Gavin Seim, who describes himself as a constitutional activist, recently filmed himself flagging over a police officer who was driving an unmarked car in Grant County, Washington:
The government apologists have been working to convince people this law does not apply to police. This is ridiculous since that’s the main point of the law, but I want to take it on with facts. Kevin Schmadeka actually started this conversation back in 2011 and there’s a good fact sheet on it here.
Here is the text of 46.08.065. But the legal spin machine is suggesting that the law does not apply to any police officer because if the this text in section (1)
“This section shall not apply to vehicles of a sheriff’s office, local police department, or any vehicles used by local peace officers under public authority for special undercover or confidential investigative purposes”
MYTH: The spin machine asserts that since the word “OR” is in the sentence it must therefore separate the structure. They assert that exempt vehicles include “sheriff AND “local police” AND “local peace officers” undercover. While it can be a tad confusing when you think about it, it does not take an expert linguist to debunk this lie and it would never stand in court. The wording is actually clear.
FACT: “undercover or confidential investigative” requirement applies to all the vehicles in that sentence. Why? If that sentence did in fact cover two separate categories of vehicles, they would be noted with an (a) and a (b). This is how RCW’s are written and it’s done in the very next sentence which reads: “This subsection shall not apply to: (a) Any municipal transit vehicle operated for purposes of providing public mass transportation; (b) any vehicle governed by the requirements of subsection (4).” When clear separation is worded in, it’s made very clear.
If understanding the English context is not enough, the laws it’s intent can be traced back to the memos of the billwritten my the legislative auditor of Washington State. Here is how he summarized this legislation..
“The bill is intended to provide better public visibility of government owned vehicles and to provide a means for more efficiently marking vehicles operated by the state and units of local government, ..A vehicle marking exemption for vehicles used by sheriffs, local police and local peace officers is continued but is limited to vehicles used for undercover or confidential investigative purposes.” — Legislative Auditor Thomas R. Hazzard, in a memo dated January 31, 1975.
Some also suggest that State Patrol (WSP) can exempt any car they want, because there is a note in section (3) that states ” Traffic control vehicles of the Washington state patrol” may be exempted by the chief. Note that this section is only for WSP. But it still does not exempt them. Traffic Control Vehicles are not and have never been patrol cars. They are the vehicles that do things like guide you through a Construction Zone. The WSP picked up on this as a way to break the law and convince people they were not. Sadly we have allowed them to get away with it.
This law was instituted in 1937. It was a one section law that applied to all agencies equally. Then, there was no exception but for “special or general police purpose”. That description was clarified in the 1975 alteration to define the exemption as “special undercover or confidential investigative purposes“. Here is the original text of the law, found in chapter 189 of the 1937 session laws.
Sec46: It shall be unlawful for any public officer having charge of any vehicle owned by the State of Washington or by any county, city, town or other public body in this state and used in public business to operate the same upon the public highways of this state unless and until there shall be painted upon such automobile or other motor vehicle in letters of contrasting color not less than two (2) inches in Public vehicles, name of department. height in a conspicuous place on the left side thereof, the words “State of Washington” or the name of such county, city, town or other public body, together with the name of the department or office upon the business of which the said vehicle is used: Provided, Exceptions. This section shall not apply to vehicles of the Washington State Patrol, sheriff’s office, police department, or any vehicles used by peace officers under public authority for special or general police purpose : Provided, It shall be lawful and constitute compliance with the provisions of this section for any department or office to adopt and use in lieu of the lettering required a distinctive insignia, approved by the state commission on equipment, and bearing substantially the same information as required herein.
In 1975 the law added sections, making different restrictions for State vehicles versus local or County vehicles. The use of the language when taken in it’s simple original form clearly illustrated the meaning. The use of OR is not defining all officers as exempt at all. That it would would defeat the primary intent of the law and conflicts with even the current version and structure. You can find all revisions in the WA State Session Laws.
The bottom line is that the law is clear and to suggest that any of it’s text exempts local police and sheriffs entirely is ridiculous and denies the grammatical structure of American English, the text of the bill and the published intent of the bill.