Election offices, government meetings will be gun-free zones

A bill heading to governor will prohibit the “open carry” of firearms in certain civic settings.

OLYMPIA — A bill barring guns from school board meetings and ballot counting centers cleared a final legislative hurdle Monday and is heading to the governor’s desk.

House Democrats approved House Bill 1630, which also prohibits the “open carry” of firearms where city and county councils meet, after agreeing to amendments tacked on by the Senate before passing it last week.

The final House vote, 57-41, occurred along party lines, with no Republicans supporting the measure. It now goes to Gov. Jay Inslee for his expected signature.

“Nobody should be coming to a school board meeting or election center wearing tactical gear and carrying AR-15s, and with the passage of this law, we put an end to that loophole,” said Rep. April Berg, D-Mill Creek.

“More than 80% of local officials have experienced harassment, threats and violence,” said Berg. “It’s gotten worse during the pandemic. This law gives common-sense protections to our local elected officials and election workers.”

Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island, authored the legislation. It originally focused on ending open carry at meeting places of local government bodies, including city and county councils and school boards.

Berg sponsored a separate bill, to keep firearms and other weapons out of election offices, ballot counting facilities, voting centers and student engagement hubs. Law enforcement officers would be exempt. Provisions of Berg’s bill were merged into Senn’s.

Washington is an open-carry state, meaning a person can openly carry a firearm in many public areas without a permit. They can carry a concealed weapon with a license.

There are public venues where open-carry has long been barred, such as courtrooms, jails, schools, airports and mental health facilities. In recent years, guns have been prohibited from legislative hearing rooms and the galleries of the state House and Senate. And last year on the Capitol campus.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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