`Hard Time' Initiative Submitted

OLYMPIA - A get-tough-on-crime initiative was delivered this morning with signatures of 226,000 people who want tougher sentences for armed crime, including the death penalty for drive-by murders.

Initiative 159 would also create a system for tracking a judge's sentencing record.

If the secretary of state validates 181,667 signatures, the "Hard Time for Armed Crime" initiative will force the 1995 Legislature to act. Lawmakers must either approve the measure, place it on the November 1995 statewide ballot, or pass an alternative to the proposal and let voters decide between the two.

The initiative targets people who commit crimes with guns, felons who illegally carry guns, and people who steal guns, said John Carlson, chairman of the sponsoring committee. Carlson's group, Washington Citizens for Justice, also sponsored last year's successful "three strikes, you're out" initiative.

Carlson, a KVI radio talk-show host and Seattle Times columnist, said he is optimistic that the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate will pass the initiative as written. A vote against the measure, he said, would be a sign that a lawmaker is soft on crime.

Unlike "three strikes," which targeted repeat offenders, campaign coordinator Dave LaCourse said that with Initiative 159 "we aren't going to wait for a pattern to develop." He said the first time someone commits a crime with a gun, "He's going to get hammered."

The initiative would lengthen sentences for all crimes committed with weapons, require that the additional jail time be spent in solitary confinement and prohibit time off for good behavior for people convicted of crimes using a deadly weapon - which LaCourse said can include knives or clubs. It would also allow death sentences for drive-by killings, and for a murder committed as part of a gang initiation.

But LaCourse said his favorite part is the one that would require courts to keep track of judges' sentencing records.

The petition campaign cost nearly $100,000, Carlson said. About $11,000 of that amount came from the National Rifle Association, the major financial backer of the three-strikes law.

LaCourse said volunteers collected more than half the signatures.

If the initiative is successful, LaCourse and Carlson said they have two more criminal-justice projects: overhauling the state juvenile-justice code, and making life tougher for prisoners.