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Spin Control: Gun legislation facing uncertain Capitol future

OLYMPIA – The massacre of first-graders and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut may result in some major national gun-control legislation this year. Too soon to tell.

But it may also block some smaller gun-related legislation in Washington state. At least that’s what several Senate Democrats contended Friday afternoon after an unusual meeting of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Democrats had objected the night before when Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, adjourned what was expected to be the committee’s last meeting before a key deadline without bringing up several of their bills on gun safety or gun violence. Padden agreed Friday to one more pre-deadline meeting to allow votes on five of their bills – four of which hadn’t even had public hearings, so they normally wouldn’t even come to a vote.

These weren’t the most contentious of gun bills, like an assault weapon ban or universal background checks. They involved penalties for adults who leave out a loaded gun that a child ends up accessing; letting police take custody of a firearm for a person who is in mental distress; and forming a task force with representatives of both sides of the gun rights debate to study possible causes and solutions to gun violence.

All failed on party-line votes, even the task force, and there’s almost nothing the Legislature would rather do with a contentious issue than form a task force to conduct a study.

The Legislature is already doing a study on mental health, and maybe some gun-control ideas could be part of that, said Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood. That’s like saying all gun owners have mental health problems, and groups like the NRA assure us that 99 percent or more of gun owners don’t, countered Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle.

Several bills contain good ideas but need work and deserve input from the public, Padden and other Republicans on the panel said. The committee might be able to work on them in the interim.

Of course, one reason the public hadn’t provided input was that the bills didn’t have hearings. Padden took responsibility for that, saying scheduling or not scheduling bills was his decision.

The Law and Justice Committee had a heavy load and a full schedule with a long list of contentious topics, and all committees last week saw bills die that someone thought were great ideas. But Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, wondered if gun-rights supporters haven’t adopted such a rigid position to counter the Sandy Hook reactions that they’d block “middle-ground stuff” that in other years might sail through the committee and the Legislature.

The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill requiring universal background checks, which is the big gun legislation this year. It had a contentious hearing, with Second Amendment supporters hypervigilant about any encroachment. It only cleared that committee by one vote and still faces an uncertain future in the full House.

On Friday, Padden wasn’t committing to a hearing on that bill, if it passes the House. “We’ll wait and see what comes over,” he said.

Not that Fagan

State Rep. Susan Fagan and Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan aren’t related and don’t have any constituents in common, but both do represent voters in the Spokane area. And the Pullman legislator wants them to know that she is not the Fagan in the headlines for stories about someone who called Gov. Jay Inslee a “lying whore” in a recent fundraising email.

Councilman Fagan, who signed an appeal with initiative partners Tim Eyman and Jack Fagan, his father, is getting flak from council colleagues and others for the email language. Headlines usually stick with last names, which is causing Rep. Fagan some heartburn. The Republican from the Palouse is likely to disagree with Inslee on any number of issues over the course of the session, and agree with Eyman and Co. on some.

But that kind of language “would never cross her lips,” an aide said.

How far is too far?

Mike Fagan’s response to criticism of the language in that email is that he was not expressing himself as a city councilman; rather, he was expressing himself as a tax-fighting activist.

That raises a question: Is a councilman, or any elected official, ever NOT in his official capacity? There may have been a time when a bright line separated the official from the personal, and even a president’s personal foibles weren’t subject to public scrutiny. But that time predates the Hula Hoop.

But a council position is supposedly a part-time job, and Fagan was a political activist before he was an elected official. So giving him the benefit of the argument, the issue may boil down to this: Is there a time when it’s OK for a political activist to call a governor – any governor – “a lying whore”?

Spin Control, a weekly column by Olympia reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items at spincontrol.

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