Lawmakers discuss new approach as public safety focus gains bipartisan support in 2024

Wash. — A new poll shows Washington voters are worried about the economy, public safety, and homelessness – in that order. That’s according to a new Crosscut-Elway poll released Thursday.

The results were presented during a legislative preview session where lawmakers discussed what their priorities will be for this upcoming session, which kicks off on Monday, Jan 8.

Speakers from the transportation, budget, and leadership teams are pledging to tee up some big changes – some of which already have bipartisan support.

One area where lawmakers appeared on the same page is a need to bolster law enforcement numbers in Washington State.

“The public safety crisis in this state is longstanding,” said Rep. Eric Robertson (R-District 31), who represents Southeast King County and parts of East Pierce County. “We’re 50th in the nation when it comes to officers in our communities.”

Governor Jay Inslee said there is a $10 million grant that will help local agencies hire more people.

And Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma 27th District) talked about funding for the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission.

“Making sure we can continue to grow the number of officers in Washington State,” Jinkins said.

Also on the public safety front, the new Crosscut/Elway poll showed 66 percent of voters polled selected “favor or strongly favor” to “eliminate some restrictions on when police can pursue criminal suspects in cars.”

Lawmakers say a bill introduced last session by Alicia Rule (D- 42nd District) out of Whatcom County proposed rolling back to the pursuit status quo from 2020.

“Every police chief and mayor I’ve talked to has asked for a rollback, so I think that’s absolutely something the legislature should do,” said Rep Drew Stokesbary (R- 31st District). “Legislators, we’re not perfect, we’re not God - sometimes we make mistakes.”

But others say to keep expectations realistic. Sen. Andy Billig (D- 3rd District Spokane) brought up the fact that many urban areas – like Tacoma and Seattle – have their own policies on police chases.

“Even if you were to change the law back to how it was before 2021, it wouldn’t actually change how things are on the ground for most of Washington,” Billig said.

Another topic addressed was transportation, with one focus being Washington’s ferry system.

“We have people dependent on these ferries and we let them down,” said Sen Curtis King (R - 14 District). “It’s not Dems, it’s not Republicans.”

“We all let them down,” he continued.

Lawmakers said the biggest problems for ferries was also staffing.

Inslee talked about the work already underway – like new training programs, scholarships, and recruiting people out of state.

“The state should do everything humanly possible to restore more reliable service on our boats, as quickly as humanly possible,” Inslee said.

It was also clear that what’s next for the Climate Commitment Act will be a big source for debate in 2024, which many are blaming for bringing higher gas prices to Washington.

Other big-ticket items this session: Inslee said there will be 400 million dollars coming to help bring more mental health resources.

And more money is going towards funding special education, along with a $3 per hour increase for all paraeducators.

The short 60-day session of 2024 starts Monday.

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