Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The year is quickly passing by. Soon, we will be enjoying the holidays with family and friends, and in less than two months, the Legislature will reconvene on Jan. 8 for a 60-day legislative session. I’m looking forward to working for you!
Over the past several months, I’ve been listening to those affected by our state’s drug crisis and seeking answers, especially over the scourge of fentanyl in our communities. As the ranking Republican on the House Community Safety, Justice and Reentry Committee, I’ve been discussing public safety issues with other legislators throughout the United States. I was also given the opportunity through the Amend program from the University of California San Francisco to tour the prison system in Norway.
I know that ensuring public safety must be among the highest priorities as we enter the 2024 session. If we and our families are not safe in our communities, our neighborhoods and in our homes, we cannot enjoy the liberties guaranteed by our founding fathers and those who have fought to preserve our freedoms.
I wanted to provide a brief update of legislative activities as we draw closer to the legislative session in January.
‘Save our Communities’ Drug Crisis Listening Forum comes to Yakima
I hope you will be able to join me and others this evening at the Camp Hope Yakima homeless shelter for an informal discussion and listening event about the serious and growing problem of drug abuse, addiction, and deaths from overdoses of hard drugs, including fentanyl and heroin.
This will be the third drug crisis listening events I’ve held this year. The first, in June, was held in Goldendale and drew a standing-only audience. A similar event was held in September in conjunction with the Yakama Tribes in Toppenish. Both of those meetings brought out victims of drug abuse and their families who voiced heartbreaking stories of how narcotics, and especially fentanyl, have turned their lives upside down.
Fentanyl is now the leading cause of death for those from the age of 18 to 45. This is a tragic crisis, affecting people in every community in our state. It’s not legislators who have the answers. It’s the people we serve. It is critically important to hear from those suffering from addiction and their family members. They have great insight to this issue because they have lived it.
In this next event, I will be meeting with homeless residents of the Camp Hope Yakima shelter to hear their stories and see what we can do in the coming 2024 legislative session to save our communities and citizens from these drugs.
WHEN: Today, Nov. 7 – 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m.
WHERE: Camp Hope Yakima, 2300 E. Birch St. (Behind U-Haul, off Highway 82 – Nob Hill Boulevard exit), Yakima.
Everyone is welcome to attend!
Public safety tours offer more ideas for policy solutions in Washington state
It is amazing what we can learn from others, both in and outside the United States, to improve public policy back home.
In September, I had the opportunity to travel to Norway, along with fellow Community Safety, Justice and Reentry Committee member Tarra Simmons, D-Bremerton, and Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) staff for a tour of Norwegian prisons. The program in Norway is built on a “dynamic security” system, which trains correctional officers to use relationship building and open communication with incarcerated individuals to create an environment conducive to rehabilitation, reduce prison-based violence, and facilitate positive change.
Out of 58 prisons operated by the Norwegian Correctional Service, 70% are considered high-security facilities. Correctional officers in those facilities engage in both formal and information communication with incarcerated individuals and are assigned two to three individuals with whom they serve as the main point of contact. In their role as “contact officer,” they help their assignees develop a “future plan” that includes both rehabilitative and treatment goals that will aid in rehabilitation. It is a program being considered by the state DOC .
I also serve as a member of the National Conference of State Legislature’s (NCSL) Standing Committee on Law, Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. In June, I attended an NCSL conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which focused on juvenile justice policy. The meeting highlighted highlight effective juvenile justice policy and the value of having youth voices, and the voices of those who have been involved in the system, engaged throughout the policy-making process.
Last month, I attended an NCSL conference in Chicago that discussed state policies impacting jails. The meeting explored state policy strategies that better meet the needs of individuals, leverage limited resources, and reduce overreliance on local jails. We also discussed Medicaid and the justice system, addressing individuals with behavioral health needs, incentivizing success, criminal justice coordinating councils, supporting women in the justice system, responding to community supervision violations and revocations, and fines and fees in the justice system. I had the opportunity to meet and visit with other legislators from throughout the nation about these and other public safety issues.
One of the other things I have learned from these conferences is that many legislators throughout the U.S. are finding it challenging to address the rampantly growing issues of drugs, crime and homelessness. Here at home, Washington has seen crime on the increase, drugs taking over our communities, and not enough law enforcement officers to protect us. These will again be some of the issues at the forefront of discussion in our committee during the 2024 legislative session.
Community notification of sex offenders must stay intact in Washington
Washington state has long been a leader on many public safety issues. We were the first state in the nation to enact the “Three Strikes” law, to ensure repeat violent offenders would not be able to continue to terrorize victims without facing long prison terms. In 1990, the state Legislature approved and Gov. Booth Gardner signed the Community Protection Act, the first law in the nation to enact civil commitment of the most dangerous sex offenders and require all convicted sex offenders to register so communities could be notified of their whereabouts.
Lately, there’s been discussion about the possibility of eliminating Washington’s community notification of sex offenders. As a member of the Washington Sentencing Guidelines Commission and the lead Republican on the House committee that addresses public safety issues, I am firmly opposed to eliminating this policy and prepared to introduce legislation, if needed, to keep sex offender community notification intact in Washington state.
The idea behind this policy is to give citizens the ability to protect themselves and their families from sex predators who happen to live in their communities and neighborhoods. It does not, however, allow for vigilante justice or unprovoked violence against registered offenders. It is, however, an important tool to ensure public safety in our communities.
In our latest briefing, we have been told the controversy over this issue may have been a misunderstanding and that there are no plans to push it forward as a course of action for the Washington State Legislature to consider. However, current and former legislators are paying attention, and we are prepared to protect our communities by ensuring notification remains.
Backlog of thousands of sexual assault kits nearly cleared
It has been my honor to work with Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, and Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission Executive Director Monica Alexander on a very important issue — getting approximately 10,000 sexual assault kits off the shelves of law enforcement agencies and getting them tested. Some had been dated all the way back to the 1980s, preventing justice for survivors.
Since 2016, Rep. Orwall and I have worked to pass bipartisan legislation, including providing funding for crime labs, creating a task force to work on the issue, prohibiting the destruction of untested rape kits, making sure survivors would no longer have to pay hospitals to test their own rape kits, requiring the state to process a sexual assault kit within 45 days of receiving it, and creating a statewide tracking system for survivors to check testing status of kits.
I’m pleased to report that the backlog of these kits is on track to be fully cleared by December. So far, testing of the backlogged kits has helped to solve at least 21 sexual assault cases. We expect that number will grow.
Let’s keep in touch!
It is my honor to serve and represent you and all our citizens of the 14th District. As we move through the holidays and get closer to the 2024 session, please know I am always interested in hearing your questions, comments and ideas for legislation. Feel free to reach out to my office either via email, postal mail or phone. You’ll find my contact information below.
Enjoy the holidays and let’s keep in touch!
Honored to serve you,