Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, evoked the memory of slain transgender teen Nikki Kuhnhausen before her colleagues last week approved a bill limiting so-called panic defenses.
Kuhnhausen, 17, disappeared in early June. Her remains were discovered Dec. 7 after a human skull was found in the woods at Larch Mountain, southeast of Battle Ground.
David Y. Bogdanov of Vancouver has been charged with second-degree murder and malicious harassment, which is a hate crime in Washington.
Authorities allege Bogdanov strangled the Vancouver teenager after learning she was transgender. He pleaded not guilty to both charges last month, and bail was set at $750,000.
House Bill 1687, which has been named “the Nikki Kuhnhausen Act,” would block a defendant from using a panic defense based on discovery or disclosure of the victim’s actual or perceived gender or sexual orientation. More specifically, the bill would prevent a claim of “diminished capacity” because the defendant did not fully comprehend the nature and gravity of the alleged crime.
“What this bill does, it removes a possible defense for the kind of thing that happened to Nikki,” Wylie said on the House floor Wednesday. “Nikki was strangled by somebody who was upset about who she was.”
More than 300 people attended Kuhnhausen’s memorial service, she said.
“Her mother and her friends asked me to name this bill after her,” she said. “They didn’t want anybody who would do what happened to Nikki to get off by saying, ‘I just couldn’t help myself.’ ”
Wylie noted that standards have changed during her lifetime for sexual harassment in the workplace and abuse in marriage.
“There’s a lot of things that have changed,” she said. “But it’s still not OK, and it shouldn’t be OK, to say, ‘I was so upset by who they were that I had to strangle them and leave them in the woods.’ ”
“Please pass this bill,” she concluded. “Nikki’s mother and her friends are listening to us right now.”
Lopsided House vote
Following Wylie’s remarks, the House passed HB 1687 by a 90-5 vote, with three representatives absent and excused.
All six representatives from Clark County — Democrats Wylie and Monica Stonier, Republicans Paul Harris, Larry Hoff, Vicki Kraft and Brandon Vick — voted for the bill.
Harris offered short supportive comments following Wylie’s floor speech.
“This happened in my community also and should’ve never happened,” he said. “It’s tragic, and (I) appreciate this bill.”
The legislation has been forwarded to the Senate. The Senate Law and Justice Committee has tentatively scheduled a public hearing on the bill for 8 a.m. Wednesday, followed by a possible vote on whether to pass the legislation out of committee at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, serves on the seven-member Law and Justice Committee.
According to an article posted on the American Bar Association’s website, eight states — California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New York and Rhode Island — have legislatively banned the use of gay or transgender panic as a legal defense, as of July 1, 2019.
March 1 remembrance
Mikki Gillette, a staff member at the LGBTQ advocacy group Basic Rights Oregon, said she also serves as a volunteer with the Justice for Nikki Task Force.
The group is assisting Lisa Woods, Kuhnhausen’s mother in her grief, monitoring judicial proceedings against Bogdanov and promoting passage of HB 1687.
The task force also has scheduled a Celebration of Life for Nikki Kuhnhausen for 5:30 p.m. March 1 at Clark College’s Gaiser Hall, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver.
The event will feature remarks from Woods, an open mic session, a digital slideshow and some of Kuhnhausen’s favorite music.
“We want to bring attention to the fact that Nikki was really loved and valued by her community,” Gillette said. “Like a lot of transgender people, her identity put her at greater risk.”