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Opinion >  Column

Sue Lani Madsen: Single-party domination of Legislature denies good ideas a hearing

March 16, 2023 Updated Thu., March 16, 2023 at 7:58 a.m.

In a single party-dominated Legislature, the future of any bill is often predictable along partisan lines. The majority party controls access. It’s an easy excuse to just say there’s not enough time, or the issue is too controversial, or it won’t have enough votes to pass so why bother. Sometimes the majority just doesn’t want to talk about controversial issues challenging their version of the world. Good bills sponsored by the minority party are often denied even the courtesy of a hearing.

It’s not a problem unique to Washington. Many states face the same challenge, but today’s focus is on Olympia.

Public safety polled as a top concern for Washington voters in 2022, so one might assume a legislative focus on public safety. Supporters of one bill sailing through the Legislature were characterized as saying “penalties are a deterrent, and increasing them will send a clear message,” according to recent reporting in this paper.

But that was coverage of House Bill 1002 to bump up the penalties for college hazing, which regrettably ended in tragedy in 2019 in Pullman. That bill was supported by all Spokane-area representatives in the House and has moved on to the Senate.

On the other hand, Republican-sponsored bills HB 1161 and Senate Bill 5745, increasing penalties for using or displaying an illegally possessed firearm in the commission of a crime, didn’t even get a hearing. They were bottled up in committee by the Democratic majority. According to attorney William Kirk at a Washington gun law lecture last weekend, “88.8% of all gun crime in the U.S. in 2021 was committed by a person who unlawfully possessed a firearm.” Given the progress through the Legislature of several constitutionally questionable bills (i.e. may be a waste of time but a great opportunity to score political points with the base), it appears the majority party is more interested in hearing bills targeting legal gun owners than bills deterring criminals.

Another bill getting the proud “look what we did” treatment by House Democrats is HB 1455 to ban child marriage, raising the minimum age of consent from 17 to 18 for making a decision on what is supposed to be a lifetime commitment. The intent is to prevent sex trafficking and intercept abusive relationships before they start, because sponsors say minors are too susceptible to social pressure.

On the other hand again, Democrats refused to hear HB 1214, which would make 18 the minimum age to consent to gender-altering chemical treatments resulting in a lifetime of negative health impacts ranging from infertility and increased cardiovascular risks to loss of bone density and increased cancer risks. Democrat-sponsored SB 5489 would have included surgery as a protected form of “gender-affirming” health care; fortunately, it died in committee but it did get a hearing. A child only has to be 13 years old to consent to what is called gender-affirming health care. Parents don’t have to be in the loop on the decision, even the billing office doesn’t have to tell them what they are paying for.

Clearly HB 1214 didn’t get a hearing because the validity of the age of consent arguments used by Democrats to defend their preferred bills would dissolve in a puff of logic. We don’t let 18-year-olds buy tobacco and alcohol in this state, but we let 13-year-olds buy off-label cross-sex hormones and consent to life-altering surgery. That’s nuts.

Most of the bills ignored by the Democratic majority address less politically controversial issues. A few of the bills on the House Republicans’ list of priorities for 2023 have even made progress. HB 1682 to address rising auto theft had bipartisan sponsorship including Rep. Jaqueline Maycumber, R-Republic; Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane; and Rep. Mike Volz, R-Spokane. HB 1245 tackles housing affordability by allowing lot splitting, championed by Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Chehalis, and co-sponsored by Riccelli. HB 1210 allows school board meetings to be recorded. All three passed in the House and have been sent to the Senate.

And once more on the other hand, the majority of Washingtonians who don’t claim allegiance to any political party might have appreciated a robust debate and public hearings on a broader range of solutions to community safety, housing and education issues.

Among the bills on the list were proposals to resolve the impact of the Blake decision by recriminalizing the known possession of fentanyl (HB 1415), provide a temporary program to address the learning loss from two years of emergency operations that hit students in low-income districts particularly hard (HB1328) and modest sales tax relief in a time of high inflation as well as growing state revenues (HB 1704). All died in committee without a hearing.

That’s one way to keep the process moving. It takes more time and it might be controversial to entertain a diversity of ideas, reach out to provide equity in access to the process and be inclusive of everyone – so why bother.

Contact Sue Lani Madsen at

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