A compromise measure to overhaul Washington's controversial law on police shootings might run afoul of the state Constitution.
Lawmakers on Tuesday were working to quickly pass the measure, which supporters say would make it easier to prosecute police who commit wrongful shootings while still protecting those who make honest mistakes.
However, the measure was initially proposed as an initiative to the Legislature. According to the state Constitution, if the Legislature doesn't pass such an initiative as-is, it must be sent to the voters on the November ballot.
In this case, lawmakers are trying to pass the initiative as-is, while immediately amending it with compromise language hammered out between supporters, police organizations and prosecutors. A 1971 opinion from the Washington Attorney General's Office suggests that's not allowed.
Supporters of De-Escalate Washington already collected enough signatures to put it on the November ballot. That put the ball in the legislature's court, to either approve it or allow voters to decide.
The initiative would remove the so-called malice clause in Washington state law, which would make it easier to prosecute officers in the most extreme cases. Proving malice in Washington state is known to be difficult.
In the eleventh hour of the legislative session, lawmakers convinced police unions and initiative backers to come to the table and come up with a compromise.
"This is a pretty doggone emotional issue we're discussing here today," said state Representative Dave Hayes, who is also a sheriff's deputy.
Tuesday, members of the House Public Safety Committee approved I-940, with another bill, HB 3003, that amends it.
It includes new language that would set an objective standard for the "good faith" of an officer. It asks the question: would a reasonable officer have used force? The amendment would require two-thirds approval of the legislature.
Representative Roger Goodman, House Public Safety Chair, was optimistic Tuesday.
"We have been having conversations with what is called the five corners, the governor's office and the leadership of both the House and Senate from both parties to come to conclusion on this," Goodman said.
"This shows power of the people and democracy working," said Heather Villaneuva, spokesperson for De-Escalate Washington. She believes the work of the initiative supporters forced lawmakers to act.
But it also took the majority of the unions representing law enforcement to step forward.
"I'm not sure historic is the wrong word," said Steve Strachan, executive director of the Washington Association of Police Chiefs and Sheriffs. "This is a great example of people with a very different perspective on a critical issue actually agreeing to sit down and listen to each other."
The legislative session ends Thursday.