The bill to change the states deadly force law is racing against a Thursday deadline.
The bill to change the state's deadly force law is racing against a Thursday deadline. The Stranger

De-Escalate Washington's Initiative 940 to change the state's deadly force law, which gained enough signatures to make it into the general election this year, may not be headed to the November ballot after all.

Just one day before the end of session, the House of Representatives voted to pass a modified version of the De-Escalate Washington initiative, 73-25. The bill was referred to the Senate Law and Justice Committee, and now it's scheduled for a hearing at 3 p.m.

Most people expected legislators to shrug the initiative off, but with days before the end of session, De-Escalate Washington, police groups, and legislators reached a deal to take the initiative off the ballot and pass a version of the initiative through the legislature instead.


"This is historic, and also I think this is how we as citizen legislators involve communities, law enforcement and diverse communities," Rep. Cindy Ryu (D-Shoreline), said on the House floor.

The version of the initiative currently in play in the legislature doesn't differ too much from its original ballot language. The original problem with the state's deadly force law, advocates say, is that police are only held liable for unjustified shootings if they act "with malice" and without "good faith." That "malice" clause, nearly impossible to prove, makes it effectively impossible to charge police over deaths in custody. The new legislation, like the initiative, would erase the "malice" clause—a major change—but keeps the existing law's "good faith" language. The initiative legislation also expands on what "good faith" actually means, imposing a test for "good faith" that asks what a reasonable officer would do in the same position.

HB 3003 additionally requires that law enforcement agencies to adopt hour requirements for de-escalation and mental health training. In developing training requirements, the bill also requires training on jail and arrest alternatives, as well as cultural competency. The bill also asks law enforcement to render first aid "at the earliest safe opportunity to injured persons at a scene controlled by law enforcement"—an added tweak from the original initiative that asked law enforcement to render first aid "to save lives."

Up until the deal was reached with legislators, statewide and local police organizations had vehemently opposed I-940. Rep. Dave Hayes (R-Camano Island), a cosponsor of HB 3003, said that the police side still had concerns that would become more fleshed out in the law's rulemaking process. (HB 3003 now requires that rulemaking involve the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs, the Washington State Fraternal Order of Police, the Council of Metropolitan Police and Sheriffs, the Washington State Patrol Troopers Association, and the Black Law Enforcement Association of Washington, in addition to De-Escalate Washington and other stakeholders.)

"I don't think the bill is perfect by any means," Hayes said on the House floor. "But when it comes down to the good faith language that's in this bill, I think if an officer acts within that language which is based on national case law, then that officer will be protected."