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News / Northwest

WA Legislature passes 3 initiatives covering taxes, schools and police chases

By Claire Withycombe, The Seattle Times
Published: March 5, 2024, 7:54am

OLYMPIA — The Washington Legislature on Monday passed three of six initiatives to the Legislature, which would bar an income tax, put a “parents’ bill of rights” into law and lift some restrictions on when police can chase suspects.

The initiatives will become law, taking effect about three months after the session ends, unless a referendum is filed. The last day of the session is Thursday.

Each of the first three initiatives passed by comfortable margins. The Senate made quick work of passing the initiatives late Monday morning, while House debate on the measures spanned about two hours in the afternoon.

The passage of the three initiatives Monday limits the ballot fight during the 2024 election cycle to three other pending initiatives to the Legislature.

The other three initiatives before the Legislature, which legislative leaders have said they will not act on, would repeal the state’s capital gains tax, repeal its carbon market, and make a payroll tax to pay for a state long-term care insurance program optional. If the Legislature doesn’t act, each of these three will go on the ballot in November.

All six were filed by Jim Walsh, the state Republican Party chair and a state representative from Aberdeen, and received financial backing from Brian Heywood, a Redmond businessman.

“The job’s not yet done,” Heywood said in a statement. “Every one of the initiatives should have had hearings, but now voters get to decide on the remaining three.”

Aaron Ostrom, executive director of the progressive group Fuse Washington, said in an email that the votes to pass the three initiatives “undermine Heywood and Walsh’s conservative dreams of rolling back progress.”

“Their gameplan was to inflame their base with empty rhetoric and overwhelm progressives by spreading us too thin, and the Legislature is short circuiting that strategy by taking their three culture war distractions off the ballot,” Ostrum said.

Initiative 2111 would prohibit the state and local governments from imposing an income tax. Washington has no income tax; a graduated income tax does not comport with the state’s constitution. The initiative bars one going forward.

Washington voters have rejected an income tax at the ballot box multiple times.

Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, said the initiative was “codifying what the people have said over the past century, is that they do not want an income tax on their income.”

“It is important that this is codified into law so that we cannot have an income tax on the people of Washington,” she said.

In the House, Rep. Chipalo Street, D-Seattle, said the Legislature should be focused on reforming the state’s tax system. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found Washington has the second-most regressive tax structure in the country.

“I’m voting no on this measure because it doesn’t actually do anything, and we should be balancing our tax code so that it’s more fair and more equitable,” Street said. “We can do better with tax reforms that could help everyday working Washingtonians and we should consider all methods of doing so.”

Initiative 2081 would create a “parents’ bill of rights” that would state what information a parent of a child in a public school was entitled to, including instructional materials. It includes 15 total rights, including notification of medical and safety matters, though the measure’s provision would not supersede existing federal and state laws, including laws protecting health privacy.

“Parents shouldn’t have to wade through state laws and rules to figure out what their rights are when it comes to knowing what is being taught at their child’s school, or how the school responds to the health questions of students,” Sen. Perry Dozier, R-Waitsburg, said in a statement Monday after the initiative was passed. “In this day and age they should be able to pull up a website and quickly get answers.”

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Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Seattle, said the initiative was “confusing and unnecessary” and didn’t make changes to common practices or state law.

“I am worried about the message this sends in particular to our LGBTQ youth, particularly our trans youth, who have been under attack in this country and who we know disproportionately struggle with mental health conditions like anxiety and depression,” Macri said, adding that she would be working with LGBTQ youth organizations to assess the effects of the initiative and recommend changes if necessary.

The third initiative legislators passed, Initiative 2113, would lift some restrictions on when police can chase suspects. Lawmakers had passed measures to limit police chases in 2021 amid concerns that such chases were dangerous, and rolled some of those restrictions back last year.

The initiative, which would scale back those restrictions further to allow police to chase people if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that the person they want to chase has violated the law and threatens others’ safety, garnered the most intense debate in both chambers out of the three initiatives. Many of the proponents and opponents spoke at odds about whether the policy would harm or benefit public safety, but the measure passed handily.

Walsh said it “restores our trust, the people’s trust in the judgment of trained law enforcement professionals.”

Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, said the initiative “weakens” state standards to allow police to chase suspects for violation of any state law including an expired tab or a broken taillight.

“In states where those restrictions have been weakened … what we have seen is that fatalities have soared,” she said.

Unlike a bill, when initiatives are passed by the Legislature, they do not have to be signed by the governor.