Two unions that represent working families who would be adversely harmed by the implementation of Costco’s Initiative 1183 filed suit today in King County Superior Court seeking to have the measure stricken in its entirety as unconstitutional.
Teamsters Local 174 and UFCW Local 21 contend that I‑1183 violates Article II, § 19 of Washington’s Constitution, which is better known as the “single subject” rule. Section 19 (which applies to all legislation, including legislation proposed
by the people by the corporations through the initiative process, states:
BILL TO CONTAIN ONE SUBJECT. No bill shall embrace more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title.
The unions’ thirteen-page complaint (PDF) charges that I‑1183 violates the single-subject rule in multiple instances. As they put it: “I‑1183 is drafted such that those voting on it are required to vote for multiple subjects… in order to obtain approval of an unrelated subject, the privatization of hard liquor.”
In other words: I‑1183 is a mess. It’s so poorly drafted, it doesn’t even comply with constitutional requirements that specify the proper form for legislation. That’s what the Teamsters and UFCW are alleging.
“Our democracy is threatened when one corporation like Costco can write a complex initiative, pay for the signatures, pay for the ads that control the debate, all the while avoiding discussion on the other parts of the proposal that are the true motivations by the corporation in the first place,” said Tom Geiger, UFCW’s Communications Director, in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
Backers of liquor privation are sure to cry foul over this lawsuit — no doubt some of them will portray it as an eleventh hour act of desperation by the losers of the most expensive fight over a ballot measure in state history. But it’s actually not unusual for controversial initiatives enacted by voters to be challenged in court.
Anyone who is familiar with case law surrounding initiatives in Washington knows that our judiciary has repeatedly struck down initiatives for violating the single subject rule — including several of Tim Eyman’s.
In its 2000 decision affirming Judge Robert Alsdorf’s ruling declaring I‑695 to be unconstitutional, Washington’s Supreme Court offered a reasonably succinct explanation of why the single subject rule is important.
There are two distinct prohibitions in Article II, § 19. The first is that no bill shall embrace more than one subject. The purpose of this prohibition is to prevent logrolling or pushing legislation through by attaching it to other legislation. The second prohibition is that no bill shall have a subject which is not expressed in its title. The purpose of this prohibition is to notify members of the Legislature and the public of the subject matter of the measure.
Rules for statutory construction apply to initiatives as well as bills, as the courts have made clear. But unlike a bill, a proposed initiative does not have to go through the legislative process, which is deliberative and exacting by nature.
The legislative process subjects bills to public hearings, discussion and debate in committee, then more discussion or debate on the House or Senate floor. And then another round of of all of the above in the Legislature’s other chamber.
Initiatives, in contrast, are only minimally reviewed by the code reviser and the attorney general’s office, which comes up with the ballot title and ballot summary. In order to begin circulating petitions, a sponsor must finalize the language, and after the language is finalized, it can’t be changed — meaning that there is no further opportunity for improvement.
This is why many initiatives end up running afoul of the Constitution: they don’t receive anywhere near the same level of scrutiny that a bill would in the legislative process. So correctable flaws are not addressed.
(Other states require more stringent review of ballot measures. For example, Utah requires sponsors to hold a series of public hearings around the state. And Alaska requires that an initiative be subject to legal review by the state’s Department of Law before it can move forward. We don’t have any such requirements).
Considering how badly Costco wanted to win (they set a new record for spending on an initiative), it’s surprising they didn’t put more effort into drafting I‑1183. They unquestionably had the money to get a second (and third… and fourth) legal opinion. But evidently they didn’t bother. We can tell by looking at I‑1183. It’s full of holes and ambiguous language. It’s a mess, as I said above.
Costco was asked by several news organizations to react to the lawsuit earlier today, and it had no immediate comment. However, the warehouse giant has since released a statement attributed to the political action committee it formed to push privatization (the “Yes on 1183 Coalition”) decrying the lawsuit and complaining that I‑1183’s opponents aren’t respecting the will of the voters.
Costco’s objections to this lawsuit are groundless. If Costco truly cared about the will of the voters, why didn’t its executives just admit defeat after they lost last year (when voters rejected not one, but two liquor privatization initiatives), move on, and let the issue be settled? Because obviously they were determined to get what they wanted. They viewed I‑1100’s failure as a temporary setback — taking a page from Tim Eyman’s playbook — and came right back with I‑1183.
They are hardly in a position to criticize UFCW and the Teamsters for continuing to fight on to protect their members’ livelihoods after losing the election. Especially considering that they went to court themselves a few years ago to try to get state laws governing beer and wine sales overturned (they lost, after many appeals).
We at NPI applaud the filing of this lawsuit and we hope it is successful. Aside from the destructive ramifications it has for public health and public safety (increased availability of hard liquor equals increased consumption, which translates to more drunk-driving and other crimes involving alcohol), I‑1183 is a giant rip-off.
I’ll let Keith Barnes, the proprietor of Bainbridge Organic Distillers, explain — because he’s really put some thought into analyzing this.
While it is not usually described as such, I consider Washington State’s liquor business a state asset.
The business unit drives revenue, collects taxes, secures products from manufacturers, has employees, manages retailing and distribution and makes profits just like every business hopes to do, with the key difference that the profits from the business go into the state’s fund instead of into the accounts of a private enterprise. This makes every resident in Washington State a de facto stakeholder in the business, as all profits are used to fund vital state services.
If the WSLCB [Washington State Liquor Control Board] were privately owned and wanted to sell off its liquor business, it would place a value on that business in the accepted manner – a multiple of earnings over a number of years with debt and hard assets figured in. Under I‑1183, the state is expected to simply walk away from the free-standing business enterprise that it has spent seventy-seven years building, one that makes consistently high profits that benefit all stakeholder-residents, while effectively managing the public safety concerns around alcohol within the top five percent in the nation.
If a cabal of timber companies including Plum Creek Timber, Weyerhaeuser, Temple-Inland and MeadWestvaco were trying to take over state owned timberlands, and deciding amongst themselves where they were going to cut timber and who was to profit most by exploiting these state-owned assets, residents would not stand for it. Likewise, if a coalition including Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell were trying to take over control of state owned oil and mineral rights and devising their own extraction and profit plan there would be demonstrations in the streets.
To walk away from this business, and to hand over the liquor concession in Washington State to private businesses, without due compensation to state residents, is not in the best interests of Washington State or its stakeholder-residents. If it is the desire of the residents of Washington State that the state exit the liquor business it should do so on its own terms, and to the benefit of the stakeholder/residents.
By meekly allowing itself to be forced out of business without being compensated for the value of the liquor concession the state would not be living up to its responsibility to always work in the best interests of the state’s residents.
I‑1183 is a raw deal, pure and simple. It’s bad for taxpayers, bad for working families, bad for first responders, and bad for our communities.
It’s unfortunate that the campaign against I‑1183 (Protect Our Communities) was unable to effectively counter Costco’s deceptive ad campaign.
But the battle is not over. UFCW and the Teamsters are prudently carrying on the fight against I‑1183 in the legal arena, taking a stand not only for their members, but for the well-being of all Washingtonians.
We are grateful to them for not giving up. As we have seen, the right wing doesn’t throw in the towel when it loses — and neither should we.