OLYMPIA – Washington is set to remove second-degree robbery as a three-strikes penalty and expand the types of convictions that can be vacated.
But the state House has punted on voting to take Washington’s now-defunct death-penalty law off the books.
The demise of Senate Bill 5339 comes after the state Supreme Court struck down capital punishment last year, after finding it has been imposed arbitrarily, and with racial bias. Gov. Jay Inslee in 2014 placed a moratorium on executions.
Like a similar proposal last year, SB 5339 this February passed the Senate in a vote that scrambled party lines.
House Democratic leaders, however, decided against scheduling a vote last week ahead of a key deadline. That effectively sidelined the legislation for the year.
A spokesman for the House Democratic caucus said leaders made that decision because, with capital punishment already struck down, it would not have made much impact.
“Eliminating the language does nothing to ‘slam the door’ on the death penalty – it’s already closed,” Jim Richards wrote in an email.
“With limited time to pass bills, it became a question of managing the House floor,” Richards added. “Should we have spent hours debating a symbolic bill? Given these issues, people decided the time would be better spent on bills that actually help people.”
Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, and sponsor of the bill, blasted the decision and lashed out at Democratic House Speaker Frank Chopp of Seattle.
“At this point there’s no legal reason, policy reason, political reason not to pass the bill,” Carlyle said Wednesday evening, after the legislation failed to come up for a House vote. In the meantime, legislators last week gave final approval to two other criminal justice bills, sending them to Inslee’s desk for signature:
•Senate Bill 5288 removes the crime of second-degree robbery from Washington’s three-strikes conviction laws. Under that statute, people convicted three times of certain types of crimes get life in prison without the possibility of release. Those crimes include violent offenses such as homicide, manslaughter and rape, as well as other sex crimes.
Bill sponsor Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, said second-degree robbery charges are used when there’s been no physical injury, use of a deadly weapon or robbery of a financial institution, like a bank. It stuck out on the three-strikes list, she said, because the other charges are “all considered to be serious, violent crime.”
“This is typically a convenience-store robbery,” said Darneille, adding that the change would only apply to crimes going forward, not people already convicted.
•House Bill 1041 streamlines the process for restoring offenders’ civil rights after serving terms for felony convictions, such as voting, possessing firearms, serving on a jury or holding public office. The bill also expands the types of felonies that can in some circumstances be vacated, or wiped from someone’s record, to include second-degree robbery and second- and third-degree assault. And it changes the law to allow people to get multiple misdemeanor crimes vacated, instead of just one currently, according to bill sponsor Rep. Drew Hansen.
Even after they’ve paid their debt to society, people with convictions on their records can have difficulty getting jobs and housing, he added.
In rebuilding their lives, “They cannot get out from under it, no matter how totally they turned their lives around,” said Hansen, a Democrat from Bainbridge Island.
A spokeswoman for the governor’s office wouldn’t say whether Inslee would sign those bills. Darneille said Inslee’s office has told her that the governor would sign SB 5288.
Inslee on Friday signed into law Senate Bill 5649, which gets rid of the statute of limitations for survivors of sexual assault who were children when the crime took place. For adult victims, the bill extends the current statute of limitations on some sex offenses, including an increase to 20 years for first- and second-degree rape. The current statute of limitations for those charges is 10 years.