Citizen initiatives to the Legislature: Let Washingtonians be heard!

 

February 22, 2024

OLYMPIA–It is with a mix of encouragement and disappointment that the Senate majority leader says four of the six citizen initiatives to the Legislature "might" have public hearings scheduled before the end of the 2024 session. But don't hold your breath. We are now nearly two-thirds into a 60-day session, with only a handful of committee meetings remaining before adjournment on March 8. Despite repeated efforts by Republicans asking for majority Democrats to hold hearings on the initiatives, we've seen no action on their part to let the public have their voices heard in any of the legislative committees.

Once a citizen's initiative to the Legislature is submitted, lawmakers may do one of three things:

1. The Legislature may adopt the initiative as proposed and it becomes law without going to the ballot.

2. The Legislature may reject or refuse to act on the proposed initiative and the initiative must be placed on the ballot at the next state general election; or

3. The Legislature may propose a different measure with the same subject and both measures must be placed on the next state general election ballot.

This year, six initiatives to the Legislature were certified by the Secretary of State's office. They include:

• Initiative 2113 would restore the authority of police to pursue fleeing suspects.

• Initiative 2117 would repeal the Climate Commitment Act and its cap-and-trade program.

• Initiative 2081 would establish parental rights in K-12 education.

• Initiative 2109 would repeal the income tax on capital gains.

• Initiative 2111 would prohibit further efforts to impose an income tax.

• Initiative 2124 would allow Washington workers to opt out of a mandatory and deeply flawed long-term care insurance program, as well as the payroll tax that goes with it.

As each initiative was introduced to the Legislature, House Republican leaders motioned on the House floor six individual times to suspend the rules and instruct prompt public hearings be held in the respective committees where the measures would be referred. Six times, the majority party voted against the motion.

Democratic leadership argued committee chairs decide which measures are heard. So, House Republican ranking members and assistant ranking members sent letters to House committee chairs and vice chairs requesting public hearings. As the ranking member of the House Health Care Committee, I also hand-delivered a letter to the committee chair, requesting a hearing on Initiative 2124, that would allow opt-out of the long-term care program and payroll tax.

You might remember that I led the fight back in 2022 to reform this unfair measure which takes $0.58 per $100 of Washington workers' earnings to fund a $36,000 lifetime limit benefit for long-term care services. Many people may pay more than the benefit over their careers and were not able to opt out of this program. Some may never get a benefit, even though their paychecks are reduced through this payroll tax.

Despite our best efforts, no public hearings have been scheduled in the House committees. Many believe the majority party likely will let these measures continue to the ballot without legislative debate.

Washington's constitution is clear. Article II, Section 1 requires the Legislature to extend "precedence" to certified initiatives to the Legislature. We have a constitutional and moral obligation to the people of the state.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens signed these initiatives, telling us these are important public policy issues that should be considered. We must listen to their voices and give them the respect of legislative public hearings. They deserve no less! We need to let Washingtonians be heard!

-Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, serves and represents the 9th Legislative District.

 
 

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