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Opinion >  Column

Spin Control: Legislative hearings offer lessons in constitutional scholarship – sort of

People who don’t spend much time in legislative hearings – which is to say the lucky souls who comprise the vast majority of the populace – might be surprised to know the state is apparently awash with constitutional scholars.

Or so it seemed last week as lawmakers went through their daily round-robin of hearings, sometimes as many as 30 a day.

While legislating is sometimes likened to sausage-making, the 2020 session is not quite at that stage. It currently is feeding as many bills as possible into the mouth of democracy’s goose to see which ones pop out the other end.

A bill to limit statewide elections to even-numbered years brought a series of critics who felt the need to hector the House State Government Committee on how badly it would run afoul of Washington’s founding charter, should they vote in favor of the proposal.

Several opponents quoted the exact same section of Article II Section 1, which says the people reserve the right to propose and reject laws through initiative and referendum. They made points with Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, who called it one of his favorite sections.

It seems possible none of them read through the entire section to discover it says nothing about tying the right of initiative and referendum to yearly statewide elections. As a supporter of the bill pointed out, statewide elections were only held in even-numbered years until 1973.

Bills involving gun control invariably result in someone quoting either the U.S. or state constitution, although rarely does a person quoting the Second Amendment start at the beginning, with “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state ….”

Probably for the sake of good time management, they skip directly to “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” usually adding with inflection a final phrase that’s all caps and ends with an exclamation point.

It is, after all, how the Founding Fathers would have written it, if they had Twitter.

On gun rights, it is almost a requirement to follow up with a quote from the state constitution, which uses a different “i” word in its proscription: impaired. Gun-rights supporters can be counted on to opine that the state language is even tougher.

It can be problematic to cite the constitution in the Senate Law and Justice Committee, which has a supply of lawyers. And even they can get tripped up.

Sen. Jeff Holy, R-Spokane, started to discuss the definition of impaired, citing Article I Section 26 of the state Constitution.

“I think it might be Section 24,” Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, interjected.

“I’m sorry. Section 24. Thank you counselor,” Holy said. “I wish I had my notes up here. My screen died.”

Say what?

The award for the most outrageous remark of the week – easily – goes to a gun-rights supporter opposing restrictions on high-capacity magazines. It merely deflects the real problem, Mike Silvers said.

“Every mass shooter falls into one of three categories,” Silvers contended. “They are either Muslim terrorists. … They are nuttier than hell. … Or, they are lifelong Democrats. Please check the facts. They are Democrats.”

This brought a series of boos, laughs and catcalls from the crowd in the hearing room until Pedersen, the committee chairman, admonished everyone to be respectful to each other.

A note on the possible state dinosaur

The Jan. 18 story about a bill to name the Suciasaurus rex the state dinosaur, in part because it’s the only dinosaur fossil found in the state, brought several calls and emails from doubters who were sure there were others. And they were good Eastern Washington dinosaur fossils, too, not some hunk of bone turned to stone that started down California way and got pushed north by eons of geologic pressure.

Relax folks. Fossils of some very big, very old critters have been found in Eastern Washington, but they came from mammoths, mastodons and extinct rhinos. Dinosaurs went extinct tens of millions of years before those guys showed up.

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