Transportation funds, gun bills before Legislature

Rewriting spending plan tops priority list

OLYMPIA — Rewriting the two-year state transportation budget is a top priority for Democratic 24th District lawmakers Kevin Van De Wege, Mike Chapman and Steve Tharinger, they said Friday as the first week of the 60-day state legislative session came to a close.

State Sen. Van De Wege of Sequim and Reps. Chapman of Port Angeles and Tharinger of Port Townsend also will be considering bills intended to reduce gun violence.

Proposed by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, the bills include a proposed ban on assault weapons, limits on high-capacity magazines, and imposition of background checks for buyers of ammunition.

Van De Wege and Chapman suggested it might take a citizens’ initiative to turn the proposals into law.

Lawmakers are being forced to rewrite the transportation spending plan after voters statewide, including in Clallam and Grays Harbor counties but not in Jefferson County, approved car-tab-slashing Initiative 976, the enactment of which is being delayed by a court challenge.

The three legislators, who represent Clallam and Jefferson counties and half of Grays Harbor County, are joining the Democratic Party-controlled Legislature in rewriting a transportation budget built on the $30 car tabs that voters statewide said Nov. 3 they wanted, slashing the budget’s revenue stream.

The cut of $454 million in funding statewide this year won’t affect planned improvements to the Elwha River Bridge and Morose Creek curve in Clallam County and Shine Road in Jefferson County, according to the Joint Legislative Transportation Committee.

“Safety projects have to move forward, and bridge projects have to move forward,” said Chapman, who sits on the House Transportation Committee.

“I’ll do everything I can so they’re not cut.”

Tharinger said the cuts will have an impact on mass transit, which he believes voters didn’t understand when they approved the measure, as well as road improvements and rail line improvements, which could have a major impact on Grays Harbor County.

“Talking to Clallam Transit, they are OK in the near term,” Tharinger said, adding that may not be the case in the next biennium.

Both the House and Senate are working with Inslee’s office “on what to do,” Van De Wege said.

“However, I would guess the Senate and the House each will come up with their own budget,” he said.

The spending plan covers funding from July 1, 2019-June 30, 2021.

Van De Wege, on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said the panel may shore up the spending plan by proposing to take a portion of the sales tax from vehicle purchases and dedicate it to transportation.

But Van De Wege has “pretty grave reservations” about an assault weapons ban, which would apply to semi-automatic weapons that contain at least one military style feature.

Weapons bought before the ban takes effect would be legal, and there would be exceptions for law enforcement, military personnel and recreational shooting ranges.

It’s the fourth straight legislative session that Ferguson has proposed the assault-weapons legislation and the first time Inslee has joined him in the effort.

Van De Wege doesn’t expect exceptions to the restrictions will help its chances.

“It’s probably not going to gain much traction this session,” he predicted.

“I do not believe I would be supportive of banning all semi-automatic rifles, and don’t believe that would be constitutional, and that it’s a fairly straightforward infringement on rights.”

Magazines would be limited to 10 rounds.

“It would make almost all handguns illegal and all semi-automatic handguns would be illegal under that,” he asserted.

That causes him “grave concerns,” he added.

Van De Wege said he believes his views represent the 24th District, but that voters statewide would likely approve the measure through an initiative.

Chapman, a former law enforcement officer as a U.S. Customs inspector, said he continues to support a semiautomatic assault weapons ban as he did in 2004, when a federal ban expired.

“When the ban was taken away, I believe we put society at risk,” he said.

On Friday, a rally by the Gun Rights Coalition drew people to Olympia “wandering around the Capitol with weapons slung over their shoulder,” Chapman said.

“I don’t think those weapons are necessary to carry around in the streets.

“That’s the former law enforcement officer in me.

“I understand people disagree, and that’s what makes us a great democracy.”

The Legislature might pass the assault-weapons prohibition but the limit on magazine capacity is “a long shot,” he predicted.

“These are just tough bills that generally haven’t had the support of the Legislature.”

He, too, suggested voters might go the route of a statewide initiative to pass the restrictions.

Tharinger, calling himself a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, said high-round magazines and semi-automatic assault weapons are not used for hunting or sport.

“Responsible gun owners, and that includes NRA members and the sport-hunter gun user, I think my sense is that that support responsible gun legislation,” Tharinger said.

“If you want to shoot multiple [bullet] magazines, you can do it at a shooting range, not in the woods.

“The assault weapons issue and multiple magazines, those [restrictions] seem to make a lot of sense, and I think responsible gun owners feel the same way.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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