|At the edge of the Senate chamber on Saturday with Sen. Nikki Torres of Pasco, left, and Sen. Perry Dozier of Waitsburg, shortly before one of the longer debates of this session — on the Democratic majority’s bill to ban a specific group of firearms.
April 10, 2023
Hello Friends and Neighbors,
As of yesterday (and I hope your Easter was joyous!) this year’s legislative session has two weeks to go.
This past Tuesday was the official deadline for the legislative budget committees, like our Senate Ways and Means Committee, to wrap up their work for the year – similar to the cutoff for policy-committee work that had arrived the week before.
I emphasize “official” because the governor has essentially forced our budget committee to meet two more times this week. It has to do with his recent, speculative purchase – using taxpayer dollars – of a large supply of a chemical-abortion drug.
A public hearing happened in Ways and Means this afternoon on SB 5768, and a vote is scheduled for Wednesday. The title of SB 5768 tells the story: “Protecting access to abortion medications by authorizing the department of corrections to acquire, sell, deliver, distribute, and dispense abortion medications.”
Unexpected committee meetings aside, the Senate and House are now meeting in full, in their respective chambers, considering bills that came forward from committees. We have until 5 p.m. Wednesday to finish that stage of the session.
After Wednesday, the remaining 10 days of the session will focus on getting the three new state budgets to the finish line, and reconciling differences between the Senate and House on other legislation each has passed.
I am especially concerned about several bills in the public-safety category, like the police-pursuit reform represented by SB 5352 and the drug-possession law (stemming from the Blake decision of 2021) addressed in SB 5536. Both are stuck in the House, which may also act on still another of the anti-firearm bills that are distracting from the larger issues facing our state.
As bills clear both chambers and head to the governor, we’re also seeing more bill signings. My simplest bill of the session was signed by the governor this past week: Senate Bill 5295, which is basically a cleanup of the list of accounts maintained by our state treasurer.
Ban on ‘assault weapons’ won’t make our communities safer
The Senate was in session from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the day before Easter Sunday, and one of the results was the partisan passage of a ban on what are properly known as modern sporting rifles – what the majority Democrats like to call “assault weapons.”
House Bill 1240 is the worst of the three anti-gun measures the majority is pushing this year. It would impose a ban on the manufacture, importation, distribution, sale, or offer for sale of any modern sporting rifle, and make the violation of the ban a gross misdemeanor. That’s a stronger penalty than the House Democrats want for the possession of fentanyl or other hard drugs, in their version of the Blake drug-possession bill.
The overall theme of the arguments I and other Republicans made during the three-hour debate on HB 1240 was that banning a specific category of firearm will do nothing to make our state measurably safer.
The problems with the bill begin at the start, with the bizarre declaration that the firearms industry has specifically marketed these kinds of firearms as “tactical,” “hyper masculine,” and “military style” in a manner that “overtly appeals to troubled young men intent on becoming the next mass shooter.”
This inflammatory language obscures the fact that all semi-automatic firearms, no matter how they’re styled, only discharge one round of ammunition each time the trigger is pulled. And what’s with accusing the tens of thousands of women who own a firearm like this of wanting to be “hyper masculine”?
For a woman of smaller stature, a semi-auto rifle that has a shorter barrel, less recoil and an adjustable stock is great for self-defense. It’s just what I would want to take away the physical advantage of a larger attacker. These are also good choices for women who like to shoot at targets. Unfortunately, an adjustable stock — or a noise suppressor that would protect my hearing on the target range — would make such a rifle illegal to buy, once this law takes effect.
Here’s how I put my concerns in a statement after the vote:
“It’s absolutely wrong to limit the firearm choices for women who are in abusive relationships and want the ability to defend themselves in what could be timely life-or-death situations.
“On top of that, this legislation clearly violates our state and federal constitutions, which is why it will end up in court immediately. But even if it was constitutional, a ban like this fails to get at the gang- and drug-related violence in our communities, the extreme mental-health issues, or the suicides that account for 75 percent of deaths caused by firearms.
“The state’s new Office of Firearm Safety admits stolen guns are tied to many of the shootings in our communities, yet today the Senate Democrats rejected the amendment I proposed that would criminalize the theft of these particular firearms. That makes zero sense.”
I was shocked that the Democrats are so intent on banning the sale of these firearms yet also rejected a proposed amendment that would specifically make committing a crime with a stolen “assault weapon” a felony.
If Democrats are worried about protecting schools, they should join Republicans in calling for the “hardening” of our schools. The “gun-free zone” signs clearly don’t work; let’s remodel schools so they are less appealing targets for people who are intent on committing evil.
We also need to do more about behavioral health. As a Vancouver woman put it in an email to me a couple of weeks ago, “… how is gun control going to stop these people with mental illnesses? Because a mentally stable person would never go into a school, mall, music festival, movie theater, and night club and take lives of innocent people.”
HB 1240 was amended at both at the committee level and on the Senate floor before the final vote, so it must return to the House for reconsideration. But I have little doubt that the bill will make it to the governor – just like I have little doubt that the resulting new law will do nothing to reduce the day-to-day shootings in our communities.
The other two anti-firearm bills in play are:
- HB 1143, which was passed by the Senate on Friday. Its requirements would greatly delay someone’s ability to purchase a firearm, between the background check and a 10-day waiting period and mandatory firearm-safety training. None of that helps a woman threatened with domestic violence or other harm who can’t afford to wait to acquire a firearm for self-protection. The training mandated in the bill doesn’t even exist in Washington! HB 1143 goes back to the House for consideration of the changes made by the Senate.
- SB 5078, which would authorize “investigation and enforcement” of firearm-industry members by the state attorney general, has not yet come out of the House. It stands to impact the more than 3,000 federally licensed firearm dealers in Washington… and likely many more sellers engaged in sales through gun shows and swap meets… and specifically many others engaged in the manufacture, importation, or marketing of firearms. It has yet to come up for a vote by the full House.
|I was absolutely thrilled to sponsor Adam York as a Senate page this past week. Of all the students who have ever served as legislative pages, Adam, an 18-year-old senior at River Ridge High School in Lacey, is in a select group. The “virtual” sessions of 2021 and 2022 prevented him and many others from serving when they were within the traditional age range (at least 14 and not yet 17). To make up for the lost opportunities, this past week was reserved only for 17- and 18-year-olds to serve. That’s Adam’s proud mom at right – Amber Hardtke, my senior legislative assistant, who has been with me for my entire time in the Legislature. It has been fun seeing Adam grow into such a fine young man, and I’m glad that after waiting years for this, he had a great week!
Four of my bills are supported by House, heading back to Senate
Late last week the House passed four of my bills. Each had been amended, however, meaning they must come back to the Senate. We’ll consider the changes and decide whether to agree or not. When the two chambers can’t come to an agreement a bill can end up “going to conference.”
- Combating auto theft (SB 5672):This bill would replenish the funding of the Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority, established by law in 2007. The organization’s 10-member board allocates funds to public agencies for programs to combat motor-vehicle theft. Clark County is doing a good job of prosecuting many car thieves and needs this funding to continue. This organization’s funding source began as a $10 fee per traffic infraction, but too much of the resulting revenue has been diverted over the years. My bill would bring in a new stream of money from an insurance-premiums tax that otherwise goes into the general fund. With car thefts skyrocketing these past few years, this money is desperately needed.
- Homecare aide certification (SB 5278): This is my bill to prepare our state for the coming “silver tsunami” of people needing long-term care. It would identify and overcome the barriers to getting home-care aides trained and certified. We know from a performance audit conducted last year that many who want to become certified home-care aides lose interest and give up because it’s too difficult to access training and testing.
- Diagnostic imaging (SB 5396): I’m living proof of the value of detecting breast cancer early, and the importance of following up on a mammogram. I worked with the Susan G. Komen Foundation on this legislation, which is about eliminating financial barriers for commercial-insurance patients who require medically necessary diagnostic breast imaging.
- Medicaid accountability (SB 5497) – I introduced this bill because I believe we should be looking for every opportunity to stretch Medicaid dollars by eliminating waste and fraud. It stems from a state performance audit that made several recommendations to the state Health Care Authority for improving the integrity of its Medicaid program. I’m concerned about that at the state level because the state HCA doesn’t track fraud – it leaves that to the managed care organizations (MCOs), which lack incentive to hunt for fraud if it means a net loss of revenue.
I’m disappointed that the House amended the bill to eliminate the work group I proposed (in the original bill, passed 45-3 by the Senate) that would be responsible for forecasting Medicaid expenditures. Because that is such a major change, I don’t know if the Senate will go along with it. Stay tuned!
I hope you will reach out whenever you have a comment or question about your state government.
Yours in service,
To read this e-newsletter in other languages, click here to visit my Senate news page and find the “Select Language” menu in the upper left corner!