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Kill bill: Procedural games by Senate Republicans thwart gun control

A gun display in a store. Credit: 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.

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