OLYMPIA — A collection of state legislators, including 26th Legislative District state Rep. Michelle Caldier (R-Port Orchard), who have sponsored bills in Olympia this session to protect sexual assault survivors were demanding their colleagues take a second look at their legislation before the session ended Thursday, March 8.
Caldier and 35th Legislative District state Rep. Dan Griffey (R-Allyn) sponsored related bills that failed to be brought forward by Senate leaders for a vote. Caldier’s bill is to ensure rape victims get timely notice of the availability of rape kit exams at hospitals. Griffey sponsored legislation to eliminate the statute of limitations for felony sex offenses.
Caldier said another legislator, state Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines), also sponsored twin bills related to sexual offenses that also weren’t brought up for a vote. And she’s mystified why these bills were overlooked.
“All of the bills passed out of the committee in the Senate,” Caldier said by phone from Olympia March 6. “I just don’t think they were a priority in the Senate.”
Caldier said neither she nor Griffey can get a straight answer why from the Senate leadership, including majority party Senate leader Sharon Nelson, a Democrat. Caldier said she believes the reluctance doesn’t stem from partisanship, but more likely because the issues the bills address weren’t a priority in the Senate.
The more likely culprit was the majority party’s priority list of bills it wanted to see reach the floor for a vote. The sexual assault bills weren’t included.
“I think they had certain bills they thought were priorities, and they wanted to pass those out,” she said. “For whatever reason, ours didn’t make the list. To me, the most frustrating thing is not whether or not a piece of legislation passed. The reality is that the sexual assault survivors are going to have to testify all over again.”
Although the 26th District representative voted against the bill from the beginning, Caldier said she believes the highly publicized public records act captured the oversized attention of lawmakers and constituents.
Caldier said one of the individuals she had testify before a committee this session was “devastated.” And should the bill be revived down the road, the state representative said those who provided testimony — most of whom were sexual-assault victims — will be asked to do it all over again.
She said the state Legislature let sexual assault survivors down this session.
“There’s no way around it,” Caldier said. “Lawmakers had two reasonable proposals in front of them that would have immensely improved the treatment and care of these brave individuals, but dozens of other issues were prioritized.
“Survivors are wondering why, and so are we.”
She said legislators each year “pat ourselves on the back for passing hundreds of bills that in no way rise to the level of consequence as legislation to help vulnerable women. We have a backlog of roughly 10,000 untested sexual assault kits, survivors who struggle to find the courage to report their assault before some seemingly arbitrary deadline, and women (and men) who have to sit for hours in a hospital waiting room, only to find out they’ll have to wait at yet another hospital to get a rape test exam.”
Also frustrating for Caldier was that Senate leaders were willing to bend legislative rules that allowed the public records act bill to get another vote on the floor. That option hasn’t been offered for her legislation, or other related bills.
“It’s incredibly sad and disgusting that they’re saying, ‘Well, we’re past cutoff so we can’t bend the rules.’ All of our bills had public hearings and passed out of committee.”
State Reps. Caldier, Griffey and Orwall have sent letters to the Senate leadership asking for a last-minute reprieve. Caldier said the three have taken turns lobbying Senate leadership to revisit the bills addressing the sexual assault issue.
“Chances are slim, but I’m a fighter,” Caldier said with a sigh. “I’m doing what I can.”