Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington lawmakers highlight bills to address domestic violence, missing and murdered Indigenous people

Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow, speaks surrounded by other legislators about legislation surrounding missing and murdered indigenous women at a press conference Tuesday.  (Elena Perry/The Spokesman-Review)
By Elena Perry The Spokesman-Review

Police could call judges at a domestic violence crime scene to issue no-contact orders, and a cold case unit would be formed to examine cold cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous women under several bills under consideration by Washington legislators.

Lawmakers held a bipartisan news conference Tuesday to highlight a collection of domestic violence-related bills.

In Washington, around 41% of women and 32% of men experience intimate partner violence, rape or stalking in their lifetime, according to a 2021 report by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. In 2021, there were 29 homicides connected to domestic violence in Washington, according to the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“Research indicates that these murders follow consistent patterns and are highly predictable and yet, dozens of women are killed in this state every year by men they once loved,” Rep. Lauren Davis, D-Shoreline, said. “This is unacceptable.”

Lawmakers used the holiday as an opportunity to highlight several bills as the first deadline of the session approaches. Friday is the last day for legislators to read bills in their original committees, and Feb. 24 is the last day for bills in their respective fiscal committees.

One bill clarifies a court’s authority in issuing pretrial and emergency no-contact orders in domestic violence cases. It also defines the court and peace officer’s ability to order and enforce surrender of weapons at the defendant’s residence. It allows police to call judges at the scene of domestic violence incidents and request a no-contact order, surrender of weapons or search warrant.

“As a practicing criminal defense attorney, I became concerned that a defendant at arraignment could simply swear that they don’t possess any guns and that there is no check by police to the residence to see if that’s true,” said bill sponsor Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline. “So I thought there’s a loophole there in the law.”

This bill has passed through committee and is awaiting floor action in the full Senate.

Another bill would establish a cold case unit under the Office of the Attorney General specifically for assistance in cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people. There are approximately 2,200 unsolved homicides in Washington, and Indigenous people represent 5% of this number while only making up 2% of Washington’s population, according to the Office of the Attorney General.

This bill is in the House of Representatives Rules Committee, awaiting approval for floor action in the House chamber.

Another bill would exempt victim and witness notification requests from the public records act. Currently, victims and witnesses may request to be notified when an inmate is released for certain offenses, including domestic violence. These requests are subject to release under the public records act, and supporters say this puts survivors at risk for further violence if their offender should request this information.

This bill has passed through the Senate, and will be heard in a House Committee, though this hearing has not been scheduled.

Another bill would add an exemption to the public records act, this time having to do with state employees. If a state employee or their dependent is a survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment or stalking, information regarding their employment is exempt from public records requests. Exempt information includes job title, work location addresses, email address and phone number. The bill contains an emergency clause that would take effect immediately if passed. Last year, Davis obtained a domestic violence protective order against a prominent lobbyist who a judge ruled had stalked her. The order prevents him from going within 1,000 feet of the state Capitol and representatives’ offices.

The Legislature is considering more bills to address domestic violence and missing and murdered Indigenous women and people.

These include a bill that would add to the list of offenses that prohibit a person from owning a firearm and one that would make permanent a crime victim’s compensation program for victims of nonfatal strangulation.