Gov. Mike Lowry appears ready to sign a bill allowing Spokane County to trade its elected coroner for an appointed medical examiner, lawmakers said Monday.
The measure, SB6226, passed the Legislature with overwhelming support.
County residents would vote on the change. If approved, county commissioners would appoint a medical examiner at the end of the current coroner’s term or as soon as the office becomes vacant.
Coroner Dexter Amend is in the second year of a four-year term. Support for the legislation has grown along with controversy surrounding him.
Amend is facing several legal claims and lawsuits from grieving family members who say he has made inappropriate and insensitive comments during death investigations.
Doctors and police officers also have questioned Amend’s judgment in ordering autopsies, and an effort to recall the coroner is under way.
Amend couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.
Unlike an elected coroner, an appointed medical examiner could be hired and fired like any other county employee.
Sen. John Moyer, R-Spokane, a sponsor of the measure, said a medical examiner system would let the county hire a more qualified person to investigate deaths.
“There was a time when almost anyone could be coroner,” Moyer said. “What we are finding out it is becoming more and more necessary to have a specialist.”
Moyer said the legislation isn’t aimed at Amend, but the coroner’s conduct has helped the bill.
“In actuality, he has done the public a service,” Moyer said. “I think by the situations he found himself in, even unwittingly, Dexter brought the issue to light.”
Rep. Dennis Dellwo, D-Spokane, said the bill would remove politics from death investigations.
“It’s the type of position that was not designed for election,” Dellwo said. “Dexter Amend gave us an example of where a medical examiner would be more appropriate.”
Lowry is expected to sign the bill, Dellwo said.
County Commissioner Steve Hasson said commissioners will take steps to implement the law as soon as it’s signed.
Hasson said the county is prepared to pay the higher price of a trained medical examiner.
“We are ready to spend the money - right now we are looking at $4.1 million in claims in Amend’s first year,” Hasson said. “A medical examiner is a better way to go.”
The governor has 20 days to sign the measure.