The state Legislature’s decision to make needed fixes to Initiative 940, a proposal aimed at improving police training for tense situations and to make it easier to prosecute officers for negligent shootings, was well meaning — but it was done incorrectly.
Therefore, it seems the state Supreme Court will have little choice but to put both the original initiative and the Legislature’s version on the November ballot.
The high court justices, in hearing arguments in the case last week, seemed to indicate through their questions and comments they will be inclined to rule that way.
Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud said the state constitution says initiatives shall be “enacted or rejected without change or amendment by the Legislature before the end of such regular session.”
And Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst emphasized the “without amendment” language.
“How much more explicit could it be than what the constitution actually says?” she asked.
We agree. The amended version seems to be the better piece of legislation, as various points of view were considered in crafting the amendments to I-940.
Nevertheless, allowing only the amended version to become law without a vote of the people would set a lousy precedent.
The original ruling by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christine Schaller should be upheld by the high court. Schaller wrote lawmakers did not have the power to amend Initiative 940 and approve it directly into law. Schaller said the state constitution provides three — and only three — options for initiatives to the Legislature. Lawmakers can approve the initiative as written; not act, and let the measure go to the ballot; or approve an alternative and put both proposals before the voters.
The legislative tricks used to get around the constitutional requirements fall short of being acceptable. What lawmakers did was approve the initiative to take effect June 7, but they also approved amendments to the initiative that would kick in June 8. The problem is the changes were approved by a simple majority, while any changes in an initiative in the first two years after approval require a two-thirds majority. Since that was not the case, it seems obvious — as the judge ruled — voters should be given the two options to consider in November.
Still, it was wise for lawmakers to provide an option for voters to consider.
Now the Legislature, assuming the high court rules against it, must focus on explaining to voters why its version is better than the original.