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New police pursuit rules, 'parents bill of rights' become law in Washington

A small group of people holding signs that say "Stop crime in action" stand on the steps of the Washington capitol. Most of the people are wearing sunglasses because it is sunny outside.
Jeanie Lindsay
NW News Network
A few dozen supporters of the initiatives backed by the group Let's Go Washington gathered for a celebration rally at the state capitol Thursday, June 6, 2024. It's the day that three of the voter initiatives the group worked on became law, including a measure aimed at easing the restrictions around police car chases.

Washington police can now pursue vehicles if officers suspect someone is committing a crime. And parents in the state have a new list of rules outlining their rights to access their children’s school records.

That’s because three voter initiatives took effect Thursday — alongside dozens of other new laws — after the Legislature approved them earlier this year. The third voter initiative that became law this week is a ban on income taxes in the state.

Police pursuits have been a longstanding debate in Olympia after the state tightened those rules in 2021 to limit injuries or deaths that can stem from car chases. Lawmakers slightly loosened those restrictions in 2023, but a Republican-backed voter initiative loosened them even further this year.

Chris Loftis with the Washington State Patrol said that after the 2021 changes took effect, more people started fleeing when officers tried to pull them over.

“The numbers of things that we were trying to prevent started going up just as the number of pursuits started going down,” Loftis said.

The new rules say cops can chase people if an officer “reasonably suspects” that they broke “the law.” Departments don’t have to adopt the looser rules, but Loftis says Washington State Patrol will — and state law still requires training for officers and supervision when car chases do occur.

“We’re not going to just chase people through crowded streets and crowded parking lots without thinking through the situation,” Loftis said.

Meanwhile, Washington’s top education official is warning schools not to change their student privacy policies under the so-called "parents bill of rights" law.

The measure outlines more than a dozen rights for parents to access their children’s school records, including student mental health counseling records. But Washington’s education department says sharing those records could violate federal health and student confidentiality policies like HIPAA and FERPA, and is urging schools to wait to make any local policy changes.

“We’re not saying that we’re not going to be enforcing a new state law,” said Katy Payne, spokesperson for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “We’re saying federal law and state law are in conflict and state law cannot override or overrule federal law.”

In a news release sent out Wednesday, OSPI said “when in doubt, school districts should follow federal privacy laws.”

People who support the parents’ rights measure say it’s a vital tool for parents to be aware of what’s going on when their child is at school.

Some parts of the new law are duplicative of or more vague than existing state or federal regulations that already grant parents various rights to be involved in their children’s schooling.

But critics of the initiative measure worry that the places where it conflicts with privacy rights for students could particularly undermine school-based supports for LGBTQ youth or students facing abuse at home.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal addressed some of those concerns directly in the news release.

“There is no question that students are best supported when their families are actively involved in their education,” Reykdal said in the statement. “But if a student does not feel safe coming out to their family and they turn to a trusted adult at their school for support, they have a right to receive that support without fear of being outed by their school.”

Meanwhile, a group of nonprofits, two individuals and South Whidbey School District have signed onto a lawsuit seeking to overturnthe parents rights initiative.

Earlier this week, a King County court commissioner denied a request to temporarily block the law from taking effect. That means it will be active for at least a couple of weeks until that case is back in court later this month, where a judge could decide to put the new law on hold while the lawsuit plays out.

Jeanie Lindsay is a radio reporter based in Olympia who covers the Washington state government beat for the Northwest News Network, the Pacific Northwest's regional collaboration of NPR stations.