The proposal from West Seattle representative Lisa Herbold would lead to the creation of new defenses allowed under the city’s code for misdemeanor crimes in an effort to keep more people out of incarceration to reduce the city’s costs utilizing the King County Jail and reduce so-called “poverty crime” in the city.
Herbold said Wednesday that the effort would give Seattle courts the authority to hear a defense with transparency about the conditions that led the defendants to the alleged crimes and would help reduce city jailing costs.
Council president Lorena González said Wednesday she supports the need for the legislation but said she believes it should not be part of the budget process and instead recommended that the council take up the effort during the “ordinary legislative process.”
The 2021 budget process is slated to end in late November.
District 3 representative Kshama Sawant challenged González and said the council should work to pass legislation to achieve the new defenses as soon as possible. Bureaucratic processes, she said, should be secondary to the “dire needs” of the city’s people.
At this point, the proposal does not include any legislative language or details on potential cost savings. Seattle City Council Insight provides an explainer on the proposal here.
Wednesday’s session didn’t present a clear path for the misdemeanor defense changes. Herbold was joined by co-sponsors Sawant, and Tammy Morales in supporting the proposed “budget action” with the rest of the council standing aside on the issue.
Councilmember Andrew Lewis also spoke in support of the council taking up the legislation but did not join the co-sponsors in supporting the proposal as part of the budget process. Lewis said a lot of the city’s policy failures come about due to “overlying on incarceration.” “Talking about ways to change the approach are good,” he said.
SPD statistics show that crime has dropped during the ongoing pandemic restrictions across the city — even in the areas around CHOP this summer. Crime across all categories tracked by SPD was down nearly 12% across the city through August in comparison to the last two years of data. In the East Precinct including Capitol Hill and the Central District — despite the massive influx of protesters, demonstrators, and campers during months of unrest and the CHOP occupied protest — crime dropped 4% through August. Burglaries and break-ins, on the other hand, have surged across the area.
The misdemeanor proposal was discussed as the council fine tunes its package of changes to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s 2021 budget proposal.
As the various line items for proposed changes and additions — and subsequent cuts — to the budget are discussed through the end of this week, council members may indicate their support for the proposals. Those with the strongest support make the final package.
Wednesday, Sawant was also planning to bring forward a proposed budget amendment that would provide $14 million to help Africatown to purchase the former Keiro Care Center at 17th and Yesler with plans to turn the property into a development that will “honor Indigenous and Pan-Asian communities.”
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