State Supreme Court strikes down death penalty

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106 Newhouse Building ● P.O. Box 40404 ● Olympia WA 98504-0404

Report from Olympia |  October 16, 2018

At a 2014 news conference at the Capitol, responding to the governor’s announcement that he was placing a moratorium on capital punishment, the families of victims whose killers were on death row made it clear that the death penalty provided them with a sense of closure.

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Last week, I traveled to the “other Washington” to participate in a conference and briefing at the White House. It was a great experience that allowed me to hear directly from high-ranking Administration officials, while also sharing with them the concerns and views of our district.

While I was away, however, news of another major court decision broke. Washington’s state Supreme Court ruled 9-0 on Thursday that the practical application of the death penalty in our state is unconstitutional. You can read more about this decision, what it means for our state, and coverage of my comments on the topic in this issue of Report from Olympia.

If you have any questions about any of the issues discussed in this newsletter, please feel free to contact my office. I am here to be your voice in Olympia, and hearing directly from you is one of the best ways for me to accomplish that goal.

Thanks again for the honor of representing you in the Washington State Senate. 


Senator Mike Padden

Key issues affecting Washington subject of White House Conference

Surprise appearances made by Vice President Pence and Kellyanne Conway 

Vice President Mike Pence met with local Northwest elected officials.

On Thursday, Oct. 11, I had the honor and privilege of representing our state at a “White House Conference with Washington State and Local Leaders” for remarks and discussions with key administration officials and policymakers on issues affecting the states of Washington and Oregon.

So many issues that affect our citizens – from transportation to forest management – are either decided or influenced by the federal government. It is critical that we be able to work effectively with federal officials and know who to turn to when we have questions or need assistance for our constituents.

I was invited to the conference by the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, which serves as the primary liaison between the White House and state, county, local, and tribal governments. Presenters included:

  • Douglas Hoelscher, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of White House Intergovernmental Affairs;
  • Frank Brogan, Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education, U.S. Department of Education;
  • Anthony Bedell, Deputy Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation;
  • Paul Lawrence, Undersecretary for Benefits, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; and
  • Secretary Ryan Zinke, U.S. Department of Interior.

I was especially interested in Secretary Zinke’s discussion of wildfire management, considering it hadn’t even been three months since the Upriver Beacon Fire in Spokane County caused the evacuation of nearly 800 homes and evacuation warnings for thousands more.

Zinke, a former Montana congressman who is familiar with the wildfire situation in the Northwest, believes years of failure to effectively tend our forests means more dead logs and other “fuels” that cause hotter, more intense wildfires. He supports reducing the fuel load through prescribed burns, mechanical thinning and timber harvests – actions our Legislature has endorsed at the state level in the past two years.

According to the Secretary, his agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have secured bipartisan support for maintaining forests in ways that ease the recurrence and severity of wildfires. He has also signed an order mandating aggressive fuel management and increasing the use of drones to monitor and contain fires.

In addition to fire management, the secretary also discussed plans to plant early-detection beacons in our national parks as an early-warning system for earthquakes.

VA Undersecretary Lawrence announced that the agency soon will launch an initiative to modern electronic medical records. Launching events will be in Spokane, Seattle and American Lake (near Joint Base Lewis McChord).

A couple of surprise visitors interrupted the schedule. Vice President Mike Pence stopped by to let the state and local officials know he supports turning over more federal responsibilities to state and local officials. He indicated the Trump-Pence administration was a 10th Amendment friendly administration.

Then White House counselor Kellyanne Conway joined us to discuss the opioid crisis, which the president declared a national emergency nearly a year ago. It was heartbreaking to hear the numbers – nearly 175 Americans die each day from opioid abuse, with a projected economic burden of nearly $500 billion annually – but Conway told us the steps the Administration is taking to stop illegal drugs at the border, increase prevention education and provide additional resources for treatment are all starting to bear fruit.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that in 2017, about 11.4 million people misused opioids – down from 12.7 million people in 2016. About 56 percent of people sought treatment for their addiction in 2017, up from 37 percent in 2016. While the numbers are moving in an encouraging direction, they are still way too high, and there is still much work to be done.

Overall, the trip was not only informative, but it was also a great opportunity to make contacts within the administration who may be helpful in the future.

In the News:

Jobless claims lowest in nearly 49 years

CNBC | Sept. 20, 2018


The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell, hitting near a 49-year low in a sign the job market remains strong.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell by 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted level of 201,000 for the week ended Sept. 15, the Labor Department said. That is the lowest level since November 1969. Data for the prior week's claims was unrevised.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 210,000 in the latest week.

The Labor Department said only claims for Hawaii were estimated. The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, declined by 2,250 to 205,750 last week, the lowest level since December 1969.

Click here to view the whole story.

Supreme Court strikes down Washington's death penalty

Sherry Shaver
Sherry Shaver, left, holds a photo of her two daughters, Venus, left, and Telisha, right, as she stands with her husband Roger Shaver, right, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, during a news conference at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (Ted S. Warren/ AP Photo)

On Thursday morning, the state Supreme Court unanimously overturned the death penalty as it is currently administered.

The decision stemmed from an appeal of the death sentence for Allen Eugene Gregory. His victim was raped, robbed, and stabbed repeatedly before her neck was slashed. Gregory was convicted of three counts of rape in addition to murder.

The court reviewed Gregory’s claim that the death penalty disproportionately affects African-Americans. In reaching its decision, the justices relied upon a study commissioned by the University of Washington that concluded that counties with higher black populations pursue the death penalty more and black defendants are 4½ times more likely to be sentenced to death than white defendants.

Based on this, the court found Washington's death penalty is administered in an arbitrary and racially biased manner, and struck it down as a violation of article I, section 14 of the state constitution.

Frustratingly, the justices acknowledged several errors and subjectivity in the UW study, but stated that they “decline to require indisputably true social science to prove that our death penalty is impermissibly imposed based on race.” 

The court noted it was not declaring Washington’s method of execution to be unconstitutional and stated “[w]e leave open the possibility that the legislature may enact a "carefully drafted statute to impose capital punishment in this state, but it cannot create a system that offends constitutional rights.” Unfortunately, the court did not leave many clues as to how the Legislature could accomplish that.

I am disappointed with this ruling. It set an unnecessarily high burden. Circumstances will never be equal in a state where prosecutors in 39 counties have discretion whether to seek the death penalty for individual cases.

While I believe the death penalty should be used rarely, the heinous offenses committed by those on our state’s death row are evidence that capital punishment is still the best fit for some crimes. The death penalty is also a helpful tool for prosecutors to use when trying to reach a plea agreement or get a defendant to disclose the location of a victim’s body.

This decision is also likely to cause more pain to the family of victims. Sherry Shaver thought she had found closure in 1997 when a jury recommended the death penalty for the man who killed her daughter in Spokane Valley. Even after the governor issued a moratorium on the death penalty in 2014, she held out hope that a new governor might reinstate the death penalty for her daughter’s killer.

Though her daughter’s murderer died last year of a heart attack, she still sees the death penalty as instrument of justice for other victims and is devastated by the court’s ruling.

You can click the links below to read additional coverage of this decision, including my thoughts on how we move forward.

In the News:

A first look at the new Spokane Valley high school

Staff Report, Spokane Journal of Business | Oct. 11, 2018

Conceptual art

Central Valley School District has released a first look at the conceptual design of its planned new $95 million high school, which is slated to be constructed along East Country Vista Drive. ALSC Architects PS, of Spokane, is expected to complete design work next spring. A general contractor hasn’t been selected yet for the project, but work is scheduled to start in mid-2019. The new facility, which will be the third high school in the district, is slated to open in time for the 2021-22 school year.

You can read the full article by clicking here


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