February 11, 2011

Members endorse legislation limiting liability for DOC, DSHS members

The Federation on Thursday backed Sen. Jim Hargrove’s legislation limiting liability for workers in the departments of Corrections and Social and Health Services.

Senate Bill 5605 says that DOC and DSHS workers would not be liable when they exercise reasonable care and select one of two or more alternate courses of action if they exercised reasonable care and skill in arriving at the decision to follow a particular course of action.

The bill came before the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee, chaired by Hargrove (24th District).

Ton Johnson, a Community Corrections officer 3 in Seattle and a member of Local 308, said unreasonable liability exposure often gets in the way of sound decision-making, and that doesn’t serve the public.

“As a CCO, I’m often faced with the decision to prioritize rehabilitation efforts towards the offender or protecting the public,” Johnson told the committee. “And often I have to make that decision understanding that there’s a liability. And the natural tendency of people is to default toward that liability.

“So at times, I think it’s counterproductive to have the degree of liability that we have as we end up not assessing the behavior of the offender to be exclusively on whether they pose a threat to the community, but how to defend our own liability.

“Subsequently, I believe that that interferes with long-term strategies to reduce recidivism and that’s where the real cost savings is going to be achieved.”

Also endorsing SB 5605 with some minor tweaking was Michael Weisman, a hearings examiner 3 with the Department of Health in Olympia and a member of Local 443, sits on the union’s special committee on liability issues.

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