John Braun commentary: Democrats’ priorities are off-target as session nears its end


Drugs in our state are clearly more lethal than firearms. Just look at King County, where 83 people were fatally shot in 2022, but more than 1,000 people fatally overdosed.

With that disparity in mind, guess whether the majority Democrats in our Legislature are treating drugs or guns as the more important and deadly issue. Here’s a hint: it’s not drugs.

There are only days left for the Senate and House of Representatives to take action on bills that will define the 2023 legislative session, which ends April 23. 

Those bills should include a new approach to saving the lives of drug abusers that could also help lift many out of homelessness. And, a loosening of the police pursuit restrictions that have been a gift to car thieves and other criminals in our state.

Unfortunately, the true priorities of Democrats appear to lie elsewhere, disconnected from the drug use and crime at the heart of Washington’s public safety crisis.

On April 4, the House budget committee pretty much gutted the Senate bill that represents the latest response to the state Supreme Court’s Blake decision of 2021. The Senate version of SB 5536, passed nearly a month ago, was not everything the Republicans wanted, but it would at least restore some of the leverage the criminal justice system needs to get drug abusers into and through treatment. The House version is little, if any, better than the law we’ve been stuck with for the past two years.

Even worse, there is no assurance that majority Democrats will allow a full House vote on any version of SB 5536. Nor that the Senate’s majority Democrats will stand firm against the House to get the better Senate version into law. 

The only thing we know for sure is the disastrous drug-possession law that initially responded to the Blake ruling will expire at the end of June. If nothing is passed to take its place, hard drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine will become legal in our state.

There is a little more reason for optimism about the police pursuit issue. The changes to Senate Bill 5352 made by a House committee are fairly mild, although they don’t restore the ability to pursue reckless drivers or car thieves. However, we again have no assurance that the bill will come out of the House, and back to the Senate to consider those changes.

Meanwhile, the majority Democrats are fixated on going after firearms   owners, prospective buyers, manufacturers, dealers, you name it. Everyone except the people who commit crimes with firearms.

None of the three anti-firearm bills they are likely to pass this session will get at the drug overdoses or auto thefts that cause harm in their own respective ways. Nor is there reason to think these bills will reduce the number of shootings in Washington.

Since 2018, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence has ranked our state 10th in the nation for “gun law strength.” But as another gun control group, The Alliance for Gun Responsibility, admitted in January, “our region continues to experience record levels of gun violence.” 

If that’s what five years of being in the top 10 for gun control gets the people of Washington, we clearly need a change in thinking. 

Republicans believe in going after those who break the law, not those who abide by it. We proposed Senate Bill 5049 to increase the penalty for stealing a firearm, and Senate Bill 5745 to increase the penalty for using a stolen gun when committing a crime. Democrats ignored both bills, but they are on track to pass House Bill 1268. It would literally reduce the time someone serves for committing a crime with a firearm or other deadly weapon.    

This year Democrats have made it a priority to ban so-called “assault weapons,” which, like any other semi-automatic firearm, fire only once each time the trigger is pulled. But they can’t explain how such a ban, through House Bill 1240, would do anything to end the almost daily shootings in the central Puget Sound area. Or how it is constitutional.

Speaking of constitutional, Senate Democrats just introduced legislation to slap a tax on hospitals for what’s called “excess compensation” paid to certain employees. Senate Bill 5767 was introduced less than two weeks after the state Supreme Court declared Washington’s capita gains tax is constitutional. 

We had expected the court ruling would inspire new Democratic tax proposals, but not this soon. The timing of the proposed hospital tax makes no sense, as the Senate and House have already passed their own versions of a state government operating budget for the next two years. There is zero need for more revenue to maintain services and programs. It’s also puzzling why hospitals are being targeted in the first place. But it fits with the Democrats’ other misguided priorities, which are distracting from the real issues legislators need to resolve before adjourning for the year.   

We must do better.


Sen. John Braun of Centralia serves the 20th Legislative District, which spans parts of four counties from Yelm to Vancouver. He became Senate Republican leader in 2020.