28 01, 2015

Gun responsibility legislation introduced to aid families, law enforcement

January 28th, 2015|Uncategorized|

Legislation to help families and law enforcement when someone is at extreme risk for committing violence against themselves or others was introduced today by Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle. Companion legislation will be introduced by Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma.

The legislation would allow family members and law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily remove a person’s access to firearms when there is documented evidence that there are at an extreme risk to harm themselves or others.

Under the legislation, Extreme Risk Protection Orders temporarily remove access to firearms for 14 days. A hearing is then held to evaluate the case and determine whether the Order should be continued. Those requesting a suspension of firearm access must provide sworn evidence and can be arrested for knowingly presenting false evidence.

A person experiencing a crisis can exhibit signs that alert family or community members to the potential for violence. But under current law, a person suffering from mental illness is not prohibited from purchasing and possessing a gun unless he or she has been formally and involuntarily committed for more than 14 days or has been found not guilty by reason of insanity.

There is clear evidence that many individuals who ultimately participate in shootings, including mass shootings, demonstrate their intentions beforehand. Eighty percent of individuals committing suicide give some indication of their intentions prior to making an attempt. Thirty eight out of 62 mass shooters in the last 20 years were re­ported as displaying signs of dangerous mental health problems prior to the killings.

California, Connecticut, and Indiana all have versions of this tool in place. California passed its version of Extreme Risk Protection Orders into law in 2014 following a University of California Santa Barbara shooting that claimed six lives.

The shooting was exactly the type of case that Extreme Risk Protection Orders were designed to prevent. Law enforcement had been unable to remove firearms possessed by a shooter despite demonstrations of extreme distress and threats of violence observed by the perpetrator’s family.

“The tragic shooting that claimed the life of my niece Veronika and five others last year occurred, in part, because neither the family of the perpetrator nor law enforcement had the tools to temporarily remove his access to firearms from a deeply disturbed individual,” said Jane Weiss, a Washington State resident and aunt of UC Santa Barbara shooting victim Veronika Weiss. “Washington State has taken an important step today in preventing tragedies like the one that claimed Veronika and so many others with the introduction of Extreme Risk Protection Orders. Extreme Risk Protection Orders will help families respond to signs that a family member is in distress, rather than leaving them powerless. This measure will save lives while protecting Second Amendment rights, and I urge the Legislature to swiftly take action to pass it into law.”

“Too often, families and law enforcement can see the signs of a tragedy coming,” said Frockt. “When people are in these crisis situations, the presence of a gun can be a dangerous factor in escalating a situation and somebody might do something in a moment that could change their life or the lives of others forever. Families and law enforcement should have the ability to intervene when they see these crisis situations and help keep everyone involved safe.”

“We’ve seen the unfortunate impact that a seriously mentally ill individual with a gun can have,” said Jinkins. “Along with more and better mental health care, we need to make sure that people in crisis can get the help they need to protect themselves and others. This bill will give families and law enforcement a needed tool to literally save lives by reducing the risk of violence both in the home and on our streets.”

15 01, 2015

Senate Democrats introduce bill to address oil transportation safety

January 15th, 2015|Uncategorized|

In the first week of the 2015 legislative session, Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Kitsap County, and Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, introduced Governor Jay Inslee’s request oil transportation legislation to the state Senate (SB 5087).

“Unprecedented amounts of oil are traveling along the rails of Washington state, through our rural areas and downtowns and along our coastlines,” Rolfes said. “Right now, it is impacted communities and the taxpayers of Washington who bear all of the risk and responsibility in the event of an accident. This legislation simply shifts some of the burden of spill prevention and response onto those that profit from oil transportation.”

How to address increasing oil transportation has been an ongoing debate in Washington and across North America in recent years. North Dakota and the Bakken region of Canada are experiencing an oil boom, and spills and explosions have followed as a result of substandard rail cars and flagging regulation and industry oversight. Roughly sixty-million gallons of volatile crude oil passes through Washington every week, and over a million gallons of crude oil was spilled from trains in North America in 2013, more than the previous 30 years combined. Numerous explosions also occurred, including the explosion in Quebec that killed 47 people.

“For the safety and health of our communities, it’s imperative we give first responders all the information they need to best prepare themselves to respond and contain a spill or derailment to prevent a worst case scenario,” Ranker said. “We will not sit idly by and let a city in Washington join the list of those devastated by an oil train fire or vessel spill.”

Although the federal government alone has the authority to impose many safety measures, states do have control over some key aspects related to transparency, accountability and taxation. A study was conducted in 2014 to evaluate the risks associated with the vast increase of oil transported by rail through Washington, with many of the recommendations included in this bill. The final report is due in March.

“Transparency and safety need to be the focus of our efforts here in Olympia,” Energy, Environment & Telecommunications committee ranking Democrat Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, said. “We can’t put the interests of the oil industry over the safety of our impacted communities.”

“This is not a theoretical problem. We know derailments and oil spills will happen,” Rolfes added. “For the safety of our communities and economy, as well as the preservation of our environment, we need to pass this bill.”

The bill has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

14 01, 2015

Nelson: “Billionaire Protection Act” will hurt working families, small business

January 14th, 2015|Uncategorized|

The nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy today released the 2015 edition of its “Who Pays?” report which analyzes the tax structure in all 50 states.

Just as it has since ITEP began this study in 1996, Washington again topped the list of states with the most regressive tax structure. According to the study, low income Washingtonians pay 16.8 percent of their income in taxes while the wealthiest people in the state pay just 2.4 percent. 

Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson called Washington’s existing tax structure “unsustainable and more importantly, unfair. An enormous part of our budget solution is reforming our state’s tax structure in a way that helps working families and small businesses, not harms them. Unfortunately fixing this was made much more difficult on Monday.”

On the first day of the 2015 Legislative Session, Senate Republicans adopted a rule that requires the support of two-thirds of Senators to approve any “new taxes.” This means the same taxes that make Washington the most regressive in the nation – sales tax, business and occupation tax, property tax and others – can be raised with a simple majority of senators. Taxes paid by the wealthiest Washingtonians and polluters, however, will be held to a higher standard.

“On Monday, Republicans essentially created the Billionaire Protection Act,” Nelson said. “Working families and small business owners are simply trying to make ends meet. Fixing our backwards tax structure to meet the best interests of the majority of Washingtonians will now be much more difficult.”


7 01, 2015

Democrats’ bill would repair hole in women’s health coverage

January 7th, 2015|Uncategorized|

It would be illegal for employers in Washington state to provide health insurance plans that discriminate against employees’ by interfering with their access to contraception, under a bill sponsored by virtually the entire Senate Democratic Caucus.
Senate Bill 5026, prime-sponsored by Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, has 22 Democratic sponsors before the 2015 legislative session has even convened.
“The people of Washington have long supported individual privacy rights and made it clear that discrimination based on sex or interference with a woman’s right to choose or refuse birth control is contrary to the values and laws of our state,” Pedersen said. “This right is ensured by Article One of our state Constitution.”
Under the bill, any employee whose rights are violated may file a complaint with the state Human Rights Commission and also file a civil suit to enjoin further violations, recover any damages, or both, as well as any legal costs including attorneys’ fees.
“Contraceptive care is both a health issue and an economic issue for women. Women who use contraception to plan pregnancies tend to have healthier pregnancies, for themselves as well as their babies, by spacing births apart,” said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent. “We also know that the earning power of women with reliable access to contraceptive services is 40 percent higher than for those without access. Access to contraception can narrow the gender pay gap.”
“The vast majority of Washingtonians strongly support access to contraception and family planning, and the U.S. Supreme Court decision goes against those core Washington state values,” said, Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island. “Now is the time to pass this legislation and ensure women have the freedom to make their own health care choices¬ independent of their employers’ values.”
With 22 Democratic senators already in favor of the legislation, the bill could pass the Senate with the support of as few as three Republicans.
“We are reaching out to the more moderate Republican members and, frankly, I would expect this legislation to have the strong support of anyone who opposes discrimination against women,” said Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle. “There’s no reason this shouldn’t pass the Senate handily.”
SB 5026 was drafted by a work group of senators, with support from numerous stakeholders, in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year. The bill was honed through 15 drafts to ensure that it would be passage-ready for the 2015 legislative session.
“The Affordable Care Act requires health plans to include a comprehensive package of services, including all FDA-approved forms of contraception, but the Supreme Court created a loophole that puts women’s health at risk,” said Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle. “This legislation is to close that loophole and make sure health care insurance across our state is consistent with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act and with the rights guaranteed by our state Constitution.”