Stalled by last-minute concerns from gun-rights supporters, a bill to strengthen sexual-assault protection orders failed to get a crucial vote it needed in Olympia.
OLYMPIA — When a bill to strengthen sexual-assault protection orders unanimously passed the Republican-controlled state Senate in February, the proposal’s supporters were enthusiastic.
After all, an identical bill had already passed the Democratic-controlled House in 2015.
But as the clock ticked down to a crucial deadline last week for this year’s proposal to pass the House, rumors began circulating that gun-rights advocates had objections.
SB 6151 failed to get the House vote it needed Friday — and now supporters worry that with the legislative session almost over, the bill could be dead.
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“The fact that this bill got tied up with the politics surrounding firearms is disappointing,” said Laura Jones of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, which supported the bill.
Unlike other protection orders, such as those for domestic-violence victims, sexual-assault protection orders have expiration dates of up to two years; they are the only protection orders that come with such a time constraint.
Of the 420 civil protection orders tracked in King County Superior Court between 2010 and 2015, four out of five were granted the full two-year protection, according to the resource center.
Advocates recently have been pushing to lift that time limit, in order to ease the painful experiences victims can endure when they must get such an order renewed.
SB 6151 proposes getting rid of the two-year time limit and allowing judges to make sexual-assault protection orders permanent in cases that warrant it.
But an amendment to the bill offered late last week by Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie, would retain a two-year limit on barring people from keeping firearms or deadly weapons who have protection orders against them.
With Rodne’s amendment, someone prohibited from such weapons would have a chance at regaining them after two years — even as the rest of the protection order stayed in place.
Rodne’s amendment came despite the fact that a bill nearly identical to SB 6151 passed the House in 2015 with some GOP support — and without amended provisions for weapons owners.
Rodne, through a spokeswoman, declined to discuss his concerns about SB 6151, but said that he would talk about them if the bill came to the House floor.
“I think, you know, after a little more scrutiny, they just got concerned about the potential for a lifelong loss of [gun-owning] rights,” said Republican floor leader Rep. J.T. Wilcox, referring to gun-rights advocates. “They’re not a bit against the protection of people.”
Republicans didn’t add the amendment to torpedo the entire bill, said Wilcox, but to make sure gun owners had due process against the prospect of losing their weapons indefinitely.
But the last-minute concerns about the bill caught supporters like Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, by surprise.
“To be honest, no one approached me about it, at all,” Litzow said. The bill had been vetted and reviewed as it made its way through the GOP-controlled Senate, he added, before getting its unanimous vote in that chamber.
Jones, of the Sexual Assault Resource Center, said Rodne’s amendment was not acceptable, adding that “It’s not automatic in these cases that firearms are surrendered.
“Not only would it make the process more complicated and confusing,” she said, “It would also be putting survivors at an increased risk.”
Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, called Rodne’s amendment “appalling.”
“That essentially defeats the whole purpose of having a permanent [protection order],” said Jinkins, chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
But the amendment forced Democrats into a tricky position. With a 5 p.m. deadline looming last Friday by which certain bills had to pass off the House floor in order to advance, legislative leaders weren’t sure which way a vote on Rodne’s amendment would go.
“By the time we actually got to look at the amendment, it was already 4:30,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington.
“I don’t think it would have been a straightforward Democratic vote,” said Jinkins, adding that she wasn’t sure Democrats had enough votes to defeat the amendment.
Despite the fact the bill missed its vote deadline, Wilcox said he thought SB 6151 could be brought back to life this week, adding, “We want to vote on it.”
Sullivan said Tuesday that he’s happy to talk with Republicans about it, and that Democrats are “still trying to figure out amongst ourselves if there’s a way to bring it up.”