At their town hall on March 23, Sen. Patty Kuderer, Rep. Amy Walen and Rep. Vandana Slatter — all Democrats who represent Washington’s 48th Legislative District — told personal stories about their experiences with sexual education, gun violence and climate change, to both relate to their constituents and explain how they have voted on certain bills this session.
Covering parts of Redmond, Bellevue and Kirkland, the 48th Legislative District is fairly liberal, and all of the candidates in 2018’s general election for the district were Democrats. But that doesn’t mean that all constituents agree with their representatives.
One audience member at the forum, held at Redmond City Hall, said people felt “unwelcome, as non-blues,” after a discussion of the proposed sexual education curriculum, adding that the meeting was “one-sided.”
Slatter said that she knows legislation can feel like a “blunt instrument” and that parents are feeling unheard. Walen said she supports the new curriculum, but that she doesn’t think it will pass because it is so controversial. She said that some families do a good job communicating about difficult topics, but hers didn’t.
“I personally came from a broken home,” she said. “Our job in government is sometimes to be a safety net, and all kids don’t have access to good information within their families.”
Erica Genzale, a local parent who attended the forum, said that “topics such as single parenthood, homosexuality, masturbation [and] contraception should only be discussed between a child and their parent.” She would like legislators to send the proposed curriculum to a vote of the people.
Kuderer, who is a co-sponsor of the bill (SB 5395), said that her 8-year-old recently came home from school and asked how babies are made. She said that she wants schools to provide “medically accurate, age appropriate information.” She also said that parents still have the option talk to their kids outside of school, or pull them out of class.
“There is no way to opt out. Kids talk,” Genzale told the Reporter. “The only opt out option is to opt out of public schools.”
Audience members were also critical of the legislators’ stances on election reform and gun control. One person commented that Kuderer’s bill to require presidential candidates to release their tax returns was “juvenile,” but Kuderer responded that 26 other states and Congress were also looking at the issue.
Another question referenced recent shootings at mosques in New Zealand, noting that they were able to ban assault weapons within a week of the incident. With Democratic majorities in both chambers, why couldn’t Washington state take any action, they asked — a question that was met with both boos and applause.
Slatter said that the controversy and the challenge was apparent.
“We need to stand against all forms of hate in all ways,” Slatter said. “We’re a diverse, incredible country that has a lot of history and a lot of voices, and it’s very important that we hear those voices, but that we also make sure that our children can go to school safely and that people can worship safely.”
Walen said that she grew up in a family that owned guns for hunting and other recreational activities, but that she received training and the guns were locked in a safe. She said that it’s been “frustrating” that the Legislature hasn’t been able to enact reasonable regulations for firearms.
“The things that responsible gun owners do is what I just think should be the law of the land,” she said. “Our hearts are in the right place. We want to keep our communities safe. We don’t want to take away anyone’s rights, but we’re trying to strike that balance.”
Kuderer said she’s been “studying the issue of gun violence for a very long time,” and that one of her goals is to reduce suicide by gun, which is something that affected her family.
“We have to remember that we’re all part of a conversation, but we can’t allow the extremes to control it,” she said.
Another personal story was Slatter’s, about how her hometown in Canada was affected by climate change. She said passing environmental bills is a priority for her caucus this year, referencing the 100 percent clean energy bill and Kuderer’s single use plastic straw bill.
Other subjects included housing and homelessness, along with health care, taxes and education — including the levy swap, higher education and special education. Kuderer said that she would like to see a mental health counselor in every school, and that the state has to increase its overall investment in behavioral health.
Slatter said that a more diverse and sustainable funding source, besides just property tax, is needed at the state level, and that discussions will continue after the House and Senate release their budgets this week.
The current state legislative session is scheduled to end April 28.