Police reform, guns, and pickleball: First week of Washington's 2022 session
Week one of the 2022 legislative session is in the bag — and it’s been a busy one. Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins spoke to KUOW Morning Edition Host Angela King about the start of the session.
It included Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee's State of the State address, as well as the Republican response to that speech. Also, legislators held public hearings on high profile topics, including proposed new restrictions on guns in the public square, fixes to last year’s police reform laws and, in a controversial move, an effort to make pickleball the official state sport.
OK, maybe the the latter isn't quite as controversial as the other topics (fun fact: pickleball was invented on Bainbridge Island).
But Washington's legislators aren't being shy about their ambitions for this short 60-day session. That suits Inslee, who called for "big" and "bold" action on a variety of issues.
THE STATE OF THE STATE IS... COMPLICATED
"I want to reiterate that this may be a short session, but it is unlike any, perhaps, in our state's history," Inslee said during his State of the State address. "We must act at a scale commensurate to our challenges."
Minority Republicans, not surprisingly, have priorities of their own that don't exactly align with Inslee's agenda; his budget proposal, which would supplement the state budget adopted in 2021, includes another $4 billion in spending.
Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins says Inslee would argue that additional spending is really additional investing.
But that doesn't seem to have resonated with the GOP.
Republican state Sen. Chris Gildon from Puyallup gave his party's official response to Inslee's speech.
"The last thing you need as you recover from the pandemic is for government to take more money away from you," Gildon said. "In fact, we believe you should be given some of your money back in the form of tax relief."
Specifically, Gildon proposed a significant property tax exemption, a repeal of the business and occupation tax on manufacturing, as well as a repeal of the new capital gains tax and the new payroll tax to pay for the WA Cares Fund long-term care program.
Democrats aren't likely to agree to wholesale repeals of either the capital gains tax or payroll tax, as they championed those ideas. However, Democrats have agreed that the WA Cares Fund needs to be improved.
Hard lines are already being drawn on other notable topics, too.
IF THIS IS AN EMERGENCY, CALL BACK LATER
Lawmakers passed about a dozen police reform and accountability measures last year, some which left some law enforcement agencies unclear about when and how they could respond to some calls.
For example, the 2021 House Bill 1310 placed restrictions on the permissible use of force by police. And many law enforcement agencies said it prevented officers from responding to crisis calls where no crime was being committed because they lacked authority to detain or transport people.
Flo Beaumon, the agency director for Catholic Housing Services, urged lawmakers to adopt a clarification this week. While her agency has had numerous positive experiences with police, she testified about how misinterpretations of the law have led to a number of dangerous situations.
"One police department told us 'it really isn't against the law to be suicidal, so it really isn't our job to respond," Beaumon told lawmakers in committee Tuesday. "In a third city, staff and residents were hiding from a resident who was intoxicated and psychotic, who was slamming objects around, kicking at doors, lunging over the desk and threatening staff and other residents with harm. This went on for hours. The police said to call back if he hurt someone."
Beaumon was advocating for one proposed fix, House Bill 1735, which affirms that police officers do have authority to use force as part of "community caretaking" situations, like detaining someone who is suffering from a mental health crisis.
Democrats want to clarify their reforms and find what House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, a Democrat from Tacoma, calls "the Goldilocks spot."
But Republicans say that's just not possible without doing more unnecessary surgery to the law.
"At the worst, they think the Democrats swung and missed on police reform," Austin Jenkins says. "At the least, they think these laws go way too far and handcuff police from being able to be proactive and do their jobs ... So, there's a real philosophical divide here."
YOU THINK THAT'S DIVISIVE?
Republicans are also rankled over new Democratic proposals to ban guns at school board meetings and at election offices, and a proposed ban on the open carry of guns at local government meetings.
These measures would build upon last year’s ban on open carry at the state Capitol and at public demonstrations. The broad goal is to prevent what supporters of these bills call "armed intimidation."
Democrats are essentially responding to to political polarization and violence, including the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, threats made to election officials in the wake of the 2020 presidential election and a wide variety of conspiracy theories.
Opponents aren't buying it and see these measures as another effort to disarm law-abiding citizens.
Jenkins summarizes one opponent's view like this: "This is about permitting someone's discomfort about his gun over his right to carry a gun."
MAYBE WE SHOULD SETTLE THIS ON THE PICKLEBALL COURT
Yes, in the midst of these heavy discussions, lawmakers want to score a win for the state's pickleballers.
Inslee is on board with a proposal to make pickleball the official sport of Washington.
That makes some kind of sense.
According to the USA Pickleball Association, pickleball was invented on Bainbridge Island in 1965.
The brief lore credits "three dads – Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum — whose kids were bored with their usual summertime activities" for creating game. That's former Congressman and Washington Lieutenant Governor Joel Pritchard, by the way.
"The property had an old badminton court, so Pritchard and Bell looked for some badminton equipment and could not find a full set of rackets. They improvised and started playing with ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball," according to the USA Pickleball Association.
"As the weekend progressed, the players found that the ball bounced well on the asphalt surface and soon the net was lowered to 36 inches. ... Soon, the three men created rules, relying heavily on badminton. They kept in mind the original purpose, which was to provide a game that the whole family could play together."
The sport – now purportedly the fastest growing sport in the country – has since been enjoyed by families and athletes all over the world.
The "debate" over this bill isn't likely to be as exciting as game of pickleball – that is, unless some legislators are among vocal pickleball haters.
Only time will tell whether the hyper-partisan politics of today will go that far.