In a push that legislators said is part of the most significant effort to address domestic violence in recent memory, the state House of Representatives on Tuesday unanimously approved a half-dozen bills addressing domestic violence.
Though only one of the bills was drafted as a direct response to Tacoma Police Chief David Brame's fatal shooting of his wife, Crystal, and himself last year, state Rep. Patricia Lantz (D-Gig Harbor) said the Brame shootings have sparked political will to pass laws to prevent domestic violence and help victims.
"This is no longer the dark secret that no one talks about. It's out there in the open," Lantz said after a floor session devoted entirely to domestic violence-related bills, about which only muted concerns were expressed.
Before the string of unanimous votes, Lantz told colleagues that the Brame shootings provided a wakeup call that could make Washington a nationwide leader on domestic violence laws.
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Advocates say one measure would make Washington the first state to require law enforcement agencies to enact policies for police-involved domestic violence.
The bills now move to the Senate, where most are thought to have a good chance of passing. Senate versions of two measures await votes on the floor, while the Senate already passed a version of Lantz's bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Debbie Regala (D-Tacoma).
The bills sponsored by Lantz and Regala were the result of months of work by a coalition of more than 70 law enforcement, civic and labor leaders, lawyers and domestic violence advocates, calling itself the Task Force on Officer-Involved Domestic Violence.
They would set minimum standards for a domestic violence policy to be drafted by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs and adopted by local, county and state law enforcement agencies by June 2005.
Though individual agencies would be allowed to go further, the basic requirements include screening applicants for past involvement - or accusations of involvement - in domestic violence and sharing information on such incidents and accusations with other agencies. Agencies also must offer counseling and require officers to report when one of their own is implicated in a domestic abuse situation.
Rep. Mike Carrell (R-Lakewood) tried to amend Lantz's bill and another bill to add penalties for false domestic violence allegations. But opponents of the amendment argued that the Legislature's goal should be to encourage domestic violence reporting and prevention.
"Bills like this are pieces of a fix," said Rep. Bill Hinkle (R-Cle Elum), who - along with Carrell - supported Lantz's bill after voting against it in committee. "But let's not think that this is a huge step," he said.
In Washington, one domestic violence incident is reported every 11 minutes, while King County shelters turn away 10 domestic violence victims for every one they admit, according to domestic violence advocates.
Kenneth P. Vogel: 360-754-6093
SIDEBAR: Bill would police police on domestic violence
House Bill 2392, which was developed in response to the Brame shootings and passed by the state House on Tuesday, would require police agencies to:
•Screen applicants to determine if they have been accused of committing domestic violence or child abuse or neglect, or if they are the subject of a restraining order.
•Immediately investigate allegations of domestic violence, and possibly relieve officers of their firearms or suspend their powers of arrest.
•Enact procedures to handle claims that one officer is the victim of domestic violence by another officer.
•Tell the alleged victim how the investigation is going.
Officers would be required to:
•Report when they respond to a domestic violence call involving another officer, either from their own agency or another.
•Report if they have been investigated for allegations of child abuse or neglect, or if they are the subject of a restraining order.
Five other domestic violence-related bills
Here's what other domestic violence-related bills passed Tuesday by the state House would do:
HB 1645: Allows victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking to break their leases to get out of an abusive situation.
HB 1949: Allows judges to order people accused of domestic violence to provide financial assistance to their accusers and to block the accused from selling or hiding shared assets.
HB 2397: Allows judges to fine those convicted of domestic violence up to $100, with the money going to help pay for shelters and other programs.
HB 2398: Requires that victims be notified if their abuser or anyone else changes protection orders.
HB 2473: Prohibits law enforcement officers from possessing firearms in court when they are personally involved in a domestic violence or harassment case.