de-escalate

There is a long, convoluted story as to why Initiative 940, the police use of force measure, is even on the ballot this year. We’ll spare you the tedious legal wrangling, and the confusion over the various versions of the bill the state Legislature last year passed, then amended, then saw struck down judicially.

Simply put, the Legislature screwed up on procedural grounds, and a divided state Supreme Court ordered the original version of I-940 to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.

It’s a do-over, in other words.

Thus, we support the passage of the original 940 with a huge caveat: that the citizen sponsors and law enforcement groups, who forged a compromise with lawmakers last time around, once more get together to amend the obtuse language on the key question of justified use of force by officers.

The worry is, without passage of the initiative, law enforcement and the Legislature will not feel the urgency to work on a compromise that last time resulted in HB 3003, a good bill executed poorly and, according to the court, unconstitutionally. Our support also is a good faith gesture that the citizen sponsors of I-940, De-Escalate Washington, will make good on their promise to tweak the original bill a second time.

What the initiative does is take away what even many in law enforcement admit is a nearly impossible prosecutorial standard concerning culpability in officer-involved shootings. In 1986, the state Legislature approved a restrictive standard, said to be the most onerous in the nation, for facing criminal charges for misuse of deadly force on the job. The law dictates that a police officer must have acted with “malice” — essentially, with evil intention — and without “good faith” to be held liable.

Prosecutors throughout the state have deemed the standard too high to meet — and the numbers back it up. The Seattle Times reported that, between 2005 and 2014, only one of 213 deadly police incidents resulted in criminal charges in state courts. That officer was acquitted. Initiative supporters told us they believe police mostly act in good faith, but that there needs to be accountability.

In this reworking, the “malice” standard will be replaced by a “good faith” test. As written, good faith would be met if “a reasonable officer, in light of all the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time, would have believed that the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent death or serious physical harm to the officer or another individual.”

The initiative also contains a second part of the “good-faith” test, dubbed “subjective” that deals with the officer’s intent to use deadly force. That tries to determine an officer’s state of mind at the time, which is why in the compromise bill, such language was amended. We hope, if passed, the rebooted I-940 will also streamline the “good faith” test.

The parts of the initiative dealing with de-escalation training and mental health training are well-advised and have faced only a little opposition from law enforcement. The better the training to deal with difficult circumstances, the better the chances are that deadly force will not be needed. There also is agreement on the section that requires an independent investigation must be completed in cases of deadly force. The investigations would be done by an outside law enforcement agency, not a citizen review panel.

However, law enforcement groups are united in opposition to a provision that mandates officers have a “paramount duty” to render first aid, fearing that injunction will mean they must provide aid before securing a crime scene and protect bystanders and themselves from harm.

Such differences can be smoothed over in a compromise bill in the next legislative session, assuming I-940 passes on Nov. 6. We hope it does.

INITIATIVE 1634

Washington’s Initiative 1634 campaign is dubbed “Yes to Affordable Groceries,” with a plea that voters prohibit local governments from imposing new taxes on all groceries, including sugary soft drinks. But let’s not kid ourselves: This initiative, mostly funded by more than $20 million from national soft-drink makers, is aimed at keeping the new soda tax imposed by Seattle from spreading elsewhere.

Though the vast majority of the initiative’s funding comes from the soda-pop industry, it also has support from restaurateurs, store owners and farm groups.

Given the anathema Washingtonians have for taxing all foods, the likelihood that cities outside Seattle would do so seems highly unlikely. The Republican-controlled Legislature imposed the sales tax on food in 1982, which led to the GOP losing control of the Legislature and Gov. John Spellman, Washington’s last Republican chief executive, losing his job. Lawmakers in 2010 imposed taxes on bottled water, carbonated beverages and some candy. Voters rejected those taxes via initiative that same year, but the Legislature imposed a tax on bottled water again in 2017.

Seattle’s excise tax, which began Jan. 1, is levied on businesses that distribute sugary soft drinks, the equivalent of 35 cents on each 20-oz bottle of soda pop; diet and sweetened espresso drinks are exempt. Proponents pushed the taxes for programs to combat health problems caused by too much sugar in a diet, such as obesity and diabetes, by discouraging consumption and funding education campaigns. Initiative 1634, however, would not repeal the taxes in Seattle — the city that loves to tax itself.

So, what’s the likelihood that an individual City Council here would try to impose additional taxes on soft drinks — which already have sales taxes levied against them — as well as groceries? Could Wapato’s City Council impose a tax while neighboring Toppenish would not? Both cities, as well as most municipalities in the Yakima Valley, rely heavily on excessive, regressive taxes on sewer, water and garbage utilities to fund essential government services. Imposing a tax on soft drinks – which would hurt the poor disproportionately – could be an easy target for local officials who want to replace, lower or supplement one regressive tax with another.

Washington already has more than enough regressive taxes. The safe bet is to vote yes on Initiative 1634 to keep the option for another one off-limits to local government.

• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Bob Crider and Sam McManis.

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