Constituents of Seattle’s 43rd District packed every pew in Harvard Ave’s First Baptist Church and half the choir-lofts for a town hall meeting on Saturday.
“This is the biggest crowd in our history, let’s say a thousand people,” said Speaker of the House Frank Chopp.
Sen. Jamie Pedersen and Rep. Nicole Macri joined Chopp to discuss the most recent legislative session outcomes in Olympia. Moderator Maxima Patashnik shared questions on carbon tax, education and gun violence protection among the chief concerns from the crowd. Armed with good news and plenty of reasons for the bad, the Democratic lawmakers addressed state gun violence protection measures first.
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Senate Bill 5444 calling for enhanced background checks for gun purchases is currently with the Senate Ways and Means Committee but, as of Wednesday, had zero committed Republican votes.
Democrats have the majority in the House of Representatives, rules the governor’s office and, due to a recent special election, top the Senate by one vote but “just because we have a slim majority in the Senate and the House doesn’t mean nirvana,” Chopp said.
“We are wondering if Florida might have made a difference,” said Pedersen, a co-sponsor of the bill. Macri and Pedersen are doubtful the bill will succeed in the Senate with only two days left in this legislative session. Despite their majority, Democratic support of the bill is not unanimous.
“Republicans have a very limited appetite in doing anything about gun violence, so the math is pretty simple. The votes are so close that we either have to convince Senate Republicans to cross the NRA or elect more Democrats,” said Pedersen.
“Next, we have a very colorfully worded question,” Patashnik said, reading from the audience suggestion box:
“Will you continue to give the middle-finger to the Supreme Court or will you fully fund K-12 education this year?”
Representative Macri said that the Capital Budget of $4.2 billion was approved and supplemental budgets would be complete by the March 8 deadline. “It would be good to get out of Supreme Court supervision on this issue, so we are committed to fully fund and comply,” Pedersen said.
The 2018 budget will also provide funding to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, and the State Need Grant this year. Saturday, a dozen students rose to their feet with signs in support of the grant, which is awarded to students with low-income who wish to attend college. The grant is also available to students with undocumented resident status.
“It was a dramatic week,” said Chopp. The Saturday line-up of lawmakers pivoted to the issue of climate change. Macri assured constituents that they’re trying to align state goals with the Paris Accord but are encountering road-blocks with rural Washington district leaders.
“We were trying to push on this idea around the connection between climate change and forest fires across Washington, but we cannot convince them,” said Macri. Senate Bill 6203 proposes a gradual increase of gasoline and electricity prices to offset our carbon-output cost. Democrats tried to leverage the carbon tax in exchange for increased funding to rural areas for fire readiness programs, to no avail.
“I was just frankly shocked at some of the things Republicans were saying, we are just philosophically really far apart on these issues,” she said. “I would like to think that logic would prevail, but if you have an hour or so I encourage you to look at the debate we had.” The bill didn’t make it all the way through the committee process in time for a floor vote.
Pedersen also announced that bipartisan Senate Bill 6052 to abolish the death penalty was approved on the Senate floor with a 26 to 22 final vote. “We don’t want to be part of the people putting to death a human life,” he said. The bill is expected to be heard by the House Committee on Feb 20.
In their closing remarks, the politicians asked the audience to continue pushing for unsuccessful bills from this session to be picked up again in the next. According to Macri, ideas that do not fall neatly along party lines can be the hardest to enact into law.
The 60-day short session officially ends on March 8.