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Will Washington's Democrats tackle gun safety? Plus, trade worries hit the wheat market 

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DEMS: 'THE TIME IS NOW'?

Washington voters have shown, in ballot initiative after ballot initiative, that they support GUN CONTROL measures more readily than the state Legislature has.

But now that Democrats are in control of all three branches of government, it's presented an interesting test case: Are Democrats willing to regulate guns?

"I think the Senate has actually done more on gun safety than any chamber in years in Washington state," says Washington state Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane.

In particular, he can point to three gun control bills that have passed out of the Senate. One bans the sale of "bump stocks" that the Las Vegas shooter used to increase his rate of fire. Another adds the misdemeanor domestic violence harassment to the list of crimes that will get your firearm taken away. The third, which passed out of the Senate unanimously, allows people to voluntarily surrender their firearms for a minimum of one week if they're feeling suicidal.

"I think what these three bills show you is what what happens when Democrats are in control," Billig says. "We are proactive about public safety."

A third bill, one adding enhanced background checks for assault weapons, like AR-15s and high-capacity magazines, was in the Senate Ways and Means committee.

House Majority Whip Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane) is optimistic that the Senate-passed bills have good shots to pass the House. Yet he says there still isn't enough support, in either chamber, for more sweeping gun control measures.

"Yes, we control all branches, but there's not unanimity," Riccelli says.

In part because of skepticism from conservative Democrats, an attorney-general-recommended bill to straight-up ban AR-15s and high-capacity magazines went nowhere. A bill to require liability insurance for gun owners was similarly unsuccessful. Riccelli hopes that a groundswell of citizens continue to reach out to their elected officials and push for reform.

"It's very frustrating when you drop your kids off in school. I feel that anxiety that parents are now feeling," Riccelli says. "Everybody says 'the time is now' and then we go on to the next mass shooting incident." (DANIEL WALTERS)

THE VALUE OF EDUCATION

Across Spokane County, voters approved ballot measures last week that will SUPPORT LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS and help pay for new schools.

By a wide margin, voters in the city of Spokane approved a Spokane Public Schools levy for basic education and activities. Voters also approved bond projects in Central Valley and Mead, both of which plan to build new schools.

According to results from the Feb. 13 special election, a little more than 73 percent of voters approved the Spokane Public Schools levy, which only needed more than 50 percent to pass. The levy will tack on $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value to property taxes in 2019. It's a much lower rate than the rate of $3.77 per $1,000 of the previous levy.

That's because the Washington State Legislature boosted state funding last year for basic education while capping the amount school districts can raise in levies. Essentially, it meant property taxes for levies at local school districts decrease, while state property taxes increase — though, combined, taxpayers in Spokane will pay less than before in 2019.

"We are thankful to the Spokane voters for their continued support of Spokane Public Schools," Superintendent Shelley Redinger said in a statement provided to the Inlander. "We are fortunate to live in a city that has always valued education and understands that through our schools we can build a stronger foundation for the future of our children and our community."

The levy will support things like extracurricular activities, campus resource officers, professional development of teachers and staff and counselors and behavioral specialists.

Outside of the city, more than a dozen school districts — including Mead, Central Valley and West Valley — had their own levies on the ballot in Spokane County, and all of them passed.

Notably, Central Valley passed a nearly $130 million bond that will allow it to build a new high school. District officials have said the new high school is sorely needed in order to accommodate growth in the district. The bond also will pay for a new middle school and the renovation of Horizon Middle School.

Mead's $114.5 million bond, approved by two-thirds of voters, will pay for a new middle school and a new elementary school. (WILSON CRISCIONE)

WHEAT WOES

In March, 11 Pacific Rim countries are expected to sign a version of the TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP that was negotiated after President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of talks last year.

Now the wheat industry worries that the trade agreement, a decade in the making, will put U.S. growers and thousands of jobs at risk, including many in the Pacific Northwest.

Among the members who plan to sign the agreement are the two largest importers of U.S. wheat, Japan and Mexico.

Wheat industry representatives are particularly worried about losing Japan as a customer. Under the agreement, Australia and Canada will see Japanese tariffs of $150 per metric ton drop to about $85 over nine years, while the U.S. would remain at the higher level, according to U.S. Wheat Associates (USW), which helps develop export markets for American wheat.

As Japanese customers shift to buying the cheaper wheat, the U.S. could stand to lose $500 million a year, USW reports.

"Every $1 billion decline in farm exports results in the loss of 8,000 jobs," says Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission, in a news release. "Here in Eastern Washington, that would impact port facilities, barge companies, railroads, export elevators, longshoreman and ship handlers." (SAMANTHA WOHLFEIL)

The original print version of this article was headlined "'We Control All Branches'"

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