The state Legislature is a deliberative body, as it should be. When it comes to lawmaking, rash decisions are frowned upon and all due diligence is needed to prudently vet each bill up for consideration.
If that pronouncement sounds too lawyerly, and the process seems too laborious and overly cautious, well, that’s the way government works. Or is supposed to, anyway. Every once in a while, Legislators will try to hurry through a bill not fully scrutinized — take last year’s public-records exemption fiasco, for instance — with unfortunate results.
But there also are times when a situation demands swift attention, when excessive deliberating can seem like dithering, when the problem has been discussed and analyzed in blue-ribbon commissions, task forces and listening sessions, when what’s needed is action rather than still more talk.
The plight of missing and murdered indigenous women in the state is one such urgent issue that demands immediate resolution. That’s why we support state Rep. Gina Mosbrucker’s bold move to introduce a bill that would, essentially, leap-frog over the current “information-gathering” process and establish a protocol for how state law enforcement will deal with reports of missing indigenous women and form two tribal liaisons to work with the Washington State Patrol on new and existing cases.
In matters less urgent, we might counsel patience for Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, and advise to let the current fact-finding task force finish its job before proceeding to the next step. After all, passing new legislation before recommendations are brought forth might lead to a slippery slope of lawmakers trying to circumvent the rules and prematurely prod the process forward with undue haste.
But Mosbrucker has a compelling case to speed things up. Actually, it’s the family and friends of murdered and missing women, including many belonging to the Yakama Nation, that make a convincing argument to eschew the task force’s final report and take tangible steps to find these women and solve the cases.
Each day without action means the trail grows colder and more women are potentially at risk of being victimized. As Emily Washines, activist and Yakama Nation scholar told a recent gathering at Central Washington University, “We are at a pivot point in our history regarding the safety of our Native women.”
Waiting for the current task force to complete its work in June would mean delaying until the 2020 legislative session legislation to take the next step. Given the scores of public and private meetings, listening sessions and seminars that have addressed the crisis, there seems ample data already on hand regarding the number of women missing and murdered and reasons why state resources lag.
Mosbrucker’s new legislation, House Bill 2951, would, among other tangible proposals, create a commission to monitor and improve law enforcement response to cases involving Native women. A key component would be the implementation of a database of nongovernmental and nonprofit agencies to augment law enforcement response.
And, to put an exclamation point on just how urgent immediate action is needed, Mosbrucker included an “emergency clause” that would allow the new law to take effect immediately upon Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature, rather than waiting the standard 90 days after House and Senate passage.
Lawmakers are sometimes loath to invoke emergency orders on bills seeking passage, but Mosbrucker has no qualms about it in this case.
“This is an emergency and we can no longer wait to take action,” she said when introducing HB 2951. “For too long, this problem has existed in the shadows and it has allowed murderers and kidnappers to walk free, while lives are shattered. But no longer. We will continue to move forward until these crimes are no longer ignored and justice is served. These victims deserve no less.”
Mosbrucker’s bill deserves passage in this session and then immediate implementation. Certainly, it needs to follow the standard deliberative path — committee hearings, with full vetting about the specifics of the tribal liaison and a point-by-point analysis of protocol for law enforcement agencies — before a floor debate and vote.
But this should not be one of those scores of bills each session that languish, craving but not getting attention. It’s time to stop talking about the plight of murdered and missing indigenous women and start doing something about it — stat.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Bob Crider and Sam McManis