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The Chronicle - Centralia

Washington Lawmakers Work Further on Issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

OLYMPIA — Earlier this month, Charlene Tillequots attended a funeral service for her close childhood friend for the second time.

The first service was decades ago. At the time, the friend had been missing for seven years and there was no body to bury.

Her remains were recovered over 30 years after she went missing.

Tillequots is secretary of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council and chair of its missing and murdered Indigenous people committee. She said she supports new legislative bills meant to address the high number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and people in the state, her friend among them. Building on previous efforts to tackle the issue, state lawmakers this year propose to create a new cold case unit and to extend a task force that makes recommendations on the issue.

As of January, 136 Native American people are missing in Washington, the majority from Yakama, according to the Washington State Patrol. Nationwide, more than 80% of American Indian and Alaskan Native women reported experiencing violence in their lifetimes, and those populations made up a disproportionate percentage of missing people in the U.S., according to a 2022 report prepared for Congress.

"These Native American women have waited for their cases to be addressed and solved for far too long," Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow said. "And this is an opportunity to bring that forward and to help the families at the end of the day, put their hearts at rest, which is so very important."

Lekanoff is sponsoring House Bill 1177 to create a cold case investigations unit in the state Attorney General's Office focused on missing and murdered Indigenous people. Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, is sponsoring the companion Senate Bill 5137.

The proposed unit would collaborate with local and tribal police to solve cold cases. Establishing the team is one of the recommendations made last summer by the Attorney General's Office's Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force, comprising tribal leaders, advocates, activists and state representatives.

Lekanoff is the first Native American woman elected to the chamber. Last year, the Legislature passed two bills bolstering the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement, including one that created the first emergency alert system for Indigenous people in the nation.

She said the bipartisan effort to address the issue is a "huge victory."

Sen. Nikki Torres, R-Pasco, is sponsoring Senate Bill 5477, which looks to extend the attorney general's task force through June 2025. The bill also would implement other recommendations identified by the task force, including improving communication among law enforcement agencies, tribal police and family members.

"It may not affect you, it may not affect me, but it is in our community ... and it affects our district, our neighbors. So, if we care about our community in our district, I think it is important to bring it to the forefront and continue shedding some light on it," Torres said.

Annie Forsman-Adams, policy analyst for the attorney general's task force and a member of the Suquamish Tribe, said unresolved homicide or missing people cases have a large cultural effect on tribal communities, since it can be difficult to perform ceremonies when the remains of loved ones have not been identified or recovered.

"One advocate put it really poignantly ... when these cases go unresolved, it really robs families of their ability to grieve appropriately," Forsman-Adams said.

She said historical policy decisions that marginalized Indigenous people caused decades of violence against them throughout the nation.

In Washington, one of the earliest recorded cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women took place in 1855, when miners murdered a Yakama woman, her daughter and baby, igniting the Yakama War, according to some accounts.

"What we are really doing is trying to unravel all of that bad policy, all of those bad laws, all of those oppressive procedures in order to end the epidemic," Forsman-Adams said.

She said the task force has more work to do, including tackling the lack of data on reported missing or murdered Indigenous people, racial misclassification and more outreach to families.

"Once it was known only as an Indian issue, when it really wasn't," Lekanoff said. "It was a national crisis. It's an American crisis. So we have come now full circle into it being a Washington state crisis. And that is a lot of the work that I could step back and breathe and say we're not so alone."

All Five Bodies Recovered From Saturday House Fire

The bodies of two adults and three children have been recovered from a fatal house fire Saturday morning near Capitol Forest, the Thurston County Coroner said Tuesday.

Medical examinations are set for Friday, he said.

Although the Thurston County Coroner hasn't officially identified those who died, a relative has identified the two adults, according to the Associated Press, citing a report from The Seattle Times.

Destiny and Steven Cox lived with their four children at their home at Sherman Valley Ranch, which caught fire Saturday, The Seattle Times reported.

Destiny's step-aunt, April Karreci, told multiple news outlets that the couple was lovely and that a 13-year-old girl and two boys, ages 10 and 12, died with their parents in the fire, according to the report.

The couple's eldest child, 14, was not at home at the time of the fire. Another girl, a friend who had been staying with the family, escaped the fire, according to the report.

About 6:30 a.m. Saturday, numerous fire units were dispatched to Sherman Valley Ranch and found the home completely engulfed in flames, with the five people inside.

Some pets also perished in the fire, but no livestock on the ranch were harmed, according to the Thurston County Sheriff's Office.

In the wake of the deadly blaze, a candlelight vigil has been organized and fundraising efforts launched. The vigil is set for 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29 at Tumwater High School stadium, according to a GoFundMe page set up for the family.

A second GoFundMe page has been started to help Sherman Valley Ranch. Both have already exceeded their original fundraising goals.

Investigators Rule Out Arson as Cause of Fire That Killed Five People Near Capitol Forest

A fire that killed five people near Capitol Forest on Saturday was not intentionally set, the Thurston County Sheriff's Office announced in an update Tuesday afternoon.

Two adults and three children were killed in the early Saturday morning fire in the 8800 block of Sherman Valley Road Southwest. Due to the loss of life, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives was asked to investigate, according to the Sheriff's Office.

"Over the last four days, the scene has been investigated thoroughly," Sheriff's Office officials said in the update. "Investigators have determined the fire was not intentionally set, and is most likely accidental, but they are still working to determine the specific origin and cause."

All five bodies have been recovered from the fire and medical examinations are set for Friday, Thurston County Coroner Gary Warnock said Tuesday.

Although the coroner hasn't officially identified those who died, a relative has identified the two adults, according to the Associated Press, citing a report from The Seattle Times.

Destiny and Steven Cox lived with their four children at their home at Sherman Valley Ranch, The Seattle Times reported.

Destiny's step-aunt, April Karreci, told multiple news outlets that the couple was lovely and that a 13-year-old girl and two boys, ages 10 and 12, died with their parents in the fire, according to the report.

The couple's eldest child, 14, was not at home at the time of the fire. Another girl, a friend who had been staying with the family, escaped the fire, according to the report.

About 6:30 a.m. Saturday, numerous fire units were dispatched to Sherman Valley Ranch and found the home completely engulfed in flames, with the five people inside.

Some pets also perished in the fire, but no livestock on the ranch were harmed, according to the Thurston County Sheriff's Office.

In the wake of the deadly blaze, a candlelight vigil has been organized and fundraising efforts launched.

The vigil is set for 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29 at Tumwater High School stadium, according to a GoFundMe page set up for the family. A second GoFundMe page has been started to help Sherman Valley Ranch. Both have already exceeded their original fundraising goals.

Suspect Dead After Three Killed in Yakima Convenience Store Shooting

A tragic day in Yakima ended Tuesday afternoon when the suspect in an early morning triple homicide shot himself in the head, according to police.

Jarid Haddock, 21, was believed to have been the man who shot and killed three people at a Circle K convenience store in Yakima, which resulted in a daylong search involving SWAT and other area police agencies.

That came to an end about 2:15 p.m., when responding police found him behind Target with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, said Yakima Police Chief Matt Murray. He was pronounced dead around 3:15 p.m. after receiving medical attention.

"And we don't know how he got to this area," Murray said.

Here's what police said they do know:

  • Haddock was in the Target parking lot when he asked a woman to use her phone. The woman overheard Haddock tell his mother in the call that he had killed people that morning, Murray said.
  • The woman then called 911. She reported Haddock had been pacing through the parking lot, Murray said.
  • Arriving police found him behind the store at 12 N. Fair Ave. with a gunshot wound and medics tried to revive him. He later died.
  • Haddock had a handgun and a lot of ammunition with him when police found him, Murray said.

After reviewing surveillance video and talking to witnesses, police are still puzzled by what led up to the morning killings, Murray said.

"He doesn't get any money, he doesn't try to take anything," Murray said in an interview.

 

Three killed early Tuesday

The carnage began about 3 a.m. at 18th Street and Nob Hill Boulevard, when the suspect pulled up to the Arco AM/PM mini-mart and attempted to enter. The door was locked.

He then crossed the street to Circle K.

"He opens the door and starts shooting these people who are getting food," Murray said.

The store clerk was in the back while the shooting occurred. He stayed there and called 911, according to a probable cause affidavit supporting the suspect's arrest on charges of first-degree murder in the incident.

The suspect then stepped outside and shot and killed someone in a sport utility vehicle in the parking lot, Murray said.

The suspect then went across the street to his own vehicle — which had his keys locked inside — and shot the window out, entered and drove away, Murray said.

Earlier assumptions that the suspect shot someone and stole their car were false, Murray said.

Officers found a man in the Chevrolet Tahoe's driver's seat, identified in court documents as Jeffrey Howlett, 54, with multiple gunshot wounds.

Officers attempted first aid on Howlett, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Other officers found two people in the store who had been shot to death, the affidavit said. Court documents identified them as Nikki Godfrey, 40, and Roy Knoeb Jr., 65.

 

SWAT team across town

Around 7:10 a.m., a 911 caller said a family member was involved in the shooting, the affidavit said. Another person, identified as Haddock's mother, got on the phone and said her son was involved, and that his Chrysler Sebring was in the driveway with its driver's side window shot out, the affidavit said.

She said she last saw her son at 1 a.m. when she said good night, the affidavit said, and that around 3:15 a.m. she got a text message from him saying he had locked himself out of his car at the Arco, the affidavit said. She was driving toward the Arco on East Nob Hill Boulevard when her husband called and said her son's car was in the driveway, the affidavit said.

After returning home, she called her son's name and, not hearing a response, left the house and then learned about the shootings, the affidavit said.

She identified her son from the surveillance video from Circle K and said he was a meth user for three years and that his habit had gotten worse in the past month, the affidavit said. She said he was acting "crazy" and had a black handgun and two long guns, including an AK-47-style rifle.

Yakima SWAT went to the house in the 3400 block of West Birchfield Road around 9 a.m. and surrounded it, using a loudspeaker multiple times to call Haddock out, and even set off "flash-bang" grenades.

Murray said police weren't sure the suspect was inside. Police plan to search the residence after obtaining a search warrant, Murray said.

Court records show that Haddock completed a felony diversion in 2021 for charges of possessing a stolen motor vehicle and theft of a motor vehicle.

Yakima County Coroner Jim Curtice said autopsies will be performed on the three victims Wednesday and Thursday, and toxicology tests will be conducted on Haddock's blood.

 

Nob Hill scene

The Circle K where the shooting took place is one of four at that intersection. The other three are an ARCO, a 76 and a Chevron.

Daniel Bushman, a clerk at the ARCO across the street from the Circle K, said the AM/PM convenience store closed at 2 a.m. the day of the shooting. Though AM/PMs usually operate 24 hours per day, Bushman said the store's owner started closing between 2 and 4 a.m. after a firearms-related incident at another ARCO in Yakima.

Bushman wasn't there when Tuesday's shooting took place, and his store delayed opening until 9 a.m.

The owner of the Chevron facing the Circle K, Sukant Khullar, said his son opened the store at around 4 a.m., minutes after the shooting happened. The store closed quickly and did not open again until around 10 a.m., Khullar said.

The Yakima Police Department stopped by to take a look at video footage from the store's security camera, Khullar said.

"It's a gas station; we know these kinds of things can happen here," he said. "It's just reality."

67 Forced to Evacuate From Eastern Washington Senior Apartments After Arsonist Sets Fires

Richland police are searching for an arsonist after 67 people in a complex for seniors had to be evacuated early Tuesday when someone set several fires inside the building.

The seniors were forced to flee outside or shelter in place about 2:30 a.m.

One person was taken to a local hospital for a medical evaluation, but was not seriously hurt, said police.

Arson investigators discovered that someone set multiple blazes inside the Tri-Cities Terrace apartments at 1770 Leslie Road, said a release from the Richland police and fire departments.

Fire alarms alerted emergency crews, and residents reported seeing smoke and flames in the building.

A sprinkler system kept the flames in check until firefighters could arrive and put it out, according to the release.

It's unclear how much of the building was damaged by smoke and water.

The Richland Fire Department and the Red Cross are coordinating to help find temporary shelter for the residents who could not return to their apartments.

Police are asking anyone with information about who might have started the fires or who saw something suspicious to call non-emergency dispatch at 509-628-0333 or Richland police Detective Cameron Fancher at 509-942-7356.

Two Arrested, Stolen Car Recovered Following High-Speed Escape Attempt in Grays Harbor County

Two suspects were arrested after attempting to escape the Aberdeen Police Department following a tip about possible intoxicated driving at a local convenience store.

Roger James Spike-Like, 35, of King County, and Kyra Ashley Jane Olson, 25, of Pierce County were arrested Monday afternoon and are currently awaiting formal charges in the Aberdeen city jail.

"Officers were dispatched to a report of a possible DUI at ampm," said Lt. Andy Snodgrass of the Aberdeen Police Department in an interview. "Officers arrived in the area and saw stuff that they identified as drug paraphernalia."

[Aberdeen police deal with multiple criminal incidents over weekend]

Officers attempted to contact the two occupants of the vehicle. The subjects were initially unresponsive, Snodgrass said, but when the driver regained consciousness, he put the car in gear, forcing one officer to dodge out of the way before striking a curb, reversing into a patrol car and speeding off eastbound down Heron Street towards downtown with officers pursuing.

"Speeds reached 70 miles per hour on Heron Street, so officers discontinued pursuit for public safety," Snodgrass said. "When speeds are reaching that high in downtown Aberdeen at 2 in the afternoon, the officers will continue to evaluate and judge the risk to the public while deciding whether or not to continue the pursuit."

The vehicle fled east, Snodgrass said, and a phoned-in report of erratic driving from a resident helped them to reacquire the vehicle unoccupied in the Fern Hill area and search for the suspects. The vehicle would later be identified as stolen.

A drone team from the Washington Department of Corrections and a dog team from the Grays Harbor County Sheriff's Office assisted in the search, Snodgrass said.

"The drone was able to locate them hiding in some brush. The male subject jumped into the Wishkah River to evade capture," Snodgrass said. "The female subject was detained."

Spike-Like, after jumping in at approximately 4:52 p.m., managed to grab hold of a piling in the river, Snodgrass said, as personnel on scene called for the sheriff's office boat team. An officer was able to throw out a life ring and reel Spike-Like in at 5 p.m. Spike-Like was examined by medical personnel for exposure before being transported to the city jail, Snodgrass said.

Spike-Like was arrested for resisting arrest, obstruction of a law enforcement officer, third-degree driving with a suspended license, hit and run of an unattended vehicle, attempting to elude pursuit by a police vehicle, second-degree assault, possession of a stolen vehicle and malicious mischief. Olson was arrested for possession of a stolen vehicle and obstruction of a law enforcement officer.

Damage to the patrol car was minor. The owner of the vehicle is "ecstatic," Snodgrass said, and has made arrangements to reclaim the vehicle.

"Incidents like this, while not unusual for us to deal with at the ADP, are infrequent," Snodgrass said. "I'm just really proud of our patrol officers for handling the situation the way they did, with care and caution for the public, as well as the end result of taking the guy into custody. We also appreciate the cooperation with the DOC, the sheriff's office and the Hoquiam Police Department."

Neonatal Doctor Who Pleaded Guilty in Dark Web Kidnapping, Extortion Plot, Gets 8 Years in Prison

A 56-year-old neonatologist stood for nearly an hour Tuesday in a federal courtroom in Spokane and tried to explain to a federal judge that he was not the "magnificent monster" a former colleague, whose hands he'd sought to break, had called him.

Instead, Dr. Ronald Ilg was sentenced to eight years in federal prison and will pay a $100,000 fine in what U.S. Senior District Court Judge William Fremming Nielsen called behavior that was "egregious, abhorrent and evil."

The sentence brings to a close a bizarre criminal case that involved cryptocurrency, the dark web and accusations of sexual abuse that evolved from a dominant/submissive lifestyle. Nielsen stressed that the sentence, equal to prison time requested by federal prosecutors, was based on the solicitation of violence and extortion Ilg believed he was making to criminals and members of a cartel in early 2021, not his personal life.

"It was unconscionable, the things that you were asking unknown people on the dark web to do to people you love," Nielsen told Ilg before sentencing.

Ilg pleaded guilty in August to sending messages on an untraceable part of the internet to people he believed would assault the colleague, and kidnap his wife who was seeking an divorce, inject her with heroin daily and extort her into returning to the marriage. That solicitation happened during a time Ilg said his life was in a spiral. But victims told Nielsen on Tuesday that he was a manipulative man who'd shown little interest for others, including a biological child with his ex-wife for whom he was making minimum child support payments despite owning real estate and a $1 million retirement fund.

"All I wanted to do was get out of a toxic marriage," Ilg's ex-wife, who sat in the first row of the courtroom on Tuesday, told Nielsen.

Ilg, told the judge he still loved his ex-wife, and the woman who traveled with him to Mexico and whom he had placed in a dark, underground, tanklike structure on his property in Otis Orchards. That woman was not in the courtroom Tuesday, opting instead to have a statement read by her attorney.

"I fear for my safety, even with the defendant in jail," the woman wrote.

Ilg sent a letter to the woman in June 2021, after he'd been in jail several months. In that letter, he suggested they get married to potentially stop her from testifying against him.

That letter was sent when Ilg was weaning himself off medication to help his anxiety and depression while in jail, he told Nielsen.

"It was out of desperation, and hope," Ilg said, that he would be released from custody.

Vanessa Waldref, U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington, was among the several dozen people in the courtroom Tuesday to see the sentencing. She praised the victims for being willing to stand up and speak about the damage Ilg's crimes had caused.

"I think it's really important to focus on the impact on the victims of Mr. Ilg's crimes," Waldref said in an interview. "This is a case where we have a doctor who is hiring hitmen on the dark web. This type of cybercrime can often be very difficult to detect and prosecute."

Ilg spent the past 21 months in jail in lieu of bond while awaiting sentencing. His defense attorneys, Carl Oreskovich and Andrew Wagley, were arguing for a five-year prison sentence and no fine because of the loss of his medical practice.

After Ilg's guilty plea in August, the Washington Medical Commission initiated disciplinary proceedings against Ilg based on his guilty plea to federal crimes. He will likely lose the medical license he has had to practice in Washington since September 2003, and even if he keeps it, he probably won't be able to resume practice as a physician, his attorneys said.

"There's not a practice in the Pacific Northwest, and probably the entire country, that's ever going to hire Dr. Ronald Ilg," Oreskovich told Nielsen before sentencing.

Prosecutors on Tuesday also introduced new letters Ilg sent while in jail to a different woman, described during proceedings as Ilg's "fiancée." Richard Barker, assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, also played a recorded phone call from jail in which Ilg suggests selling his story to be made into a film or book.

In one of the letters, Ilg suggests that his story would be "the next '50 Shades of Grey,' but on steroids," referencing the popular romantic fiction novel that explores dominant/submissive themes.

Oreskovich said after the sentencing hearing that he had only received the letters the night before sentencing and called their introduction "interesting timing."

Barker, in an interview after the hearing, said it was important for Nielsen to see all of Ilg's statements while in jail and awaiting sentencing, not just the apology he offered in the courtroom.

"The reality is he hasn't changed a bit," Barker said.

Nielsen said the contents of the letters would not influence his sentencing decision.

"It's not surprising," Oreskovich said of Nielsen's decision to hand down the lengthier sentence, particularly after the statements of the victims.

That included the physician who worked with Ilg, and whose hands he'd sought an assailant to break. She called him a "magnificent monster" because of his outward calm demeanor.

The physician said she was informed of the dark web plot by a phone call from an FBI agent while she was vacationing with her young children on the Oregon Coast.

"I felt like someone had taken the breath from me," the woman said, saying she had to fight the urge to vomit.

Ilg told Nielsen that when he posted the messages on the dark web, he felt like another person. His wife was seeking a divorce, and he felt that his sexual preferences had led to the human resources investigation that had cost him his job at his medical practice in December 2020. The tens of thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency he paid to carry out the deeds was like "Monopoly money," he told the judge.

When the FBI interviewed him upon his return from Mexico in April 2021, Ilg said he used lies that he had written on his phone to attempt to explain away his actions. He then attempted suicide with pills, and was in the hospital for a week before he was arrested and taken to jail.

Ilg said he was "paraded through the hospital that he'd worked at for almost 20 years."

Nielsen said he appreciated the hardship Ilg was facing when he went on the dark web.

"You know, Dr. Ilg, all of us have problems from time to time, and we push through," Nielsen said.

Nielsen agreed with the prosecution on the prison sentence, but reduced the fine requested by prosecutors. They wanted Ilg to pay a $250,000 fine; Nielsen reduced it to $100,000 and ordered Ilg to spend three years of supervised release after he's out of prison.

The judge suggested such a sentence was preferable to what Ilg might have faced. He pleaded guilty to two counts of threats made in interstate commerce, but prosecutors had filed additional charges that included witness tampering and kidnapping.

"I feel that the plea agreement, for you, was a big break," Nielsen said.

Ilg was led from the courtroom in handcuffs. He averted his gaze from witnesses as he left.

State Lawmakers Hear Slew of Abortion Protection Bills Following 50th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

OLYMPIA — Demonstrators gathered on the Capitol steps demanding expanded abortion access as lawmakers met Tuesday to hear a number of bills on reproductive health.

The rally, organized by Pro Choice Washington, drew over 60 people who held signs and chanted, with music loudly playing from speakers.

Just before legislators were scheduled to speak, a single-file line of anti-abortion demonstrators from Tiny Heartbeat Ministries marched onto the lawn facing the Capitol steps in counterprotest. They held large signs, graphic in nature, allegedly depicting aborted fetuses, though they refused to disclose the source of these images.

On the Capitol steps, several legislators addressed demonstrators, including House Speaker Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, and Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

"While we should be here right now celebrating the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we are instead here right now mourning the U.S. Supreme Court taking away for the first time in history a constitutional right," Jinkins said. "Let me tell you, I'm mad as hell about this."

Following the Dobbs v. Jackson decision last summer, the country is moving into a post-Roe world. For many Washington legislators, that means protecting the right to an abortion in the state.

One way to do that is through a proposal from Gov. Jay Inslee that would enshrine the right in the state constitution, but it's not likely to have enough support to pass this session.

"We cannot be lulled into thinking that this is something that is a past debate," Inslee told the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee on Tuesday.

Before heading to voters for final approval, a constitutional amendment would require votes from two-thirds of the state Senate and House, which would require some Republican support. Republicans have indicated they wouldn't support the measure.

During testimony, Inslee received pushback from Republicans on the panel, including Sens. Ann Rivers, of La Center, and Mike Padden, of Spokane. Rivers said the law is settled and she doesn't see "any world in which Washington changes course on this issue."

"I would hope that we could stop the fear-mongering of women losing the right to choose and move onto issues that are more pressing in the state," she said.

Inslee pushed back on the idea the law wouldn't change, especially if the makeup of the Legislature or the governor changes.

"It cannot be left to the whims of who happens to sit on the bench or who happens to sit in the Legislature," he added.

The controversial bill brought split testimony from abortion advocates who say  it is needed to ensure Washington residents have access to abortion in the future, and from those against abortion who say  it is heading in the wrong direction.

"Washington does not have to be a pro-choice state forever into the future," Kathryn Amdahl, of the Eastern Washington University Students for Life, said. "It can change."

Despite Inslee's push, lawmakers have said they don't imagine the bill will pass both chambers.

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said the bill will likely make it out of committee, but it's "highly unlikely" to pass a vote in the full Senate chamber based on prior votes and public statements from the Republican party.

Although legislators may not pass a constitutional amendment this session, they are working on expanding access and protections for patients and providers in Washington. Those bills would not require two-thirds vote and likely have enough Democratic support to pass.

 

Patient protections

One bill heard Tuesday would prohibit cost-sharing, such as a co-payment or deductible, for the coverage of abortion services. For plans issued or renewed on or after Jan. 1, 2024, including those offered to public employees, a health carrier may not impose cost-sharing for abortion of a pregnancy, according to the bill.

Another bill would protect people in Washington who receive or provide abortion care from being prosecuted in another state. It would prohibit out-of-state subpoenas seeking information and out-of-state criminal investigations and arrests related to reproductive health services. It would also prohibit the governor from extraditing people for out-of-state charges, and it would protect health care providers from harassment related to reproductive health care services.

In Tuesday's testimony, James McMahan, policy director of the Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said this bill would overly complicate the jobs of police officers.

"Requiring affirmative conditions in the civil and criminal enforcement of Washington laws specific to the laws of another state that aren't being enforced creates unnecessary challenges, complexities and jeopardizes justice in the enforcement of Washington's laws," McMahan said.

Lawmakers are also looking at protecting patient health data.

The My Health, My Data Act would require third-party services, such as apps that track menstrual cycles, to publish policies surrounding health data collection and sharing, and require them to obtain consumers' consent prior to any data collection or sharing. It would prohibit both the sale of this data and the use of geofencing, a type of location-based advertising, surrounding health care facilities.

While the bill applies to health data protection generally, supporters emphasized the importance of data collection in regard to reproductive health and gender care. According to testimony, people seeking abortions are often the target of anti-abortion messaging and advertisements on their cell phones when they are within the vicinity of an abortion provider, made possible by geofencing.

"Isn't it enough that our patients have to navigate dealing with protesters and fake clinics?" said Anuj Khattar, medical director at abortion clinic Cedar River Clinics. "They shouldn't have to deal with antitrust harassment on their phones and through technology."

Opponents expressed concerns that the language in the bill would cause it to overstep the intentions, and it could be applied to other types of data, like everyday purchases of toilet paper or shoes, for example.

 

Provider protections

Along with shielding providers from criminal prosecution from other states, another proposal would protect providers' licenses.

Providers who perform any reproductive health services or gender-affirming care in another state where it is illegal would not be punished in Washington when trying to obtain a license to practice.

Riccelli, the bill sponsor, said it would ensure providers' licenses are not at risk if they perform such procedures in another state.

Another bill aims to preserve community access to comprehensive reproductive medical care by regulating hospital and health system mergers. It would modify reporting requirements for mergers, acquisitions or contracting affiliations between hospitals, hospital systems or provider organizations.

It would require them to submit documents related to access to care, including emergency, primary, reproductive, gender-affirming or end-of-life care, and how any of those areas would be affected by a proposed transaction. The attorney general would determine whether the transaction would detrimentally affect access to accessible, affordable health care and monitor it for at least 10 years.

A public hearing on the bill had split testimony. Supporters said the bill would create much-needed oversight and protect access to reproductive health care.  Opponents, including hospital systems and the state hospital association, said the bill could slow down much-needed mergers and lead to hospitals closing.

The 105-day legislative session ends April 23.

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