The tragic death of Jason Smith, 36, in a hit and run crash in Pasco last year has inspired legislation to strengthen sentencing guidelines.
Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, has been working with Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant to develop a bill that would toughen the sentence for vehicular homicide in a reckless manner.
She also will introduce bills that advance the Tri-City area’s interest in nuclear and other types of energy, and economic development as the Legislature starts a 60-day session Monday.
On April 2, Pasco police tried to pull over a pickup driven by Miguel A. Paniagua, then 24, for a traffic violation. Paniagua, a documented gang member and convicted felon wanted for failing to pay court fines, sped away from the officer.
Never miss a local story.
Police called off the chase after a few blocks for safety reasons, but Paniagua continued to drive at speeds up to 100 mph until he hit Smith driving his Honda Accord sedan. Smith, a father of two, had just dropped his youngest daughter off at gymnastics class and was turning left at Sylvester Street and Road 36.
Paniagua ran from the crash scene, leaving Smith, who died a short while later at a hospital.
The legislation would put sentences for vehicular homicide in a reckless manner in the same range as for first-degree manslaughter.
Paniagua was sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison, but more of that time was for failing to stop and identify himself after hitting and killing Smith than for his actions that killed the man, Sant said.
The legislation that Brown plans to introduce would put sentences for vehicular homicide in a reckless manner in the same range as for first-degree manslaughter. Vehicular homicide under the influence already is in that range.
Sant and Smith’s family are expected to testify Tuesday at a hearing on the bill in Olympia.
Other bills Brown plans to introduce build on her previous work, including a study of siting small modular nuclear reactors in Washington.
Last year she succeeded in getting $176,000 included in the state’s operating budget to pay for the study, which is expected to cover possible locations for small modular reactors, plus ways to streamline siting and permitting for the reactors. A report on the study results is due next week from the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council.
Brown has seen the preliminary findings and says they are favorable for small modular reactors in the state. As soon as the final report is available, she will be introducing legislation to act on the study’s recommendations.
“I feel strongly a study should not be something that sits on a shelf,” she said.
20,000 unfilled STEM field jobs in Washington state last year
Brown has been concerned that Washington could lose jobs associated with a future small modular reactor industry to other states if it does not make plans now. Idaho and Oregon already are engaged in discussions on small modular reactors.
There is interest in the Tri-Cities to position the community as a center for assembling or manufacturing the small nuclear plants to be shipped around the world, including to Asia from Washington ports.
The reactors are proposed to be manufactured in modules and then shipped to where they will be used, with additional modules added as demand for electricity production increases.
Brown sees a promising future for the Tri-Cities in energy-related fields and will be working to advance that vision in additional bills.
Last year, Brown proposed a nuclear-education program for students in eighth through 12th grade, which was passed by the Senate before it stalled. This year, she plans to introduce legislation for a broader clean-energy education program.
The state of Washington has 20,000 unfilled jobs related to the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math, she said last year.
“We need to encourage kids to look at this type of jobs,” she said then. In the Tri-Cities, there are opportunities for nuclear work with $85,000 the average annual pay for a job at a nuclear plant, she said.
State local revitalization financing played a role in Southridge development.
Interesting students in new clean energy technologies not only helps prepare the next generation of energy workers, it helps the Tri-Cities economy, she said.
Other legislation she is proposing would broaden state policy on clean energy.
She wants to include carbon sequestration as part of the state’s conservation policy. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland has been researching carbon sequestration with a test project at Wallula to demonstrate the permanent storage of greenhouse gas deep underground in ancient basalt flows.
She also will be making another try at re-establishing local revitalization financing.
A similar bill died last year, a victim of the state’s top priority of finding a way to pay for basic education as ordered by the state Supreme Court. Brown now is proposing local revitalization financing be capped at $5 million annually.
A pilot program worked well in Kennewick’s Southridge neighborhood, according to Kennewick city officials. The city has received $500,000 annually since 2010 to help pay off the bonds used to build infrastructure there.
In the first five years of that funding, 19 new businesses opened and 176 new jobs were created at Southridge. The state invested $2.5 million during that time, but collected $9 million in state sales and use taxe.s The city collected $3 million.