By Marcy Stamper
The November ballot includes three statewide initiatives, one pertaining to K-12 education and the other two related to background checks for firearms purchases and transfers.
Initiative 1351 would direct the legislature to allocate funds to reduce class sizes and increase staffing support for students from kindergarten through 12th grade, with additional increases for high-poverty schools.
Funding increases would be phased in over a four-year period. The measure would increase the state’s financial obligation to amply fund basic education by changing the formula for determining what funds will be given to each school district each year, but it would not require school districts to have a particular student-teacher ratio.
All other aspects of the funding formula, including minimum allocations for maintenance, supplies, and operating costs, would remain the same.
Proponents say that every child in the state deserves a quality education in an uncrowded classroom, noting that Washington ranks 47th out of 50 for class size.
Opponents say the measure is unnecessary, because existing laws already require the state to address the class-size issue. They say the initiative would increase taxes and potentially take funding away from other entities such as state parks or cancer research.
Initiative 591 would prohibit government agencies from confiscating guns or other firearms from citizens without due process, or from requiring background checks on firearm recipients unless a uniform national standard is required.
Both state and federal laws require that certain sellers of firearms conduct background checks of buyers before selling firearms to determine whether the buyer can legally possess a firearm. In Washington, a background check is only required for the purchase of a pistol, and only if the seller is a firearms dealer.
Washington law makes it illegal for convicted felons to possess firearms. It also makes it illegal for some other individuals to possess firearms, including people who have been convicted of certain misdemeanors, who have been issued certain types of restraining orders, or who have certain criminal charges pending.
The federal and state constitutions prohibit governments from confiscating private property, including firearms, without providing due process of law.
Washington law does authorize the forfeiture of firearms in a number of situations, including by people who cannot legally possess firearms or who have criminal proceedings pending, or if a firearm has been found concealed on a person who does not have a permit to carry a concealed pistol.
Proponents of I-591 say the measure would protect against illegal search and seizure, preventing politicians and bureaucrats from depriving citizens of their property without due process. They say it would not prevent background checks, but would guarantee uniformity in these checks.
Opponents say I-591 will make it easier for guns to fall into the wrong hands by weakening the criminal background-check system. They also say it would roll back Washington’s existing background-check laws to conform to weaker federal standards.
Initiative 594 also concerns background checks for firearm sales and transfers. It would apply currently used criminal and public safety background checks by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers, including gun show and online sales. It provides for specific exceptions.
The measure would apply the background-check requirements currently used for firearm sales by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers where at least one party is in Washington. Background checks would therefore be required not only for sales and transfers through firearms dealers, but also at gun shows, online and between unlicensed private individuals.
Exceptions to the background-check requirement include transferring a firearm by gift between family members; the transfer of antique firearms; and some temporary transfers, including at a shooting range, to prevent bodily harm, or for lawful hunting.
Proponents say I-594 would ensure that everyone in Washington passes the same background check, no matter where the person buys the gun or whom he or she buys it from. They say it will save lives by reducing access to guns by criminals, domestic abusers and people with severe mental illnesses.
Opponents say it is an unfunded mandate that would divert scarce law enforcement resources from keeping violent criminals off the streets. They also say it would have a punitive effect on lawful firearm owners and that criminals will still obtain firearms illegally.