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Senate, House closer than appears on bail bill

Post by Kim Bradford on Feb. 25, 2010 at 7:16 pm with No Comments »
February 26, 2010 11:38 am

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

To hear state lawmakers tell it, the House and Senate are intractably split on how much latitude to give judges to deny bail in the wake of six cop killings.

The truth is the two chambers are closer than ever before to a proposal that pays due regard to both public safety and basic civil rights.

Senators and representatives started the session miles apart on the question of how to stop violent offenders from bailing out of jail and committing fresh crimes.

Law enforcement and Gov. Chris Gregoire wanted to give judges sweeping authority to deny bail whenever they deemed the public at risk. The House started there, then scaled back its bill to include only those defendants charged with crimes that carry potential life sentences.

The Senate later took another tack, targeting only those people accused of a crime that could land them in prison for life with no possibility of parole. The gulf between the two approaches was huge – by one estimate, the House version would have applied to nearly 40 times more defendants.

On Thursday, state Sens. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood and Adam Kline, D-Seattle, offered a third option that essentially splits the difference.

They would allow judges to deny bail for people accused of crimes involving the intentional infliction of great bodily harm and certain sex offenses. Excluded would be crimes – such as vehicular homicide and arson – that the sponsors argue don’t suggest a criminal mindset bent on doing harm to others.

Carrell and Kline overreached in calling their latest proposal a “compromise.” Their proposal only helps shepherd the constitutional amendment through the Senate; it still faces its real test in the House where key lawmakers aren’t sounding receptive.

Reps. Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens, and Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw – authors of the House version – are frustrated by being shut out of the senators’ negotiations and appear to be digging in their heels. They should hear the Senate out. An amendment that’s as tailored as possible while still being effective will ultimately win more support.

Constitutional amendments do not pass the Legislature easily, nor should they. The two-thirds vote required in each chamber to place an amendment on the ballot is meant to encourage careful deliberation and to set a high bar for changing the state’s most fundamental laws.

Few laws are more fundamental than the presumption of innocence ingrained in the state constitution’s strict limits on holding defendants without bail.

Both the Senate and House versions already meet the main objectives of keeping offenders like cop killer Maurice Clemmons behind bars and giving judges greater discretion to protect the public. The only decision for lawmakers is how far beyond those aims they should go.

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