Legislature finally fixes I-940, and does it right

OLYMPIA – The Washington Legislature sent its first bill of the year to the governor’s desk Wednesday, fixing a police-deadly-force initiative approved by voters last fall – and this time it did it without breaking the law.

HB 1064, approved by the state House last week and by the Senate on Wednesday, clarifies the new rules laid down by Initiative 940 last November. Supported by initiative sponsors and law enforcement groups, the bill creates more-objective standards to aid police who must make split-second life-and-death decisions. It also establishes training and certification programs for police.

The measure passed unanimously in the House and Senate, exceeding the constitutional requirement of a two-thirds vote when the Legislature amends recently-passed initiatives.

“I’m glad the Legislature finally did the right thing,” said Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley. “These changes are important to law enforcement and to everyone who voted for the initiative. But just as important, this vote is a recognition that the Legislature is not above the law. I just wish it hadn’t taken a lawsuit and a Supreme Court decision to convince the Legislature that it must obey the constitution.”

It was the second time the Legislature had attempted to fix the initiative. More than 350,000 Washington voters signed petitions to place the initiative before the Legislature last year, and after much discussion, police and initiative sponsors reached agreement on changes. The hitch was the way majority Democrats attempted to make those changes.

When an initiative is submitted to the Legislature, the constitution says lawmakers can pass it as-is and skip the ballot. If they take no action, the measure proceeds to the ballot and voters decide. Or they can send an alternative measure to the ballot and let voters decide which version they prefer, or neither.

But members of the majority party last year chose none of the above. First they passed a bill amending the initiative. Then they passed the initiative and declared there was no need for a public vote. All Senate Republicans voted against last year’s bill.

Padden was among plaintiffs in the lawsuit that overturned the Legislature’s actions. Last August the Supreme Court ruled the tactic was improper and sent the original measure to the ballot, where it passed 60-40. Lawmakers, meanwhile, were sent back to square one.

“The Legislature had never done anything like this before,” Padden explained. “It cut voters out of the loop, and it undermined the initiative process. If the Legislature is free to change any initiative submitted to it, and the voters get no say, initiatives to the Legislature become meaningless.

“The good news is that we preserved the initiative process. We established that the law is the law, and even the Legislature has to follow it.”