Father close to goal of new stalking victim protection law

Ken Paulson isn’t sure how many times he’s told the story of his daughter’s death.

But he thinks each repetition has brought him closer to a change in Washington state law that he hopes will better protect future victims of stalking.

“People don’t think about or understand this until it happens to you,” he said.

Jennifer Paulson, 30, was shot and killed Feb. 26, 2010, outside Tacoma’s Birney Elementary School — where she worked as a special education teacher — by a man who had stalked her for years.

She briefly worked with her killer in college, but otherwise really didn’t know him. Jed Waits was fatally shot by sheriff’s deputies shortly after he killed Jennifer and fled.

Since his daughter’s death, Ken Paulson has been lobbying for better protections for victims of stalking, changes that he says could have saved her.

More than three years later, it feels like he’s close to the finish line, he says.

The proposal he, along with Jennifer’s mother and other family members, has been championing passed unanimously both the House and Senate in different versions this month. Sponsors don’t predict problems reconciling the two bills, putting the legislation the closest it’s been yet to becoming law.

The proposal would create a stalking protection order, similar to an order that domestic violence victims can get now.

Supporters say that would provide a stronger recourse for victims of stranger stalking — such as Paulson’s daughter — who don’t have a family or dating relationship with their harassers.

Such victims can get civil anti-harassment protection orders now — the same step taken by people trying to settle neighborhood feuds or any array of concerns. Law enforcement and the legal system are overwhelmed by the numbers of such anti-harassment orders and struggle to enforce them.

“Anti-harassment orders aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on,” said Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, who sponsored the House version of the bill, House Bill 1383.

Jennifer Paulson had one against her stalker. He had been charged for violating it and was out on bail when he killed her.

The detective in charge of the case called her days before the shooting to tell her he was out of jail, her mother told The News Tribune in 2010.

The bill also would create a criminal stalking no-contact order that would create framework for a judge to order measures such as real-time electronic tracking, something that Paulson believes could have helped save his daughter.

Judges already have the discretion to order monitoring in criminal proceedings, Goodman said. But Paulson hopes stalking will be taken more seriously in court with the new order and will prompt judges to order the monitoring in cases such as Jennifer’s.

The measure would also make stalking an aggravating factor that could be considered in sentencing, and would raise the standard penalty for a felony stalking conviction from a maximum prison sentence of five years to 10.

“This bill has legs,” Goodman said. “I’m very confident we’re going to get this bill enacted into law and protect people from the unfortunate fate that Jennifer Paulson met.”

Ken Paulson started his lobbying effort about two months after Jennifer’s death. He spoke with the attorney general, the Governor’s Office, the families of other victims, and an expert in the field of stalking victim protection. He even ran for state Senate unsuccessfully in 2010 and filed a citizen initiative, because that’s what he thought he needed to do to get a bill passed, he said.

A stalking-protections bill in 2012 had the support of then-Attorney General Rob McKenna, but state judges and others lobbied against it, arguing that it would be a significant administrative burden on the court system.

The bill failed. The sides later sat down to rehash definitions and the process for obtaining the proposed stalking orders, arriving at the measure that Goodman introduced.

Jennifer’s family has often told her story at hearings in Olympia, and Paulson has lobbied to keep the bill moving.

Earlier this month, with the measure competing with others to get a floor vote before a March 13 deadline, Paulson called lawmakers and the Governor’s Office.

“I said: ‘Hey, this has been sitting in committee, and Gov. (Jay) Inslee as a candidate supported this, and he hasn’t said a word. I’m going to be interviewed on TV tomorrow, probably, and what would you guys want me to say?’” Paulson recalled.

He doesn’t know if any of that made a difference. But on March 12, he and his wife, Cindy, watched from home as the Senate passed Senate Bill 5452 — sponsored by Paulson’s 2010 opponent, Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma. The House version passed the previous day.

“You kind of have to, in a polite way, let them know what they need to do,” Paulson said. “You’re letting them know that you want something to happen.”

It’s been a frustrating, difficult process, at times, he said.

“It’s a lot to keep on going down there, and it’s a lot to keep on talking to people,” Paulson said. “It’s a lot to do, emotionally.”

But he says he knows sharing Jennifer’s story is important to getting the changes made. The hope, he says, is that other fathers will be able to better protect their daughters, that other stalking victims will be able to better protect themselves.

He hasn’t been alone, he said. Other victims have shared their stories, and work groups have turned ideas into legislation.

“I might have kicked the ball and got it going, but I didn’t make it happen,” Paulson said. “I put the fire under some people and gave them the ideas maybe, but other people did this.”

The House and Senate measures both have public hearings Thursday. April 17 is the deadline for the proposal to be sent to the governor.

If all goes well, Paulson plans to ask the governor to sign the bill in Tacoma, “to honor my daughter.”

Seeing the protections become law will bring closure, Paulson thinks.

“After she died, I had to cancel her credit cards, get rid of her phone, the whole category of unfinished business,” Paulson said. “This is something that’s unfinished and needs to be done.”

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268