Generally, we don’t cheer on lawsuits, but one filed on Nov. 5 by the Washington Bankers Association has the potential to eliminate one of the most outrageous and insidious practices of the state Legislature — the use of the title-only bill.
Title-only bills are essentially a scam that circumvents the state constitution, which mandates all pieces of legislation must be introduced at least 10 days before the end of a legislative session so the public has time to be heard before it is approved into law.
What lawmakers do in this deceptive practice is introduce blank pieces of legislation that have generic titles such as “relating to tax revenue” and later add the content when it’s too late for meaningful public protest.
In this case, House Bill 2167, which imposed 1.2% surtax on gross income of specified financial institution, was introduced as a title-only bill.
Jason Marcier, director of the Washington Policy Institute’s Center for Government Reform, said the bankers’ lawsuit represents the first legal challenge to the legislature’s use of title-only bills. As a result, success in the court system could put an end to this abuse by legislators.
At this point, it’s still not clear whether this new tax that is expected to generate $130 million over the next two years is sound policy. That’s because the debate on the taxes merit were given short shrift in the Legislature.
It wasn’t just the minority Republicans who were left in the dark, even some of the Democrats were caught off guard by the sleight of hand that would impress Penn & Teller.
“I can 100 percent guarantee to every person in this body that not at one point has this committee looked at this issue that was presented on Friday — out of the blue, from nowhere — in any way, shape or form,” said Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, in the waning hours of the 2019 legislative session.
If the Legislature won’t put an end to this nefarious nonsense itself, it’s time the judicial system step in to enforce the state constitution.
The bottom line here is that the people’s business — making laws — must be done in the open so the public can be heard.