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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

With the Thanksgiving holiday nearly here, I find myself filled with gratitude for the honor of representing you in Olympia. The 19th Legislative District, with its breathtaking coastlines and resilient rural communities, possesses a distinctive beauty and way of life that characterizes the exceptional individuals who call it home.

As we come together with loved ones on Thanksgiving Day to express appreciation for the freedoms and opportunities that make our district exceptional, please be assured of my unwavering commitment to representing your interests. You are the reason I’m fighting, and I’m deeply thankful for the trust you’ve placed in me to serve you in our state’s capitol.

Confronting crime trends: Thanksgiving reflections and the path to safer communities

Amidst our Thanksgiving wishes and blessings, it’s essential to acknowledge a growing concern: the alarming surge of violent crime in Washington. The latest report from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) paints a troubling picture. In 2022, our state witnessed a record-breaking 394 reported murders, a stark escalation from the previous year’s high of 325. This surge represents a 17% increase in murders and an 8.5% rise in violent crime overall. Disturbingly, robberies spiked by 18%, and car thefts soared by more than 12,000 incidents compared to the previous year.

This surge in crime coincides with a concerning decline in law enforcement staffing across Washington. The report reveals that our state ranks 51st in the nation, with only 10,666 officers in 2022—the 13th consecutive year of holding the last position in law enforcement staffing. With a per capita officer total of 1.36, the lowest on record, we fall significantly below the national average of 2.31 officers per capita.

The consequences of this staffing shortage are profound. Our law enforcement agencies are grappling with limited resources to deliver justice for victims, de-escalate situations, and provide crucial behavioral health assistance.

From insight to action: Proposals to enhance public safety

As legislators gear up for an intense few weeks in Olympia, the upcoming 2024 legislative session presents an opportunity to address and improve public safety measures in our communities. The session, scheduled to begin on Monday, Jan. 8, and end on Thursday, March 7, will be a pivotal time for us to delve into meaningful legislative actions aimed at bolstering the safety and well-being of our communities.

Over the past few months, I have collaborated with various stakeholders to gain a comprehensive understanding of the most pressing public safety concerns facing our state. This involved talking with public safety interest groups, holding discussions with law enforcement officials and the Washington State Patrol, and connecting with community members, as well as individuals and families directly affected by the current high crime rates in our state.

Outlined below, you will find brief descriptions of three public policy proposals that I plan to advocate for during the 2024 legislative session. These include two new proposals, and a third that I introduced last year, known as the Oakley Carlson Act.

Tackling qualified immunity in law enforcement reform

In recent years, an important aspect has come under examination in the ongoing discussions surrounding law enforcement reform—the “qualified immunity” defense. This defense acts as an important shield for officers confronting allegations of excessive force in civil lawsuits.

Contrary to misconceptions, qualified immunity is not an automatic grant in every case and does not shield officers from criminal charges, internal investigations, discipline, or termination. Despite the ongoing debates in Olympia, the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently upheld qualified immunity, emphasizing its importance in preserving the stability of our legal system.

Calls to revoke qualified immunity often involve the notion of officers having “skin in the game.” However, the reality is that law enforcement officers already bear significant responsibility, facing split-second, life-altering decisions while protecting lives, including their own. Considering significant law enforcement staffing shortages in our state, it is crucial that we implement safeguards for those who risk their lives daily to ensure our protection. Contrary to the misconception that these shortages stem from salary and benefits issues, the primary challenge lies in the absence of adequate legal protection.

In response to these challenges, I am introducing a bill during the upcoming session to expand, rather than contract, qualified immunity for law enforcement officers. This measure aims to address the low recruitment numbers and acknowledges the sacrifices our police officers make daily for our communities. By providing them with this necessary support, we can attract and retain dedicated individuals who are essential to maintaining public safety and order.

Legislative push for repeal: House Bill 1240

During the 2023 legislative session, House Bill 1240 was ushered through the Legislature with the backing of the governor and the current state attorney general. However, this bill, touted as an “assault weapon” ban, has faced criticism for its unconstitutionality and convoluted nature. The bill’s description, encompassing only a partial list of makes and models, lacks clarity and practicality, extending its reach beyond semi-automatic rifles to include pistols and shotguns—a confusing stance for those well-versed in firearms.

Assault weapons bans, despite being championed for their potential to enhance public safety, inadvertently hinder the ability of individuals, particularly women, to protect themselves from violent threats. An integral aspect of self-defense lies in the capacity to level the playing field when confronted with danger. This is particularly concerning for women, who may encounter physical disparities with potential assailants, making the availability of effective means for self-defense critical.

Furthermore, the unintended consequences of assault weapons bans disproportionately impact law-abiding citizens who rely on firearms for self-defense. Determined criminals always find ways to bypass such bans, leaving those who follow the law with fewer options for protection.

In light of these concerns and recognizing the violation of our constitutional rights as outlined in the Washington State Constitution’s Article 1, Section 24, which explicitly asserts, “The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired,” I am advocating for the repeal of House Bill 1240 in the upcoming session.

The Oakley Carlson Act moves forward

Last year, I introduced a bill aimed at safeguarding children removed from parents due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. The proposal, named the Oakley Carlson Act (House Bill 1397), underwent a public hearing and garnered significant attention within our region and state.

As many are aware, the inspiration behind this bill stems from the tragic circumstances surrounding five-year-old Oakley Carlson. She disappeared after being returned to her birth parents from foster care, and her last sighting was on Feb. 10, 2021. This incident raised concerns about the effectiveness of the state’s child welfare policies. I firmly believe that if the Oakley Carlson Act had been in place earlier, Oakley would be alive today.

With nearly one child per month facing dire outcomes under the care of the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), it is evident that reforms, such as those proposed in the Oakley Carlson Act, are urgently needed.

My proposed legislation aims to enhance accountability for bureaucrats and courts, fostering transparency in their actions. The rejection of this bill last year underscores the reluctance of these entities to embrace accountability, even in matters as critical as the well-being of children like Oakley Carlson.

Here are the three primary objectives of my bill:

  • If a parent’s substance use has contributed to the removal of a child, the DCYF would be required to adhere to specific guidelines. Before the child is returned, DCYF would present documented evidence to the court, kicking off a continuous six-month period of sobriety through regular drug or alcohol testing, with a minimum frequency of twice a month.
  • In instances involving substance use or a parent’s conviction for crimes against children, the legislation stipulates that DCYF’s oversight must extend for a minimum of five years following the child’s reunification. This prolonged supervision period should provide ongoing support and vigilance, particularly in circumstances in which substances played a role in the child’s removal or when the parent has a criminal history related to offenses against children.
  • Furthermore, DCYF is mandated to maintain communication with individuals obligated to report child abuse and neglect for a full year after the case closure. This ongoing engagement includes weekly updates from mandated reporters who maintain contact with the child, reinforcing continuous attention to the child’s welfare, and even posting the formal resolution of the case.

With the continued support of advocates, I am fully committed to leveraging every available method to ensure Oakley’s bill makes it through the legislative process this year.

Thank you!

Stay connected for more updates. In the coming weeks, I will provide specifics on the legislative proposals in this update, and others, while shedding light on key issues under consideration in Olympia. I’ll also provide insights on how you can actively shape the fate of these bills and keep you informed about their progress through the legislative process.

It’s an honor to serve you in Olympia.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Sincerely,


Jim Walsh

State Representative Jim Walsh, 19th Legislative District
RepresentativeJimWalsh.com
428 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
jim.walsh@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7806 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000