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Public Safety and Human Services Committee; State Legislative Agenda; Leadership Transition at the Human Services Department; State Covid Restrictions Extended; Virtual Office Hours

Public Safety and Human Services Committee

During most of 2020, regularly scheduled City Council committee meetings have not taken place. Committee meetings have mostly been cancelled due to COVID 19, the need for the Budget Committee to meet over the summer in order to amend the 2020 budget due to revenue shortfalls, and the regular fall budget process.

With the budget process completed, my Public Safety and Human Services Committee meeting schedule will resume. Below is a quick summary of items that were considered in the December 8 committee meeting.

CPC/OIG/OPA Update: the Community Police Commission, the Inspector General, and the Office of Police Accountably provided an update on their work. Here’s a link to the presentation.

One highlight from the briefing was that the CPC reported to Council that a challenge they are experiencing is “lack of recommendation implementation.”  The CPC is responsible to: “Identify and advocate for reforms to state laws that will enhance public trust and confidence in policing and the criminal justice system.” (SMC 3.29.300).  For this reason, they are developing a tracker for their recommendations to improve policing practices.  A tracker provides accountability that makes it easier for elected officials to follow up when action is not taken.

Subpoena authority legislation:  this legislation will strengthen the power of the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) and Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) to subpoena those who may have been involved in or witnessed incidents of potential officer misconduct. Subpoena power was one of the issues raised by the federal court and by an assessment of the City’s accountability system. The legislation was developed in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office, Office of Police Accountability, Inspector General, and City Attorney’s Office. A committee vote in planned for December 17th; a Full Council vote will be in early January.

Proposal for Misdemeanor Basic Need Defense: this proposal was briefly discussed during budget, and after requests from other Councilmembers and the Council President we decided to take this up after the budget was passed. The proposal we discussed on Tuesday focused on the concept of creating a basic need defense: making meeting an individual’s immediate basic need an affirmative defense to a crime. Central Staff’s memo (see link) provides background and context about how an affirmative defense fits into the criminal legal system, identifies some policy considerations for a potential future bill, and outlines next steps.

I want to highlight that, this conversation isn’t a consideration of a dramatic new policy. As our City Attorney said (his letter is attached to the memo linked above): “I have worked to move the City Attorney’s Office away from prosecuting property crimes that appeared to be committed out of survival necessity… It’s not only a just choice by prosecutors, it’s also one reenforced by Seattle jurors who are loath to convict for crimes committed out of pure necessity.”  This proposal would simply give defendants the ability to offer this defense in court when there is a prosecution.  A judge or jury will still be tasked with determining guilt or innocence.

State Legislative Agenda

Numerous issues of importance to Seattle constituents require action by the Washington State Legislature. For this reason, each year the City adopts a state legislative agenda. On Monday the Council adopted Resolution 31982, to set the City’s 2021 state legislative agenda.

Below are some of the items I worked with City’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations and Council President González to get included.

The Community Police Commission sent a letter with their legislative priorities, and I worked to ensure they were included in the City’s legislative agenda. Below are areas included in the CPC’s recommendations, and the language adopted in the Council resolution:

  • Remove accountability from bargaining process (discipline, appeals, subpoena authority): “We support prohibiting collective bargaining between law enforcement agencies and officers on topics related to disciplinary action, appeals of discipline, subpoena authority, and any state reforms related to law enforcement.”
  • Remove arbitration as a route of appeal for police misconduct: “The City of Seattle also supports removing private arbitration as a route of appeal in law enforcement discipline cases.”
  • Repair broken decertification system: “We also support legislation to reform the decertification of peace officers, including allowing the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission (WSCJTC) to initiate decertification once the police agency issues a final sustained finding of disqualifying misconduct.”
  • Ensure community is represented in WA State Justice Training Commission (only 3 of 16 members are designated for community members), advocate for at least 50%: “We support changes to the WSCJTC’s membership to have non-law enforcement community members represent at least fifty percent of the voting membership.”
  • Institute truly independent investigations (establish investigative unit in State AG’s office, and entity to review all closed investigations): “We also support the establishment of a statewide use of force database, and an independent state agency to investigate use of deadly force incidents and independent prosecutions of deadly use of force to ensure a fair and impartial assessment can be reached.”
  • End qualified immunity: “The City of Seattle supports efforts to increase accountability and transparency in law enforcement. We support ending qualified immunity, and legislation that broadens the definition of disqualifying misconduct to ensure that police officers who engage in serious misconduct may not work in a law enforcement capacity elsewhere.”
  • Strengthen requirements for officers to intervene when they witness police misconduct: “We support the establishment of statutory duty to intervene, so that police must intercede and report misconduct by another officer.”

Groups such as Black Excellence in Cannabis and King County Equity Now have written the Council about expunging cannabis-related offenses, and lack of ownership opportunities. The legislative agenda notes:

  • “The City also supports review of marijuana licensing and the incorporation of a racial and social equity program that recognizes the historic inequities and harm resulting from the over policing of marijuana offenses in communities of color, including the resulting lack of ownership opportunities. We support expunging all cannabis related felonies and offences to address the disproportionate impact on the Black community.”

As is consistent with my membership on the regional committees for Water Quality and the Watershed Resource Inventory Area: 9 we added in support for Floodplains by design:

  • “We support investments in climate resilient infrastructure, including flood risk reduction, salmon recovery and working lands protection and enhancement through its Floodplains by Design program.”

I’ve heard from multiple constituents and businesses wondering about property tax relief due to Covid-related closures, we added:

  • “We support efforts to lower the taxable value of properties impacted by the stay at home order issued in response to the COVID-19 crisis.”

Finally, in working with the ACLU of Washington, the City supports changes to current laws about Drive While License Suspended 3 (DWLS3), we added:

  • “We support legislation to reduce the impact of economic disparity by de-linking drivers’ license suspensions from non-payment of traffic fines.”

Leadership Transition at the Human Services Department

Last week we heard the news that HSD’s interim Director Jason Johnson will depart at the end of the year, and Helen Howell will join the City in January as HSD’s new interim Director, while a search for a permanent Director is underway.  I understand Director Johnson will stay on for a few weeks in January to help ensure a smooth transition.

As Chair of the committee with oversight of HSD, I appreciate Director Johnson’s commitment to its lifesaving work for the most vulnerable Seattle residents.  Although originally planning to step down earlier this year, with the onset of COVID-19 Johnson extended his time, implementing policies to expand shelter resources and services for people experiencing homelessness, streamline emergency food access, and maintain critical services for aging and disabled residents throughout the pandemic.  Director Johnson and his team at HSD have earned my appreciation and gratitude for their extraordinary efforts this year.

Helen Howell most recently held the position of Senior Director of Policy, Research & Social Impact Initiatives at the King County Housing Authority, while also overseeing Homeless Housing Initiatives and the Housing Choice Voucher Program. Prior to that, Howell served as the Executive Director of Building Changes, a Seattle nonprofit focused on reducing youth and family homelessness across the state.  I look forward to working with her in the coming year.

In 2019, Council passed Resolution 31868, which lays out the steps that Council intends to follow in the appointment process for a new City department head.  This process begins with Council requesting that the Mayor communicate to the Committee Chair about the planned recruitment process prior to identifying a nomination, including a description of the intended process and the engagement of any advisory groups, stakeholders, and subject matter experts who will be involved.  This process helps ensure that both City Council and the public have an opportunity to hear the Mayor’s goals and vision for HSD, as well as learning about the eventual candidate.  I have already reached out to Deputy Mayor Washington, who will be leading the search for a permanent Director, to begin that process.

State Covid Restrictions Extended

District 1 long term care facilities are again struggling with coronavirus, with both Providence Mount St. Vincent and Park West reporting significant outbreaks and deaths among residents and staff this week.  In the last two weeks, Seattle has seen 2,170 new cases of COVID-19 and nearly 100 new hospitalizations of Seattle residents.  My heart goes out everyone who is concerned about their vulnerable loved ones right now.

Governor Inslee has extended temporary restrictions through January 4th, due to increasing illness, hospitalizations, and deaths from coronavirus throughout Washington state.  Currently, nearly 80% of ICU beds are currently occupied, with around 1,000 residents in those units. Even in the best-case scenario, hospitals across the state would need to add surge capacity to ensure enough ICU beds to care for COVID-19 patients in the weeks and months to come. In the worst-case scenario, state ICU capacity would need to be doubled before the end of the year.

You can read more about restrictions here.

The City has administered over 450,000 COVID tests across the Aurora, SoDo, Rainier Beach, and West Seattle Citywide testing locations since June.  Information about free public testing can be found here.

You can track the current level of COVID-19 in Seattle and King County’s on Public Health – Seattle & King County’s data dashboard. The dashboard is updated daily.

As always, the best way to beat the coronavirus and keep loved ones safe during the holidays or any time:

  • Wear a mask around people you don’t live with (even close friends and family).
  • Stay home as much as possible.
  • Follow the Governor’s limitations on indoor gatherings.
  • Quarantine and get tested at the first sign of illness or if you’ve been around someone with COVID-19.
  • The safest option is to avoid gathering with people you don’t live with this holiday season.


Virtual Office Hours

On Friday December 18, I will be hosting virtual office hours between 2pm and 6pm, with the last meeting of the day beginning at 5:30pm.

Due to the nature of virtual office hours, you will need to contact my scheduler Alex Clardy (alex.clardy@seattle.gov) in order to receive the call-in information and schedule a time.

Please look for my office hours for 2021 to be announced early next year.

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