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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

As we enter the last few days of the 2023 session, the fate of several public policy bills hangs in the balance. This update highlights some of the biggest debates, including two public safety measures, your tax advisory vote, and a bill that threatens parental rights.

First, I’d like to share some good news. My bill allowing county governments to hold regular meetings outside of their county seat once per calendar month or quarter has been signed into law.

House Bill 1645 originated with a request from our local Benton County commissioners prohibited from hosting meetings in the more populous areas of Kennewick and Richland.

  • Analysis: The legislation makes a minor change that will have a big impact. It’s about people. Now there will be more opportunities for community members to take part in these local governmental meetings. More access means more participation. I’m excited to have facilitated this change in the law.
  • Current status: Signed by the governor, House Bill 1645 takes effect 90 days after the adjournment of the 2023 session. You can read more about this bill here.

Police pursuit reform has been a big topic this session. Here’s why:

  • In 2021, sweeping law enforcement reform that included a higher threshold for allowing officers to engage in vehicular pursuits was approved by legislative Democrats. Rather than “reasonable suspicion,” officers must meet a higher legal standard of “probable cause.” That change has resulted in a dramatic increase in stolen vehicles, reckless driving, and additional efforts to flee from police, among other crimes.
  • A bipartisan bill — with 20 Democratic sponsors — was introduced at the start of the session to address this growing public safety problem. House Bill 1363 sought to fully restore law enforcement’s ability to pursue criminal suspects. Unfortunately, that proposal was rejected by influential members of the majority party and not allowed to proceed.

Instead, Senate Bill 5352 has been put on the table. The measure lowers the “probable cause” standard, but only in specific instances. Police can only pursue in limited cases involving those suspected of a violent crime, a sex offense, domestic violence-related offenses, driving while under the influence, and trying to escape arrest.

Read your 8th District lawmakers’ recent statement on passage of the police pursuit bill.

  • Analysis: On the House floor, I voted “yes” on this proposal because although incremental, it’s a step in the right direction; but the bill does not go far enough. With criminal activity on the rise across the state, it’s deeply disappointing to see such a watered-down version of the original proposal approved.
  • Current status: Senate Bill 5352 passed the House with a vote of 57-40, 1 excused. The bill now heads to the Senate for concurrence on the amended version of the bill.

Blake Fix, Senate Bill 5536, aka the ‘Blake Fake,’ was recently debated on the House floor. The amended bill provides lesser penalties than the original measure introduced at the start of the session.

Why do I call this bill a fake? Because after the Washington State Supreme Court struck down the possession of hard drugs with its Blake ruling, the Legislature promised a solution that would provide accountability, help individuals, and keep our communities safe. This bill doesn’t do that.

Background: The original measure was a carefully crafted bipartisan compromise that sought to classify possession of illegal drugs as a gross misdemeanor; but instead of approving that good bill, a striking amendment was approved by House Democrats that changed it. The amended version reduces the penalty to a misdemeanor.

Read some of my comments during floor debate on this bill in this Seattle Times article.

  • Analysis: I voted no on this amended bill. Senate Bill 5536 leaves us with more questions than answers. The original version of the bill was the product of the hard work of three of the four caucuses. That work produced a measured, sensible balance of treatment and accountability. Instead, the amended version approved by House Democrats diminishes and weakens the government’s response to these crimes and to the individuals that need help for their addictions.
  • Current status: Senate Bill 5536 was approved in the House with a vote of 54-41, 3 excused. The bill now heads to the Senate for concurrence on the amended version of the bill.

Senate Bill 5082 would remove tax advisory votes from the ballot. Supporters claim these advisory votes “confuse” voters with their “anti-tax” sentiment. In reality, the only thing that’s confusing is the lack of response by the Legislature to these direct-democracy tax opinions from constituents.

  • Analysis: I voted “no” on doing away with tax advisory votes. Transparency and fiscal responsibility are important to Washingtonians. Tax advisory votes have consistently revealed a reluctance, if not downright resistance, to additional taxes; but rather than repealing any of these tax increases and reducing government spending, the majority party is getting rid of it — because they don’t like what voters have to say.
  • Current status: Senate Bill 5082 now heads to the governor’s desk, who can choose to veto the bill or allow it to become law.

Denying fundamental parental rights is the dominant theme of Senate Bill 5599. The bill denies parental notifications for runaway children seeking or receiving “protected health services” when entering a youth-related facility or host home.

What the bill does: Under Senate Bill 5599, children can stay at licensed youth shelters without their parent’s knowledge for an indefinite amount of time while seeking medical treatments like gender-transitioning services and medications ― including puberty “blockers” that can lead to permanent sterilization.

Watch my floor speech on this bill below:

  • Analysis: I voted “no” on this bill. Among its many flaws, this bill assumes that families not “affirming” a child’s short-term desires are abusive. That’s wrong. Loving parents guide their children through life, including not always agreeing with everything they do.
  • Since the vote on Senate Bill 5599, I’ve been contacted by several concerned 8th District constituents about this attack on parental rights. This bill is wrong — legally, morally, and ethically. Under this bill, children — even those coming from out of state — could game the system and simply “disappear” by claiming they are seeking “protected health services.” It puts barriers between children and their parents, grandparents, and people who love them.
  • Current status: Senate Bill 5599 was approved on a party-line vote of 57-39, 2 excused. The bill now heads to the Senate for a concurrence vote on the amended version of the bill.

Thank you!

Please contact me if you have questions about bills discussed in this update or other state-government-related public policy issues facing our region and state.

It’s an honor to serve you!


Stephanie Barnard

State Representative Stephanie Barnard, 8th Legislative District
469 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7986 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000