The opportunity for Washington voters to approve ballot measures (initiatives and referendums) was included in the state constitution so the people can literally take making the law into their own hands if they aren’t pleased with what the Legislature is doing — or not doing.
So it’s hardly a surprise that some legislators get irked when a measure is put on the ballot aiming to usurp their power by creating a law they don’t embrace or, perhaps, hate.
Still, it’s very troubling that 11 state representatives have signed on to legislation (House Bill 2529) that aims to restrict the people’s right to put an initiative or referendum on the ballot.
The legislation, which was introduced last week as lawmakers began their 60-day session, limits what can be considered during odd-year elections. Specifically, it prohibits initiatives and amendments to the state constitution in years ending with odd numbers such as 2019.
In 2019, as you might recall, Initiative 976 was approved. That measure limits the amount of money the state can collect for vehicles licenses and, thus, will reduce funding for transportation. If I-976 passes constitutional muster, it will leave a huge hole in the state transportation budget — and a mess for the Legislature to deal with.
Perhaps this was the impetus for at least some of the lawmakers to push for HB 2529 to become law.
While we did not favor I-976, the people did. So while the result might be irksome to lawmakers, it’s their job to deal with those results.
But, more importantly, it is simply wrong for the Legislature to take action that hampers the ability of the public to exercise a constitutional right.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman has concerns too.
“Upon initial review, this bill seems to significantly restrict the citizens ability to provide a check on the Legislature,” Wyman told the Washington Policy Center, a think tank that provides analysis of governmental issues. “The initiative and referendum process established in our state constitution are founded on a deep populism in Washington. I expect any limits to the long-cherished and constitutionally provided right to referendum and initiative will not be accepted quietly among those we represent.”
Wyman, a Republican, is on the mark.
As we’ve written in this space over and over, the initiative process is a lousy way to write laws. The ballot proposals are written specifically to represent a single point of view. There is no give-and-take of the legislative process. And, as a result, flaws are often discovered once voters make the law.
Still, the mere threat of an initiative or referendum serves to keep lawmakers focused on the will of the people.
The legislation seeking to limit ballot measures to even-year elections undercuts the spirit of the state constitution and should be rejected.