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Never Again 

Washington state lawmakers push reforms after last July's murder-suicide; plus, Spokane's police ombudsman is leaving

click to enlarge Departing ombudsman Tim Burns. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • Departing ombudsman Tim Burns.

Sheena's Laws

Third District legislators Rep. Marcus Riccelli and Sen. Andy Billig are planning to introduce two bills — one dealing with mental health, the other with gun safety — in the upcoming session in response to the shooting death of a Spokane woman at the Deaconess Medical Center campus earlier this year.

On July 8, SHEENA HENDERSON, 30, a phlebotomist at Rockwood Cancer Treatment Center, was shot and killed at work by her estranged husband, Chris Henderson, before he turned the gun on himself. Two months earlier, Chris had been detained by police and transported to the emergency room after making suicidal threats with a gun. His firearm was confiscated and returned to him the day before the murder-suicide. Neither Sheena nor her family were notified when the Department of Health and Social Services agreed to release his weapon.

Billig's bill would establish a notification system for family members when a firearm is returned to a potentially dangerous person. Riccelli's proposal would require law enforcement officers responding to reports of threatened or attempted suicide to take people into custody and deliver them to the emergency room if the officer believes they are a credible threat. Otherwise, under Riccelli's bill, the officer must report the incident to a designated mental health professional who can determine whether an involuntary detention is needed.

The Democratic lawmakers have been working on their legislation in conjunction with Sheena's father, Gary Kennison, since August. (DEANNA PAN)

Burns leaving

After more than five years as the first SPOKANE POLICE OMBUDSMAN, Tim Burns says he has accepted a new job and will quit his current position on Jan. 2, leaving behind a newly formed oversight commission and recent cases still pending independent investigation. Commissioners had approved a three-year extension of his contract just last month.

"Hopefully with my departure there won't be too many loose ends," Burns says, noting that the new commission will have several significant issues to take on in the coming year.

Burns, a former police officer and community developer, has provided civilian oversight of SPD through a tumultuous period of community distrust and reform. Many of his recommendations have become standing policy through years of reform and public feedback.

As ombudsman, Burns often faced shifting contract deadlines that threatened to end his term. During the most recent contract consideration, he applied for several other positions and has accepted a job in California that will allow him more time with family. He hopes to offer his insight to the commission as they move forward.

"I want to be a resource for them," Burns says. "Just because I'm leaving doesn't mean I won't make myself available." (JACOB JONES)

A PACKED HOUSE

Spokane City Council's last meeting of the year was a marathon session that lasted for more than four hours and brought out the largest group of people the city's legislative body had seen all year.

An ordinance that will phase in a requirement that 15 percent of all labor hours on city public work projects be done by APPRENTICE LABOR by 2017 is what filled the council chamber on Monday. Nearly 40 people spoke during the public comment period, overwhelmingly in favor. Some were from the Spokane Alliance, a coalition of faith and labor groups focused on economic issues that supports the ordinance. A parade of current and past apprentices came before the council to tell stories of how apprenticeship programs gave them a leg up or a second chance after plans of college didn't work out. But a handful of contractors showed up to testify that the measure was too punitive and imposed unrealistic requirements on an industry still struggling since the Great Recession.

Spearheaded by Council President Ben Stuckart, the ordinance is meant to address the shortage of skilled labor that local contractors are facing in the area and across the state. Speaking before the crowded council chambers, Stuckart said that the shortage will worsen as construction projects pick up significantly in coming years.

"We, as a participant in the market, have to do something," said Stuckart. He also mentioned a slew of multimillion-dollar projects the city had planned in coming years, which, under the ordinance, could be used as an incubator for new skilled workers.

The measure passed on a 5-2 vote reflecting the council's conservative-liberal divide. In a letter to Stuckart, Mayor David Condon also expressed concerns that the ordinance doesn't adequately consider the "needs and input of all stakeholders who would be impacted by the program." (JAKE THOMAS)

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