Will Washington State Pay You to Narc on Your Neighbor?
A pair of bills filed during this legislative session may bring back bad memories for some Washingtonians from the height of the COVID lockdowns.
Senate Bill 5427 (SB 5427), and it's companion House Bill 1410, (HB 1410) would create a hotline in the Office of the Attorney General for reporting hate crimes and "bias incidents". Sounds innocent enough. No one would disagree with giving those directly impacted by a hate crime an avenue to report said crime in hopes of bringing the perpetrators to justice.
For the record...these bills were not part of Attorney General Bob Ferguson's Legislative Priorities for this session, nor were they sponsored or backed but his office, but the sponsors do use his office as the vehicle to receive complaints and collect the associated data.
If you're saying to yourself, "we already have mechanisms in place to deal with hate crimes and reporting", you would be correct. These bills create a new mechanism for the way it treats 'bias'. Bias, by definition, is not criminal in nature, the bill admits this, but it treats bias incidents as a Class C felony which is the same as a hate crime.
The kicker with these bills though is that you could receive up to $2,000 by making the phone call and claiming you were a victim. Remember in 2020 during the height of the COVID lockdowns when you were encouraged to turn in to DOH any business that was violating the State mandates? You didn't get money for doing so, but you were encouraged to 'do your part'. It created animosity in some communities to say the least.
These bills would authorize payment to you 'for damages or losses' you incurred as the victim of the hate crime or 'bias event'. The AG Office would have to dedicate a staff member to take calls on the hotline during business hours.
The State Treasurer's Office would be responsible for setting up the account with the funds, that are paid out based on 'availability' by the way, coming from legislative appropriation or 'other funds from public and private sources'. The AG office 'may' provide compensation, but there is no guarantee you'll be reimbursed if you claim losses through filing a complaint.
Concerns that have been raised against the bills cite constitutional questions that protect free speech, that perceived bias could be reported instead of an actual example of bias,and that the financial incentive could create a host of complaints that are not enforceable crimes in order to get money from the State.
As of this writing the House version did not make it out of Committee and the Senate Bill was schedule for executive session in the Senate Ways and Means Committee last week but no action was taken at that time.