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Kill bill: Procedural games by Senate Republicans thwart gun control

Republican chair blocks public hearings on five gun measures then blames lack of public hearings for axing the bills. Such moves threaten another popular proposal -- universal background checks.
A gun display in a store.

A gun display in a store. Photo: Mike Saechang

Sometimes, even support from half the Senate isn't enough to get a bill to a vote on the floor.

On Friday, Republicans on the Senate Law and Justice committee voted down five moderate bills aimed at curbing gun violence. The bills went down in a last-minute hearing that was held only after Democrats demanded it.

Two of the ill-fated bills had 20 Senators signed onto them. According to its sponsor, one of them had a promised majority if it reached the Senate floor. In addition to ruffling feathers, the move by Republicans to bury these bills raised serious questions about the fate of other popular gun control measures.

In the weeks preceding Friday's hearing, Spokane Republican Mike Padden, the Law and Justice committee chair, had refused to schedule any of the gun control bills for a public hearing. On Friday, Padden and other Republicans on the committee repeatedly pointed to the lack of public hearings on the bills as the reason they were voting them down, claiming that they did not have enough information.

"Protest," said Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, was the reason Democrats forced this predictable vote. "It's not fair for one side to take a rigid position, not even having hearings on bills that it knows have bipartisan support on the floor."

The bills would have mandated stiffer penalties for letting kids get their hands on loaded guns; created a panel to study ways to reduce gun violence; required that police offer to temporarily store firearms; and demanded more evidence before restoring gun rights to anyone found mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Senate Bill 5710, from Sen. Jeannie Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, had 23 cosigners, including Senate majority coalition leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and Senate heavyweight Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island.

In the progress of a bill through the legislature, public hearings are typically the step just before a committee votes on whether to send the bill to the Senate or House floor for a vote. Preventing a bill from getting a hearing is one tactic employed by opponents to sink unpopular measures.

Thursday night, the Senate Law and Justice committee was scheduled to hold its last policy vote of the year. Committee Republicans used procedural maneuvers to keep the Democrat-sponsored gun bills out. When Democrats raised objections on Friday, a new hearing was scheduled. Just after noon, an email went out alerting staff that the hearing would be held at 1:30pm.

The maneuvering and the hastily scheduled vote raised questions about the future of other popular gun bills arriving from the House. Each would have to get through the Law and Justice committee before reaching the Senate. One measure — Seattle Democrat Rep. Jamie Pedersen's universal background check bill — is widely seen as having a decent chance of making it to the committee.

Whether the bill makes it out of committee is another story. When asked, Padden refused to speak specifically to Pedersen's bill. He would only say of any gun bill reaching his committee: "They'll have a tough row to hoe."

For exclusive coverage of the state Legislature, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.

Tom James has helped cover the 2013 state legislative session for Crosscut through the University of Washington journalism program. He also writes for Crosscut on other subjects. Born in Seattle and raised in Kitsap, Tom worked for the Kitsap Navy News and Central Kitsap Reporter before heading to the UW for a double-major in journalism and economics, which he hopes to finish in 2014.


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Comments:

Posted Sun, Feb 24, 12:59 p.m. Inappropriate

Popularity of a piece of legislation does not necessarily equate to good public policy. Recognition of this early on in our history led to the creation of a system of checks and balances that has, in large part, worked very well for us.

The federal government and almost all states have bicameral legislatures. Usually one of these is set up to more deliberative body with procedures and practices that intentionally slow things down. Feel free to read "deliberative" as either cumbersome or obstructionist.

Similarly the legislative, executive, and judicial branches are designed to check, as well as reinforce, each other's actions.

Within the legislative branches, the committee system has grown over time to, supposedly, handle the creation, vetting, and passage of bills in an efficient manner. This has introduced its own system of bottlenecks.

The development of political parties was not desired, but it happened. That led to even more friction that slows things down.

Is this system perfect? Certainly not. It does work as intended in one important respect. Overall, it limits the daily operation of the "tyranny of the majority". Let us not forget that both major political parties use the tactics so deplored by this writer.

Face it folks, the system worked.

Posted Sun, Feb 24, 10:17 p.m. Inappropriate

It's a shame we didn't have a cooling off period like this after 9/11. Thanks to the press-fanned panic of those days we no longer live in a representative democracy, we're doomed to live in an Orwellian "Homeland".


A Homeland.


Free men and women don't live in a Homeland.

dbreneman

Posted Mon, Feb 25, 7:33 a.m. Inappropriate

The headline should read: Rodney Tom, Tim Sheldon and Senate Republicans Kill Five Gun Safety Bills.

They wouldn't even hear a modest proposal to keep guns out of the hands of crazy people.

All of the bills respected the second amendment. None of them would have interfered with the rights of law abiding gun owners.

This was an extreme move by a majority coalition doing all it can to support the extreme elements of the gun selling lobby and their supporters.

Jan

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