Politics & Government

Legislature turns to fallen officers

OLYMPIA - Four widows, a widower and 13 children who lost a parent were on the minds of lawmakers Tuesday as law enforcement-backed legislation emerging from last year's police officer slayings won easy approval in the state House.

Still to come: A proposed state constitutional amendment that would limit bail for the most violent offenders, a top priority for police and the families of Maurice Clemmons’ victims.

“I don’t want to see any more families go through what we are going through,” said Stan Delong, father of Lakewood police officer Tina Griswold.

With grieving loved ones watching Tuesday, lawmakers passed resolutions honoring officers killed late last year.

The names of the four slain Lakewood officers, a Seattle officer and a Pierce County sheriff’s deputy rang out on the House and Senate floors to mark the grim toll of three shootings:

Tina Griswold. Greg Richards. Mark Renninger. Ronald Owens. Timothy Brenton. Kent Mundell.

“These officers knew they faced danger on the streets, yet they went out each day,” said Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood. “They served us. They protected us.”

Officers from the Lakewood and Seattle police departments and deputies from the Pierce, Grant and Lewis county sheriff’s offices formed an honor guard that marched up the center aisle of the Senate and planted flags festooned with ribbons bearing the names of fallen officers.

The unrelated series of deaths late last year prompted quick action in a legislative session otherwise dominated by budget issues.

The Nov. 29 slayings of Lakewood police Sgt. Renninger and officers Griswold, Richards and Owens in a Parkland coffee shop followed the Halloween night shooting of Seattle Officer Brenton while on patrol.

The year was capped by the December death of Pierce deputy Mundell, who was fatally wounded on a domestic violence call.

A pair of senators choked up as they talked about the slain men and woman and their families.

More than words are required, Carrell said. “We will make – this year – the streets of our cities and our state safer.”

In an effort they said would do just that, the House passed three bills aimed at getting offenders off the streets. Another pair of bills approved would boost benefits for first responders and their survivors. They now go to the Senate.

A measure offered by Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood, would allow surviving families of police and firefighters killed in the line of duty to collect full death benefits even if they had not worked 10 years before their deaths and even if their spouses later remarry. It also requires public colleges to offer the families free tuition.

Rep. Brad Klippert, though he works as a Benton County sheriff’s deputy, couldn’t stomach the extra cost to the state of supporting remarried spouses and paying unlimited college costs.

Klippert, R-Kennewick, voted with Reps. Dennis Flannigan, D-Tacoma, and Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, against Green’s bill, the only legislators to oppose any of the bills Wednesday.

“My child, if I’m killed in the line of duty, could go there and say ‘State institution, you owe me a PhD, you owe me an MD,’” Klippert said.

Rep. Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens and a Seattle police officer, said he would want his wife to remarry and keep her benefits. “I would love to have my wife have the ability to move on and also take care of our kids,” he said.

Resolutions asking voters to change the state constitution await floor votes in both the House and Senate.

Clemmons bailed out of jail three times between July and Nov. 29, when he shot the Lakewood officers. The constitution requires bail except for suspects facing the death penalty.

Richards’ widow, Kelly, said fixing that is the most important change that can be made. “If that would have been through, my husband wouldn’t have been gone (today)” she said.

Republicans complained that the legislature missed an opportunity Tuesday to consider a change under the eyes of family members. The House resolution could come up this week, said Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw.

Senate Democrats, though, haven’t yet discussed it in their private meetings, said Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.

The House, if it moves first, could agree with key senators to allow bail to be denied an offender facing a life sentence, or with Gov. Chris Gregoire, who wants broader authority for judges to deny bail when they believe it would protect public safety.

In the meantime, the House agreed unanimously Tuesday to eliminate “booking bail.”

Clemmons was released from jail in May on bail set by a formula in law rather than by a judge.

The practice is done in seven counties to allow the prompt release on weekends and holidays of offenders eligible for bail, said Rep. Troy Kelley, D-Lakewood.

“The circumstances surrounding a crime don’t get taken into account at all,” Kelley said.

Kelley’s bill would require a judge to decide on bail for felons.

It could have a tougher road in the Senate, where a key senator favors a more cautious approach. Judiciary Committee Chairman Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said the constitution should be changed but other bail issues can wait until legislators can convene a task force to look at them.

During a hearing on the task force Monday, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, who wants to end booking bail, said she assumes if a task force is formed her proposal would have to wait.

Whatever laws pass, Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer delivered a message to senators Tuesday that laws can’t be enforced when budget cuts take police off the streets, prevent supervision of offenders and threaten to close prisons and jails.

Calling for more resources for public safety, he said: “Let’s not be the cop-killing capital of the USA, here in the state of Washington.”

Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826

jordan.schrader@thenewstribune.com

Staff writer Brad Shannon contributed to this report.

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