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News / Northwest

Washington state lawmakers approve police pursuit and income tax initiatives

By HALLIE GOLDEN, Associated Press
Published: March 4, 2024, 7:30pm

SEATTLE (AP) — Three conservative-backed initiatives that would give police greater ability to pursue people in vehicles, declare a series of rights for parents of public-school students and bar an income tax were approved by the Washington state Legislature on Monday.

These initiatives are just three of six certified after the group Let’s Go Washington, which is primarily bankrolled by hedge fund executive Brian Heywood, submitted hundreds of thousands of signatures in support of them. Initiatives to overturn the state’s landmark carbon pricing program and tax on the sale of stocks and bonds as well as one that could threaten a long-term care insurance program will likely head straight to voters.

“The 800,000 Washingtonians who signed the initiatives knew they were common sense measures, and the passage of three today proves they are just that,” Heywood said in an email.

The three initiatives approved by the majority Democratic Legislature will be delivered to the secretary of state and take effect 90 days after the session ends.

The police pursuit initiative would mean law enforcement officers would no longer need reasonable suspicion that a person inside a vehicle has committed certain specific crimes, such as a violent offense, sex offense or domestic violence assault, to initiate pursuit. Instead, it would allow police to initiate pursuits if they suspect a person has violated the law.

“We can take a major step right here, right now to protect public safety, to protect our citizens, our constituents,” Republican Sen. Mike Padden said during the vote. “It’s not going to solve all the problems but it’s going to go a long way to make law enforcement better able to do their jobs.”

But Democratic Sen. Patty Kuderer disagreed, saying a lot of law enforcement agencies have moved away from high-speed chases and added restrictions.

“I don’t know why this body would agree that we should lesson our law, which is best practices, to something that increases the potential for public safety to be harmed,” she said.

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The rules in the initiative would be base requirements, with individual agencies able to institute more rigorous pursuit standards.

The income tax initiative would not change current law, explained Democratic Sen. June Robinson. Washington is one of nine states that doesn’t have a state income tax. But lawmakers on Monday stressed the importance of codifying it into law.

“It codifies our longstanding tradition that we will not have tax based on personal income,” Republican Rep. Jim Walsh said. “It’s why many of us are here, Mr. Speaker. It’s a great thing about being from Washington.”

The state has considered nearly a dozen ballot measures to add an income tax over the last 92 years, and all but one of them failed, according to the secretary of state’s office. The lone successful measure was in 1932 and it was later overturned by the state Supreme Court.

The other initiative would give parents of public-school students 15 specific rights, including to examine textbooks and curriculum in their child’s classroom, be notified of any changes to the school’s calendar and inspect their child’s public school records. They would also have the right to be notified and opt out of any assignments or activities that include questions about such things as their child’s sexual attractions or their family’s religion or political party.

Many of these rights are already current law. But lawmakers spoke during the votes about this helping parents better understand their rights.

“What the parents want to be able to do — we have 295 school districts in this state — they want to know what their individual school is doing; how they’re teaching their children; what the curriculum is; how are their test scores,” said Republican Sen. Perry Dozier.

But Democratic Sen. Lisa Wellman said some of the language may be unclear.

“We have the opportunity now to pass this into law and then clarify anything” that may be ambiguous, she said.

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