Residents walk the grounds in July 2022 of the future East Hill North Community Park in the Panther Lake area of Kent. The City Council will ask the state Legislature during the 2023 session for $2 million to help build the park. BAILEY JO JOSIE, Sound Publishing

Residents walk the grounds in July 2022 of the future East Hill North Community Park in the Panther Lake area of Kent. The City Council will ask the state Legislature during the 2023 session for $2 million to help build the park. BAILEY JO JOSIE, Sound Publishing

Kent City Council wants Legislature to change drug possession law; seeks funds for new park

Public safety, illegal street racing and $2M for Panther Lake park top city’s legislative priorities

The Kent City Council wants the state Legislature to make possession of a controlled substance an arrestable offense with deferred prosecution if offenders complete a treatment program.

The council approved in November its state legislative agenda that identifies which issues it wants local legislators to focus on as well as the city’s contract lobbyist Briahna Murray and city staff. The 2023 legislative session begins Jan. 9.

“Kent encourages the Legislature to pass public safety-centric laws aimed at protecting the community through safe and accountable police service, and offender accountability accompanied by required and available treatment,” according to the city’s priority list.

“While Kent supports efforts to stop the revolving door of incarceration by treating the underlying conditions that lead to criminal activity, services must be available and proven, accompanied by real consequences for failure, and be equitably available.”

The public safety priority is in response to a 2021 state Supreme Court decision that invalidated possession of controlled substances as a felony, Murray said in a presentation to the council. After that ruling, the Legislature enacted a temporary policy that a person stopped for drug possession must be offered treatment for their offenses and not arrested for a misdemeanor until the third offense. That policy expires in July 2023.

“Our proposal is to make possession of controlled substances an arrestable offense with treatment required for deferred prosecution, and not to prosecute if they seek treatment,” Murray said. “And (the state) needs to increase treatment options to ensure those are readily available.”

Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla and City Attorney Tammy White helped outline the city’s preferences for a new permanent policy.

“They are deferred to treatment but they are not getting treatment and they are not arrested,” Murray said.

Murray met with Mayor Dana Ralph, Chief Administrative Officer Pat Fitzpatrick and department directors over a three-month period to identify issues and priorities for the upcoming state legislative session.

The council approved the priorities presented by Murray with a 4-3 vote. Council President Bill Boyce, Les Thomas, Toni Troutner and Satwinder Kaur approved the list. Brenda Fincher, Marli Larimer and Zandria Michaud voted against it. Those opposed wanted housing to be one of the top priorities in an effort to reduce evictions and homelessness in the city.

After the vote, Ralph responded to the three who voted against the list.

“Hearing concerns about housing, I will work with (city lobbyist) Briahna to support legislation regarding housing in the upcoming session,” Ralph said.

Other city priorities

• Illegal street racing: Hundreds of illegal street racers congregate on Kent’s streets to engage in illegal, high- speed street racing that endangers themselves and innocent bystanders, according to the city’s priority list. Kent asks that the Legislature provide enhanced tools to address this unique and challenging public safety concern, including but not limited to establishing consequences for those who promote illegal street racing and allowing for the seizure of vehicles used in illegal street racing.

• East Hill North Community Park: East Hill North Community Park is in the Panther Lake neighborhood, the city’s most underserved park region. The City of Kent requests $2 million to complete the first phase of this new community park on 33 acres off 132nd Avenue SE and SE 216th Street,.

In the first round of public engagement to develop a conceptual plan for the park, 600 people engaged at nine community events. East Hill North Community Park is envisioned to be Kent’s first green park that emphasizes preservation of the natural environment and a high-quality nature experience for children and families. Phase 1 of this project includes parking, utilities, restroom, shelter, children’s play area with nature-based play, nature trails, and ecological restoration consisting of native meadows, forests, and wetlands.

• Transportation: Kent commends the Legislature for enacting the Move Ahead Washington package. As the Legislature develops the 16-year spending plan for the package, Kent asks the state to program the city’s projects for early delivery, including Meet Me on Meeker, the 224th Street Corridor, and the Interurban Trail. Kent also supports timely delivery of the Puget Sound Gateway Project, and the I-405/SR 167 corridors.

The city encourages the state to continue conversations on how best to fund transportation projects into the future and encourages future funding to be allocated to the preservation and maintenance of the local transportation system.

Modernization and efficiency: Through the COVID pandemic, Kent along with other cities were forced to transition to digital, paperless functions. Through this transition the city learned of several state laws that could be modified to provide greater efficiency and modernization, including the following:

– Remove the requirement that a city redact body worn camera footage that is being requested by an attorney who is otherwise receiving the same footage unredacted through the discovery process.

– Clarify that ordinances can be considered effective and “officially filed for use and examination by the public” when they are made readily available online. Similarly, codes, regulations, and laws should be effective when the city adopts them by reference.

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