Uniform bill heads back to House

The Senate passed an amended version of Rep. Maureen Walsh's measure on Wednesday.

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An amended version of a bill to allow correctional officers uniforms to be made by the private sector has been approved by the state Senate.

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-College Place, was approved by a vote of 45-3 on Wednesday. Among those voting to approve was Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla.

Since the Senate amended the bill, the House must now accept or reject that version of the legislation. If the House accepts the amendment, the bill would then go to the governor's desk for her signature.

In a release, Walsh said she was pleased the Legislature saw the common sense in not having inmates make uniforms of the officers who guard them.

"I have no animosity toward Correctional Industries and what they do to provide work and skills for inmates. Carving out this task of making uniforms for the officers who guard them, however, is important for officer morale and providing them with a higher standard of professionalism when working with inmates," Walsh said. "This is the least we can do for these officers who put themselves in harms' way every day in their jobs."

The Senate amended the bill to exempt only the uniforms made for correctional officers, rather than other staff uniforms and clothing made for the Department of Corrections. Walsh said she agreed with the change.

"Correctional Industries makes uniforms for kitchen chefs and others and I don't believe it's a conflict of interest for the inmates to make those clothes. This was an acceptable amendment to the bill," she said. "I look forward to seeing the governor sign this into law. This idea came straight from the concerns I heard from our officers at the Washington State Penitentiary, and I am grateful to them for bringing this to my attention so we could fix the problem."

At a hearing in January by the House Public Safety Preparedness Committee, John Christy, a 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.

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

Along with Walsh and Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, House Bill 2346 was co-sponsored by 28 state representatives.

The 60-day session is scheduled to adjourn Thursday.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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