By Marcy Stamper
Washington is expected to have two new laws — reducing class sizes in grades K-12, and requiring background checks for private gun transfers — when the general election results are certified on Thursday (Dec. 4).
Statewide, voters approved the class-size initiative by a 2-percent margin, although Okanogan County voters rejected it by 9 percentage points. Initiative 1351 directs the Legislature to allocate funds to reduce class sizes for students from kindergarten through 12th grade, and includes additional funding to aid high-poverty schools.
The Legislature is already under order from the Washington Supreme Court to adequately fund basic education by 2018. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) submitted a budget request for an additional $7.2 billion in the 2015-17 biennium to fulfill the court’s order. The requirement to fund basic education covers programs and supplies that go beyond a reduction in class size.
The class-size initiative outlines funding increases that would be phased in over a four-year period. It would change the formula for determining what funds will be given to each school district each year. I-1351 did not provide a specific funding mechanism to accomplish these goals.
OSPI has not made any special requests connected with the voter-approved initiative, according to Nathan Olson, communications manager for OSPI. The court order to fund basic education is the result of a lawsuit filed by parents and school districts around the state, including the Methow Valley School District.
Washington voters overwhelmingly approved the firearm background-check initiative by a margin of 18.5 percent, but Okanogan County voters were even more vehement in their opposition to the measure, rejecting it by more than 28 percentage points.
Initiative 594 will apply criminal and public-safety background checks that are currently used by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers, including sales at gun shows and online.
Exceptions to the new background-check requirement include the transfer of a firearm by gift between family members; the transfer of antique firearms; and some temporary transfers, including at a shooting range or for lawful hunting.
The Department of Licensing expects an increase in the forms it will have to process, since licensed firearm dealers will now handle all these transfers, but does not expect to issue new rules to implement the law, according to a department spokesperson.
In its fiscal-impact statement for the initiative, the Office of Financial Management (OFM) said that I-594 would have a minimal impact on state and local revenues because firearm dealers can charge a fee to cover the costs of the background checks. OFM anticipates expenses connected with enforcement and one-time implementation costs for the Department of Licensing, but estimates for all expenses connected with the initiative are less than $1 million over the next five years.
The state Constitution allows the Legislature to amend or abolish voter-approved initiatives within the first two years with a two-thirds majority in both houses. After that, changing an initiative requires only a simple majority.