Last week’s crazy story about the senators who didn’t support their own gun bill has raised more than a few existential questions.
Such as: If a bill is introduced, but nobody wrote it or even likes it, does it technically exist?
If the lawmakers didn’t make the law, then who did?
And to paraphrase the 2,500 people who wrote, called, or commented about this story from around the nation: What the bleep is going on in Olympia?
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I’m referring to the Orwellian tale of three Democratic senators who sponsored an assault-weapons ban, Senate Bill 5737. Only to discover — when I called them, apparently — that it would allow police to search gun owners’ homes without a warrant.
The specter of police going door to door obviously is the gunner nightmare come true. It does seem unconstitutional. But all three senators said they wouldn’t support such a plan, either. It was in the bill by mistake.
As a militia regiment of readers pointed out, this strained credulity. Two of the lawmakers — Sens. Adam Kline and Jeanne Kohl-Welles, both D-Seattle — backed the same legislation twice previously, most recently in 2010. Eight House Democrats also sponsored a nearly identical bill in 2005.
“Senator Kline flat-out lied to you,” read a typical email. “You are too naive to call yourself a journalist.”
Maybe so, but I still don’t think Kline lied. Because when the same bill came up in 2010, he also said then that he didn’t support the home inspections.
“There’s no purpose in having that clause,” Kline said during a 2010 public hearing, agreeing with an NRA lobbyist who had called the police searches “a gross violation of the Fourth Amendment.” Kline pledged then to take the provision out of the bill.
Of course he didn’t — Kline co-sponsored it again this year with the same provision. I don’t blame anyone for doubting him. He has, after all, put in the same alleged mistake three times now. But it’s also true he’s on record opposing police inspections before.
The deputy chief of staff of the Senate Democrats, Jeff Reading, insists nobody in Olympia supports these police searches: “The provision is nutty,” he said. “And obviously unconstitutional.”
So … why does it keep coming up? Is there some gremlin that creeps into the Democrats’ bill-writing room to slip in nutty, unconstitutional clauses?
As it turns out, in a sense, there is. It’s part of an increasingly popular, fast-food-franchise-like practice called “model legislation.” Special-interest groups write up their dream bills and then shop them to statehouses around the country.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is the best known such boilerplate bill factory, proliferating hundreds of right-wing bills from Stand Your Ground to repeal of Obamacare. This police-search provision came from a left-wing version — a model assault-weapons ban written by the Brady Campaign and the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Our bill tracks almost word for word with bills introduced in 2004 in Michigan and a few other states, as well as in 2005 here. At the time, the gun-control group had put out a 73-page guide called “Banning Assault Weapons — A Legal Primer for State and Local Action” in which it offered sample language, including this same police-search provision.
So our bill was a cut-and-paste job. How can legislators keep introducing a bill they don’t support? Because not only are they sometimes not reading their bills. They aren’t writing them, either. Lobbyists are.
If this keeps up, what will be the point of even having a Legislature? Might as well have lobbyists take their boilerplate direct to the voters. (Wait, scratch that thought. Tim Eyman doesn’t need any encouragement.)
In the end, the assault-weapons ban, stripped of police searches, died Friday when it didn’t clear committee. Lawmakers insist there never was a drive to send cops door to door. OK, but since there are think tanks pumping out model bills advocating exactly that, the gunners are wise to worry.
Legislators, I know you feel misunderstood. But we’re not mind readers out here. Don’t support something? Then don’t keep proposing it!
And we’d be more likely to take your word for it if you stopped ceding your jobs to the lobbyists.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him
at 206-464-2086 or email@example.com