In Our View, Dec. 31: Tougher Laws

McKenna knows which battles to fight; three bills deserve lawmakers’ support

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Rob McKenna has realistic expectations about the legislative session that will convene in Olympia on Jan. 11. Thus, the state attorney general already is predicting a strikeout on one of his four major initiatives.

McKenna wants to establish an independent Office of Open Records that would expedite resolution of public records disputes. It’s a good idea, one that would improve even more the state’s already commendable system that allows the people to hold state government accountable. But because his bill would create a new government office that would cost money, McKenna knows it won’t advance far among legislators who face massive deficits. But he’ll introduce the bill anyway as a way of keeping the discussion alive. Perhaps establishing an Office of Open Records might occur after the state economy recovers.

We introduce this strikeout only to illustrate that a realistic approach that has become typical in the state attorney general’s office, and to bolster our argument that three other bills McKenna will advocate deserve strong attention and swift passage by the Legislature. These measures address serious crimes. McKenna reviewed all three in a recent meeting with The Columbian’s editorial board.

Protecting vulnerable adults — McKenna has adopted a badger’s tenacity in his pursuit of those who exploit the elderly. His proposed legislation would add sentencing enhancements for crimes against the elderly who are unable to care for themselves, crimes against the developmentally disabled or against those who reside in long-term care facilities, receive in-home services or are incapacitated and under guardianship law. Typically, these are financial exploitations, and the list is long of people who have cheated the elderly out of money. Shockingly, the crimes often are committed against parents or other relatives.

Additionally, McKenna’s bill would require workers at financial institutions to be trained to recognize and report attempted or actual exploitation of vulnerable adults. Financial institutions would be able to freeze a transaction for up to three business days if exploitation is suspected. As McKenna’s office points out, baby boomers are turning 60 at the rate of one per 7.5 seconds. The growing senior population deserves this added protection, and simple human decency demands that it be applied as quickly as possible.

Preventing child sexual exploitation — The state AG wants to redefine the crime of possessing depictions of child pornography to include deliberately viewing images of child sexual abuse over the Internet. McKenna’s bill would wisely protect two groups of adults: those who inadvertently stumble onto child porn sites and those who buy used computers with pornographic images that the buyer did not know existed. This protection is achieved by applying the concept of repeat viewings. When computer forensic experts can document a pattern of viewing, criminal charges could be brought.

Internet technology aids the criminal mind as much as the law-abiding citizen. In earlier years, the crime could be proved by seizing downloaded images or printouts. Now, though, criminals can share access to images on remote computers in ways that are harder to track. McKenna’s bill addresses that trend and should be passed by legislators.

Domestic violence sanctions — As mentioned in a previous Columbian editorial, McKenna wants to strengthen domestic violence prosecutions by requiring courts to consider full criminal records, including past misdemeanor convictions, at sentencing of domestic violence felons. This law would apply only to about 10 percent of abusers, but getting tough with the worst of the worst is necessary, and lawmakers are urged to approve this bill.