April 27, 2001 From the Minutes of the FCWPP Steering Committee Meeting Four or five legislative alerts have been sent to our email list, although, unfortunately, they were not sent to those without email. Two or three of these were on criminal justice issues, including efforts to require treatment for non-violent drug offenders funded with savings from reduced incarceration expenses. Other alert topics included health care, increasing the I-601 lid and opposing the proposed elimination of funding to vocational programs in our prisons.
Other Efforts Dan Clark lobbied on the open public meeting law (described below). Dan wrote a letter regarding the need to change the liability standard for communities in relation to prisoners under community supervision– a very high priority concern of many communities.
Agate Passage Worship Group and University Meeting prepared minutes opposing the death penalty which were sent to legislative hearings in support of the death penalty study and moratorium bills; Nancy First (Olympia) and Terry Thorsos testified in committee hearings. Open Public Meeting Law At times elected officials may need to discuss issues privately, e.g., discussing with an attorney a topic subject to litigation. Some counties are very defensive about these meetings. In order to insure that only legitimate topics are discussed without public scrutiny, it has been proposed that the state auditor require keeping minutes of such meetings. Dan did some lobbying with committees on this open public meeting law. In Oregon, the press is permitted to attend-to verify the appropriateness of topics discussed, although reporting is not be permitted– a good safeguard, in Dan’s opinion. Death Penalty Terry Thorsos and David Benson will confer after the end of the college term on preparing materials (including sample letters) for Quakers to use in lobbying for a death penalty study and moratorium, as there is little chance of abolishing it at present. It would be possible to do a mailing to every legislator annually. It is possible to get a complete set of address labels from the legislature. New York Times articles, e.g., Bob Herbert’s Op-Ed opinions, can be emailed from the NY Times web site. Communicating with Friends Bulletin, FCNL and local newspapers are also important. Terry and David will obtain approval by the Legislative Committee for any program. 2001-4-5 The meeting approved a minute of appreciation to Jonathan Brown for his substantial effort as Legislative Committee clerk this spring. Sentencing Review – Sentencing Guidelines Commission Last April, a measure written by Dan Clark requiring a sentencing review by the Sentencing Guidelines Commission was included and funded in the state budget. It required, among other things, a sentencing structure to be presented which would be within the current prison capacity. The report is due by December 1,2001. Dan has been attending the commission meetings. He reports few specific proposals. Although it is not known whether public meetings will be held, it will be important for Quakers to attend if they are. Drug Crimes Although 25% of prisoners were convicted of drug offenses, substance abuse is a factor in the crimes of 80% of the prisoners; 48% of prisoners were convicted of nonviolent crimes. An initiative passed in California requires drug treatment for most simple drug possession offenses. This has sent “shock waves” through the legal community here—requiring study of the California law and adaptation. Both the Washington State House and Senate have bills like the California law. King County Prosecutor, Norm Maleng, has been involved in a substitute bill (SB 5419) which passed in the Senate. It reduces “delivery” charges from class VIII to class VII (not VI) and eliminates triple scoring for prior drug convictions. The money saved from incarceration expenses is dedicated to drug treatment and the court. The bill is exempt from cut-off deadlines. It is now in the House. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee opposes it. If it can get to the floor, there are enough votes to pass it, so any encouragement/pressure (e.g., with the Republican leadership Barry Sehlin and Clyde Ballard) we can bring to getting it out of committee will be productive. It would be effective, independent of the results of the Sentencing Guidelines Commission review. Increasing Penalties Efforts to oppose bills increasing penalties have been successful with one minor exception. The Appropriations and Ways and Means Committees have been wary of financial impacts. 2002 session It will be important for FCWPP to continue to both write and review bills for the 2002 session. 6 September 2001 Criminal Justice Issues Since the passage last year of the legislative mandate drafted by FCWPP calling for and funding a comprehensive review of the state’s sentencing policies, the state Sentencing Guidelines Commission has been devoting the bulk of its time to this study. As FCWPP registered lobbyist, I have been attending the monthly SGC meetings, as well as taking part in conference call meetings of its juvenile justice group. I also lobbied in Olympia during the opening week of the legislative session and have attended meetings of the steering committee of the King County Bar Association drug task force which has been providing new leadership on the issue of drug sentencing reform. In addition, I sent a letter to every member of the house and senate fiscal committees and criminal justice policy committees successfully urging them to hold the line on further increases in sentences.
The Sentencing Guidelines Commission recommendations to the legislature and the governor are due by December 1 of this year. Although the SGC hasn’t yet determined what those recommendations will be, in this year’s legislative session it did endorse a substitute bill drafted by King County prosecutor Norm Maleng eliminating triple scoring for repeat drug offenses, reducing the penalty for some drug offenses by one level, and using the savings for expanded drug treatment both in institutions and in the community. This was a substitute for a bill replacing most imprisonment for drug crimes with treatment similar to the successful California initiative, which FCWPP has endorsed. Maleng’s bill, which FCWPP also endorsed as the best we could hope for this session, passed the senate and had enough votes to pass the house, but never came to a vote there because the Republican co-chair of the house appropriations committee, Barry Sehlin, refused to give it a hearing. Throughout the session, we worked closely with one of the key sponsors of the legislation. Besides drug sentencing reform, the commission will likely be recommending reforms in the mandatory referral of juveniles to adult court for serious violent crimes, specifically granting the adult court judge discretion to return the case to juvenile court if it would be in the best interests of society and the juvenile. In the 2002 legislative session, the SGC’s complete recommendations will be out, apparently together with a citizen’s initiative to the legislature embodying the essential elements of the California drug treatment initiative. As a result, this will be a very important session for criminal justice legislation, and FCWPP expects to be active in drafting and lobbying for specific reform bills. To effectively do this, it will be important for us to recruit the part-time Quaker lobbyist FCWPP has agreed to seek. Other Issues During the 2001 session, FCWPP also gave attention to several other issues. In addition to two drug bill alerts, FCWPP’s legislative committee clerk Jonathan Brown coordinated alerts (1) endorsing a state bill embodying the Health Care 2000 single-payer universal health care proposal, (2) urging legislators to budget for continued funding for critical human services and to lift the lid on I-601, (3) opposing cuts in funding for vocation education programs in state prisons, and (4) urging President Bush’s new energy secretary to follow through with the Clinton administration’s planned shutdown of the Fast Flux Test Facility at southeastern Washington’s Hanford Reservation. FCWPP also sent letters to legislators urging further safeguards to the open public meetings law by requiring minutes of executive sessions for review by a judge if the legality of the sessions were challenged, as well as supporting reforms in the initiative process. In addition, one member of our executive committee, Terry Thorsos, testified for FCWPP in support of a moratorium and study on the death penalty.
Our future ability to monitor and potentially affect a variety of issues of importance to Friends will be greatly enhanced if we are able to employ a part-time Quaker lobbyist in addition to the work of our legislative committee, my services as a volunteer lobbyist, and those of Deric Young who assisted us on two occasions this year and plans to provide greater help in the coming session.
– Daniel Clark, September 5, 2001