Rep. Harris’ negligent driving bill survives cutoff
A bill from 17th District Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, that would allow judges to impose criminal penalties in cases of negligent driving involving the death of a vulnerable victim survived the legislature’s fiscal committee cutoff on Friday.
Along with giving judges the discretion to impose criminal penalties, House Bill 1112 would also create a first-degree gross misdemeanor offense for negligent driving with a vulnerable victim. Vulnerable victims include pedestrians, an individual riding a horse or other animal, a person riding a bicycle, scooter or other specified items on a public way, among others.
The bill passed out of the House Transportation Committee on Thursday and now waits for a House floor vote. If the bill passes, it will go into effect Jan. 1, 2024.
“My heart aches for the constituent who brought this to my attention,” Harris told the committee during a Feb. 13 hearing. “It was a tragedy no one should have to go through. Accidents happen, but we need to make sure judges at least have the option to hold negligent drivers accountable if they take someone’s life.”
Harris introduced a similar bill during the 2022 session that received unanimous support from the Community Safety, Justice and Reentry Committee. The bill was sent to the House Rules Committee but never made it to the floor for a vote.
“I want to see this bill become law,” Harris said. “I know every traffic accident is different, but under current law, a person can walk away from killing another individual and be punished with what amounts to a slap on the wrist. Judges need to have the authority impose penalties that fit the crime when appropriate.”
Under HB 1112, judges would be able to impose a penalty of up to 364 days of imprisonment, a $5,000 fine, which may not be reduced below $1,000, and suspension of driving privileges for 90 days.
— Shari Phiel