No monkey business with initiatives, court tells Legislature
A state Supreme Court ruling Tuesday sends a police-deadly-force initiative to the November ballot, protects the initiative process, and establishes the supremacy of the state constitution over the whims of some legislators who find it inconvenient, says Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley.
Padden was one of the plaintiffs in Eyman vs. Wyman, which challenged the Legislature’s decision this year to amend Initiative 940 without asking voters for approval. The court’s ruling means voters will be asked to approve or reject the original proposal, without the changes adopted by this year’s Legislature.
“We warned the majority party their tactic was an end-run around the constitution,” Padden said. “The rules are clear. The court has reaffirmed the people’s ability to pass legislation by initiative, independent of the Legislature. You can’t block a public vote and expect to get away with it.”
The deadly-force measure imposes new rules on the use of deadly force by law enforcement agencies, and makes it easier to file lawsuits when police actions are challenged.
Most Washington initiatives are submitted to voters, meaning they proceed directly to the ballot after petitioners gather sufficient signatures. But sponsors of Initiative 940 used a different process outlined by the constitution — they submitted their initiative to the Legislature. In such cases, the constitution gives lawmakers three options. The Legislature can pass the measure without changes and it becomes law without a public vote. If the Legislature rejects it or takes no action, the measure proceeds to the ballot and the voters get to decide. Or the Legislature can draft an alternative, and place it on the ballot alongside the original measure.
This year’s Legislature did none of the above. It passed the initiative, but in an effort to deal with law-enforcement concerns, it also passed a bill that amended the initiative, House Bill 3003. Because the Legislature passed the initiative, Democratic-party leaders in the House and Senate maintained the Legislature’s changes did not require a public vote.
“By attempting to block a public vote, rather than passing a legislative alternative and sending it to the ballot, as the constitution requires, the Legislature undid all the work it did last session to achieve a workable compromise,” Padden said. “The changes to the initiative were good ones — the sponsors of the initiative agreed with us on that. But the legislators who cut the public out of the process were too clever for their own good.
“The court recognized, as we did, that this tactic threatened the initiative process. Lawmakers could block public votes and thwart the people’s will by passing initiatives submitted to the Legislature and then amending them to death. If the 1929 Legislature had attempted such a thing, it might have prevented a vote on the initiative that permitted public power in this state. If lawmakers had done this in 1992, they could have blocked the public from voting on campaign finance reform. In 1995, legislators who opposed longer criminal sentences for violent criminals could have stopped a vote on the ‘Hard Time for Armed Crime’ initiative. All of these were submitted to the Legislature and faced substantial opposition, but when they appeared on the ballot, the people voted yes.
“More than 350,000 people signed Initiative 940, and they complied with all the rules laid out by the constitution. They deserve their say. Thanks to today’s court ruling, they will have it. The court has reaffirmed what the constitution says – the initiative is ‘the first power reserved by the people’ – and it has put the Legislature on notice that no monkey business is allowed.”