OLYMPIA -- Manslaughter convictions in Washington will result in longer prison terms if a new bill in the state Legislature becomes law.
Senate Bill 6191 would increase first-time offender sentences for second-degree manslaughter by a year and a half or more.
Second-degree manslaughter is defined as causing the death of another person with criminal negligence and is considered a Class B felony in Washington. It carries a sentence of 21 to 27 months, which would be bumped up to 51 to 68 months if the bill passes.
"It sends a strong message that safe communities are imperative," said Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, a co-sponsor.
The Senate Law and Justice Committee held a hearing on the bill Friday in Olympia.
Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, the primary sponsor, argued that the current punishment does not fit the crime of negligently taking a life.
"I think a life is worth much more than that," Pearson said.
Public defender Larry Jefferson, representing the Washington Defender Association and the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, testified against the bill.
Those who commit manslaughter could be involved in a number of traumatic situations where forethought was not involved, Jefferson said.
"Manslaughter is not something you can plan," he said. "If you plan it, it's going to be murder."
An American Civil Liberties Union representative, who did not testify, also attended the hearing in opposition.
-- Washington State University student Matt Benoit: 509-947-9277, firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @Matt_Benoit_