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SEPTEMBER 29, 1997

Local News

Legislature approves warrant checks

  NW News Staff
   In a rare one-day special session, the Washington state Legislature has approved legislation that gives law enforcement officials the authority to check for outstanding warrants on individuals lawfully stopped for an infraction.
   Rep. Kathy Lambert, R-Redmond, said to protect the public, it was important for the Legislature to act quickly following the recent Washington Supreme Court ruling that this common law enforcement practice was not authorized under state law.
   "This legislation will protect a practice that saves lives," said Lambert, a member of the House Law and Justice Committee. "Standard warrant checks have resulted in the apprehension of thousands of criminals around the country and in our state. And they are an important tool used by police officers to protect themselves. These checks increase public safety."
   An example of the effectiveness of the practice was the apprehension of one of the inmates who recently escaped from the new King County Jail in Kent, explained Lambert.
   "An officer in southern California arrested him after running a warrant check during a routine traffic stop," she said, noting that the new law does not expand police powers beyond those taken away by the courts decision. "The fact is, without this tool, many criminals who threaten our neighborhoods and communities would go unnoticed by police officers."
   "We've all seen stories in which routine traffic stops turn violent, even deadly, for police officers," Lambert added. "These background checks can be an important warning for officers. That's why it's so critical for us to act swiftly. Establishing statute over the courts decision gives us all that protection."
   The measure passed both the House and Senate with strong bipartisan support. The governor is expected to sign the bill, which includes an emergency clause that would allow it to take effect immediately. The special session was held at very little expense to taxpayers, since lawmakers were already scheduled to be in Olympia this week for committee hearings.