Tribal rights, criminal justice reform on AG Ferguson’s legislative agenda

By Andrew Hammond

The News Tribune

Tribal rights and criminal justice reform are high on Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s agenda for this legislative agenda.

Ferguson’s legislative slate, which was announced Friday, includes a bill to enshrine in state law the Attorney General’s Office’s first-of-its-kind policy that requires the office to obtain informed consent from Washington’s 29 federally recognized tribes before initiating a program or project that affects tribes, tribal rights, tribal lands and sacred sites.

Along with his tribal agenda, Ferguson is re-introducing his legislation abolishing the death penalty and limiting high-capacity magazines.

HIs agenda also includes a new bill requiring the collection and publication of data on the use of deadly force by law enforcement, which already has passed out of committee with bipartisan support, and another prohibiting price gouging during emergencies.

“My office enforces and defends state law — and we also work to improve state law to benefit Washingtonians,” Ferguson said in a statement.

Here are some of the key issues on his agenda:

Public safety and criminal justice reform

Use of deadly force data collection: Ferguson is proposing legislation to create a centralized, publicly accessible database containing all incidents of law enforcement use of deadly force in Washington state. Currently, there is no single location where the public and lawmakers can obtain information about the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers.

High-capacity magazine limits: Ferguson is reintroducing legislation to prohibit the sale or possession of high-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds. The bill includes exceptions for grandfathered magazines, law enforcement, military personnel and recreational shooting ranges. Multiple federal courts have upheld these public safety bans as constitutional.

Banning assault weapons: The Attorney General is reintroducing legislation in 2021 to ban the sale of military-style assault weapons in Washington state. The bill includes exceptions for grandfathered weapons, law enforcement, military personnel and recreational shooting ranges. Seven states already have a similar ban that federal courts have upheld.

Repealing the death penalty: For the fifth session, Ferguson is requesting a bill to repeal Washington’s death penalty. In 2018, the state Supreme Court found that Washington’s use of the death penalty is “racially biased,” “arbitrary” and “lacks fundamental fairness,” but the ruling did not repeal the law. Ferguson’s bill passed the Senate last year, but not the House.

Tribal treaty rights

Free, prior and informed consent from tribes: This legislative session, Ferguson is requesting legislation that would codify this policy, ensuring it cannot be unilaterally eliminated by future Attorneys General. As part of the legislation, the Attorney General’s Office would be required to refrain from filing any litigation against a tribal government or tribal-owned business without first engaging in meaningful consultation to resolve the dispute.

Protecting off-reservation treaty rights and state-tribal cooperative agreements: Ferguson and the state Department of Fish & Wildlife are jointly proposing legislation to repeal a 1984 unenforceable, anti-tribal statute codified in state law as RCW 77.110. The law casts a shadow over treaty fishing rights and the state’s well-established cooperative fisheries management agreements with tribes, Ferguson contends.

Consumer protections

Price gouging: The Attorney General’s Office has received more than 1,300 complaints from residents about excessive price increases on items like face masks or hand sanitizer during the pandemic. But Washington does not have a specific law to prohibit price gouging during a state of emergency. Ferguson is proposing a bill that provides a clear and unambiguous definition of price gouging and establishes civil penalties for violations.

Strengthening the Consumer Protection Act: The state Consumer Protection Act currently allows up to $2,000 in penalties per violation. These penalties have not increased since they were adopted in 1970. Ferguson’s legislation would adjust the penalties to $13,350 per each unfair or deceptive practice that violates the act.