Just two days after the end of the 2018 legislative session, State Sen. Maralyn Chase came face-to-face with mostly supportive 32nd District constituents in a town hall meeting Saturday morning at the Edmonds Senior Center.
“This is the most wonderful session I’ve had in my 16 years,” said Chase, pointing in particular to several measures that passed the Democratic-controlled Legislature this year. Among them: a law mandating equal pay for women, a measure to ensure that the current GED exam focuses on mastery of high school subjects rather than serving as a college prep test, and a bill to change the state law related to criminally charging police officers who may have wrongfully killed someone.
While the group of about 50 attendees applauded many of the accomplishments that Chase cited during the lawmakers’ 60-day session, there were also concerns. For starters, some wondered — with the Legislature in Democrats’ hands — why more gun-related measures weren’t approved, especially given the recent school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Chase pointed out Washington lawmakers were able to pass bills tat ban trigger devices known as bump stocks and to keep firearms out of the hands of convicted domestic abusers. But she added that Democrats from rural areas are less likely to support gun control legislation, which makes it harder to pass such laws with such a slim majority.
“We have to elect people who will vote for a gun-control bill,” Chase said. “We are one vote short in the House. You can’t pass a bill if you don’t have the votes.”
“I think we need to be very clear that we support the Second Amendment,” Chase added. “People have the right in this country to own a gun. They don’t have a right to be irresponsible with it.”
Chase pulled no punches when it came to discussing the furor created by the bill, which she supported, that would have exempted state lawmakers from Washington’s Public Records Act for information created prior to July 1 of this year.
SB 6617 was the legislators’ response to a ruling earlier this year by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese on a lawsuit brought by media organizations that such records should be made public.
After lawmakers passed SB 6617 without a hearing, news organizations statewide publicly decried the lack of public process for the bill. Many newspapers even published front-page editorials — a move that Chase called both “political” and “unconscionable.”
“I think that the press did a disservice to the citizens by not explaining what was in that bill,” Chase said.
While Chase admitted that lawmakers “didn’t get it right on the process,” she added that they were primarily concerned about protecting the privacy of constituents’ communication related to sensitive matters.
“People do not want to see their personal business on the newspaper above the fold,” she said.
After receiving about 19,000 phone calls, emails and letters — most urging him to veto the measure — Gov. Jay Inslee did veto it, with the support of lawmakers who agreed to work together on a new bill for the next legislative session.
“Cut us a little slack,” Chase said. “We are not evil people down there. We are not trying to hide anything. We are trying to solve problems.”
Another concern raised by some attendees was the increase in property taxes and the effect that is having on senior citizens in particular.
While the Legislature did pass a supplemental operating budget package that cuts statewide property taxes by $391 million, or 30 cents per $1,000 assessed value, next year, Chase recognized that the relief isn’t much.
“We have raised the property taxes to a point where I believe it is unconscionable,” she said. “The reason we go after property taxes (for funding) is because we have the most regressive tax system in U.S.”
Under the state’s current tax system, “Our poor people pay 17 percent of their income and our rich people pay 2 percent,” the senator said. “That’s not fair.”
Chase said that’s why she supports other ways to generate income — in particular, she favors removing current exemptions of certain types of intangible property, such as stocks and bonds, from property tax rolls. You can read more on Chase’s proposals here.
Among the other issues that Chase addressed on Saturday:
- While the state legislature was unable to pass a carbon tax measure, a citizens initiative addressing that issue “should be hitting the streets soon,” Chase said.
- The senator said she favors single-payer health care and also supports citizens Initiative 1600 to create such a statewide system. “I think it’s really important,” she said.
- Addressing a question from a constituent, Chase said she supports eliminating the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission because it is prioritizing recreational fisheries over commercial fisheries and is “out of control.”
- Chase also addressed the legislature’s inability to pass a bill this session aimed at addressing skyrocketing car license tabs following the voter-approved expansion of Sound Transit. “I am really disgusted with the car tabs situation,” she said.
- She said she also supports free tuition for both college and vocational training, adding it’s an investment that is “good for our community, good for our economy, good for our state.” Although there are those who say the state can’t afford it, “we spend money on some very strange things,” Chase said. “This is something we should be spending money on.”
— Story and photo by Teresa Wippel