WA state legislators pitch pilot program to monitor car theft felons

SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. - The Washington State Senate has now passed legislation that would establish a pilot program in Spokane County to supervise individuals charged with felonies relating to car theft, after release from prison.

Sponsors of the bill include Andy Billig, D-Spokane and Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley. 

According to the bill, Washington State has one of the highest reported property crime rates in the country, however it is the only state where supervision is not available as a sentence for the majority of property criminals.

As passed through the state senate, the bill says the Spokane County Superior Court would be able to sentence an offender to up to one year of supervision if charged with theft of a motor vehicle, possession of a stolen vehicle, taking a motor vehicle without permission, or a crime against property with a prior conviction for any of these listed offenses. 

Resident Andrew Scheldt, who had is car stolen, says its a good move forward, because right now there isn't enough to deter car thieves.

"Its like they think 'hey we can steal a car and we won't get caught, and if we do get there won't be any real punishments,'"he said. "I think this bill is a good idea, they need to be watched.

Opponents of the bill say the bill would treat one segment of criminals different than others and violate equal protection. Cost is also a concern. 

The bill is also aimed at addressing jail overcrowding. In 2013, roughly 1/3 of all prison admissions were for property offenses, such as car theft.

"We've brought crime down drastically over the last six years, but one area that plagues us and that we had an up-tick last year is theft of cars," said Mayor of Spokane, David Condon. 

He says he worked closely with the state legislators behind the bill to find a solution to the growing problem, and is hopeful the bill will pass. 

"Here in Spokane we are leading the charge, we want to get this under control," he said. 

Sen. Andy Billig says the bill would also be aimed at providing criminals services like job training and drug help to allow them to more successfully assimilate back into society once released from prison. 

The bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support and a vote of 46-1. It must now make its way through the House. 

For more information on the bill click here