Let the People Decide
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE: The Washington State Supreme Court worked overtime this week to add additional items to the November ballot.
The high court cleared the way for a gun-control initiative, reversing the decision of a lower court to throw out more than 300,000 signatures used to qualify Initiative 1639 on the grounds the petition’s font and format did not follow state election law.
Responding to a petition and challenge by the National Rifle Association, Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon said the signature petitions did not clearly identify what would change in the law and the font was too small to be readable. He ordered the secretary of state to stop certification of the measure. But the Supreme Court ruling, written by Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst, said the secretary of state is not required to block a measure based on the readability and formatting of the proposed measure’s text.
The justices said “there is no legislative mandate that the secretary must decline to certify and present to voters an initiative based on failure to comply with the requirement that a ‘readable, full, true, and correct copy’ of the initiative appear on the back of every petition.”
The initiative, sponsored by the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, would raise the age for the purchase of a semi-automatic rifle to 21. It would also expand the background checks for the purchase of these rifles. The measure would require people to complete a firearm safety training course and create standards for safely storing firearms.
The high court’s reversal affirms a strong tradition in Washington that forgives pettifog for a more generous approach to direct democracy that allows the people to decide.
With similar jurisprudence on a matter more legally fraught, a Supreme Court majority this week responded to a petition by political troll Tim Eyman to force Initiative 940 on the November ballot.
Initiative 940 would create a procedural test to determine when the use of deadly force by police is justifiable, and would require police to receive de-escalation and mental health training. The measure also removed the requirement that prosecutors show that a law enforcement officer acted with malice to be convicted. De-Escalate Washington, the campaign in support of the initiative, energetically filed more than 350,000 signatures; however, the initiative was received in time for consideration by the state Legislature during their last session. Lawmakers were persuaded to approve the concept, but made changes to the proposed measure after consultation with certain law enforcement agencies and the initiative’s sponsors. Their product was House Bill 3003.
In the creation of ESHB 3003, the Legislature crafted a more circumspect and robust, durable law to hold accountable law enforcement officers who have allegedly misused deadly force.
Eyman filed a lawsuit against the state in March, arguing that the Legislature in altering I-940 had exceeded their constitutional authority and violated the state’s process for Initiatives. His action would ensure I-940 went on the ballot.
In April, a Thurston County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Eyman, rejecting the Legislature’s action of passing their amended Initiative and ordering the original to be placed on the ballot. Judge Christine Schaller said lawmakers had acted improperly when they passed a bill making changes to I-940 before approving the initiative itself. Attorneys for the Legislature appealed the decision.
“I think it is clear that I-940 and ESHB 3003 were both validly enacted, despite the fact that ESHB 3003 purported to conditionally and prospectively amend 1-940 before 1-940 was enacted. …The question here is whether 1-940 was really enacted ‘without change or amendment before the end of the regular session,’ given that the Legislature enacted a separate bill, ESHB 3003, right before it enacted 1-940,” Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud summarized, ordering the original measure to go on the November election ballot. In the decision, though, they voided the superior (and approved) ESHB 3003.
“The work we did with law enforcement to reach a consensus agreement on police reform was tough, honest, and groundbreaking, and we are disappointed that the court took the position it did.” said Tim Reynon, co-chair of De-Escalate Washington and a Puyallup Tribe of Indians Council member. The group said that despite the decision, they are ready for the campaign into November
The two actions by the Supreme Court complete a palette of direct legislation for what promises to be a momentous election this fall. In sum, they serve as a referendum on some of the most challenging issues of public policy.
As relief to stressed lower incomes, Initiative 1634 would prohibit local government entities from imposing increased new taxes, fees or other assessment on grocery items. It would not prevent the state from imposing taxes on groceries. The initiative’s unfortunate consequence would prohibit local governments (like Seattle) from applying additional sales tax as incentive to discourage consumption of candy and soda.
Initiative 1631 is even more remarkable—one of the first measures nationally to attempt to limit carbon emissions. If passed, the initiative would establish a carbon emissions fee of $15 per metric ton of carbon beginning on January 1, 2020, and increase that fee by $2 annually until the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals are met. The measure is sponsored by the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, which has proposed that revenues generated form the carbon tax be invested in reducing pollution, promoting clean energy, and addressing climate impacts on lower- income communities. In that latter aim, I-1631 is a vast, coordinated improvement over earlier “revenue neutral” carbon reduction measures.
The initiative is opposed by the Western States Petroleum Association, which has raised more than $8.7 million to defeat the measure at the polls. Top donors are the local BP and Phillips 66 refineries, which have each contributed more than $3 million, as well as the Andeavor refinery in Anacortes, which has contributed $1.6 million, according to recent financial filings.
Together, these referenda will set the policy agenda for a state Legislature that is shaping up to be among the most progressive in many decades. Vote.
This column had been updated from the original.