A constitutional amendment that would have changed the threshold for passage of school bonds in Washington from three-fifths with a minimum turnout of forty percent to a simple majority has died on the floor of the State Senate thanks to the opposition of Mark Schoesler and his Republican caucus.
Senate Joint Resolution 8201, prime sponsored by Senator Lisa Wellman (D‑41st District: Mercer Island, Bellevue, Newcastle, Sammamish) received the support of the entire Senate Democratic caucus, which consists of twenty-eight members.
However, lacking bipartisan support, it could not move forward.
That’s because, while the threshold for passage of bills under Article II, Section 22 is twenty-five votes, the threshold for passage of constitutional amendments under Article XXIII is thirty-three votes, or two-thirds of the Senate.
For SJR 8201 to have passed the Senate, at least five Republicans would have had to vote aye. The amendment then would have needed to receive at least nine Republican votes in the House, plus the entire House Democratic caucus in order to pass there and be submitted for ratification at the next general election.
The roll call, a party-line vote, was as follows:
School district bonds
3rd Reading & Final Passage
Yeas: 28; Nays: 21
Voting Yea: Senators Billig, Carlyle, Cleveland, Conway, Darneille, Das, Dhingra, Frockt, Hasegawa, Hobbs, Hunt, Keiser, Kuderer, Liias, Lovelett, McCoy, Mullet, Nguyen, Palumbo, Pedersen, Randall, Rolfes, Saldaña, Salomon, Takko, Van De Wege, Wellman, Wilson (Claire)
Voting Nay: Senators Bailey, Becker, Braun, Brown, Ericksen, Fortunato, Hawkins, Holy, Honeyford, King, O‘Ban, Padden, Rivers, Schoesler, Sheldon, Short, Wagoner, Walsh, Warnick, Wilson (Lynda), Zeiger
“We’ve been hearing from schools for years, for decades, that we need to change the sixty percent requirement for school bond passage,” Wellman said.
“Meanwhile, student health and safety is being put at risk as school districts are unable to raise the funds for necessary school improvements.
“We’ve heard stories of black mold, of roofs caving in, and still a minority of this body is keeping us from making this meaningful change.”
“This [amendment] is really about local control,” she observed. “Oftentimes, a large majority of a community supports a bond — fifty-one, fifty-five or fifty-nine percent. And still, the bond fails and school districts don’t have the funding to make improvements or build new schools. It’s disappointing that some senators don’t trust their local communities enough to make this important change.”
We agree. It’s a real shame that no Republicans were willing to restore majority rule as the governing threshold for passage of school bonds. It makes no sense that a submajority of the electorate in each school district should have control of the outcome of a bond measure. Majority votes are sufficient to elect legislators, pass initiatives, approve referenda, and even ratify constitutional amendments.
A majority vote should be sufficient to pass a school bond, too.