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Washington Legislature votes to create ‘bias incident hotline’ within AGO

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(The Center Square) – The Washington State Legislature has passed a bill creating a “bias incident hotline” within the State Attorney General’s Office allowing residents to report incidents they consider to be “hateful.” The bill will be sent to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk for signature after it cleared the House on Wednesday in a 56-39 vote.

“Frankly, I am concerned it could be weaponized in a way that would not serve justice and not serve unity, but could injustice and disunity,” Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, told colleagues on the House floor.

Sponsored by Sen. Javier Valdez, Senate Bill 5427 tasks the AGO with setting up a hotline that would allow people call who have been allegedly targeted or affected by not only hate crimes as defined under state law, but “bias incidents,” a term that is not defined in the bill.

The bill also directs AGO staff handling the hotline to inquire if the person calling to report a hate crime or bias incident has contacted law enforcement. If not, the AGO is directed to share, with the caller’s consent, the location, date, and individuals involved with local law enforcement.

All identifying information will be exempt from any public disclosure requests. The pilot program is be implemented in at least three counties, at least one of them in eastern Washington, no later than Jan. 1, 2027.

Speaking in favor of the bill, Rep. Jamila Taylor, D-Federal Way, told colleagues that “hate crimes are going up in Washington state. We’re seeing communities across the state be impacted by vicious, vicious ways to intimidate communities who just want to belong. It gives them a way to report these bias incidents.”

Also speaking in favor of the bill was Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, who also emphasized the criminal aspect of the bill. She called the bill an “important step to begin to understand how deeply and how pervasively these crimes occur. Most victims are too afraid to stand up and seek justice.”

However, opponents like Rep. Cyndy Jacobsen, R-Puyallup, said that while there should be laws against actual crimes against people or property, “bias incidents” are better resolved through by talking through disputes. She cited an actual incident in Puyallup where a man had a controversial statue on top of his house that prompted some residents to pressure local government officials to take it down. According to Jacobsen, the homeowner eventually removed it neighbors discussed it with him personally.

“I think that’s a better way of dealing with things rather than a hotline where we can report our neighbors,” she said. “I think it’s difficult to put things into law which look at the intent of people rather than the actions that they take.”

“If a crime is a crime, if someone has been assaulted, if property has been damaged, then the proper recourse is to contact law enforcement and pursue a remedy, pursue justice in that way.” Walsh said.

In a press release news release, Attorney General Bob Ferguson wrote that “creating this hotline will provide a centralized location for Washingtonians to report hate crimes and bias incidents. This will improve our state’s response to these incidents and increase public safety.”