This is the fifth of five blog posts I'll make today regarding the 15 bills I've prime-sponsored that have passed out of committee. A few of them have already passed the Senate; others are lined up for a possible vote on the Senate floor.
Senate Bill 6575 would expand the Department of Corrections’ Extraordinary Medical Placement program. Over the past decade, I’ve pushed reforms to our criminal justice system to make it more just, fair, cost-effective, and better at protecting the safety of the public. Along with promoting sentencing reform, such as reforming our state’s draconian Three Strikes law, I’ve also supported legislation to provide a small amount of early release time to a specific class of prisoners who are older, nonviolent and have served a majority of their sentences and are at a low risk of re-offending once they are released. As I write here, the money we save by not continuing to warehouse prisoners at a cost of $34,000 per year each could be used to fund other public programs as well as prison programs that are proven to reduce recidivism.
SB 6575 is aimed at saving money by releasing prisoners who are basically too old or infirm to pose any danger to society. The bill would streamline and slightly expand our state’s already existing Extraordinary Medical Placement (EMP) for prisoners. The EMP currently allows for prisoners to leave prison prior to completing their sentence if they meet these three criteria: they have a medical condition that is serious enough to require costly care treatment; they pose a low risk to the community because they are physically incapacitated due to age or medical condition; and granting the extraordinary medical placement will result in a cost savings to the state.
Under the current program, prisoners sentenced to death or to life imprisonment without the possibility of release or parole are not eligible for an extraordinary medical placement. Also, the Secretary of DOC must require electronic monitoring for all offenders in extraordinary medical placement unless the electronic monitoring equipment interferes with the function of the offender's medical equipment or results in the loss of funding for the offender's medical care. The prisoners can’t leave prison until they have a guaranteed placement in the community. Since the program was initiated in 1999, only 68 prisoners have been placed in the community.
SB 6575 would streamline the medical criteria for consideration for extraordinary medical release. Prisoners who aren’t on death row or serving a life sentence would be eligible for extraordinary medical placement upon written certification by a DOC-approved licensed treating physician that they meet at least one of the following criteria: has a serious incapacitating medical need; is incapacitated by age to the extent that the prisoner's physical or mental health is substantially diminished; is permanently incapacitated; or suffers from a terminal illness that is predicted to result in death within twelve months.
Under this bill, the prisoner must still have a release plan for adequate living arrangements in the community. All of the conditions regarding electronic home monitoring and revocation continue to apply. The Department of Corrections is in support of this bill, and they think an additional 40-50 prisoners would be eligible to be considered for the expanded program.
Senate Bill 6025 would repeal the mandatory retirement age for District Judges. Current law states that a district judge must retire from judicial office at the end of the calendar year in which he or she turns 75 years of age. This bill acknowledges that people don’t age uniformly and repeals the mandatory retirement age. District Court judges are elected to serve four-year terms; we can leave it to the people who elect them to determine if they are still able to serve.
Senate Bill 5049 would strengthen our state’s Public Disclosure Act. There were ten exemptions to the Public Disclosure Act when it was first passed by voter initiative in 1972. Since then, some 400 exemptions have been added. I serve on the Sunshine Committee, which was created by the legislature in 2007 to review all public records exemptions and make annual recommendations to the Legislature whether to maintain the exemption, modify the exemption, schedule it for sunset review at some later time, or terminate the exemption. SB 5049 would implement seven of the recommendations of the Sunshine Committee.
Senate Bill 6068 would protect religious freedom by allowing for religious exemptions to autopsies. I sponsored this bill in response to the struggle between a county medical examiner’s office and the family of an Orthodox Jew who died on Mount Rainier in December of apparent natural causes. The family’s faith requires that a body be returned to earth as quickly as possible after death with all blood, tissue and body parts intact. State law currently doesn't allow families to stop autopsies on religious grounds.The family of the deceased man was able to secure a court order preventing an autopsy. The judge sided with the family on a technicality: the hiker's death on federal property diminished the county's standing in the case. I’m well aware of the importance of performing autopsies in many cases, but think there should be an exemption in certain cases.
Senate Bill 6068 would prevent a medical examiner or coroner from performing an autopsy for at least 48 hours if a close friend or relative raises an objection on religious grounds. During that time, the family or friend can ask a court to determine if the autopsy is necessary. A religious objection could not be raised if the death is believed to be the result of homicide or is a threat to public health. The bill also allows the medical examiner or coroner to seek court approval for an autopsy he or she deems necessary. A judge who authorizes the autopsy would have to require a medical examiner to perform it in a way that complies with the religion of the dead person as much as possible.
Senate Bill 5259 would allow small wineries and wine certificate of approval holders that have a total taxable sales of wine in Washington of 6,000 gallons or less to report on and pay taxes no more frequently than annually, rather than monthly. As noted in the 2012 fiscal note, the fiscal impact is zero. I’ve worked with a local winemaker on this bill, and hope we can pass it this year.