Saturday, July 20, 2024

Crowd demands hearing on citizen initiatives


OLYMPIA - A sea of red, white and blue covered the Capitol steps as hundreds of Washingtonians proudly waved American flags and demanded hearings on six initiatives that would roll back taxes, give parents more rights and police more authority.

The initiatives funded by the political action group Let’s Go Washington all received the requisite number of signatures to be approved for consideration but have yet to receive a hearing from the Legislature. In all, 2.6 million citizens signed the petitions. 

Republicans say the Constitution demands that initiatives must take precedence over other business and should have hearings now. Democrats say they are concerned about budget impacts and as long as they act on the initiatives this session, Constitutional rules are satisfied.

“The speaker [of the house’s] position is that ‘take precedence means they don’t have to live by the deadline,’ Our position is that they go first.” said Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen.

Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, House Republican Leader, said Democrats aren’t in a hurry to take up the initiatives. They have essentially said, “We’ll think about it.”

“I think it's quite an injustice that the voice of the people is not being heard and when you ask the questions of why they are not hearing us you get no response,” Gina Medley, a citizen from Tacoma said. 

Democrats say they are studying the budget impact of the initiatives. One rolls back the capital gains tax, another repeals the Climate Commitment Act that critics say pushes up the cost of gasoline. Both have raised millions for state programs. 

“I worry about pulling us back and negating all of these incredible policy advancements that we've made,” Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, said. “What the right strategies are to protect these investments I think we are still working on developing.”

The other initiatives give police more leeway to start high speed chases, underscore parental rights in schools and allow people to opt out of the WA Cares long-term health care payroll tax. The final initiative would prohibit state and local governments from creating an income tax..

 At the rally Feb. 2, many said they showed up to push back on the narrative that this is one man’s goal, a reference to Brian Heywood who was the main funder of Let’s Go Washington.

“Nobody put a gun to my head,” signature gatherer Matthew Cook said, holding up a sign that read, “people above party. “I did not receive a single penny to sign them. These are giving a voice to Washingtonians that have not been heard.”

Walsh said the Legislature has three choices. It could vote the measures into law, ignore the initiatives completely, which would send them to the ballot in November, or the Legislature could draft alternative proposals. He predicts the outcome will be mixed.

“The worst-case scenario is not that bad. They could be ignored by the majority party and then they go on the ballot in November. The polling shows they're likely to pass,” Stokesbary said.

Brandi Kruse, podcast host of “unDivided,” led the rally and later shared her predictions.

“For sure these will be on the ballot in November,” Kruse said. “I don't anticipate a scenario where Democrats would pass these only because you’re talking about some of their key policy victories.” 

Braden Cisk, a signature gatherer for Let’s Go Washington in Kitsap County, said non-partisan voters he spoke to were in support of the measures.

“I found that these resonated the most with people who are not registered or are apathetic to politics or voting because they feel like their vote doesn't matter,” Cisk said. “So, these really caught their attention because again these look like something productive, people on all sides of the political spectrum.” 

Dawn Land, a mother from the 31st Legislative district, filed an initiative related to the parental rights to know, which fell short of the required number of signatures. Yet, she showed up to the rally in full support of the initiative process. 

“They are not hearing us. They never hear us.  They don’t listen,” Land said. “The other side needs to be heard.”

The Washington State Journal is a non-profit news website funded by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.


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