Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson



Tobacco 21

(Read the full PDF one pager)

“Raising the legal minimum age for cigarette purchasers to 21 could gut our key young adult market (17-20)…”
- Philip Morris report, January 21, 1986

Why raise the tobacco sale age in Washington State?

It will save lives. No bill in Olympia this year will save more lives than Tobacco 21. Based on current smoking trends, 8,500 kids alive in Washington state today will be saved from a premature death if the Legislature enacts Tobacco 21 – the equivalent of nearly three school buses of children per legislative district.   

Experience tells us it will work. In 2005, Needham, Massachusetts raised its sale age for tobacco to age 21. The effect was powerful. Needham experienced declines in youth smoking of more than 50% - nearly triple those of surrounding communities.

Commonsense tells us it will work. 95% of adult smokers begin before they turn 21. 80% of adult smokers become daily smokers before they turn 18. 33% of kids under 18 who become regular smokers will die as a result of smoking. Older friends and classmates are the primary source of tobacco and vapor products for 15-17 year old youth.

Our top research institution tells us it will work. One of the most prestigious scientific authorities in the United States concluded that increasing the age of sale for tobacco products in the United States to 21 will significantly reduce the number of adolescents and young who start smoking, reduce deaths from smoking, and immediately improve the health of adolescents, young adults, young mothers, and their children.

Big Tobacco knows it will work. In the 1980s, an RJ Reynolds researcher declared that if a person has not smoked by the time they turn 21, the odds are “20-to-1” they never will.

Raising the tobacco sale age to 21 is an effective strategy to fight tobacco use and it’s gaining momentum nationwide. California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine, and Oregon have raised their tobacco sale ages to 21, along with at least 200 cities and counties across the country. Let’s get it done in Washington. Action today will save lives.

LEGISLATION (SB 6048 / HB 1054)

SB 6048 / HB 1054 will raise the sale age for tobacco and vapor products from 18 to 21, aligning tobacco and vapor products with marijuana and alcohol.



Death Penalty Repeal

(Read the full PDF one pager)

“[The death penalty] is a system in which justice is delayed and delayed to a point where the system is broken...it isn’t working anymore. It is time to move on.”
- Rob McKenna

“The time has come to abolish the death penalty in Washington State.”
- Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

There are many reasons to oppose the death penalty.  At a press conference on January 16, 2017, a bipartisan coalition of Washington state elected leaders articulated multiple arguments for abolishing the death penalty in Washington state, including moral and religious opposition, the fact that the death penalty is disproportionately applied, and the fact that the extended period of time between sentencing and execution causes family members to relive the pain and suffering of the death of their loved ones. 

What is not in dispute is that it is extraordinarily expensive to seek the death penalty in Washington state, and capital sentences are likely to be overturned on appeal.

A study conducted by the Death Penalty Information Center found that “death penalty costs can average $10 million more per year per state than life sentences.” A recent economic study in Washington found that the average cost of pursuing the death penalty is 1.4 to 1.5 times more expensive than not pursuing a capital sentence – an average difference of more than $1 million dollars.

In 2009, the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin conducted in-depth examination of Washington’s death penalty. The costs of implementing the death penalty were significant. In addition, appeals can take decades. Most of the death penalty cases in Washington state are concentrated in the handful of counties that can afford to prosecute them. 

Even if sought, death sentences have been reversed in more than 75 percent of cases in Washington since 1997. Where else in government are we satisfied with a 25 percent success rate for a program that costs taxpayers millions of dollars?

More than a third of U.S. states no longer have the death penalty. 

LEGISLATION (SB 6052 / HB 1935)
Eliminates the death penalty as a possible sentence for aggravated first-degree murder, and replaces it with life in prison without the possibility of parole.



Ban on the Sale of High-Capacity Magazines and Assault Rifles

(Read the full PDF one pager)

On the night of July 30, 2016, in Mukilteo, Washington, a deeply troubled 19-year-old shooter opened fire at a party using an assault weapon, killing three teenagers 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 percent more people are shot and 57 percent 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

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 sale bans are constitutional.  Bans on the sale of assault weapons in New York, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, and Maryland 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)
This legislation prohibits the sale, manufacture, transfer, transport, and import of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines in Washington state.  “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.

This legislation uses the same definition of “assault weapons” as other states that have passed assault weapons restrictions upheld by the courts. 



Ban on the Sale of High-Capacity Magazines 

(Read the full PDF one pager)

High Capacity Magazines1 have facilitated some of the worst mass murders ever committed in the United States.  

High Capacity Magazines allow an active shooter to rapidly fire multiple rounds without having to reload, exponentially increasing lethality.

In July 2016, a 19-year-old used a 30-round magazine to kill three teenagers and seriously wound another at a house in Mukilteo.  Less than two months later, a 20-year-old used a 30-round magazine to kill five people at a mall in Burlington. Victims ranged in age from 16 to 95. 

In contrast, in June 2014, the shooter at Seattle Pacific University—who used a shotgun—took only one life. As this shooter attempted to reload, a bystander seized the moment to tackle and subdue the shooter.2 In our unfortunate reality of mass shootings, the necessity to reload saves lives.

On average, only 2.2 shots are fired during self-defense. Statistics show that in acts of self-defense, it is extremely rare for more than 10 rounds to be fired. In contrast, nearly every mass shooting that shocked the national consciousness in the past decade involved the use of high-capacity magazines: 

LEGISLATION (SB 6049 / HB 2422)
This Legislation prohibits the sale, manufacture, and transfer of ammunition magazines that hold over 10 rounds. The bill also requires the safe and secure storage of magazines grandfathered in, specifically those owned prior to the bill’s effective date. 



Assault Weapons Enhanced Background Checks

(Read the full PDF one pager)

On the night of July 30, 2016, 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 teenagers 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.

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

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 that week, the 2016 Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and the 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting.  Studies show that shootings where assault weapons or large capacity ammunition magazines were used result in 135 percent more people shot and 57percent more killed, compared with other mass shootings. 

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 data bases
  • 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.) 



Limits on Initial Opioid Prescriptions

(Read the full PDF one pager)

It is well documented that overprescription of opioids contributes to misuse, addiction, and overdose.  Patients prescribed a one-month supply of opioids may only need to take the medication for a few days, so the remaining pills are then available for misuse.

This epidemic, which kills about two people in our state each day, shows no signs of abating with voluntary changes in prescriber behavior.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for most conditions, a three-day supply of opioids will often be sufficient; more than seven days will rarely be needed.  Prescribing more than a week’s supply of opioids approximately doubles the chance that a person will still be using opioids one year later. To prevent addiction, at least 15 states have adopted statutes or agency rules limiting the amount of opioids practitioners may initially prescribe. Two of the country’s largest pharmacy benefits managers also recently announced a seven-day limit for patients with acute conditions. Similarly, our own state’s Medicaid program also set limits on opioid prescriptions – seven days for adults (21 years of age and older) and three days for youth (up to age 20).  

LEGISLATION (SB 6050 / HB 2272)
To prevent unnecessary exposure to highly addictive opioids, this legislation limits the amount of first-time opioid prescriptions for outpatient use.  Consistent with Washington’s Medicaid policy, opioid prescriptions will be limited to a seven-day supply for patients at least 21 years old and a three-day supply for patients under 21 years old.

The limits do not apply to the treatment of pain associated with cancer, or for palliative, hospice, or other types of end-of-life care.  People who are already using opioids chronically for other conditions are also not affected, since the limits apply to initial prescriptions.

Practitioners retain discretion. If, in the professional medical judgment of a practitioner, greater quantities of opioids are required to treat a patient’s medical condition, these prescriptions may be issued if practitioners document the condition in the patient’s medical record and indicate that an alternative to opioids was not appropriate. 

This legislation also requires patients to acknowledge that they have been informed about the dangers of opioids upon an initial prescription of more than three days.



Mandatory use of the Prescription Monitoring Program

(Read the full PDF one pager)

Opioid misuse and addiction impose substantial economic and social costs on communities and families in Washington.  Each day this epidemic kills about two people in our state.  

One way that people obtain increasing amounts of opioids to feed their own addiction or to sell for profit is by visiting multiple providers, known as “doctor shopping.”  Other people with legitimate medical needs may receive too many opioids or dangerous combinations of medications simply because their practitioners are not aware of what other providers are prescribing.

Prescription Monitoring Programs (PMP) can identify patterns of misuse and overprescribing.  In operation since 2011, Washington’s PMP collects electronic records when prescriptions for controlled substances are dispensed to patients and makes this information available to medical and dental practitioners to inform their decisions. However, only about 30 percent of Washington practitioners who prescribe controlled substances have registered to use the PMP. Despite improvements that have made the PMP more convenient to use—including the ability to access the data through one of the most commonly used electronic health record systems and delegate access to other licensed health care providers—the vast majority of practitioners are issuing prescriptions for highly addictive substances without verifying whether patients are also obtaining  prescriptions from other practitioners.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that practitioners should review PMP data before prescribing opioids.  Accordingly, 31 states require prescribers to check their state’s PMP before prescribing opioids and other controlled substances.  These requirements have led to dramatic decreases in “doctor shopping”—at least 50 percent and 90 percent in Kentucky and New York, respectively — and have not impacted access to opioids for those with legitimate medical needs.

LEGISLATION (SB 6028 / HB 2325)
Because the PMP is only effective as a tool to protect patients and expose potential misuse when practitioners use it, this legislation establishes a duty for practitioners to review patients’ PMP information before prescribing certain controlled substances, including opioids.  The ultimate decision as to whether or not to issue a prescription remains with the practitioner. The PMP simply provides additional information about patients’ controlled substance histories to inform practitioners’ decisions.  It also gives practitioners an opportunity to refer patients who are suffering from addiction to treatment.



Student Loan Bill of Rights

(Read the full PDF one pager)

Hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians owe more than $24.4 billion in student loan debt.  Student debt affects every demographic of Washingtonians.  Washingtonians over 60 owe $2 billion in student loans. Student loans have the highest delinquency rate of any form of household debt.  Nationally, only 37 percent of borrowers are current on their loans and making progress reducing the principal.  

Since 2013, hundreds of Washington consumers have filed complaints with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office about their student loan servicers.  Complaints include a failure to provide information about free resources, conflicting or inconsistent information about borrower accounts, 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. 

The Connecticut Legislature unanimously passed a Student Loan Bill of Rights in 2015 to support student loan borrowers. California, the District of Columbia and Illinois have since followed. 

HB 1440/SB 6029 will create standards that serve as a baseline for servicer compliance in working with borrowers. Washingtonians will be guaranteed that servicers must:

  1. Respond to requests for information promptly, in writing, and maintain a record of that communication;
  2. Credit payments within one business day;
  3. Provide borrowers notice when a loan transfers between servicers; and
  4. Refund fees assessed to the borrower from servicer error. 

HB 1440/SB 6029 will assist student loan borrowers by establishing a student loan advocate to serve as a central resource to receive and resolve complaints, compile and analyze data, and provide outreach and education.  The student loan advocate will also work with the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Financial Institutions to resolve borrower complaints.

Columbia Legal Services
, Northwest Justice Project
, Washington Student Achievement Council, Washington Student Association, AFT, AARP, Nurses Association, Independent Colleges of WA, WA Federation of State Employees, Workforce Training & Education Coordination Board, Association of WA Business, Statewide Poverty Action Network, University of Washington Tacoma, Associated students of Eastern Washington University, Northwest Justice Project, Washington Education Association, Associated Students of Western Washington University, Associated Students of the University of Washington, Associated Students of Washington State University.




Military Consumer Protections

(Read the full PDF one pager)

Military service members, including those serving in the National Guard and Reserves, often experience significant upheaval when they are called to active duty or are relocated. These abrupt changes can have major 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.

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 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. 

This legislation passed the Washington State Senate and House of Representatives unanimously in 2017.

LEGISLATION (SB 6017 / 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 active-duty military personnel, as well as those serving in the National Guard and Reserves and it makes a technical change clarifying existing Attorney General enforcement authority. 




Consolidating Traffic-Based Financial Obligations

(Read the full PDF one pager)

Available data from the Department of Licensing shows that at any point in time, nearly 50,000 individuals may have multiple outstanding failure to respond or pay suspensions issued by more than one court of limited jurisdiction. Based on a sampling of these records, approximately 46% of the individuals have multiple suspension orders from more than one court, and are in circumstances where the various courts involved contract with different collection agencies. For these individuals, there is currently no mechanism for establishing a single payment plan addressing all obligations.

Traffic-based costs, fines, and fees impact low-income drivers disproportionately. Low-income drivers who do not find a way to either pay in full or establish and maintain a payment plan can have their driving privileges suspended. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, “One common collection practice that leads to a cycle of reincarceration is the suspension of driver’s licenses…If these individuals continue driving—as they often must to work—they face new and often severe criminal penalties for driving with a suspended license.” Without a license, these individuals can face a serious dilemma: lose their jobs or risk a criminal charge for driving illegally.

In 2016, Substitute Senate Bill 6360 created a workgroup facilitated by the Attorney General’s Office. As a result of input and feedback from the stakeholder group, a report was transmitted recommending and detailing a plan and program for the state wide consolidation of traffic-based financial obligations imposed by courts of limited jurisdiction.  That bill passed the Legislature in 2016 with broad bipartisan support. 

LEGISLATION (SB 6216 / HB 2421)
In accordance with the Attorney General’s recommendations, and following extensive stakeholder input and feedback as set out in the December 1, 2017 report, the legislation establishes a unified payment plan system for the consolidation of multiple traffic-based financial obligations. Specifically, the legislation:

Authorizes the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) to establish a unified payment plan system for the consolidation of multiple traffic-based financial obligations;
Allows eligible defendants to bring their multiple outstanding obligations into the new payment plan system for ongoing servicing with a single point of contact; and
Allows those successfully meeting the terms of payment to restore their driving privileges, provided there are no other suspension or revocations on record and proof of valid liability insurance is provided.



Medicaid Fraud Control Unit Enabling Statute

(Read the full PDF one pager)

Washington’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit is the only Unit nationwide without critical law enforcement powers to help effect its mission to investigate and prosecute taxpayer health care fraud  and abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults in residential facilities. The absence of a statute enabling these powers severely impedes the Unit’s ability to conduct safe and professional criminal investigations, facilitate collaboration with local law enforcement and participate on task forces.

Established in 1978, the Washington State Medicaid Fraud Control Unit has independent jurisdiction and must investigate and prosecute criminal and civil investigation and prosecution of health care provider fraud committed against the State’s Medicaid program as well as abuse and neglect of persons in skilled nursing facilities. The Medicaid Fraud Control Unit is the only entity investigating and prosecuting these matters in Washington State. 

Any state that receives federal Medicaid program funding must have a Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and that Unit must be able to meet its mission in order to ensure federal Medicaid program funding. Despite being federally mandated, the Washington Legislature has never passed an enabling statute for the Unit granting basic law enforcement powers like issuing search warrants and making arrests. Consequently, the Unit uses the State Patrol for these basic law enforcement functions, which is less efficient and not as effective.

Washington taxpayers incur no expense for the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. The Unit is self-funded by its own recoveries and generates substantial revenue for the state’s Medicaid system.

LEGISLATION (SB 6051 / HB 2273)
This legislation creates an enabling statute for Washington’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit in RCW 74.67. The statute allows the proper investigatory authority ensuring Washington’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit is able to execute its mission and continue to receive federal funding for the State’s Medicaid Program. Furthermore, the legislation enables the Unit to investigate and prosecute far more complex and revenue generating matters. 

Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Washington State Patrol, WACOPS



Washington's False Claims Act

(Read the full PDF one pager)

The Office of Inspector General has concluded that Washington’s Medicaid False Claims Act is not currently in compliance with the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 because it does not contain an automatic penalty inflation adjustment. As a result, Washington stands to lose 10 percent of its False Claims Act recoveries, which totaled $1,097,394.75 in 2017. The Office of Inspector General has given Washington until December, 31 2018 to comply.

The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 provides state compliant False Claims Acts, as determined by the federal government, an additional ten percent of any Medicaid recovery under a state False Claims Act action.  In order to obtain and maintain Section 1909 compliance (also referred to as “Deficit Reduction Act compliance”), state False Claims Act civil penalties must be consistent with the federal False Claims Act. 

The Washington Legislature has authority to change the mechanism by which the False Claims Act penalty inflation adjustment occurs.  The federal inflation adjustment is a standard mathematical calculation and does not cede any policy authority to the federal government.  This bill is consistent longstanding state policy to ensure the maximum flow of dollars into Washington state’s Medicaid system.

LEGISLATION (SB 6053 / HB 2326)
The Legislature has already granted the Attorney General authority to increase penalties by rule, but this is not sufficient to maintain compliance. Enactment of these amendments to the Washington Medicaid False Claims Act will ensure maximum recoveries for the state in state False Claims Act actions. Specifically, it will maintain compliance with the Deficit Reduction Act, and thereby obtain an additional 10 percent state share of state False Claims Act recoveries afforded by the Deficit Reduction Act for compliant states. 



SVP Unconditional Statutory Release Fix

(Read the full PDF one pager)

A recent Washington State Supreme Court Case, In re the Detention of John Marcum, created an unforeseen problem that requires legislative action. 

Individuals who have been committed as sexually violent predators require intense treatment and supervision in a secure facility before unconditional release is considered. Sexually violent predators can now be entitled to unconditional release trials even if the State shows they are still likely to reoffend, if the annual review finds that less restrictive placement (conditional release) is appropriate. 

The error will entitle sexually violent predators to a new unconditional release trial every time the annual review finds that they qualify for conditional release. The result will be numerous costly trials that will create a significant burden on the judicial system and an increased possibility of the erroneous release of Sexually Violent Predators before they receive proper treatment. 

The Legislature and the Courts have found that sexually violent predators are extremely dangerous and their treatment needs are long term. Historically, Washington Courts have held that the State has a two-pronged burden:4 show that the individual continues to be a sexually violent predator and, conditional release is not appropriate. Courts have held that each prong is independently determined. 

The Marcum decision changed this interpretation and found that even when the State satisfies the burden to show the individual continues to be a sexually violent predator, if the annual review determines that conditional release is appropriate, the State has failed to meet both prongs and the Court may order an unconditional release trial. 

LEGISLATION (SB 6217 / HB 2271)
The goal of this legislation is to clarify the Legislature’s original intent of post-commitment procedures contained in RCW 71.09.090. A simple amendment to existing statutory language5 would clarify that the “two-pronged” burden actually consists of two independent lanes.  



"Cooling Off" Period

(Read the full PDF one pager)

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.

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 official can come back as a paid lobbyist or seek to influence state government. 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. 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.

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.