Strippers, book bans, guns: Examples of partisan divide persist in Olympia

Mar 6, 2024, 5:26 AM | Updated: 11:07 am

Image: A view of a portion of the Washington State Capitol campus...

A view of a portion of the Washington State Capitol campus (Photo acquired from Flickr)

(Photo acquired from Flickr)

Despite most bills passing with near-unanimous support by Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Olympia, many final votes at the Washington State Legislature are still seeing partisan divide and falling along party lines just days before the session ends.

More than 70 bills were passed by members of the House and Senate Tuesday, all of them now headed to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk for his approval. Hundreds of bills have passed in a similar fashion over the last two weeks.

However, a partisan divide was still evident in several bills passed on Tuesday, a divide that was addressed by Republican leadership.

Senate passes the ‘stripper bill of rights’

The Senate passed ESSB 6105, the so-called “stripper bill of rights,” on a party-line vote of 29-20 with Democrats in the majority. Prior to that, House Democrats also passed an amended version along a party-line vote of 58-36. (A PDF of the bill that passed can be viewed here.)

One of the key provisions of the bill requires adult entertainment establishments to provide mandatory training for their employees on topics such as preventing sexual harassment and discrimination, identifying and reporting human trafficking, conflict de-escalation and first aid. Entertainers are excluded from this training.

The bill also mandates the provision of panic buttons in rooms where entertainers may be alone with customers.

“This is really important and will raise the standards for working in these establishments,” the bill’s sponsor Democratic State Sen. Rebecca Saldana said just before the floor vote.

It also requires the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board to repeal the lewd laws governing bars and businesses with a liquor license. The move opens the door for alcohol to be served at strip clubs.

Republican State Sen. Curtis King said House Democrats did a near-total rewrite of Saldana’s bill and urged a no vote.

“We have grave concerns over the preemptions for local governments,” King said. He cited that attorneys representing the City of Seattle and King County have come out against the bill.

Previous coverage: ‘Strippers Bill of Rights’ takes big step forward in state legislature

Partisan divide seen in bill that bans book bans in schools

A bill that would ban the banning of books for schools that deal with members of a protected class is also on its way to the Governor’s desk after all House and Senate Democrats voted for it and all Republicans voted against it.

ESHB 2331 passed the House 57-38 on Tuesday. On Feb. 22, it passed in the Senate 29-20, along a party-line vote. (A PDF of the bill that passed can be viewed here.)

Several states have been passing laws banning books in schools that address the history of the LGBTQ community. To prevent that from happening in Washington, Democrats pushed the bill forward.

The bill prohibits public school districts, charter schools, and state-tribal education compact schools from refusing to approve or prohibit books that “relate to or include the study of the role and contributions of any individual or group who is part of a protected class.”

The most controversial aspect involves who decides which materials should be accepted or banned.

The bill says it’s up to the district superintendent following yet unwritten guidelines established by the state Superintendent of Public Instruction and not the local school board.

House Republican Floor Leader Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, said changes made by Senate Democrats prevented parents, represented by school board members, from being involved in the decision process.

“Limiting parents’ involvement hurts the overall effectiveness of our efforts to provide that high-quality education to all students statewide,” Walsh said.

More from Matt Markovich: Senate passes ban on banning books after making changes reducing local decision making

Rep. Monica Jurado Stonier, D-Vancouver, who’s the bill’s sponsor and a teacher for Evergreen Public Schools, said the bill gives parents the ability to contact the teacher before a class begins to suggest alternatives to books the parent finds objectionable.

“This bill requires that to be honored, and on the flip side, if I as a parent believe a set of text ought to be available for my child, it honors my request for my child to have access to diverse titles,” Stonier said.

2 controversial gun-related bills passed along party-line votes

ESHB 2118 adds requirements for gun shop owners to protect their gun stock from theft by installing high-definition cameras and recording devices and additional paperwork to be made available to authorities. (A PDF of the bill that passed can be viewed here.)

Gun shop owners testified that the additional requirements are expensive, time-consuming, and unnecessary because fewer than 2% of gun thefts in the state occur at gun shops.

The Democratic majority in the House passed the bill 56-39 Tuesday after the Senate made some changes.

On Feb. 27, it passed the Senate along party lines, for the most part, 28-21. Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Lake Sutherland, was the lone Democrat joining all Republicans voting against it.

“By millimeter, by millimeter, by millimeter, we restrict the ability of law-abiding people to protect themselves; we commensurately empower criminals to behave in a criminal way,” Walsh said before the floor vote.

SB 5444, which prevents the open carry of a weapon at zoos, aquariums, libraries, bus stops, and transit centers, passed both the House and Senate along a straight party-line vote – as many gun bills have done over the last several years. (A PDF of the bill that passed can be viewed here.)

Partisanship was addressed by House Minority Leader Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, during a media availability session Tuesday.

“People we represent, most of them don’t care if it’s a Republican idea or a Democratic idea. They just care if it’s a good idea,” Stokesbary said. “We should have less of this rigid voting by caucus and allow folks to vote their conscience.”

Stokesbary accused a minority of Democrats, roughly 20, of controlling the votes of 58 House Democrats.

More from Olympia: Child marriages soon to be illegal in state of Washington

When Democrats were allowed to vote their conscience on the three initiatives both chambers voted on this week, a majority of them joined Republicans in voting for making the initiatives law.

“Thankfully the initiatives were able to break through that roadblock and a lot of this is possible when folks are free to vote their conscience rather than being kept in lockstep with their caucus leaders,” Stokesbary said.

Democrats, Republicans agree on a gun-related bill

A surprise came to Olympia later on Tuesday, however. Democratic and Republican lawmakers disposed of the partisan divide and agreed on a gun-related bill.

Republicans, traditional opponents of gun restrictions, joined Democrats in passing ESB 6246, prohibiting a person claiming to be incompetent to stand trial from owning a firearm and the case ended in a dismissal. (A PDF of the bill that passed can be viewed here.)

It also prohibits a court from restoring the firearm rights of a person who lost those rights due to involuntary commitment for mental health treatment.

The Senate passed the bill 34-15, the House passed the same version 84-11, a clear reflection that Republicans broke with their traditional ranks and joined all Democrats in both chambers in passing the measure.

All of these bills will head to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk for his signature.

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

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Strippers, book bans, guns: Examples of partisan divide persist in Olympia