Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler said he does not expect floor votes this session on either universal background checks or the abortion measure.
“I would rather see our time focused on how we get to a four-year balanced budget, how we reform K-12, what we do about higher education,” Schoesler said in his most definitive remarks yet on the subject.
Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said he believes his caucus has the votes on the Senate Rules Committee, which largely controls the flow of legislation on the floor, to prevent votes on the measures if they ever get that far.
Taking on the gun control and abortion issues would distract the Legislature from more important business, like the budget, Schoesler argued.
Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday blasted that logic, calling it “a fairly pathetic excuse for inaction.”
Inslee said this Saturday would be a good day for the Senate to pass the legislation. “It’s not something that is going to take months to develop a legislative package … this is an up or down vote on a common-sense measure,” he said. “It’s very disappointing to me that in a Senate that we were told was going to be open to democracy on a bipartisan basis to shut the door on an honest vote.”
Republicans gained control of the Senate on the first day of the session with the help of two Democrats — Sens. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch — who crossed party lines to caucus with the GOP.
Senate Democratic Leader Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said both bills deserve floor votes. “These bills need to come up for a vote because I believe the votes are there,” he said.
The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Wednesday on a universal background-check proposal, House Bill 1588. The bill would require background checks for all firearm purchases. Currently, licensed dealers are required to do the checks, but private sellers are not.
A similar measure, Senate Bill 5711, has 23 signatures including two moderate Republicans. The bill has not gotten a hearing. Democrats think they likely have the 25 votes needed to pass the measure in the Senate if it gets to the floor.
The same is true, they say, for the Senate version of the Reproductive Parity Act, which would require that insurance companies continue to cover abortions once the national health-care law goes into full effect in 2014.
The bill’s supporters say it’s needed because there’s uncertainty about how the federal health-care overhaul, and restrictions on abortion funding, might affect abortion coverage in the future.
Both the abortion and background check measures have gotten a lot of attention during the first few weeks of the session and have generated strong opinions on both sides.
Schoesler said the Senate has more important jobs ahead.
For example, he said, the Legislature needs to discuss expanding Medicaid as part of the national health-care law.
“Do you want to spend all that time on the floor and committee hearing and caucus time on whether or not to accept it (the expansion), and if you do what safeguards you may want, or do you spend time talking about gun control that may very well go nowhere?” he said.
Democrats, informally, have talked about trying to use procedural rules in the Senate to bring the bills to the floor for a vote. But that’s considered a long shot at the moment.