Fixing Initiative 940

It is important for the Legislature to fix initiatives that don’t work as intended, but it is just as important that we follow the law when we do it. This is the real lesson of Initiative 940. This measure, approved by voters last November, imposes new rules on police use of deadly force. More than 350,000 voters signed petitions in 2016 to place this matter before the Legislature. Last session I was among those who agreed these new rules needed to be clearer and less-subjective. By the time we were done, we had a compromise everyone could live with, including law enforcement and the initiative sponsors.

The problem was the method the Legislature used to make those changes. The constitution gives the Legislature just three options when initiatives are submitted to the Legislature. If lawmakers pass the measure as-is, it becomes a law. If they take no action, it goes to the ballot and voters decide. Lawmakers also can draft an alternative for the ballot, and voters can choose which one they like best, or neither.

Unfortunately, majority Democrats in the Legislature did none of the above. Instead they passed an amendatory bill with a bare majority vote, then passed the initiative and called it good. Many of us cried foul. If the Legislature can cut the voters out of the process, initiatives to the Legislature become meaningless. I was among those who sued. The state Supreme Court agreed with us, and sent the original measure to the ballot. It passed with 60 percent support.

Now the matter is back in the Legislature’s hands, and this time we are doing things the right way, in accordance with the law. House and Senate committees held hearings last week on a bill that would enact our changes. The House version is HB 1064. It is my honor to be primary Republican co-sponsor of the Senate version, SB 5029. Because this bill amends an initiative within the first two years of passage, a two-thirds vote of both chambers will be required. If all goes according to plan, this will be one of the first bills passed by the Legislature in 2019.

This really is a success story – we preserved the initiative process. Special thanks are due to the attorneys who worked on our case, Joel Ard and David DeWolf. DeWolf is a professor emeritus at the Gonzaga University School of Law. Our efforts underscored the fact that the Legislature, above all, must observe the rule of law.

Senator Mike Padden

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