the edge.”

Another piece of legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, and Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, would prohibit discrimination in housing based on participation in government assistance programs. Many rental ads now list “not accepting Section 8,” referring to those receiving assistance with their rent. These tenants should be subject to screening checks just like any other tenant, but Section 8 status alone is no reason to prevent a prospective tenant from even applying. Oregon, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Chicago and Austin have all passed legislation banning housing discrimination based on source of income.

The Truth in Evictions Reporting Act, sponsored by Sen. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland, and Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, ensures that tenant screening reports are accurate when they list past evictions. Currently, a tenant can be caught in a landlord’s foreclosure, win an appeal, be wrongfully named, settle to the landlord’s satisfaction, or not be evicted. Despite all this, their name can still show up with an eviction on their screening report. Tenant screening reports should only name evictions when the tenant has actually been found guilty.

The last bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, would guarantee 90 days’ notice for rent increases. Current law only requires 30 days’ notice for rent increases. But that’s not sufficient time for families to plan for major rent increases, particularly low-income people or seniors on a fixed income. As rent increases of 100 percent or more occur in buildings in some areas, renters deserve more warning in case they need to relocate to different, more affordable housing.

Together, this legislative package represents a major step forward for housing affordability in Washington.