OLYMPIA, Wash. - Washington's Legislature gave its final endorsement Monday to a state constitutional amendment granting judges more power in denying bail, a reaction to the November shooting deaths of four suburban police officers.
The measure, approved 92-4 in the House, now heads to the November ballot for final approval by voters. If enacted, it would allow state judges to deny bail when a suspect is charged with a crime carrying a possible life sentence and, based on evidence, is considered a danger to the community.
"Today is the day, and now is the time," Rep. Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens, said before the vote. "This is the biggest, most important piece of law enforcement legislation in years."
The amendment was spurred by the Nov. 29 deaths of Lakewood police Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards, who were gunned down at a coffee shop in a Tacoma suburb. The suspect, Maurice Clemmons, had been released on bail less than a week before the shooting.
Clemmons fled the scene, launching a massive police manhunt throughout western Washington. He was shot and killed two days later by a Seattle police officer.
Families of the Lakewood police officers, along with law enforcement officials, met with the Legislature when it convened in January and urged them to act in response to the shooting. Since then, several versions of the amendment have been considered.
"I can think of no constitutional amendment in recent memory that has as great of a consequence as this one," said Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw.
House and Senate lawmakers had disagreed about how far to go in denying bail until last week, when Gov. Chris Gregoire organized a meeting to craft a version with broad support.
"It is a wonderful feeling to know we are taking a big step forward and to know that lives are going to be saved with this constitutional amendment," said Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe.
As the measure developed, civil liberties advocates raised concerns that lawmakers were moving too quickly in adopting the amendment and might restrict bail rights too severely. But lawmakers said the version that passed Monday satisfies most of those concerns.
"It has been a very deliberate, conclusive, careful process that has struck the balance between preserving our liberties with protecting public safety," said Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland.
Also Monday, the House passed a measure that would end the practice of "booking bail" in which suspects can post bail without having to see a judge. That measure now heads to Gov. Chris Gregoire for approval and would take effect in January, with portions contingent on voter approval.