OLYMPIA, Wash. — Two issues debated for years by Olympia lawmakers may get settled in the early days of the 2019 legislative session.
The move to amend the police use of deadly force initiative, I-940, has bi-partisan support and is getting early action at the Capitol.
The same can be said for the renewed effort to raise the tobacco and vaping purchase age from 18 to 21.
The debate over police use of deadly force has been waged for years. Lawmakers have tried to find a way to balance the demands of law enforcement and their critics in a state where it's almost impossible to prosecute an officer following the use of deadly force.
Last November, voters passed I-940 lowering the legal threshold despite police opposition claiming the legal language was confusing and went too far.
Since the midterm election, the two sides have been working with lawmakers on amending the initiative and after two days of legislative hearings, it appears an agreement has been reached.
“We believe this new deadly force standard clarified and agreed upon, provides a clear and objective standard that can be clearly understood,” said Des Moines Police Chief Ken Thomas, who is also the President of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
Andre Taylor, whose brother Che Taylor was shot and killed by Seattle police in 2016, worked on negotiations on behalf of community groups.
“I’m feeling really wonderful today because I’m witnessing some historic things that are going on,” said Taylor.
Bill sponsor Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, said he believes the bill has the necessary 2/3 majority in the Senate and House to amend the initiative.
Frockt said the bill could be on the Governor’s desk by the end of the month.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson is equally optimistic about a bill he’s backed for several past sessions: raising the tobacco purchase age to 21.
He told state representatives the bill would save lives.
High school senior Madison Langer testified to the committee about how she got addicted to nicotine at 15 after trying vaping.
"My best friend who was a varsity athlete offered me a ‘Captain Crunch’ flavored e-cigarette. It doesn't look like a cigarette. It's beautiful chrome-colored, it smelled absolutely amazing," said Langer.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson said there’s another reason to be hopeful.
The legislation appears to have the support of the lobbyist for tobacco company owners Phillip Morris USA. In a letter submitted by Amanda Klump, representing Altria Client Services, the companies are supportive “in light of the FDA’s call to address this issue.”
The Food and Drug Administration has called the growth of vaping among teens an “epidemic.”
The lobbyist’s letter said the companies believe the “time has come” to raise the age for purchasing tobacco products to 21.
“We are supporting this step because we believe it is the most effective step available to reverse rising underage e-vapor rates,” said the letter.