Domestic violence offender registry could improve safety in Washington state

  • Wed Jan 30th, 2019 12:44pm
  • News

By Madeline Coats

Washington Newspaper Publishers Association

OLYMPIA — Two lawmakers have proposed a bill to create a state domestic violence offender registry that they say will save lives.

Tina Stewart, 30, was beaten to death by her boyfriend on Nov. 24, 2017, at her home in Newman Lake. The police report indicates that she had been kicked and punched repeatedly over her body, as depicted from bruising on Stewart’s face, chest and stomach, explained her uncle, Don Estes.

“I read the autopsy report,” said Estes in a testimony about his niece. “It was horrific.”

House Bill 1080 is co-sponsored by Rep. Brad Klippert (R-Kennewick) and Rep. Carolyn Eslick (R-Sultan). The bill requires the Washington State Patrol to maintain a central registry of serious domestic violence offenders and create a searchable, public registry website.

“As a law enforcement officer with over 25 years of experience, unfortunately I’ve seen similar instances over and over again,” Klippert said in reference to the murder of Stuart.

RCW 25.50.010 defines domestic violence as the physical harm, bodily injury, assault or infliction of fear between family or household members.

Many severe crimes involve intimate partner and family violence, the bill states. Wide ranging effects of domestic violence include injury to mental and physical health, economic and housing instability and victimization of children.

HB 1080 cites state data demonstrating a high rate of reoffense among domestic violence perpetrators. Aside from criminal background checks or court record requests, there is currently no way of knowing about a person’s offense history.

“It’s not punitive in any way, shape or form,” Klippert said. “It’s just informative.”

The bill would allow access to a tool for increased protection, he explained at the hearing. While there is information online for nearly all court cases in the state, both criminal and civil, a registry would create ease for the citizens of Washington, Klippert said.

The Washington State Patrol is the central repository for criminal history record information, submitted by law enforcement agencies and courts throughout the state. The patrol also maintains public information on registered sex and kidnapping offenders.

The proposed bill would require the state patrol registry website to include the offender’s name, date of birth, information about each domestic violence conviction, current address by hundred block, photograph and any other identifying data.

Tamaso Johnson from the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence testified with concerns about privacy, should the bill pass.

“Privacy is so intimately linked to safety,” Johnson said. It is very difficult to publicly publish information about domestic violence offenders without also identifying the victims, he explained.

“The last thing we want to see is laws that are intended to protect people unintentionally cause harm,” Johnson said.

The purpose of the registry is to prevent domestic violence before it happens by allowing citizens access to a list of offenders. The issue of protecting victims from previous abusers needs to be addressed, he said.

If the bill becomes law, domestic violence offenders would appear on the registry for a required period of time in relation to the severity of the conviction. Registered offenders may be removed from the registry once the timeline is reached.

A person also can petition the court for removal from the registry once he or she has spent 10 consecutive years in the community without being convicted of a felony, according to HB 1080.