Plaintiffs in the case of Eyman v. Wyman argued before the Washington Supreme Court that the Legislature’s handling of Initiative 940 disregarded the state constitution because the initiative, which deals with police use of deadly force, was altered without giving the people a chance to vote on the changes.
Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley and a plaintiff in the case, described the Legislature’s actions as well-meaning, but ultimately an “assault on the people’s right of initiative” that must not be allowed to stand. The changes to I-940 were contained in House Bill 3003, which was passed March 7 by the House of Representatives. The new majority in the Senate followed suit on March 8, the final day of this year’s legislative session.
“Process matters; following the constitution matters,” said Padden.
“When the people collect enough signatures to place an initiative before the Legislature, the constitution gives lawmakers only three options. Lawmakers can either pass it without changes, send it to the ballot and allow the people to decide, or write an alternative to appear beside the original proposal on the fall ballot. That way the people get to decide which option they prefer.
“There is no fourth option. The Legislature made a terrible mistake this year when it tried to cut voters out of the loop.”
In an April 20 hearing, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christine Schaller agreed with Padden that the initiative was not properly enacted, and ordered that the measure instead appear on the November ballot. The Legislature appealed the decision to the state’s high court.
“While the negotiated policy – House Bill 3003 – is a big improvement over the initiative in terms of policy, we cannot permit the use of a convoluted scheme to deny the public a right to vote on changes to their initiative,” Padden said.
“The constitution says the initiative is the ‘first power reserved by the people,’ and lawmakers need to respect that. If not, there is nothing stopping some future Legislature from radically changing any initiative it wants with little to no concern for the public opinion, and with no recourse by the voters.”
The plaintiffs argued that it is important to know that legislative power is limited in order to guarantee the right of the people to legislate.
In addition, they argued that because the vote on HB 3003 came before lawmakers acted on I-940, the Legislature amended the initiative before passing it, which is inconsistent with parliamentary procedure generally.
“By the time the Legislature voted on I-940, it was no longer voting on the initiative as sent by the people,” Padden said, “it was voting on the initiative as amended by HB 3003.”