Graham bill would allow elected and appointed officials to be sued

‘The many crime victims and their families around the state have nowhere to go for restitution,’ says Graham

Legislation was introduced recently in Olympia that would create a private right of action against elected or appointed officials, effectively allowing them to be sued if their law- or rule-making actions caused harm to others.

The proposal, House Bill 1844, was introduced by Rep. Jenny Graham, R-Spokane, a staunch victims’ rights advocate who says the Legislature has gone too far in recent years, favoring the rights of criminals over the rights of victims.

“The attack against our law enforcement through the Defund the Police movement has caused serious damage to our communities and the safety of individuals and families across the state,” said Graham. “The Legislature has caused the pendulum to swing too far in favor of criminals. As a result, the innocent suffer, with no legal recourse.”

Graham’s bill says, in part:

“It is the intent of the legislature to provide a meaningful remedy under state law for persons who are injured when a duly elected or appointed official, through action or neglect, violates the state Constitution or state law.”

“We are continually seeing harm caused to members of our community by the policies implemented in Olympia,” said Graham. “Legislators and other elected and appointed officials seem to act with impunity and no regard for the consequences of their misguided policies. It is no stretch to say that some of the recent laws preventing law enforcement from doing their job have actually cost lives – killed people. This needs to change. People need to be held accountable.”

Graham’s bill comes at a time when Democrats in the state House of Representatives have introduced proposals to reduce sentences for criminals, eliminate the firearms sentence enhancements for certain criminals, allow criminals early release, reduce the penalties for drive-by-shootings, and to deny financial restitution for victims.

“Enough is enough!” said Graham. “The many crime victims and their families around the state have nowhere to go for restitution. In many of these cases you can trace the cause of their pain and despair right back to decisions made by the majority party in Olympia. Lawmakers should be held directly and financially accountable for their harmful actions.”

Graham said the inspiration for her bill came from the majority party’s efforts to eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement officers, which would allow them to be sued if their actions or inactions caused harm to others.

“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” said Graham.

She added the following language to her bill to make the intent clear:

“The legislature finds that the lack of such a remedy jeopardizes justice for the victims and implies impunity for the violators. In order to foster the important public policy of accountability for unlawful legislation and execution of state laws, regulations, and policies, and to promote trust between communities and their government, and in recognition of remedial deficiencies in existing federal and Washington common law, this chapter establishes a more meaningful remedy through a civil cause of action by which victims of legislative and executive misconduct may obtain compensation for their injuries and an award of costs and attorneys’ fees incurred in seeking the remedy. By enacting this chapter, the legislature intends to preclude development and imposition of any qualified or absolute immunity.”

Graham’s bill was sent to the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee.

The 105-day 2023 legislative session is scheduled to end April 23.


Washington State House Republican Communications