When the 2018 Legislative Session convenes in January, Democrats will control both the House and Senate chambers. Last month’s election changed the makeup of the state Senate, giving Democrats a one-vote majority in that chamber. With the House also under Democratic control, the possibility of passing previously stalled legislation in the upcoming 60-day session has opened up.
As chair of the House Judiciary committee, part of my job is deciding which bills receive a hearing in the committee, and which ones are voted out of committee, moving one step closer to a vote of the full House. The high volume of bills referred to Judiciary means only a fraction of them actually move forward.
With the change in Senate leadership, I am in the process of meeting with the new chairs of Senate committees that share jurisdiction with the Judiciary committee to discuss our priorities for 2018. We will be looking at what we can realistically accomplish in 60 days.
Last month, legislators returned to Olympia for Committee Assembly Days. This is when legislative committees meet to review work accomplished over the interim (the period between legislative sessions) and examine emergent issues. One of those issues is gun violence, in the wake of recent high-profile shootings resulting in horrific loss of life. What happened in Las Vegas, in Sutherland Springs, and most recently in Tehama County has happened here in Washington at Marysville High School, at Café Racer, at the Jewish Federation in Seattle, and most recently at Freeman High School in Spokane County.
As the parent of a high schooler, the shooting at Freeman High hit me particularly hard. I believe what we say after a tragedy like this is less important than what we actually do. What specific actions can we take at the legislative level to help prevent people who are intent on harming others from accessing firearms? How do we keep our children safe at school?
During Assembly Days, the Judiciary committee held a work session on the different types of firearms and how each is regulated in our state. As the committee considers legislation related to gun violence, it’s important for lawmakers to understand the difference between pistols, rifles, semi-automatic guns and other types of firearms, as well as the difference in the way Washington state regulates each one. I am grateful to Brett Bass from West Coast Armory for his informative presentation on firearms types and components, as well as to nonpartisan staff for walking us through Washington’s firearms laws. Additionally, Dr. Beth Ebel of Harborview’s Injury Prevention and Research Center spoke on the public health impacts of firearms.
Despite the change in Senate leadership, any bills addressing gun violence will need bipartisan support to get through both chambers. Well-crafted legislation balancing rights with responsibilities should attract support from both sides of the aisle, as it did in the 2017 session. Legislators passed a bill cracking down on people who knowingly attempt to purchase a firearm when they are ineligible to do so, known as “lie and try,” with a bipartisan majority in both chambers and the governor signed it. Law enforcement is now notified of these attempted purchases. If domestic violence is involved, the victim is also notified of the perpetrator’s attempt to purchase a firearm. This information literally saves lives.
Originally, I was going to devote this month’s column to touting the open enrollment period for health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act, which goes until December 15 for coverage beginning January 1. However, the recent mass shootings and lack of action at the federal level made me want to speak up about taking action at the state level to help prevent gun violence.
This is also a health care issue. According to a study by Johns Hopkins University, gun violence costs our country $2.8 billion annually in emergency room and inpatient charges. Moreover, more than half of gun violence patients in the study were either uninsured or self-paying. In our state, the number of firearms-related deaths has surpassed motor vehicle deaths.
I don’t know yet what legislation will be considered this year. Possibilities include closing the “machine gun loophole” by banning bump stocks, the device the Las Vegas shooter used to turn a semi-automatic weapon into a fully automatic one, or requiring background checks for assault weapons to be at least as strong as those already in place for pistols. I’m ready to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to save lives and protect our communities by keeping guns out of the hands of those determined to kill people with them.
Note: Documents from the November 17 House Judiciary committee work session on firearms types and firearms laws can be found at www.leg.wa.gov/house/committees/judi. Click on “Committee Meeting Documents/Electronic Bill Book (EBB).”
Laurie Jinkins is a public health official from Tacoma who serves as a member of the Washington House of Representatives from the 27th district.