Uniform bill heads to full House

The proposal would allow correctional officer uniforms to be made in the private sector.

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OLYMPIA -- A bill to allow correctional officers' uniforms to be made by the private sector instead of by inmates has passed its first hurdle.

The House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee on Friday unanimously passed the measure, sponsored by Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-College Place. The bill will now be considered by the full House of Representatives.

At a hearing on House Bill 2346, John Christy, a Washington State Penitentiary correctional officer, brought an example of a uniform made by inmates and worn by officers. He explained the poor workmanship results in tears, broken zippers and pants that are too short.

"I don't have a gun, baton or Taser," Christy testified. "My uniform is one of my more important tools. By having a presence in the offender community, I am able to garner respect because of my uniform, I go into combat every day. I need something I can rely on. If I don't feel comfortable walking around because my uniform doesn't fit right, I'm already at a disadvantage."

Other correctional officers from across the state testified about the poor workmanship, lack of mobility and morale problems with the uniforms.

As worded, the bill would exempt correctional officers' uniforms from the state requirement for all agencies and the Legislature to purchase all goods and services from inmate work programs operated by the Department of Corrections. Along with Walsh and Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, the bill has the support of 28 other state representatives.

According to a news release, Walsh said she was "so pleased the committee acted swiftly to move this proposal forward in the legislative process.

"I believe the testimony was so compelling from officers about the poor quality of their uniforms. They put their lives on the line every day, and they deserve better," she said.

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