A bill sponsored by state Sen. Lynda Wilson intended to protect victims of domestic violence had a public hearing in the first week of the 2020 Washington state legislative session, with a recent tragedy at the forefront for the latest push to get the legislation through.
On Jan. 16, Second Substitute Senate Bill 5149 was discussed in the state Senate Law and Justice Committee, of which Wilson, R-Vancouver, is a member. The bill would implement electronic monitoring with victim notification technology, allowing for domestic violence victims or individuals granted a protection order to be notified either directly or through a monitoring agency when the subject of the order is at or near a location they were required to stay away from.
At the hearing, Wilson said it was the third year she has pushed the bill, explaining she “always believed it could save lives.” This year the bill carries new meaning, Wilson said, as evidenced by the name change to the Tiffany Hill Act.
In November, Hill was shot and killed by her estranged husband, Keland Hill, while sitting in her car at Sarah J. Anderson Elementary School in Salmon Creek with her mother and three kids. Tiffany Hill’s mother was also injured but survived, while Keland Hill took his own life following a police pursuit.
Wilson gave an emotional recount of the killing, explaining it was not the first time Keland Hill had violated a domestic violence protection order. She said Keland Hill went so far as to place a tracking device on Tiffany Hill’s car, “so he knew 24/7 where she was, and showed up quite often where she was.”
“When I heard of this tragedy, I just sank in my seat,” Wilson said. “If only this technology … had been available for Tiffany, it might have been enough to save her life.”
Wilson said the technology was used by several states and New Zealand, adding that in Illinois there were 500 victims using it.
“Tiffany said to many on several occasions that she thought her husband would ultimately kill her. Sadly she was right,” Wilson said.
Though whether or not the technology could have prevented Hill’s death, Wilson said it would at least give some peace of mind to domestic violence victims who often lived in fear.
Those who knew Hill or worked on her case also testified. Sarah J. Anderson PTA President Rene Sundby said Keland Hill violated a no-contact order for 64 consecutive days, texting her daily and showing up at places where Tiffany Hill was.
“Domestic violence does not just affect the person that it’s immediately directed to,” Sundby said, adding that others on the PTA board or at the school were dealing with post-traumatic stress as a result of Hill’s harassment and death.
Lauren Boyd, an attorney with the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office who worked on Hill’s case, said that Hill’s husband was able to post bail, which he was out on when he killed Hill. In recognition of the constitutional right to bail, Boyd said some sort of real-time monitoring would help victims, noting she had handled numerous cases where perpetrators were violating orders.
Vancouver Police Det. Tanya Wollstein said that Hill took part in a danger assessment that indicated she was at “extreme risk” of her husband killing her. She said that the information that the monitoring technology would provide would have been critical to saving Hill’s life, and the lives of other victims of domestic violence.
“I believe that it’s our duty to provide these victims who have already suffered greatly every reasonable chance to safely leave their abuser,” Wollstein said.
Washington State Fraternal Order of Police Vice President James Schrimpsher, who serves as police chief in Algona in King County, explained that the technology set up exclusion zones that a victim can set to give them notifications on their phone anytime the subject of the order entered the zone.
“This technology does have limitations like anything, but shouldn’t we be doing all that we can do to protect the most vulnerable?” Schrimpsher remarked.
The bill is currently scheduled for an executive session in the Law and Justice Committee this week.