Lowry To Veto Essence Of Runaway Legislation
OLYMPIA - Gov. Mike Lowry plans today to veto most of the bill to control runaway juveniles passed by the Legislature last month, prompting the bill's main sponsor to say, "Children will continue dying on our streets."
But Lowry spokesman Martin Munguia said the so-called "Becca bill," named after a slain Tacoma runaway, went too far, and in some cases endangered children because it would discourage runaways from seeking help.
He said Lowry would keep enough of the law to give parents more help getting runaways off the streets. Police now will be required to take runaways to counseling centers if parents request it. Runaways also could be held there for up to five days.
Courts also will be able to order a child held at a center for an additional 14 days. After that, parents will be able to put a runaway younger than 18 in substance-abuse or mental-health counseling centers against the child's will.
Current law, passed in 1977 to protect the rights of children, requires that children 13 and older give their consent for treatment. But it has frustrated parents who couldn't force their children to get help.
While those provisions will be retained, Lowry will delete a number of other key parts of the bill, designed to keep habitual runaways off the streets and to make sure parents know if their children are safe.
He will veto the most controversial provision of the law, which would have enabled a judge, at a parent's request, to detain for six months a child who ran away more than three times in a year.
Rep. Mike Carrell, R-Tacoma, the bill's sponsor in the House, said that part of the bill was aimed at problem children, who cannot be detained for mental-health or substance-abuse counseling and are not being abused at home.
"These are kids who have just decided that they like it out on the streets," Carrell said. "They are going to be allowed to continue to run. Some will become prostitutes."
However, children's advocates say the bill would address virtually all runaway cases, because children usually have a reason for running away from home.
Munguia said Lowry was concerned some children with legitimate reasons for running away would be thrown into detention, and the state has no place to put these children.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl, D-Seattle, one of 25 Democratic legislators who wrote Lowry urging him to veto the provision, said the bill sent the wrong message. She said the bill told runaways the state was not sympathetic to their problems at home.
Lowry also vetoed provisions that would suspend the driver's license of a teenager who ran away twice in a year or was habitually truant from school.
A major concern of parents who lobbied for the bill was they couldn't find out where their runaway children were, even if they had been checked into a counseling center. A number of provisions in the bill were aimed at notifying parents of their children's whereabouts.
But Lowry will veto those parts, Munguia said, because runaways might not seek help if they knew their parents would be notified. "The concern was driving them even further underground," he said.
The prospects for a veto override, which would require a two-thirds vote of each house, were unclear last night. Carrell said he would fight for an override in the House.
The bill's main sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said he wasn't eager to push for a veto override after the heat he took for crossing party lines in votes on property rights last month.
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