Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

2017 Legislative Priorities

 


Tobacco 21

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In an effort to combat tobacco use and prevent youth nicotine addiction, raise the minimum age of sale for tobacco and vapor products to 21 years old in Washington.

PROBLEM
Tobacco use remains a leading cause of preventable death in Washington, contributing to 8,300 deaths annually and costing the state more than $5 billion a year in healthcare costs and lost productivity.  Adolescence and early adulthood is the period during which smoking behaviors are typically developed.

BACKGROUND
Raising the age of sale for tobacco products to 21 will make it harder for 15 to 17 year olds to access tobacco products, helping to protect them from addiction to a deadly product. According to the Institute of Medicine, raising the tobacco sale age will alter the peer group of high school students, who often access tobacco products through older individuals in their social networks.  With the minimum legal sale age set at 21 instead of 18, legal purchasers would be less likely to be in the same social networks as high school students and therefore less accessible to sell or give cigarettes to them. 

Over 200 municipalities nationwide have already raised the age of sale for tobacco products to 21, as well as the states of Hawaii and California.

LEGISLATION (SB 5025 - HB 1054)
This legislation raises the age of sale tobacco and vapor products in Washington state from 18 to 21. It does not impact sales on military installations, nor does it penalize youth possession.

Action today will save lives. Raising the national minimum age of sale for tobacco products to 21, over the long term, is projected to reduce adult smoking prevalence by 12% and reduce smoking-related deaths by nearly 10%. Based on current smoking trends, that equates to 8,500 kids alive in Washington state today who will be saved from a premature death if this policy is passed.


Assault Weapons Ban

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Ban the sale of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines in Washington state.

PROBLEM
On the night of July 30, in Mukilteo, Washington, a deeply troubled 19-year-old shooter opened fire at a party using an assault weapon, killing three young people—Anna Bui, Jake Long, and Jordan Ebner—and seriously wounding another teen. He read the instruction manual in his car in the hour before beginning his act of terror.

Less than two months later, a 20-year-old killed five people at a mall in Burlington using a rifle with a 30-round magazine. The ages of the victims ranged from 16 to 95.

According to research from Everytown for Gun Safety, if a mass shooter uses an assault weapon or large-capacity ammunition magazine, 135% more people are shot and 57% more die, compared to other mass shootings. According to a study from Johns Hopkins, a national ban on large capacity magazines—even if it only stopped 1 in 5 incidents where these magazines were relevant—would prevent 100 homicides and 500 people from being wounded by shootings every year. 

BACKGROUND
Six states currently ban the sale of assault weapons and large capacity magazines—California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. Hawaii bans the sale of some assault weapons.

Assault weapons bans are constitutional.  Since 2008, assault weapons bans in New York, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, and Illinois have been upheld as constitutional by three different federal courts of appeals.  The Supreme Court has allowed those decisions to stand.

LEGISLATION (SB 5050 - HB 1134
Bans the sale, manufacture, transfer, transport, and import of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines in Washington state. The legislation defines “assault weapons” as semi-automatic with at least one military-style feature. “Large-capacity magazines” have the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The bill also requires safe and secure storage for assault weapons and large-capacity magazines grandfathered by being possessed on the effective date of the legislation.


Assault Weapons Enhanced Background Checks

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Increase community safety by requiring an enhanced background check and license for people seeking to purchase assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.

PROBLEM
On the night of July 30, in Mukilteo, a deeply troubled 19-year-old shooter opened fire at a party using an assault weapon with a 30-round magazine, killing three young people and seriously wounding another teen. The weapon and the magazine were purchased at Cabela’s in Tulalip. The law did not require a waiting period.

Assault weapons are military weapons, designed to kill people quickly and efficiently using features beyond standard sporting rifles. 
The teenage shooter in this tragic act of terror would not have been able to buy a beer or a handgun under state law, but was able to walk out of Cabela’s with an assault weapon.
Current state law includes an effective waiting period for handgun purchases—the time it takes for law enforcement to complete an enhanced background check—but not for purchases of assault weapons.

Today, in Washington, assault weapons are treated the same as hunting rifles – and that means it is easier to buy an assault weapon than it is to purchase a handgun. If Washington state regulated assault weapons like pistols, this tragic shooting may well have been avoided.

BACKGROUND
Assault weapons have been used in a number of high-profile shooting incidents, including the tragic shooting of four teenagers in Mukilteo by a 19 year old who had purchased the gun earlier the week, the 2016 Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School, the 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting.  Studies show that shootings where assault weapons or large-capacity ammunition magazines were used result in 135% more people shot and 57% more killed, compared with other mass shootings. 

LEGISLATION (SB 5444HB 1387)
This Enhanced Assault Weapon Background Check policy increases community safety by requiring an enhanced background check and license for people seeking to purchase assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. 

This legislation uses checks similar to those currently used for Concealed Pistol Licenses (CPL). Like a CPL, only those over 21 years of age and legally eligible to own a firearm are eligible to purchase an assault weapon.   The enhanced background check includes: 

  • In-depth check of local and federal criminal databases
  • Checks of local and national mental health commitment records
  • Requiring the individual to state a clear, lawful reason and use for the assault weapon
  • Requires a renewed check every year to ensure the person is still eligible to possess the weapon.   
  • Gives local law enforcement up to 30 days to complete the in-depth background check (and issue the assault weapon license.) 
     

Military Pro Bono Legal Services Coordinator

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Washington should help promote and facilitate access to civil legal services for Washington’s current and former military service members.

PROBLEM
The landscape of cost-effective legal services available to Washington’s current and former military service members is fragmented and limited. There is no “one-stop shop” for this population to access the resources available to protect their legal rights.

BACKGROUND
The men and women who serve our country in the Armed Forces have unique legal needs arising from overseas deployments, sudden moves, military service obligations, separation of family members, and challenges in securing military benefits, including health care. Federal and state law offer special protections to current and former military service members and, if they meet qualifications, they may access services from military legal assistance offices and civil legal aid offices. However, such assistance is often limited in scope and availability. For example, special military legal assistance services may not be offered to reservists or members of the National Guard.

Compounding the problem, the limited civil legal aid services and legal pro bono services offered are generally targeted to the general population, so current and former military service members must compete for access. There is presently no central clearinghouse where this valued segment of our population can go to learn about the resources available to them to protect their legal rights.

LEGISLATION (SB 5021 - HB 1055)
Patterned after a successful model in Nevada, this legislation establishes an Office of Military and Veteran Legal Assistance within the Attorney General’s Office. The Office will promote and facilitate civil legal assistance programs, pro bono services, and self-help services for military services members, veterans, and their family members domiciled or stationed in Washington. 

The legislation authorizes the Attorney General’s Office to:

  • Recruit and train volunteer attorneys and coordinate service programs;
  • Conduct intake and connect those in need to available resources; and
  • Apply for and receive grants or other contributions to help support the office.

If the Attorney General’s Office can enlist just 1% of the state’s nearly 35,000 lawyers to each perform 8 hours of new pro bono service annually, it would equate to more than $500,000 in free legal services to benefit Washington’s veterans and military families. The Nevada Office of Military Legal Assistance reported addressing 200+ legal matters within its first year. The legislation establishes a committee to provide advice and assistance regarding program design, operation, volunteer recruitment, and service delivery.


Military Consumer Protections

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Military consumers shouldn’t get stuck with contracts they can’t use because they are deployed.

PROBLEM
Military service members, including those serving in the National Guard and Reserves, can experience significant upheaval when they are called to active duty or are relocated. These abrupt changes can have significant impacts on routine financial commitments military service members had in civilian life. 

A number of everyday service contracts are not covered by existing law. This can leave military service members stuck paying for contracts they cannot use because of their military service obligations.

BACKGROUND
The existing federal and state versions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) provide various financial and legal protections for military service members ordered to active duty. These laws allow men and women serving their state and country to focus their full attention on their military responsibilities without adverse consequences. Examples of existing SCRA protections are provisions allowing the early termination of residential and automobile leases, and cell phone contract termination.

A number of states have enacted expanded consumer protections, including Arizona, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, and Oregon. 

LEGISLATION (SB 5041 - HB 1056)
To prevent military consumers from getting stuck with contracts they can’t use when they are called to active duty or have to relocate, this legislation amends the state Service Members Civil Relief Act to allow a military service member to cancel or suspend a service contract for:

A gym membership or other health studio services;
Internet services;

  • Subscription television services;
  • Telecommunications services; and
  • Satellite radio services.

The legislation prevents a military service member from being charged penalties or fees when canceling or suspending a contract. The bill also permits the reinstatement of the contract under previous or generally favorable terms. In addition, the legislation adjusts the definition of “service member” so the protections cover both National Guard and active-duty military personnel, and it makes a technical change clarifying existing Attorney General enforcement authority.
 


Student Loan Bill of Rights

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Protect student loan borrowers by creating a dedicated ombuds and adopting standards for loan servicers.

PROBLEM 
In the past few years, the Washington State Attorney General’s has received more than 325 complaints from Washington consumers about student loan servicers.  Complaints include a failure to provide information about free resources, a failure to notify the consumer when a loan is transferred to a different servicer, a failure to respond to requests for information, and misapplication or nonapplication of payments. 

BACKGROUND
More than half of students who graduated from Washington’s colleges and universities in 2014 left with student loan debt. The average debt is more than $24,000.1  Borrowers frequently struggle to repay their debt and navigate the repayment process.

LEGISLATION (HB 1440)
In 2015, the Connecticut Legislature unanimously passed a Student Loan Bill
of Rights. California and the District of Columbia have since followed.

HB 1440 will create standards that serve as a baseline for servicer compliance in working with student borrowers, providing student borrowers with important guarantees. These guarantees include:

  1. The guarantee that requests for information will be responded to promptly, in writing, and a record of that communication will be kept;
  2. The guarantee that payments will be credited within one business day;
  3. The guarantee that the borrowers will be provided notice when a loan is transferred between servicers;
  4. The guarantee that fees assessed to the borrower from servicer error will be refunded.

HB 1440 will assist student loan borrowers by establishing a student loan ombuds to receive and resolve complaints, compile and analyze data, and provide outreach and education.


Student Loan Transparency Act

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Provide students with regular statements reflecting the outstanding balance of their student loans and estimated monthly payments upon graduation. The purpose is to increase awareness of the long-term impact of student loans and reduce avoidable borrowing.

PROBLEM
For many students, loans are necessary to reach their educational goals. Students often lack basic information about their student loans, including the amount of the loans and what their monthly payments are likely to be.  According to the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, “…about half of all first-year students in the U.S. seriously underestimate how much student debt they have, and less than one-third provide an accurate estimate within a reasonable margin of error.”  

The majority of Washingtonians graduate from colleges and universities with debt—$24,000 on average.  The average student loan balance rises with each new graduating class.  This is a significant financial burden to carry when beginning a new career.   

BACKGROUND
During the 2012-13 academic year Indiana University sent an annual loan statement to students. Combined with other financial literacy initiatives, undergraduate borrowing reduced by almost 16 percent over two years.  Building on this success, the Indiana Legislature passed a bill requiring that all postsecondary institutions accessing state financial aid provide the following to each student annually

  • An estimate of the students’ total education loans;
  • An estimate of the total amount owed including interest;
  • An estimate of the students’ expected monthly payment, including principal and interest; and
  • The percentage of the federal borrowing limit the student has reached.

Recently, Wisconsin and Nebraska have followed Indiana’s lead and passed similar legislation.

LEGISLATION (SB 5022 / HB 1057)
Makes it easier for students to understand the long-term implications of their borrowing decisions. It requires colleges and other institutions of higher education to provide notices to students detailing their loan balances and estimated monthly payments at least annually and within 30 days of the disbursement of a loan.  


Human Trafficking Protection Order

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Create a criminal no contact order for human trafficking related offenses to protect victims from their traffickers.

PROBLEM
Research shows there is a likelihood of repeated harassment and intimidation directed at victims of trafficking. Victims must be protected from their traffickers. Unfortunately, existing protection orders are insufficient.

BACKGROUND
Established no contact orders, such as sexual assault protection orders and domestic violence protection orders, are not sufficient or appropriate to protect many victims of human trafficking.

  • Human trafficking and promoting prostitution are not sex offenses. Consequently, prosecutors and trafficking victims cannot obtain a sexual assault protection order to prohibit contact between victims and their traffickers
  • Domestic violence protection orders require the victim be living with, or have lived with the trafficker in the past, which is not always the case. If the trafficking victim is a minor, the prosecutor would also need to establish a “dating relationship.” The relationship between a trafficker and his or her victim has been established for the purpose of exploitation. Therefore, categorizing it as “domestic violence” is inaccurate and counter to the real nature of these crimes.

LEGISLATION (SB 5029 - HB 1079)
Establishes a specific human trafficking protection order to protect victims from their traffickers. This criminal no contact order requires the defendant to stay away from the home, school, or business of the victim, and refrain from contacting, intimidating, or threatening the victim. A willful violation of the court order is a gross misdemeanor. Any law enforcement agency in the state can enforce the order.


Human Trafficking Statute of Limitations

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Acknowledge the serious nature of human trafficking related offenses, including the commercial sexual abuse of children, and the power, control, and exploitation exerted over victims, by extending the statute of limitations. This will better allow prosecutors to punish traffickers, and victims to find justice.

PROBLEM ONE: STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS 
Currently, the statutes of limitations for human trafficking, commercial sexual abuse of a minor, and promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor are only 3 years after the commission of these crimes. Victims of human trafficking are often under the control of their trafficker for significant periods and may be unwilling or unable to report their perpetrator until free from their control. Often, the statute of limitations has expired, creating a barrier to justice.

PROBLEM TWO: DEFINITION OF COMMERCIAL SEXUAL ACTIVITY
Washington’s human trafficking laws have inconsistent definitions for commercial sexual activity, and some fail to recognize the reality of these crimes, which often involve an exchange of drugs for the commercial sex act. The statutes governing commercial sexual abuse of a minor, promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor, and promoting prostitution must be made consistent with other human trafficking-related statutes.

LEGISLATION (SB 5030 - HB 1078)
Improves Washington’s human trafficking-related laws by: 

  • Extending the statute of limitations for human trafficking to ten years after the commission of the crime – the same statute of limitations as non-lethal arson;
  • Extending the statute of limitations for commercial sexual abuse of a minor and promoting sexual abuse to the victim’s thirtieth birthday, consistent with many other sex crimes committed against minors;
  • Replacing “fee” with “anything of value” to reflect the practical reality of the crimes, which often times involves an exchange of drugs for the commercial sex act.

Combat Vulnerable Adult Abuse

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Improve criminal prosecutions of the two most prevalent forms of elder abuse - financial exploitation and neglect.

PROBLEM
Vulnerable adult abuse and neglect is a growing and underreported problem in Washington state and across the country. In 2015, Adult Protective Services (APS) received 7,852 complaints of financial exploitation and 5,466 complaints of vulnerable adult neglect. Together, these made up nearly half of all complaints to APS.

Vulnerable Adults Graph.JPG

Despite the number of complaints, few cases of financial exploitation and criminal neglect of vulnerable adults are criminally prosecuted in Washington state.

CURRENT LAW
Currently, prosecutors prosecuting financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult must charge Theft 1 (RCW 9A.56.030) or Theft 2 (RCW 9A.56.040) with a Vulnerable Adult aggravator. The aggravator is not applied uniformly across Washington’s counties. Worse, the statute of limitations for criminal theft charges is only three years. It often takes years for vulnerable adult financial exploitation to be uncovered.

Under current law, neglect of a vulnerable adult is covered under the criminal mistreatment statute. (RCW 9A.42) The standard of culpability to sustain a felony criminal mistreatment charge is “recklessness.” This standard makes prosecutions difficult because it is inconsistent with the realities of the crimes, which involve a gross failure to act rather than reckless acts.

BACKGROUND 
Washington state is one of only thirteen states without a specific crime of theft from elderly or vulnerable adults. 

In 2015, Adult Protective Services received more than 5,000 complaints of neglect of a vulnerable adult, yet that same year, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts, only 34 felony criminal mistreatment charges were filed in Washington state. The number of felony convictions sustained was far lower.

LEGISLATION (SB 5099 - HB 1153)
This legislation protects seniors and vulnerable adults by:

  • creating a specific crime for “Theft from Vulnerable Adult” with a six-year statute of limitations;
  • amending the mens rea, or standard of culpability, for felony criminal mistreatment from “recklessness” to “criminal negligence;” and
  • encouraging counties to establish multijurisdictional teams to facilitate better coordination and information sharing between agencies to better prevent and enforce these crimes.

Wage Theft Violators 

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Government shouldn’t do business with companies that steal from their workers.

PROBLEM
Wage theft occurs when an employer withholds pay owed to an employee. Washington law, including the Minimum Wage Act and the Wage Payment Act, requires employers to pay their workers earned wages or face penalties for noncompliance.

Currently, companies can do business with the state even if they have been found in violation of the state’s wage laws.

Since 2007, the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) identified 1,025 unique businesses as repeat wage law violators. In an independent review, AGO staff identified 33 of those businesses as listed on the state’s electronic vendor registration system used to distribute bid notices. In other words, over 3% of the state’s repeat wage law violators demonstrated an interest or intent to compete for state contracts.

BACKGROUND
Washington State government spends more than $1 billion annually to buy goods and services. The state spends billions more on public works contracts. In general, contracts are awarded to the lowest responsive and “responsible” bidder. Factors used to determine whether a bidder is “responsible” depend on the type of contract. For example, with public works contracts the bidder must have a state unified business identifier number, be a registered contractor, and have required industrial insurance. Adherence to the state’s basic minimum wage and wage payment laws is not among the factors to be considered.

Nationally, a 2009 study found that almost half of low-wage workers suffered at least one pay-related violation in the previous year. In Washington, according to L&I, the department received 5,440 wage complaints in Fiscal Year 2015 and returned approximately $2.8 million to workers, but the total amount owed by employers over the same time period was over $5 million. 

Wage theft hurts workers. It also hurts honest businesses competing for government contracts.

Across the country, jurisdictions at all levels are adopting rules to prevent wage theft violators from benefiting from taxpayer-funded contracts. For example, under a recent Executive Order, the federal government will require certain contractors to affirm compliance with wage and hour laws and other workplace rights requirements. Other states have instituted similar reforms. Minnesota passed legislation in 2014 to add adherence to wage payment laws as part of their responsible bidder criteria. Minnesota’s legislation passed the Minnesota State Senate unanimously, and the Minnesota House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support. Locally, King County unanimously passed a similar ordinance in 2012.

LEGISLATION (SB 5301 - HB 1936)
Government contracts and taxpayer dollars should go to businesses that follow the law. This legislation amends the state’s responsible bidder criteria in the public works and procurement statutes to require consideration of a company’s compliance with the state’s wage laws over the previous 3 years.


Cooling Off Period

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Establish a 1-year lobbying prohibition for former high ranking state officials.

PROBLEM
Washington State has a compelling interest in preserving the integrity of our government and ensuring that the actions of state employees are free from improper influence. Without a change to state law, high ranking state officials can leave their state job on Friday and start work on Monday as a paid lobbyist influencing their former employer. This “revolving door” creates the appearance of special access, unfair advantage, and conflicts of interest that undermine the public’s trust.

BACKGROUND
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 31 states have enacted some form of a “cooling-off” period before a former legislator or other state officials can come back as a paid lobbyist or seek to influence state government.1 Additionally, federal statutes restricting former public officials and employees from lobbying date back to 1872.

The Washington State Ethics Act, RCW 42.52, contains some specific post-state employment restrictions, such as where an employee had personally participated in the activity that would be involved in the private employment, where the private employment is a reward, or where the private employment would require disclosing confidential information obtained in state service.

However, Washington does not have a “cooling off” period before former state employees can be compensated by a private interest to influence their former state employer.2 As a consequence, the Center for Public Integrity gave Washington zero out of 100 points in this section of the state’s integrity score card in 2015.3

LEGISLATION (SB 5120 - HB 1159)
Establishes a one-year “cooling off” period for elected officials, agency heads, and senior-level staff as follows:

Applies to compensated activities and provides limited exceptions, such as lobbying for another public entity; and,

Requires disclosure for elected officials, agency heads, and senior-level staff when leaving state service if he or she receives compensation from an employer or entity that does business with, or tries to influence action by, the state.