THURSTON COUNTY BILL PASSES HOUSE: It was heartening to see a bill addressing the use of deadly force by police approved by a 98-to-0 margin in the state House last week. The issue is contentious nationally, and tempers have also flared in the wake of police shootings and citizen deaths in Washington state.
Washington’s law is the most protective of police in the nation, according to an analysis by Amnesty International. The law requires prosecutors to prove an officer had malice or evil intent before he or she may be convicted of wrongdoing in a shooting, despite any recklessness in the incident.
House Bill 2908, which is sponsored by Democratic Rep. Cindy Ryu, marked a middle path for lawmakers on this issue. A proposal to repeal the malice standard did not get support.
In a nutshell, Ryu’s bill creates a joint legislative task force that would include lawmakers of both parties, police, prosecutors, criminal-justice training experts, defense lawyers and representatives minority groups including the Black Alliance of Thurston County. This broad membership should allow full airing of viewpoints and move our state to a better place balancing the needs of police and communities.
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The task force is to look at current police practices, existing law, and alternatives that police have when confronting dangerous situations. The task force would send a report with recommendations to the governor and Legislature by December.
“We are one step closer to creating a statewide culture that garners public trust, honors the role of law enforcement to justifiably maintain public safety, and creates accountability when they unnecessarily cross this line," said Karen A. Johnson, chair and co-founder of the Black Alliance of Thurston County, which led statewide efforts to change the law.
The measure now needs – and deserves – approval by the Senate. The unanimous support in the House is a good signal that can happen.
Lawmakers must not let this issue slip between their fingers.
STATE DATA GLITCH WAS LUCKY DISCOVERY: The state Health Care Authority that oversees Medicaid and state employee health care programs had a data leak affecting the personal information of more than 91,000 Apple Health clients.
The agency blamed an employee, who shared 57 files with her brother, for mishandling the data, which included personal health information, Social Security numbers and dates of birth.
The error would not have come to light were it not for a state auditor’s probe that was looking into the brother’s use of a state computer at the Department of Social and Health Services to look at pornography. The brother told investigators his sister who worked at HCA gave him the files so he could help her work on spreadsheets.
Both were fired. Sharing of such confidential information is a violation of federal privacy laws.
The Health Care Authority notified the 91,000 clients receiving Medicaid coverage through Apple Health of the breach.
Clearly the Health Care Authority needs to do a better job of ensuring that its employees protect personal information.
And DSHS needs to remind its staff of state ethics rules which restrict use of public resources for public purposes — with only incidental personal uses permitted.