Friends Committee on Washington State
Public Policy

A Quaker Organization

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Legislative Report
April 27, 2001

From the Minutes of the
FCWPP Steering Committee Meeting

Legislative Alerts

Four or five legislative alerts have been sent to our email list, although, unfortunately, they were not sent to those without email. Two or three of these were on criminal justice issues, including efforts to require treatment for non-violent drug offenders funded with savings from reduced incarceration expenses. Other alert topics included health care, increasing the I-601 lid and opposing the proposed elimination of funding to vocational programs in our prisons.

Other Efforts

Dan Clark lobbied on the open public meeting law (described below). Dan wrote a letter regarding the need to change the liability standard for communities in relation to prisoners under community supervision– a very high priority concern of many communities. Agate Passage Worship Group and University Meeting prepared minutes opposing the death penalty which were sent to legislative hearings in support of the death penalty study and moratorium bills; Nancy First (Olympia) and Terry Thorsos testified in committee hearings.

Open Public Meeting Law

At times elected officials may need to discuss issues privately, e.g., discussing with an attorney a topic subject to litigation. Some counties are very defensive about these meetings. In order to insure that only legitimate topics are discussed without public scrutiny, it has been proposed that the state auditor require keeping minutes of such meetings. Dan did some lobbying with committees on this open public meeting law. In Oregon, the press is permitted to attend-to verify the appropriateness of topics discussed, although reporting is not be permitted– a good safeguard, in Dan’s opinion.

Death Penalty

Terry Thorsos and David Benson will confer after the end of the college term on preparing materials (including sample letters) for Quakers to use in lobbying for a death penalty study and moratorium, as there is little chance of abolishing it at present. It would be possible to do a mailing to every legislator annually. It is possible to get a complete set of address labels from the legislature. New York Times articles, e.g., Bob Herbert’s Op-Ed opinions, can be emailed from the NY Times web site. Communicating with Friends Bulletin, FCNL and local newspapers are also important. Terry and David will obtain approval by the Legislative Committee for any program.

2001-4-5 The meeting approved a minute of appreciation to Jonathan Brown for his substantial effort as Legislative Committee clerk this spring.

Sentencing Review – Sentencing Guidelines Commission

Last April, a measure written by Dan Clark requiring a sentencing review by the Sentencing Guidelines Commission was included and funded in the state budget. It required, among other things, a sentencing structure to be presented which would be within the current prison capacity. The report is due by December 1,2001. Dan has been attending the commission meetings. He reports few specific proposals. Although it is not known whether public meetings will be held, it will be important for Quakers to attend if they are.

Drug Crimes

Although 25% of prisoners were convicted of drug offenses, substance abuse is a factor in the crimes of 80% of the prisoners; 48% of prisoners were convicted of nonviolent crimes. An initiative passed in California requires drug treatment for most simple drug possession offenses. This has sent "shock waves" through the legal community here—requiring study of the California law and adaptation. Both the Washington State House and Senate have bills like the California law. King County Prosecutor, Norm Maleng, has been involved in a substitute bill (SB 5419) which passed in the Senate. It reduces "delivery" charges from class VIII to class VII (not VI) and eliminates triple scoring for prior drug convictions. The money saved from incarceration expenses is dedicated to drug treatment and the court. The bill is exempt from cut-off deadlines. It is now in the House. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee opposes it. If it can get to the floor, there are enough votes to pass it, so any encouragement/pressure (e.g., with the Republican leadership Barry Sehlin and Clyde Ballard) we can bring to getting it out of committee will be productive. It would be effective, independent of the results of the Sentencing Guidelines Commission review.

Increasing Penalties

Efforts to oppose bills increasing penalties have been successful with one minor exception. The Appropriations and Ways and Means Committees have been wary of financial impacts.

2002 session

It will be important for FCWPP to continue to both write and review bills for the 2002 session.