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Inslee testifies in support of bill that makes spreading election result misinformation illegal

Opponents of the bill are raising concerns about preserving free speech.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington lawmakers heard testimony Friday on a proposed bill that would make it illegal for public officials to spread misinformation about election results within the state.

The Senate State Government and Elections Committee held a public hearing Friday morning on Senate Bill 5843, which is supported by Gov. Jay Inslee.

SB 5843, introduced by Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, would make it a gross misdemeanor for public officials and candidates to knowingly spread misinformation about election results in the state. It would be punishable by up to 364 days in jail.

”This is not just our recent past, it is our future if we do not act," Gov. Jay Inslee told Senators during the online hearing Friday morning.

”We cannot afford and we should not have to endure another insurrection like Jan. 6, 2021," said Inslee. "We know what powered, what fueled, what precipitated that insurrection. It was these lies that politicians must be held accountable for.”

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A number of people testified against the bill raising concerns about preserving free speech.

”No one should fear voicing an opinion about an election or challenging the status of an election out of fear of misdemeanor, jail time or a fine," said Laurie Buhler, a resident of Wenatchee.

Paul Guppy, with the Washington Policy Center, told senators the bill would not increase confidence in elections.

"It actually creates more suspicion when people are not allowed to debate the outcome of elections honestly," said Guppy.

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Inslee also called on lawmakers in his 2022 State of the State Address to pass such legislation

“We just marked the one-year anniversary of the insurrection in our nation’s Capitol. That insurrection continues to this day under the banner of the ‘Big Lie.’ The right to representative government is under attack in this country and in our state,” said Inslee.

The Washington State Supreme Court struck down a similar law barring candidates from making false statements about opponents in a 5-4 decision in 2007. The state’s highest court ruled it violated the First Amendment.

In a statement, Inslee said SB 5843 is purposefully tailored to specifically outlaw false statements that would be made to undermine the election process or results. Inslee also said the law is limited to false statements that are likely to incite or cause lawlessness, citing a 1969 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled speech can be limited if it is likely to incite lawlessness in Brandenburg v. Ohio.