Washington Democrats delaying democracy on voter initiatives

Washington Democrats delaying democracy on voter initiatives

The Washington Constitution is clear: State lawmakers must prioritize ballot initiatives championed by voters. But Democratic state lawmakers are refusing to play by the rules. Not one of the three certified initiatives before the legislature has been granted a hearing.

Over the past four years, Democrats in Olympia have championed a series of progressive policies that have ignited fervent opposition from Washingtonians. 

Now, the people of Washington are pushing back with six initiatives, but Democratic lawmakers are delaying and meddling with the process, in clear violation to the state constitution.  

After an initiative is certified by the Secretary of State, it goes to the legislature. According to the state constitution, when an initiative reaches the legislature, it “shall take precedence over all other measures in the legislature except appropriation bills.” Lawmakers are also prohibited from deliberating on additional legislation related to the initiative’s central issue. 

And yet, of the five initiatives that have reached the state legislature, not one has been prioritized.

The initiatives that have reached the legislature pertain to rolling back restrictions on police pursuit, repealing the carbon tax that is increasing gas prices, instituting parental notification laws, abolishing the capital gains tax and prohibiting state and local income taxes. Only one is still pending pending signature certification, which would granting citizens the ability to opt out of the state-mandated long-term care program.

When House Republican Leader Drew Stokesbary issued a motion to immediately hold a hearing for the police pursuit initiative, House Democrats unanimously rejected it—in direct opposition to the state constitution. According to the Washington Constitution, when an initiative arrives before the legislature, it “shall be either enacted or rejected without change or amendment by the legislature before the end of such regular session.” That requires a vote, which requires a hearing. However, none of the certified initiatives have been granted a hearing.

By contrast, lawmakers introduced a bill on Monday that would allow Attorney General Bob Ferguson – who is running for Governor, mind you – to write fiscal notes for any alternatives to the initiatives introduced by the legislature. This language would appear on the ballot and is hugely influential in impacting how someone votes. That bill received a hearing the next day. 

And speaking of alternatives, legislators are also circumventing the rules on that front.

By law, if lawmakers want to address an issue covered by an initiative, they must propose it as an “alternative” where the initiative and the alternative go on the ballot for voters to decide. Instead, through separate legislation, Democratic lawmakers are advancing a “linkage” bill that would connect Washington’s carbon market to the California-Quebec market, out of hope to marginally lower gas prices and thus undermine enthusiasm for the initiative, which would repeal it completely. 

This is an obvious transgression of how the rules on this are supposed to work. Lawmakers are not allowed to touch this issue except to either pass the initiative to repeal it or pass it along to the voters, period. 

Republican state Rep. Mary Dye expressed her concern to The Center Square, stating, “It’s really disingenuous when you have more than 400,000 people signing these initiatives, and you think about the impact the Climate Commitment Act has had on them, and people are hurting.”

These issues are pressing concerns for Washingtonians. People are suffering, and are uncertain about the future of their state. Will lawmakers decide to follow the straightforward path of integrity, or will they continue to ignore the concerns of their constituents and reject their constitutional responsibilities? We’ll find out this legislative session.

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