The Senate Law and Justice Committee heard public testimony Friday on four public-safety bills sponsored by west Pierce County Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place.
Under Washington law, if a school principal or other school employee has reasonable suspicion a school rule or policy has been violated, such as bringing a weapon or illicit drugs to school, he or she may search a student’s locker or backpack. Many schools in Washington employ full-time law-enforcement personnel – known as school resource officers – to help provide security. However, while a teacher and even a custodian could carry out the search, legally the school resource officer cannot. Senate Bill 6023 would restore to a school resource officer the right to search a student under reasonable suspicion.
“Students deserve the opportunity to learn in a safe academic environment. Clearly, allowing trained, experienced police officers to conduct searches when they believe a school disciplinary or safety rule has been violated is crucial in fostering a safe place for our children to receive their education,” said O’Ban, who represents the 28th District. “Tying the hands of school police officers while allowing a custodian, for example, to search a student is absurd.”
Senate Bill 6024, the “flash-robbery” bill, would stiffen penalties for organized retail theft. Flash robbery is a crime that occurs when a group of individuals uses electronic and internet communication such as Twitter to organize mass thefts from retail stores. Under the law created by SB 6024, a person could be charged with organized retail theft if the theft is coordinated through electronic communication, at least six accomplices are involved and property stolen has a cumulative value of at least $750.
“Some of the larger retail stores budget for expected theft, but the smaller businesses, such as a family-owned and operated convenience store, usually don’t have the ability to absorb that kind of loss,” O’Ban said. “In addition, the large crowds of petty thieves often behave in threatening ways, frightening employees and shoppers. These so-called ‘petty thefts’ have the potential to quickly become dangerous or even life-threatening.”
Senate Bill 6025 would enhance the penalty for someone convicted of a crime if he or she (or an accomplice) wore body armor during the commission of the crime. Additionally, offenders sentenced under this provision would not be eligible for good-time credits or earned-release time during their prison stay for the portion of their sentences resulting from body-armor enhancements.
“If an individual puts on body armor before setting out to commit a crime, he is expecting to threaten police and the public with violence. In fact, in Lakewood law enforcement officers were recently involved in close-range shootout with an assailant who wore body armor, and the suspect was eventually shot and killed.” O’Ban said. “The state already enhances the penalties for those who commit felonies with firearms and other deadly weapons. It stands to reason that this violent criminal – had he survived – should have received additional jail time for wearing the body armor.”
Senate Bill 6085 deals with sentencing for driving under the influence. In 2006, the Legislature amended the state’s drunk-driving laws to make it a class C felony if a person has four or more prior offenses within 10 years. SB 6085 would lengthen that time frame to 15 years, thereby increasing the chances that a person caught driving under the influence would be more likely to receive a stiffer penalty.
“In my opinion, we can never do enough to crack down on drunk driving and make it tougher for DUI offenders to get back behind the wheel,” O’Ban said. “Driving under the influence is one of those 100-percent preventable crimes and the state needs to recognize that and treat it accordingly. No one else needs to be injured, maimed or killed because of this senseless crime.”
All of O’Ban’s bills received supportive testimony and are expected to be approved by the committee in the coming weeks.