Highlights of Wash. Attorney General Bob Ferguson's 2019 legislative agenda

The following is a news release from the Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson's Office.

Death penalty, Tobacco 21, high-capacity magazine and “ghost gun” bans highlight AG Ferguson’s 2019 legislative agenda

Diverse agenda also looks to combat wage theft, update data breach law, ban “pocket service” by debt collectors and more

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Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced his 2019 legislative agenda, which includes renewed calls for a ban on high-capacity magazines and a repeal of the state’s death penalty, as well as raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21.

The slate of 11 agency request bills includes several new initiatives. Among them, Ferguson proposes to prohibit the ownership or transfer of “ghost guns” — any firearm that cannot be reliably detected by a metal detector, such as a plastic 3D-printed gun.

The diverse slate of legislation increases protections for consumers and workers, impacts the health and safety of Washingtonians and addresses needed changes in government and the legal system. Bills include an update to the state’s data breach notification law, a ban on the practice of “pocket service” by debt collectors and a bill to close a loophole in the state’s wage theft laws that allows employers to avoid penalties if they return stolen wages before a citation is issued.

Health & Safety

“Tobacco 21”

In 2019, Ferguson is again proposing bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, and Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, that raises the age of sale for tobacco and vapor products in Washington state from 18 to 21. The bill does not impact sales located on military installations, nor does it penalize youth possession.

This is the fifth session Ferguson has requested this legislation, beginning in 2015. In 2018, Ferguson's legislation passed the Washington state House, but did not come up for a vote in the Senate. California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Oregon, along with more than 360 municipalities nationwide, have raised the tobacco sale age to 21.

High-Capacity Magazine Limits

Ferguson is again proposing legislation to prohibit the sale or possession of high-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds, with the exception of law enforcement, military personnel and recreational shooting ranges. Six states have passed similar limits, which federal appellate courts have upheld as constitutional. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Kuderer and Rep. Javier Valdez, D-Seattle.

Assault Weapons

The Attorney General is again pursuing his legislation in 2019 to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in Washington state. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Kuderer and Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds.

“Ghost Guns”

Ferguson is seeking to restrict the possession and sale of untraceable and undetectable “ghost guns.” In July, Ferguson sued the Trump Administration over its decision to allow the unlimited distribution of downloadable files for 3D-printed guns. A U.S. District Court judge blocked the Trump Administration’s decision, writing that “the untraceable and undetectable nature of these small firearms … poses a unique danger.” The bill to ban the weapons in Washington state is sponsored by Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, and Rep. Valdez.

Workers & Consumers

Wage Theft

Current Washington law prevents the state from taking enforcement action against employers caught cheating workers out of the prevailing wage if the employer pays back the wages before the state can intervene. Ferguson’s legislation allows the state to issue penalties to employers caught cheating workers. This will deter wage theft and create a level playing field for businesses.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, and Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett.

Statewide Relicensing & Consolidating Traffic Fines

Ferguson is again requesting a bill that allows people to consolidate their traffic fines across jurisdictions, giving them a single, affordable payment plan. In 2016, about 380,000 Washingtonians had suspended drivers licenses, many because of overdue traffic fines. Without a license, people are less likely to obtain or keep a job, access health care or fulfill parental duties. Ferguson’s bill creates a statewide program modeled after countywide programs in King and Spokane counties.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline, and Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland.

“Pocket Service”

Ferguson is requesting a bill that closes a legal loophole that leaves debtors to pay court judgments when they never knew a case was filed against them. The practice is known as “pocket service.” Under current law, a collection agency can mail a copy of a court summons and legal complaint, but instead of filing the same documents with the court, the collector keeps them in their “pocket.” When the debtor contacts the court to confirm the documents are legitimate, the court has no knowledge of a case, and debtors often then disregard the summons. The collector can file the documents with the court later, and having technically already legally served the debtor, quickly obtain a default judgment when the debtor does not respond to the lawsuit. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Dhingra and Rep. Christine Kilduff, D-University Place.

Data Breaches

Washington’s data breach notification laws will be strengthened under Ferguson’s 2019 update to the statute. Data breaches affected 3.4 million Washingtonians last year. Under current Washington state law, an organization does not need to notify you if a malicious hacker steals information that contains your email address and password, DNA profile, tax ID number or passport number. This bill reduces the timeframe organizations are required to notify consumers to within 30 days of a breach. It also expands the type of sensitive information that triggers a data breach notification. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-Seattle, and Rep. Shelly Kloba, D-Kirkland.

Justice & Government

Repealing the Death Penalty

For the third session, Ferguson is requesting a bill to repeal Washington’s death penalty. On Oct. 11, 2018, the Washington Supreme Court found that Washington’s use of the death penalty is “racially biased,” “arbitrary,” and “lacks ‘fundamental fairness.’ ” A study submitted to the court showed black defendants were four times as likely as white defendants to be sentenced to death. The court therefore unanimously found that Washington’s use of the death penalty is unconstitutional. Ferguson’s bill proposes that, rather than attempt to “fix” Washington’s broken death penalty system, the Legislature abolish it altogether. Ferguson’s bill passed the state Senate last session, but failed to pass the House. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, and Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines.

“Cooling Off” Period

Ferguson is again requesting a bill, sponsored by Sen. Carlyle and Rep. Mike Pellicciotti, D-Federal Way, which establishes a one-year "cooling off" period before certain state employees can become paid lobbyists. Under current law, many state officials and employees can leave a state job and start work the following day as a lobbyist paid to influence former colleagues. This is the third year Ferguson has introduced this legislation.

Korematsu & Hirabayashi Day

Ferguson is requesting a bill that creates an annual day of remembrance on Jan. 30 to honor Fred Korematsu and Washington native Gordon Hirabayashi to celebrate their courage in fighting injustice.  During World War II, both Korematsu and Hirabayashi stood up to the United States government in court over the internment of Japanese Americans. These pioneering civil rights leaders left a legacy that stands for the enduring importance of fundamental human rights. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Bob Hasegawa and Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, both D-Seattle.