FILE - Police car lights

(The Center Square) – With Friday’s legislative cutoff looming, a substitute bill lowering the threshold for police in Washington state to engage in vehicular pursuits passed 8-1 out of the House Safety, Justice, & Reentry Committee on Thursday.

Substitute House Bill 1363 would let officers go after suspects if there is reasonable suspicion of a violent crime, sex offense, vehicular assault, domestic violence, escape, or driving under the influence.

The original HB 1363 would restore the reasonable suspicion standard for allowing police to pursue drivers they believe committed crimes.

HB 1363 was introduced in response to House Bill 1054 – passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2021 – which upped the police pursuit threshold to probable cause from reasonable suspicion.

Since HB 1054 went into effect nearly two years ago, there has been a marked increase in auto thefts and drivers refusing to stop for police.

In advocating for SHB 1363, Rep. Jenny Graham, R-Spokane, focused on what she considers the negative impact of HB 1054 on law enforcement’s ability to do its job.

“I will also point out that we’ve heard testimony from a mother whose daughter was killed,” she said. “She was an innocent bystander and so was her friend. But for the criminal that stole the vehicle and was going back to hit the business again, she’d still be alive and so would her friend. And that mother wouldn’t be grieving on a daily basis.”

On Jan. 31, Amber Goldade testified at a public hearing before the committee regarding her 12-year-old daughter, Immaculee, who was killed in January 2022 in a hit-and-run crash in Midland by a flatbed pickup truck that also injured another girl.

“This man committed many other serious crimes and fled in stolen vehicles, knowing he will get away with it because the police can’t pursue him,” Goldade told the committee. “For example, two weeks prior to my daughter’s death, this man – a convicted felon – was out of jail on his own recognizance for another crime. He committed a burglary and the police had stopped him, but he fled in a stolen vehicle and the police could only watch as he left.”

Graham mentioned a controversial study by retired University of Washington professor of statistics and sociology Dr. Martina Morris cited by some legislators to support Washington’s current police pursuit law that went missing online after The Center Square questioned the validity of its data. The study reappeared later in an altered form.

Morris testified against HB 1363 at the same public hearing where Goldade spoke.

“So while we do need to be careful about these pursuits, I think that, you know, it’s important also to point out that we heard testimony from a woman that was pointing to data saying that this has saved 73% of lives, but that was proven to be false to the point where they had to take that down,” Graham said.

Rep. Darya Farivar, D-Seattle, the lone “no” vote, said it’s not that simple.

“Mr. Chair [Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland], we know that pursuits are inherently dangerous and that’s why we made this change in the first place,” she said. “We understood that lives were at risk and being lost because of this harmful practice.”

She went on to say, “I really believe that the Legislature did strike the right balance in [1054]. And I think we need to hold to that unless a work group of experts and people with lived experience come together and find another way to move forward that is based in best practices and data and what’s happening around the state and country.”

More time is needed to study the issue, Farivar implored.

“And I really worry that passing this legislation out of committee would mean that we’re making a very, very serious change to our laws that we don’t how it’s going to impact Washington state,” she said. “We just don’t have enough information. There’s not enough data. We mentioned that data has been in dispute, there’s all sorts of different interpretations of it. We don’t have all the information we need to move forward.”

The committee debated and ultimately advanced an amendment to make the fix sunset on July 1, 2025, meaning in the absence of a future solution the law would go back to what it is right now.

Friday is the last day to pass bills out of committee and read them into the record on the floor in the chamber of origin, except for House fiscal committees and Senate Way & Means and Transportation committees.

Staff Reporter

Brett Davis reports on Washington state government for The Center Square. He previously worked for public policy organizations the Freedom Foundation and Washington Farm Bureau, as well as various community newspapers.