OLYMPIA—It's been declared one of the most important issues of this legislative session, but with about two weeks left, the House and Senate are divided over a proposed state constitutional amendment to restrict bail for suspected criminals.
State senators announced a bipartisan compromise Thursday on their version of the constitutional amendment, which faces ultimate approval by voters. Under the Senate plan, a suspect could be held without bail if they are accused of a specific list of crimes, with evidence of intentional harm.
"This is carefully balanced to make sure that we can actually pass and get to the people a constitutional amendment, and a good one," said Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood.
But state House lawmakers say they want a broader approach.
The constitutional amendment was proposed in response to November's slaying of four Lakewood police officers. In a previous version of the amendment, judges could have held a suspect without bail if they believed the suspect posed a danger to the community. That was later narrowed to suspects facing a charge that carries a possible life sentence.
Thursday's Senate compromise goes even further, focusing on specific charges and taking any speculation by the judges out of the decision.
"A prediction of violence is a shot in the dark right now," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Adam Kline, D-Seattle. "We're not going to have judges deny a constitutional right on a hunch."
The specific charges included in the compromise amendment are murder, manslaughter, first-degree assault, sexual offenses that carry a potential life sentence and charges that are a suspect's second and third offense under the state's "three strikes, you're out" law. It also lets the Legislature come back and further define the criteria.
The suspect in the Lakewood shooting was released on bail less than a week before the murders, and lawmakers have worked with law enforcement officials to address what they see as flaws in the bail system exposed by that case.
But those law enforcement officials are behind the House's proposal, and were not considered in the Senate's new compromise, said Rep. Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens.
Hope, a Seattle police officer, and Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, a former police detective, said Thursday they are disappointed that more people weren't involved in drafting the new proposal.
Representatives from the state's law enforcement community and family members of the four slain Lakewood officers testified in front of a House committee early in the session, asking for action on the bail issue.
"(Law enforcement officials) were left out of this process, and that's disheartening," Hope said. "I don't think the deal should be made behind closed doors and then brought forth, especially when this truly, truly impacts the officers on the street and the victims of the crime."
But even though there is a discrepancy between the two chambers' versions of the amendment, and only about two weeks left in the legislative session, one key legislator predicted an amendment will be approved.
"We will not leave this session without this legislation," Hurst said. "This is the most important piece of criminal justice legislation in decades."
A version of the amendment needs to clear the Legislature with two-thirds support from lawmakers before voters have the final say in November.
Gov. Chris Gregoire, who has been heavily involved in discussions over the possible constitutional amendment, had not fully reviewed the Senate proposal Thursday and declined immediate comment.
The constitutional amendment is House Joint Resolution 4220.