Newsletter: Limiting ‘life without parole’

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‘Life without parole’ could lose some of its bite under Senate Bill 5288 and Senate Bill 5219

prisonOne of the most significant anti-crime measures in Washington is under attack. After already passing a bill to repeal the death penalty in Washington, some are working to turn back the “Three Strikes You’re Out” initiative approved by Washington voters in 1993. “Three Strikes” imposes mandatory sentences of life-without-parole for offenders on their third conviction for violent crime. Over 76 percent voted yes.

Two bills moving through the Senate would take the bite out of this effective crime deterrent. Senate Bill 5288 would eliminate second-degree robbery from the list of “Three Strikes” offenses, on the grounds that it was added by the Legislature after the initiative was passed. Senate Bill 5819 would create a “Postconviction Review Board” to review the conduct of inmates after they have served 15 consecutive years, with the idea that inmates demonstrating good behavior might be released.

Advocates of these measures are correct in observing that crime rates have declined since the 1990s. But they ignore the deterrent effect of “Three Strikes.” The law is hard, fast and simple. A third strike means a lifetime in a prison jumpsuit, no exceptions. Lawmakers who worry about the cost of imprisoning someone for life should recognize the very real human costs that crime imposes on its victims. Justice for crime victims should be our first priority in writing new criminal justice laws.

Additionally, the Department of Corrections notes that 64 offenders could be eligible for resentencing under these new laws. Whether or not they would be resentenced or receive the full amount of early release is unknown at this point.


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Why I voted no on property tax relief

This week, I voted no on a bill that will provide property tax relief for some seniors, veterans and disabled persons. Why did I do this?

Senate Bill 5160 ties property tax relief to the median income of a county. It increases the exemption primarily for those living in the more well-to-do counties of the state, while leaving out residents in 31 other counties. The key issue is that the bill allows for an adjustment for inflation for only seven counties while the others will be stuck with the same qualifying income threshold, making it more difficult over time for people in those counties to qualify for the relief.

This means that residents in lower-income counties will be left behind. For example, seniors, veterans and disabled persons in Okanogan County will stay at the current income limits for 15 years before they ever see a bump in qualification.

My caucus offered an amendment to raise the current income threshold according to inflation so that residents in those counties aren’t harmed, but the amendment was voted down. And because of that inequity, I voted no for the bill.

The property tax relief bill I sponsored, Senate Bill 5390, was based on the median home value of a county, which would have automatically adjusted with inflation as the housing market waxed or waned. This made sense because your property taxes themselves are based on your home’s value and not your personal income. Unfortunately, my bill did not make it out of committee.


Where are we in the legislative session?

Becker 2 We are spending long hours on the Senate floor this week and next voting on bills that originated here in the Senate. We must finish by March 13. After that, all the bills the Senate has passed go to the House of Representative for consideration. And all the bills the House has passed come to the Senate. We will conduct committee hearings on these bills before voting on them as well. If you would like to watch any of the coverage of this process, click here.