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News / Politics

GOP-backed citizen initiatives still in flux; state lawmakers have held hearings on 3 of 6 measures

By Dylan Jefferies, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 1, 2024, 6:04am

As the legislative session draws to a close, bills are barreling toward Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk for final approval. Six GOP-backed citizen initiatives, however, remain in flux.

State lawmakers held public hearings this week on three of those initiatives. The majority party chose not to hold hearings on all six initiatives this legislative session.

“Our constitution says that the initiatives are supposed to take precedence over anything else but budget bills,” Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, said in a news release. “The people are the sponsors of these initiatives, and they deserve to be heard on all six.”

A hearing doesn’t mean legislators will necessarily act on a measure — but it signals they could. If an initiative is approved by legislators, it will be enacted; if not, then it heads to the November ballot for voters to decide.

Two of those initiatives, if passed, will not impact existing law. Instead, they seek to codify existing traditions into state law, according to Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, who filed the six initiatives.

Initiative 2111 would prohibit state and local governments from imposing a personal income tax. Washington voters have rejected ballot measures that could have allowed the state to adopt an income tax 11 times, according to the Washington Secretary of State.

Initiative 2081 aims to inform parents and guardians about what rights they have regarding their children’s education. Much of what the initiative includes is already law in Washington, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Initiative 2113, on the other hand, would impact existing law, eliminating restrictions on when police can engage in vehicle pursuits.

Conservative group Let’s Go Washington collected hundreds of thousands of signatures supporting the measures with financial support from founder Brian Heywood, a hedge-fund manager from Redmond.

But what happens now that these initiatives have had hearings? And what about the other three initiatives that did not get hearings?

That’s up to the Legislature. But voters will have a say in November on any measure not approved by the Legislature.

How initiatives work

In 1912, Washington became one of the first states in the U.S. to adopt the initiative and referendum process, which allowed citizens to make and remake laws and to check the decisions of their Legislature, according to the Secretary of State.

Today, if Washingtonians are dissatisfied with certain laws or feel new laws are needed, they can petition to place proposed legislation on the ballot. The process is called an initiative because the electorate can initiate legislation.

Sponsors of an initiative or referendum must obtain a substantial number of petition signatures from registered voters to certify their measures to the ballot or to the Legislature.

In fact, petitions must include a number of legal voter signatures equal to or in excess of 8 percent of the total votes cast for the office of governor at the last regular state gubernatorial election, according to the Secretary of State.

Let’s Go Washington collected 2.6 million signatures to certify its six initiatives — some 450,000 signatures per initiative.

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Petitioners can either place a proposition directly on the ballot or submit the proposed law to the Legislature, giving elected representatives an opportunity to enact the legislation themselves.

If an initiative sent to the Legislature is certified, with the Secretary of State verifying that it has enough registered voters signed on in support, the Legislature has three options.

  • It can adopt the initiative into law as proposed. If initiatives are approved by the Legislature as written, they are enacted without a vote from the people, and the governor cannot veto them.
  • If the Legislature rejects an initiative, the initiative must be placed on the ballot in the next state general election for a vote.
  • The Legislature may propose a different measure dealing with the same subject. Then, both measures must be placed on the next state general election ballot.

What happens next?

The three initiatives that received hearings are scheduled for committee votes today. From there, it will be up to the majority to bring the initiatives before both the House and the Senate for a vote before the legislative session ends March 7. Initiatives must be passed out of a committee and off the floor in both chambers to be adopted. Otherwise, they will end up on the ballot.

The three initiatives that did not receive hearings — which would repeal the state’s Climate Commitment Act, erase its income tax on capital gains and make it easier for workers to opt out of Washington’s new long-term care insurance program — will likely head to the November ballot.