Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, evoked the memory of slain transgender teen Nikki Kuhnhausen before her colleagues last week approved a bill limiting so-called panic defenses.
Kuhnhausen, 17, disappeared in early June. Her remains were discovered Dec. 7 after a human skull was found in the woods at Larch Mountain, southeast of Battle Ground, Clark County.
David Y. Bogdanov of Vancouver, Washington has been charged with second-degree murder and malicious harassment, which is a hate crime in Washington.
Authorities allege Bogdanov strangled the Vancouver teenager after learning she was transgender. He pleaded not guilty to both charges last month, and bail was set at $750,000.
House Bill 1687, which has been named “the Nikki Kuhnhausen Act,” would block a defendant from using a panic defense based on discovery or disclosure of the victim’s actual or perceived gender or sexual orientation. More specifically, the bill would prevent a claim of “diminished capacity” because the defendant did not fully comprehend the nature and gravity of the alleged crime.
“What this bill does, it removes a possible defense for the kind of thing that happened to Nikki,” Wylie said on the House floor Wednesday. “Nikki was strangled by somebody who was upset about who she was.”
More than 300 people attended Kuhnhausen’s memorial service, she said.
“Her mother and her friends asked me to name this bill after her,” she said. “They didn’t want anybody who would do what happened to Nikki to get off by saying, ‘I just couldn’t help myself.’ ”
Wylie noted that standards have changed during her lifetime for sexual harassment in the workplace and abuse in marriage.
“There’s a lot of things that have changed,” she said. “But it’s still not OK, and it shouldn’t be OK, to say, ‘I was so upset by who they were that I had to strangle them and leave them in the woods.’ ”
Lopsided House vote
After Wylie’s remarks, the House passed HB 1687 by a 90-5 vote, with three representatives absent and excused.
The legislation has been forwarded to the Senate. The Senate Law and Justice Committee has tentatively scheduled a public hearing on the bill for 8 a.m. Wednesday, followed by a possible vote on whether to pass the legislation out of committee at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, serves on the seven-member Law and Justice Committee.
According to an article posted on the American Bar Association’s website, eight states — California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New York and Rhode Island — have legislatively banned the use of gay or transgender panic as a legal defense, as of July 1, 2019.