Auburn officials outline legislative priorities

City opposes middle housing, police accountability bills; supports repeal of police pursuit restrictions.

Police reform, land use, public works and social services are among the City of Auburn’s priorities this legislative session, Director of Administration Dana Hinman said.

During an Auburn City Council meeting on Jan. 24, Hinman presented the city’s priorities for the state Legislature to the council. In addition to this, Hinman briefly went over the city’s official position on a few bills. Here are the city’s positions on various bills being discussed in the Washington state Legislature.

SB 5867: Neutral

Senate Bill 5867, sponsored by State Sen. Phil Fortunato (R-Auburn), would require every county and each city with a population of 50,000 or more to operate an emergency overnight shelter.

The counties and eligible cities would have to coordinate to ensure there are enough beds to shelter the county’s population of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people based on the most recent point in time count.

Cities and counties would also have to make available employment, mental health and drug counseling services at the shelters, according to the bill. Counties and cities following this law would receive priority assistance from the housing trust fund.

The city generally supports the bill, but is neutral due to the requirement of a minimum number of beds based on point in time counts, which city officials argue are inaccurate. The city also wants the language regarding services to change so jurisdictions are only required to make referrals to services rather than making them available.

HB 1788: Support

Sponsored by State Rep. Eric Robertson (R-Auburn) and 16 other House members, House Bill 1788 would reverse the changes to the law governing police pursuit made last year by House Bill 1054.

Current law requires police to have probable cause that a person in a car committed a violent offense or sexual offense prior to engaging in a vehicle pursuit. House Bill 1788 seeks to lessen this requirement from probable cause to reasonable suspicion that a person has committed any criminal offense.

The city said it supports this “common sense” update because it will offer officers more clarity and “reduce unnecessary or unwarranted pursuits.”

“We just feel that it’s thoughtful construction of language, it’s updating the language for clarity to our officers, it’s allowing our officers to do their job again,” Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus said.

Police pursuits are the second leading cause of death since 2018, according to data by Next Steps Washington. Between 1996 and 2015, police pursuits in Washington killed 102 people, 25 of whom were bystanders, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

There were significant changes to law enforcement that needed to be made, but some of them, including increasing the law of restricting pursuits to when police have probable cause, went too far, Backus said.

Rep. Robertson has a background in law enforcement, so he understands some of the nuances and challenges officers faced with the police reforms last year, Backus said.

This bill will allow police to arrest suspects quicker so they don’t have time to commit additional crimes, Backus said.

HB 1202: Oppose

House Bill 1202, sponsored by 23 members, would allow people harmed by police misconduct to sue the officer or officers and their employer for damages.

According to the second substitute bill, made in February 2021, this bill would allow people who were injured or had their property damaged by a police officer to sue the officer and their employer if the damages or injury occurred while the officer was breaking the law.

If the police officer can prove they were acting within accordance to one of their employer’s regulations, practices, trainings, procedures or policies, then only the employer is liable.

The city opposes this bill because it would increase the city’s liability by allowing for people to sue police officers and the city.

“It would allow any person injured by an officer to sue them and their employing city. The Supreme Court has already upheld the qualified immunity for police officers twice,” Backus said. “So this goes against the federal Supreme Court and we are not supportive of this action.”

Backus said this bill would tie police officers’ hands from doing anything. Additionally, Auburn police are already held accountable by the police department, Backus said

“The community itself already holds our officers accountable. We hold our officers accountable. There are differing levels of review that officers go through in the City of Auburn with the police department,” Backus said.

Depending on the offense, officers can receive a written warning, time off or other disciplinary action, Backus said.

SB 5670: Oppose

This is the companion bill to House Bill 1782, which would require cities to allow duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes in all areas zoned for single family housing. It would also require cities to allow for all types of middle housing including sixplexes, stacked flats and townhouses in areas within half a mile of a major transit station.

The city is opposed to this bill because it takes away local control and does not necessarily guarantee increased density or affordability. The city also said this type of zoning change can’t occur without overhauling the city’s utilities.

Building multi-family housing in some residential areas in Auburn would require the city or the builders to upgrade utilities such as water to meet the needs of more residents on the same amount of land, Director of Community Development Jeff Tate said.

“It’s not simple to just put more people on top of the ground without changing all of the infrastructure that’s underneath the ground to serve them,” Tate said.

This bill could also have the unintended consequence of increasing housing costs and driving existing residents out, Tate said.

The city isn’t against middle housing — the city created a housing action plan that includes middle housing in areas that are suited for its development, Backus said. The city invested millions in updating the infrastructure in the downtown core to allow for denser housing, Backus said.

“We already have all of the plans in place to provide for affordable housing at every income level,” Backus said.

The city believes that instead of issuing an unfunded statewide mandate, it should offer incentives to cities that choose to create more middle housing, Backus said.

You can watch the full council study session on Youtube.