POULSBO — Questions at the 23rd District state legislators’ Town Hall meeting Feb. 17 ran the gamut from “Why do we have to pay taxes?” to gun control in the wake of yet another school shooting.
The legislators — Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, and Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island — drew a standing room-only crowd in the Poulsbo City Council Chambers.
Rolfes started by addressing questions about taxes, but remained tight-lipped about the specifics of the upcoming budget.
“I’ve been working very closely with all of my colleagues in the Senate and a lot of really smart staff people and state agencies to construct a budget that will be sustainable,” she said. “If you hadn’t heard, we had a really surprisingly good economic forecast on [Feb. 15], which I believe will allow the Legislature —for one of the first times in years — to actually lower taxes instead of raising them.”
In response to the question, “What will you do to increase revenue this year that will make our tax structure less regressive?,” Hansen expressed his support for a capital gains tax.
“Washington state currently does not have a capital gains tax,” he said. “Individuals who sell a home in Washington pay an excise tax. There is not, however, a comparable tax for the sale of investments.”
He added, “I would specifically support replacing some of this property tax hike — which does hit everyone — with a capital gains tax, so that people who have done very, very well in investments in securities will be helping invest in our students and their schools.”
Appleton said she supports a capital gains tax “because it doesn’t affect everybody but it’s fair. Income tax, I have always supported … If we had an income tax, we would not be going through what we are going [through] now.”
Appleton regards a state income tax as the “fairest” form of taxation. “If we had an income tax, we could have the sales tax, we could get rid of the state’s portion of the property tax … It’s really fair.”
Following the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the question of firearm accessibility was a prominent topic of conversation at the town hall meeting.
“I think all of us had a miserable morning when we all woke up to another school shooting and I think people, appropriately, demand more than thoughts and prayers from their elected officials,” Hansen said.
Hansen voiced his support for a ban on bump stocks, a legal rifle modification used by the gunman in Las Vegas who opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers, killing 58. Bump stocks are used to drastically increase the rate of fire for semi-automatic rifles up to 800 rounds per minute.
“I voted in favor of a ban on bump stocks in Washington state, which is long overdue. We crossed the bridge that you can’t have fully automatic machine guns in this country a long time ago. This is one where I’m 2,000 percent in support of.” He added, “What we’re not going to do is ban all semi-automatic firearms because that would functionally mean banning all currently used firearms.”
Hansen pointed to the issue of undiagnosed mental illness in many of the individuals who commit similar crimes, referencing a 2016 bill which sought to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
“One thing that is in common with … a lot of the people who commit these crimes is a history of disturbing, psychotic behavior, hate-filled rants,” Hansen said. “In Washington state, thanks to a citizens’ initiative, we have something called an Extreme Risk Protection Order, where you can petition to have someone who is displaying these extremely aggressive, insane, psychotic tendencies, go before a judge and have their firearms rights eliminated for a time.”
Appleton said of the correlation between mental illness and mass shootings: “People who do these things are not rational. They may look rational, they may act rational until whatever triggers them takes off. We need to be able to have a system where when people feel this terrible depression or they feel hopeless or whatever, that they can walk into a mental health clinic and get some counseling. We don’t do that and we should because it’s not easy to live in this society anymore.”
Rolfes shared her own experiences with the possible gun threats.
“I think anybody who is sending their kids to school these days has this fear. I’ve been the mother of two Bainbridge Island high school students who have been on lockdown. Both, thankfully, false alarms, but I’ve personally received the text that said ‘Mom, it’s not a drill, I love you and dad.’ If you’ve ever received a text like that, you can’t look at these shootings and think we don’t need to do anything.”
Rolfes cited a proposal to extend a ban on rifle purchases to individuals younger than 21.
“Right now, under a federal law that passed in 1968, you have to be 21 years or older to buy a handgun. This exclusion does not apply to [rifles] … I think it’s entirely reasonable to extend the handgun prohibition on kids … to the age of 21, just like handguns are,” Rolfes said. “If we could make it harder for particularly young, disturbed men to buy these guns legally, we would be saving lives.”
When asked what steps schools should take to keep students safe, Rolfes addressed proposals to arm teachers and staff in order to defend students in the event of an active shooter.
“There’s been a lot of talk about having armed security at the schools. Personally, I think that could be a school district decision,” she said. “At Bainbridge High School, the false alarm of the active shooter was called in by the security guard. Thank God he did not have a gun, because he was not mentally stable to start with.”
As for how to keep schools safe, Appleton referred to the existing doctrine of “Run, Hide, Fight.”
“We all have to teach our children that when something like this happens, you have to first try to get away. Second, if you can’t get away, you need to hide. And if you can’t hide, then you need to fight,” Appleton said. “Those things are what security is teaching everybody to do. The other thing is if you see something, say something. Somebody in that school probably knew this erratic human being and could have said [something].”
To contact Appleton’s office, call 360-786-7934; Hansen,360-786-7842; Rolfes, 360-786-7644.