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Juneteenth, felon voting rights and drug law changes highlight busy week in Washington Legislature

State lawmakers are reaching the halfway point in Washington's 2021 Legislative session.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — State lawmakers took steps towards passing police accountability bills, creating a new state holiday, and changing voting rights as they neared the halfway point in the 2021 legislative session.

The Senate passed a bill to require police officers to report misconduct committed by their co-workers. 

A bill to make June 19, also known as Juneteenth, a state holiday passed out of the House Thursday. It would make that day a paid state holiday for state employees to mark the end of slavery. 

RELATED: What is Juneteenth? Western Washington honors a milestone in Black history

Representatives also passed Rep. Tarra Simmons’ bill to restore voting rights to those convicted of felonies. Simmons, D-Bremerton, is believed to be the first state legislator who was once a state prison inmate. She served time for drug-related crimes and was able to get voting rights restored. Her bill would automatically restore those rights when someone is released from custody. 

RELATED: Bremerton woman’s unique journey from prison to being elected to state legislature

“I am an example of the problem, but also of the solution,” said Simmons. “As a young woman, I was convicted. I served my time in prison, my voting rights were taken away, I got out and I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do to reenter our community.” 

DRUG POSSESSION LAW THROWN OUT 

Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle said they were surprised by the Washington State Supreme Court ruling Thursday deeming the current felony drug possession law unconstitutional

Justices ruled the state’s drug possession law leads to convictions of those who unknowingly possess drugs. 

Following the ruling, the Seattle Police Department, Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, and other law enforcement agencies said their officers will no longer arrest someone solely on the possession of drugs, and drugs found in those instances will not be confiscated. 

RELATED: Police, prosecutors scramble with fallout of Washington's drug possession decision

“We’re all in shock,” said state Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale. She said the ruling could lead to the release or reduction of sentences for thousands of state and county inmates. 

In addition to community safety concerns, Mosbrucker said she is worried about the impact to those who get into drug treatment after an arrest. 

"It's heartbreaking. We have a heart for those who are suffering from addiction, absolutely, but there's not the infrastructure existing out there currently, in order to get them the help that they need,” said Mosbrucker.

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