Policing, Taxes, and Redistricting: Legislative Session with Melissa Santos

Policing, Taxes, and Redistricting: Legislative Session with Melissa Santos

Melissa  Santos joins Crystal this week to get in to policing legislation and  its potential outcomes, whether or not we’ll see a wealth tax come to  fruition in Washington this year, and the appointment of accused rapist  Joe Fain to the redistricting commission.

As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.

Find the host, Crystal Fincher on Twitter at @finchfrii. Find today’s guest, Melissa Santos, @MelissaSantos1. More information is available at officialhacksandwonks.com.


Read about how the Washington legislature is seeking to deal with police use of excessive force here: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/washington-legislature-takes-up-excessive-force-by-law-enforcement/

See what’s policing bills are still before the legislature here: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/washington-state-lawmakers-pass-bills-to-ban-police-use-of-chokeholds-and-neck-restraints-collect-use-of-force-data/

Learn about the flawed investigation into the killing of Manuel Ellis of Tacoma by the police here: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/times-watchdog/contradictions-conflicts-of-interest-cloud-probe-of-manuel-ellis-killing-by-tacoma-police/

Get to know about how police officers are de-certificed here: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/times-watchdog/fired-but-still-a-cop-how-the-state-decertification-process-leaves-troubled-officers-with-their-guns/

Follow Washington’s potential plans to tax the wealthy of our state (with today’s guest, Melissa Santos) here: https://crosscut.com/politics/2021/02/tracking-plans-tax-rich-2021-washington-legislature

Read about Washington State’s regressive tax system here: https://www.kuow.org/stories/why-washington-ranks-as-the-worst-state-for-poor-residents

Learn about the objections to Joe Fain’s appointment to the redistricting commission here: https://crosscut.com/politics/2021/02/groups-denounce-selection-joe-fain-redistricting-commission

Follow  everything going on in the legislature, learn about how to contact your  legislature, and watch and participate in committee hearings at https://leg.wa.gov/


Crystal Fincher: [00:00:00]  Welcome to Hacks and Wonks. I'm your host Crystal Fincher. On this  show, we talk to political hacks and policy wonks to gather insight into  local politics and policy through the lens of those doing the work and  provide behind-the-scenes perspectives on politics in our state. Full  transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at  officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.

Thank  you for joining us today on Hacks and Wonks. Today I'm very pleased to  be joined by Melissa Santos who's Crosscut's staff reporter covering  state politics and the Legislature. Thank you so much for joining us  today, Melissa.

Melissa Santos: [00:01:05] Thanks for having me.

Crystal Fincher: [00:01:06]  Well, you have definitely been covering lots of events in the  Legislature, so I guess just starting off, I wanted to get an idea for  where the public safety and policing reform bills stand. Lots of fanfare  going in - talking about a number of reforms that they were talking  about implementing, the need to move forward on demands that community  were making and to keep communities safe in function and not just name -  with a lot of ideas that turned into a lot of bills. And so what is  currently still alive in the Legislature in terms of public safety and  policing reform and where do they stand?

Melissa Santos: [00:01:51]  I think most of the bills, in some fashion, that were introduced early  this year to deal with sort of different police reforms are still alive,  in some fashion. They always change in the process, but we saw the  state Senate pass out a bill to try and reform arbitration as a process  by which sometimes discipline that's imposed on cops gets overturned  through this arbitration process after they're either suspended or  fired. And there's been concerns that that makes it hard to actually  discipline cops effectively. So there's some reforms moving forward to  deal with that. I think the Governor and some of the advocates'  insistence that there needs to be an independent investigatory body to  investigate police uses of force - I would be shocked if the Legislature  didn't pass something to do that and create that independent agency. So  that's moving ahead.

We  also, I think it was just today - this week, we saw a bill that would  create a more clear duty for cops to intervene when they see wrongdoing  or misconduct. That's moving as well. And some of the bills that I  thought might be more difficult actually have cleared some of the early  deadlines to stay alive. One of those is a bill dealing with qualified  immunity that would create a way for people to sue at the state level  when they feel their rights have been violated - in a way that people  feel they have not been able to do federally because of how the law is  structured at this time.

So  we're seeing a lot of stuff to do there. And I think the biggest bill  that probably people are focused on are some of the ones to limit what  police can do. I mean - tactics kind of bills that would set limits on  what kind of holds they can use, what kind of circumstances they can use  police dogs on people. And so those are things that are kind of really  changing, I think, and kind of being modified over time. But that  there's definitely, I think, going to be some new restrictions on police  tactics passed. It's just what shape they will take it's still kind of  being decided.

Crystal Fincher: [00:04:05]  So yeah, you bring up a good point. It depends on what shape they will  take and any modifications, amendments - which happen through this  process. Legislation can change, things can be added or taken out. So  from what it looks like, does it look like the policy is going to make  it through as intended? Are there changes being talked about or being  made to pieces of legislation? Or does it look like they're going to be  able to deliver on the original intent of the bills as originally  written?

Melissa Santos: [00:04:44]  I feel like we're still a little bit early in the session to say for  sure, but I definitely think there's some concern that the tactics bill,  in particular, might be getting watered down. I need to take a little  closer look at some of those concerns, but that one was a really  wide-ranging bill, right? I mean, it had limits on the use of military  equipment, the use on, maybe that was a different bill. There's a lot of  police bills - but the whole idea was making it so they're less  militaristic. A lot of sort of limits on that - banning certain neck  restraints and such. And I think the fear is that they might end up with  a bill that just says we won't use choke holds anymore or something.  And that that's not going to be substantive enough.

And  I don't know that, right now - I talked to the ACLU of Washington,  who's working on some of those bills now and they still feel - they were  telling me that they're fairly substantive. I'm not sure they're going  to tell me they think they're terrible right now or something if they're  working to kind of keep them whole, but it's just something that -  we're not even halfway through the session at this point, so there's  just a lot of opportunity for those bills to change. And I think that's  something people are watching really closely. I'm not sure how they'll  ultimately end up and if they'll stay the way advocates and the  community members hoped they would be. It's still kind of to be  determined, in my view, at this point.

Crystal Fincher: [00:06:08]  And you bring up a really good point - we are still fairly early in the  session. But there's this weird dynamic that a lot of people who are  tuning in, for the first time for a lot of people, to the day-to-day  happenings of the Legislature - because so much more is online and you  can engage with committees online, is hearing the big rush of deadlines  that recently passed and are passing for bills to get out of committee,  for bills to get heard, for bills to pass deadlines to move forward,  which do happen fairly early in session. So I guess what happens - we're  very early and stuff makes it past cutoff - between cutoff and then we  still have another month or two of session, what occurs during that  time? Is that all the horse trading and the modifications and figuring  that out?

Melissa Santos: [00:07:03]  Yeah. I mean, I think that that's one reason on these bills they've  just been ... House Democrats and Democrats right now - they do control  everything in Olympia. So, I mean, they've really indicated that these  are priority bills - to really enact new police accountability measures,  right? And it's always a point of tension because police unions, in  general, don't like further regulation. They don't want their  arbitration rights to be taken away, right? So there's a lot of  pushback, and I think there's a lot of internal discussions that go on  at these times that aren't even happening in the public arena. But we've  seen this before - on police reform a couple of years ago. Some of the  bills to - let me remember - to basically make it easier to charge  police for abusive force, what was Initiative 940. That was sent to the  Legislature, for them to review, and it looked like maybe nothing was  going to happen. And at the end, this compromise measure comes through,  that everyone says is great.

And  so I just think that even if bills look like they're dead - they didn't  clear a committee deadline - I'm not comfortable writing a story that  says, "Oh yeah, this bill, it's gone this year." Because I just think  that there's all these conversations happening, especially after we saw  last year, where I think that - I wouldn't be surprised if some of these  proposals get merged as some giant bill at the end of the year, the end  of the legislative session I should say. That is even different than  what we're seeing now.

Crystal Fincher: [00:08:49]  Yeah. That's fair and definitely possible, and we've seen that happen  before. In terms of support and opposition, I think a lot of people  anticipated, Hey, there's a Democratic majority. If Democrats talk about  wanting to do it on the front end leading into the session and  introduce bills, then it should automatically be able to happen. Have we  been seeing unified Democratic support, or are there some legislators  who have on the Democratic side been more resistant? And on the flip  side, are there any Republican legislators who have been more receptive?

Melissa Santos: [00:09:27]  I do think there has been, on police reform, some at least surface  agreement. You've been seeing from the Republican side saying, "Yeah, we  need to do stuff." I think that the Manny Ellis case in Tacoma, where  the independent investigation wasn't really turning out to be so  independent and that kind of blowing up as a huge problem in the past  year - I think that has indicated to people across parties that there's  an issue with actually even enforcing the laws we have on the books on  right now, like to have independent investigations, which was something  that was approved by voters with 940.

So  I do think - I'll have to look at the votes on some of these - but yeah  I think there'll be Republican votes for some of these bills, so I  don't think it will be a strict party line thing. But yeah, I mean, you  have a lot of, in general, I'm going to speak generally, because I  haven't looked at the vote count on every bill that closely, but you  definitely have Democrats who are conscious of maintaining police  support and are worried about public safety and people in their  communities saying - there is a sense that we can't dismantle the police  too much among some people in certain communities, especially some  suburban communities. That's something people are worried about - that  some of their constituents will not like that. And even in some of those  same communities there's maybe people that are feeling the opposite. So  I think that there's pressure to not defund the police. There is no  measure to defund the police that the Legislature is considering right  now, I should clarify, but I think some of this is getting grouped in  there a little bit. I mean, these are kind of pretty straightforward  bills that would not take funding away from the police. The State can't  even really do that too much because it's all locally, for the most  part, funded.

But,  actually, the bill I didn't mention that I think is one of the more  significant ones would make this decertification process that our state  has right now actually, theoretically, I guess, work. Because right now -  I was just talking to someone today who's a police chief who said that  he doesn't feel like if he checks a box saying, "I think this person  needs to be looked at for decertification." He doesn't feel like he has  any guarantee that that will happen, even if he thinks it's important  for it to happen as an individual police chief who fired this person. So  that's kind of an issue that we have where cops sometimes do bounce  between departments, even if they are let go from one department or  maybe allowed to retire in lieu of being fired or something like that.

And  right now, that's the whole idea, is that if you have a process by  which you can say, "Okay, you are no longer certified to work as a  police officer in Washington State." That could kind of end that ability  to go between departments. But I mean, it's all in the details about  what's the standard by which, the universal standard by which, hey, this  person no longer will have a certification anymore. And I think that  that gets really complicated when dealing with unions, because I mean,  there certainly are a lot of things - there's a lot of reasons why  unions generally started a long time ago to try and protect workers'  rights. But I think there's that conflict within the labor community  right now about how police unions fit into that entire picture.

And  so that's a whole thing that I think is really going to mess with it -  is actually the fear that messing with police unions is going to lead to  some dismantling of union protections more broadly. And I think that's a  huge issue right now for some Democrats who think that that's - the  concern, for instance, with the arbitration proposals. If you make it  harder for police to review their discipline through arbitration, are we  saying it's okay for other unions to no longer have the power to review  and have objection to some disciplinary measures opposed against  teachers, against other people, and all sorts of things.

So  that's going to be a kind of more complex one, politically complex, in  that respect, I think. And yeah, that's why it's not just like a  Democratic rubber stamp on any proposal that has emerged at this point.

Crystal Fincher: [00:14:21]  Certainly. I would agree with that. I appreciate your clarification and  care to which you took to point out that there is no bill to defund the  police. Legislation can be very complex and there's so much that goes  into it, that the details become really important. And certainly with a  number of these bills, frankly, the police and unions and their  interests have become very good at just using tiny little details and  technicalities to really remove the teeth from a lot of bills or to make  things so subjective and conditional that they actually don't apply to  many situations that were originally targeted with the bill.

You're listening to Hacks and Wonks with your host Crystal Fincher on KVRU 105.7 FM.

And  for people's information - you can actually just go onto leg.wa.gov,  and you can see all of the documents from hearings. You can look at  videos from hearings to see what people are saying, or just read a bill  digest, which gives you a synopsis of the bill. You can see who  testifies in favor of and in opposition to bills - sometimes that's very  illuminating. And then you can also see vote tallies on how they're  voting - which legislators are voting in favor of legislation moving out  of committee or on further, versus those voting against. So that can  give you a lot of useful information about what your legislators are  doing and what different organizations throughout the community are  doing and what they're actually advocating for.

I  also wanted to talk about revenue proposals and there certainly are a  lot on the table. What is still in play and where do those stand?

Melissa Santos: [00:16:23]  It's funny, I was having this conversation with someone yesterday where  - I just don't think any of these deadlines matter for any tax bill at  all.

Crystal Fincher: [00:16:32] Yeah.

Melissa Santos: [00:16:32]  Because basically, every single year, there's new revenue tax measures  that emerge when the legislators release their budget proposals. And  then there's sometimes new ones that pop up once they reach a budget  agreement at the very end of the session where you're like, "Well,  what's that? I don't even know what that is." So what I ended up doing,  just because that ends up being what usually happens, is I'm trying to  keep track of all of them in one story that I just update throughout the  session at this point.

So  at this point, everything's alive, I should say. I do think that the  idea of taxing capital gains, which has been around in our state for a  while - this would be profits from selling stocks, bonds, and some other  assets, possibly commercial real estate, but there's some differences  in different proposals. That proposal -  I think it has more potential  to actually pass this year than it ever has had before. And that's kind  of a big one that the Governor has proposed, a capital gains tax. The  Senate budget committee actually passed out a capital gains tax last  week, or very recently. And it's usually the Senate where this measure, I  can't say it goes to die, because the House doesn't actually vote on it  in general. But generally the perception is the House has the support  to pass this measure to tax capital gains, but the Senate has not in the  past, even with a slim Democratic majority. There seems to be some  thought that has changed with just even having one or two fewer moderate  Democratic senators who were reticent about the proposal. So we're  going to have to see if they actually are going to take that vote, but  there seems to be more of a consensus that, Yeah, taxing people who have  huge sales of stocks that nets them a large profit - that's something  we might be willing to do this year.

And  so that's one of the ones that's in play. There's a new thing that the  House Finance Committee Chairwoman Noel Frame proposed, which is a  wealth tax, and that's interesting proposal. It would just be a flat 1%  tax, but then everyone who has under a billion dollars is exempt from  it.

Crystal Fincher: [00:18:47] And that was billion with a B.

Melissa Santos: [00:18:50]  Yeah. A billion with a B. So that doesn't apply to that many people. I  think the State Department of Revenue estimates less than 100 taxpayers  would pay that, yet it would raise like $2 billion a year, which is a  lot. The state budget is probably going to be $55-56 billion this year,  so two billion a year is not an insignificant amount of money. Yeah. But  the issue with that, and actually really kind of with the capital gains  proposal too, is they don't think they would be able to collect that  money - sorry, they do not think they would be able to connect that ..  I'm really having trouble speaking, okay.

Crystal Fincher: [00:19:26] You're fine.

Melissa Santos: [00:19:28]  With a wealth tax or a capital gains tax, there's not going to be an  immediate you can collect this money and spend it on stuff. I mean, it  takes a while to even build up money from tax collections anyway. But  there will be lawsuits over these proposals if they passed -  particularly the wealth tax, I think. There would be arguments - that is  an income tax that is against our state constitution. Actually, they  would happen for capital gains tax too. So that's always lurking in the  background that - are these taxes even legal? The Republicans argue they  are not. So those are there. Those are happening and are actively being  considered.

There's  actually - one of the proposals I suspect might just like pop up at the  very end of the session, because I know it's being worked on but it  hasn't been introduced, is a payroll tax that's similar to what Seattle  passed, I guess it would be last year. Time is very strange lately.

Crystal Fincher: [00:20:25] Yes.

Melissa Santos: [00:20:25]  But I guess that would have been 2020. And this is again trying to tax  people or companies really that have a lot of people who make a lot of  money, that employ people and where they pay pretty high salaries. So  it's a business tax. It is not something that aims to target actual  employee income but saying, "For every person you pay over $150,000", I  think that's the current thought at least for the threshold, "We're  going to charge you a certain percentage on their salary." And that is  something that there are lawmakers working on. There's always these  discussions behind the scenes, but there hasn't been a bill introduced.

And  so that's something they're talking about. There's some estate tax  proposals to kind of make that more progressive as well. And I haven't  heard as much buzz about those, but it's one of those things that it's  possible they could do something like that. Where saying, "Hey, when  people die and pass on their big, big, big amounts of money, we're going  to say, 'Okay, we're not even going to apply the tax to people who have  smaller estates, but we're going to raise the tax on people who have  really big one.'" That sort of thing. So yeah, those are some of the  ones that are in play right now. I'm a 100% confident there will be  different tax proposals though, that are introduced, soon.

Crystal Fincher: [00:21:40]  Well, we'll certainly have to follow that. There's a feeling that we  were already paying more than our fair share as people who are not  billionaires. We are known for being one of the most regressive states  in terms of a tax burden, meaning that people at the bottom are paying  the highest percentage in terms of taxes of a variety of types. And we  don't have an income tax in the state, but we certainly have a variety  of sales and use taxes and other taxes and that's even before we get to  the fees conversation. And that all adds up to more than what most  income taxes would be for moderate income individuals anyway. And  certainly on the very high end, they're just reaping these benefits  without paying back into the public coffers.

I  wanted to also touch on a hearing that happened actually this past  Sunday of the Redistricting Commission. And this was not a normal  hearing, and the composition of this Redistricting Commission isn't as  it's been before. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?

Melissa Santos: [00:22:50]  Yeah. Well, we have a redistricting process in Washington State that - a  lot of people say that compared to some states, ours is pretty good. I  mean, this is the body that is assigned to redraw boundaries of all the  Congressional districts, all the legislative districts. So that actually  really matters. I do not explain this to you, Crystal. I'm probably  explaining it to the listeners, because Crystal knows way more about  this than I do, but it really matters for - who can get elected where,  who's represented in what areas, which communities are kind of split  down the middle so that maybe their ability to be represented or  influence their lawmakers is diluted. So that that's all kind of at play  with this commission.

So  we do have a bi-partisan redistricting commission, which is, I think  most scholars think that's preferable to having just the party who  controls the legislature being able to decide everything, redraw the  boundaries to make their party have an advantage. But it still has  partisan politics in play, right? So anyway, each of the political  caucuses of the legislature appoint someone. So two Republicans, two  Democrats. In this case one of the people appointed was a former state  Senator named Joe Fain, who represented the 47th Legislative District  until, through the end of 2018. He's from Auburn, but it also, it  includes part of-

Crystal Fincher: [00:24:16] Maple Valley, Covington.

Melissa Santos: [00:24:17] Thank you.

Crystal Fincher: [00:24:18] Yeah.

Melissa Santos: [00:24:19] And actually, it's one of those districts, I think kind of splits communities down the middle in some ways.

Crystal Fincher: [00:24:23] It is.

Melissa Santos: [00:24:25]  So it's a kind of a strange district. Well, he got appointed, but the  thing about Joe Fain is he lost his race two years ago shortly after  being accused of rape. And so that was a bit of a controversial  appointment for the Senate Republicans to make of their former  colleague. And that we heard about that on Sunday. This is maybe the  third or fourth meeting of this redistricting commission. Yeah, I think  it's the third one, because this was just kind of finalized - the  membership in mid-January. And so there was a letter written in the last  few days, I guess, so a week ago now. So maybe two weeks before your  listeners will hear this saying, "This was inappropriate." This was the  National Women's Political Caucus saying, "This person should not have  been appointed. Someone who had a rape accusation that was never  disproven, was never really fully investigated, should not be serving on  this important commission that decides so much of our political future  for a decade."

And there  were a lot of groups that signed onto that as well. There were some  groups representing sexual assault advocacy groups. There were  individuals who signed on in their personal capacity as well. And this  was the first commission meeting since that letter came out. So we did  hear from several people who expressed their disappointment that the  commission includes someone who was accused of rape and sort of that  accusation still lingers because it never was investigated. And there  was actually an effort to investigate it in the State Senate that then  was dismantled and got shut down. So it just kind of sitting out there  and that was something people expressed disappointment with. I think  everyone who spoke, maybe there were - might have been a dozen people,  maybe a little fewer, so not some huge, huge crowd, but it's a Sunday  morning at 9:00 AM. But all of them except one mentioned this - this was  the topic of conversation. The people who commented from the community  about the commission, that "We think this sends a terrible message to  sexual assault survivors that their experiences do not matter to have a  person accused of rape on this commission."

And  so that's going to be interesting, I suppose. The thing that has become  clear is you really can't do anything once you appoint someone to a  commission, like the redistricting commission. I don't think there's any  power of anyone to actually take someone off unless they resign. I'm  not sure if there's anything written, is what I've been hearing, that  there's anything that can be done at this point, unless someone decides,  "Hey, I'm going to step down." And there's no indication Joe Fain  intends to do that at this point.

Crystal Fincher: [00:26:58]  And disappointing and confounding - and certainly the Republican  response has ranged from - this was solely a political attack, and not a  credible accusation, which flies in the face of what I think most  people and what the general consensus is - is that that absolutely was a  credible accusation and deserved to be investigated, certainly, and the  facts determined. And the fact that it just went away and then Joe Fain  was appointed, hired as the head of the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce,  which we could talk about a variety of reasons for why that happened.  But then pops up as the choice of the Republican Party statewide, for  just one of two spots. Out of everyone they could have chosen, this is  the direction they chose to go - was really disappointing and  infuriating to a lot of people. But it certainly also seems like Joe  Fain is almost hiding from the public and he has been hesitant to appear  on camera, has been hesitant to fully participate in these meetings,  has been hard to schedule and them finding time to come together. So  even now, the productivity of the commission is being called into  question. So we'll just continue to keep an eye on it.

So  with that, I think we are actually at the time today. Thank you so much  for joining us, and thank you to everyone listening to Hacks and Wonks  today. So again, appreciate our guest Melissa Santos who's Crosscut's  staff reporter covering state politics and the Legislature. You can find  her on Twitter @MelissaSantos1, and she just does excellent work. You  can read her on Crosscut, certainly helps to stay on top of what's  happening in the Legislature and across the state. So thank you and have  a wonderful day.

Thank  you for listening to Hacks and Wonks. Our chief audio engineer at KVRU  is Maurice Jones Jr. The producer of Hacks and Wonks is Lisl Stadler.  You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I, and  now you can follow Hacks and Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else  you get your podcasts, just type in "Hacks and Wonks" into the search  bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our  mid-week show delivered to your podcast feed. You can also get a full  text transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced  during the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode  notes. Thanks for tuning in. Talk to you next time.