John Braun: Initiative takes handcuffs off police, but more work is needed


The three initiatives passed this year by the Legislature took effect June 6.

Initiative 2081 creates a parental bill of rights for K-12 education. It will be great for parents who want to be more involved in and informed about their children’s education.

I-2111 bans income taxes at any level of government in our state. It gives Washington taxpayers a level of protection they have never had.

Then there’s I-2113. Pound for pound it’s the standout of the three, because it completely removes the handcuffs Democrats had put on law-enforcement officers who wanted to pursue suspected criminals.

Fully restoring the ability of officers to engage in vehicular pursuits should help deter a variety of crimes — like auto theft, which soared after the Democrats’ criminal-friendly decision took effect in the summer of 2021.

The Washington State Patrol recently acknowledged that between July 26, 2021 — when the “no-chase” policy began — and March 31 of this year, nearly 8,000 drivers fled from troopers. In the meantime, our state ended up being among the worst in the nation for auto thefts.

While we absolutely should celebrate I-2113’s restoration of the pre-2021 pursuit policy, no one should forget Republicans tried to get our state back to this point long before now – and how Democrats in the legislative and executive branches repeatedly resisted, even though it was clear their approach was producing an untold number of victims.

We came close to reversing the unreasonable pursuit restrictions on the final day of the 2022 session. Unfortunately, far-left Democrats in the Senate ran out the clock and derailed our efforts to force a deciding vote.

In 2023 we again made fixing the pursuit law a priority and turned up the heat on Democrats. They dragged their feet initially but eventually worked with us to loosen some of their restrictions — just not enough to get at the epidemic of car thefts and other property crimes.

We were gearing up for another fight this year when many of you — and more than 823,000 individual voters in all — signed the six Let’s Go Washington initiatives that included I-2113.

Having been backed into a corner by Initiative petitions containing 2.6 million voter signatures, and Republican pressure to act on the people's legislation, Democrat leaders eventually relented.

Finally, the Senate and House were allowed to vote on a complete repeal of the disastrous police-pursuit rules. I-2113 passed easily, as did I-2111 and I-2081.

Still, we have yet to hear the Democrats admit they made a mistake in 2021 by engaging in identity politics — and acting as though they knew better than law-enforcement officers who are trained how and when to engage in pursuits.

The decision to finally drop their resistance also doesn’t absolve the Democrats of the harm done to countless Washington families by their soft-on-crime stance.

It doesn’t bring back the three children whose deaths — one in Pierce County, two in Yakima County — are tied to people who remained free to drive because of the Democrats’ dangerous restrictions.

It doesn’t bring back the Clark County sheriff’s sergeant fatally ambushed by someone who was being followed by police earlier that same day but couldn’t be pursued.

Nor does it reimburse car-theft victims for the expense and time and disruption they suffered.

It’s bad enough that so many Democrats, from Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson on down, have shown themselves to be incapable of making a dent in the shootings and other violent crime in our communities, and the epidemic of drugs that also make our communities less safe.

Then they make it worse by acting like the wants of criminals should come ahead of the rights of victims.

Inslee’s been doing it since at least 2014, when he took the death-penalty option away from prosecutors.

That was followed by the scandal at his Department of Corrections that let felons out prematurely, and weak responses to assorted acts of lawlessness – from the vandalism, thefts and violence during the summer of 2020 to the recent illegal blockades of important roads and freeways.

Ferguson’s record in the law-and-order category is worse.

In his world it's OK to repeatedly go after law-abiding firearm owners, sellers and manufacturers, while brushing off property crimes like theft and shoplifting.

Instead of backing Republican efforts to deter firearm thefts and punish adults who endanger children through fentanyl exposure, Ferguson distributed “chicken checks” with his name prominently printed on them to poor people he claimed were harmed by the price of chicken.

In his haste to get these checks into the hands of as many voters as possible before his name appeared on the ballot as a candidate for governor, Ferguson also had checks sent to rich people, dead people and vegetarians who never had purchased chicken.

This led to an ethics complaint being filed against Ferguson, which described his scheme as violating state law and “absolutely, undeniably, attempting to buy people’s votes.” No matter how the Executive Ethics Board ends up ruling, that’s hardly the law and order our state deserves.

Then there are the bills from Democratic lawmakers that would go easier on criminals in a variety of ways, like reduced sentences and less community supervision.

As the Senate Democrats’ deputy leader once put it – and this is someone running to succeed Ferguson as attorney general, who had also argued against loosening the 2021 pursuit limits – people should not be judged by their “worst day.”

Tell that to the single mom whose life was turned upside down because her primary mode of transportation was stolen by someone who had no fear of being pursued.

Now that the ability of police to pursue has been restored, it shouldn’t take too long for criminals to realize the good times enabled by Democrats are over.

Still, there is much more work to be done to reestablish public safety. Ferguson and Democrats in the Legislature can't be trusted to get it done.

Voters tired of living in an unsafe Washington need to put Republicans back in charge of the lawmaking in our state.

At the same time, they should finish what all those voter signatures and petitions started, by approving every one of the money-saving measures on the November ballot.

That's how we make Washington better.


Sen. John Braun of Centralia serves the 20th Legislative District, which spans parts of four counties from Yelm to Vancouver. He became Senate Republican leader in 2020.