State Senate debate on HB 1876
State Senate debate on HB 1876

A much-need­ed, long over­due ini­tia­tive reform bill cleared the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate this evening and is head­ed back to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion, in a huge vic­to­ry for bal­lot sense and bal­lot transparency.

By a vote of 26 to 22, the Sen­ate approved House Bill 1876, which requires fis­cal impact dis­clo­sures to be append­ed to bal­lot titles that would alter the state’s finances. The dis­clo­sures would noti­fy vot­ers if a mea­sure would increase or decrease fund­ing for pub­lic ser­vices and then name the affect­ed services.

If a pro­posed mea­sure would impact the gen­er­al fund, the state­ment would list the top three cat­e­gories of state ser­vices sup­port­ed by the gen­er­al fund in the cur­rent bien­ni­al state budget.

Research pub­licly unveiled by NPI this evening dur­ing the floor debate on the bill shows that a whop­ping 82% of like­ly 2022 Wash­ing­ton vot­ers favor adding fis­cal impact dis­clo­sures to ini­tia­tives. Enthu­si­as­tic sup­port among the vot­ing pub­lic tran­scends par­ty lines, ide­o­log­i­cal lines, and region­al divisions.

As with the House vote sev­er­al weeks ago, Democ­rats sup­plied all of the votes to pass HB 1876, with every Repub­li­can vot­ing no. The roll call was as follows:

Roll Call
HB 1876
Bal­lot measures/impact discl
3rd Read­ing & Final Pas­sage as Amend­ed by the Senate

Yeas: 26; Nays: 22; Excused: 1

Vot­ing Yea: Sen­a­tors Bil­lig, Car­lyle, Cleve­land, Con­way, Das, Dhin­gra, Frockt, Hasegawa, Hunt, Keis­er, Kud­er­er, Liias, Lovelett, Lovick, Nguyen, Nobles, Ped­er­sen, Ran­dall, Rolfes, Sal­daña, Salomon, Stan­ford, Trudeau, Van De Wege, Well­man, Wil­son (Claire)

Vot­ing Nay: Sen­a­tors Braun, Brown, Dozi­er, For­tu­na­to, Gildon, Hawkins, Holy, Hon­ey­ford, King, McCune, Mul­let, Muz­za­ll, Pad­den, Rivers, Schoesler, Sefzik, Shel­don, Short, Wag­oner, War­nick, Wil­son (Jeff) Wil­son (Lyn­da)

Excused: Sen­a­tor Robinson

Sen­a­tor June Robin­son, who recent­ly lost her moth­er, was excused from the vote. (Our heart­felt con­do­lences to Sen­a­tor Robinson.)

Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor Mark Mul­let (D‑5th Dis­trict: Issaquah, Maple Val­ley, Sno­qulamie) was the only Demo­c­rat to vote no on the bill. The remain­ing twen­ty-six Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors all vot­ed yea, led by Sen­a­tors Sam Hunt and Pat­ty Kud­er­er, the Chair and Vice Chair of the Sen­ate State Gov­ern­ment Committee.

Both Hunt and Kud­er­er deliv­ered excel­lent floor speech­es in sup­port of the bill and in oppo­si­tion to numer­ous Repub­li­can amend­ments to weak­en it.

The Sen­ate agreed to adopt one Repub­li­can amend­ment that removes lan­guage stat­ing that the con­tent of the fis­cal impact dis­clo­sures isn’t sub­ject to judi­cial review, and one Demo­c­ra­t­ic amend­ment from Sen­a­tor Hunt adjust­ing some dates, but oth­er­wise, the bill was left unchanged.

Even after get­ting the bill amend­ed to address one of their con­cerns, a pletho­ra of Sen­ate Repub­li­cans still rose to denounce the bill, includ­ing Phil For­tu­na­to and top Sen­ate Repub­li­can John Braun.

“This bill is an exam­ple of the Leg­is­la­ture not trust­ing the peo­ple,” grum­bled Braun. “This bill is designed to pro­vide only the infor­ma­tion they need to reach the ‘right’ deci­sion. This is not good gov­ern­ment. We need trust the people.”

Actu­al­ly, cur­rent statute (RCW 29A.72.050) is what has been designed to yield bal­lot titles that don’t ful­ly and prop­er­ly sum­ma­rize the effects of the ini­tia­tives they’re sup­posed to impar­tial­ly rep­re­sent. Statewide ini­tia­tives are lim­it­ed to thir­ty word con­cise descrip­tions, no mat­ter how com­plex the mea­sure might be, and absurd­ly, there is no require­ment that fis­cal impacts be men­tioned at all.

As a con­se­quence, it’s pos­si­ble for bad actors like Tim Eyman to go bal­lot title shop­ping and obtain manip­u­la­tive, slant­ed, and prej­u­di­cial offi­cial descrip­tions of pro­posed ini­tia­tives with huge ram­i­fi­ca­tions for the state’s finances.

By oppos­ing this bill, it’s Repub­li­cans who are not trust­ing the peo­ple. They don’t want vot­ers to be put on alert that a mea­sure would have a fis­cal impact, even though such noti­fi­ca­tions have long been a stan­dard prac­tice in the Leg­is­la­ture and are a stan­dard aspect of local propo­si­tions like levies.

We want to be able to con­tin­ue to run statewide tax-slash­ing mea­sures while hid­ing the con­se­quences from the offi­cial descrip­tions that appear on the bal­lot would not have made a very good argu­ment for vot­ing no on HB 1876, so Repub­li­cans resort­ed to their favorite defense mech­a­nism of pro­jec­tion, accus­ing Democ­rats of hold­ing the posi­tion that they them­selves hold.

Pri­or to the debate on HB 1876, and dur­ing it, Tim Eyman was furi­ous­ly ral­ly­ing his fol­low­ers to send emails to sen­a­tors telling them that HB 1876 is bad. Eyman has pre­vi­ous­ly called the bill a “five alarm fire.” In recent days, he has tak­en to call­ing it an “eight alarm fire,” ramp­ing up his hyperbole.

Eyman’s fail­ure to defeat this bill is a huge vic­to­ry for Wash­ing­ton vot­ers. Although HB 1876 isn’t out of the Leg­is­la­ture yet, it is the first sig­nif­i­cant ini­tia­tive reform bill in mod­ern times to get a floor vote in both cham­bers of the Leg­is­la­ture. NPI thanks the House and Sen­ate for their work so far on this pro-trans­paren­cy, pro-vot­er leg­is­la­tion. Wash­ing­to­ni­ans will be very appreciative!

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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