A well-crafted housekeeping bill that would abolish a number of unconstitutional statutes has passed out of the Washington State Senate with bipartisan support as one of the chamber’s initial acts of the 2023 legislative session.
Substitute Senate Bill 5087, prime sponsored by Senator Jamie Pedersen (D‑43rd District: Seattle) and requested by Attorney General Bob Ferguson, would formally scrub a list of statutes no longer in effect from the Revised Code of Washington.
These statutes include the death penalty, deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court as applied, along with the unconstitutional two-thirds scheme to raise revenue that Tim Eyman turned into a series of initiatives.
Thirty-four senators said yes to striking these unconstitutional statutes from our books, while fourteen were opposed. The roll call on SB 5087 was as follows:
Defects and omissions
Senate vote on 3rd Reading & Final Passage
Yeas: 34; Nays: 14; Excused: 1
Voting Yea: Senator Billig, Boehnke, Cleveland, Conway, Dhingra, Frame, Hasegawa, Hawkins, Hunt, Kauffman, Keiser, King, Kuderer, Liias, Lovelett, Lovick, Mullet, Muzzall, Nguyen, Nobles, Pedersen, Randall, Robinson, Rolfes, Saldaña, Salomon, Stanford, Trudeau, Valdez, Wagoner, Warnick, Wellman, Wilson (Claire), Wilson (Jeff)
Voting Nay: Senator Braun, Dozier, Fortunato, Gildon, Holy, MacEwen, McCune, Padden, Rivers, Schoesler, Short, Torres, Van De Wege, Wilson (Lynda)
Excused: Senator Shewmake
The only Democrat to vote nay was Kevin Van De Wege (D‑24th District: Olympic Peninsula). Republicans were split. Most of the caucus voted nay, but Keith Wagoner, Judy Warnick, Jeff Wilson, Matt Boehnke, and Ron Muzzall voted yea.
Senator Shewmake (D‑42nd District: Whatcom County) was excused.
Republicans attempted to amend the bill to remove the death penalty from the list of statutes being eliminated in the bill, but the amendment failed on a voice vote, with Senators Jamie Pedersen and Yasmin Trudeau speaking against it.
No other amendments were offered to the bill.
Pedersen noted in his speech on final passage that the Washington State Supreme Court has been urging the Governor and Legislature to clean up the state’s books for a long time now and commended the legislation to the body.
Republican Mike Padden explained during a speech on the amendment that he only objected to the elimination of the death penalty statute, because it was struck down as applied rather than struck down as written, and could support the rest of the bill. However, the reality is that there is no just, equitable, or fair way to apply the death penalty. The death penalty is immoral and irresponsible, and its removal from our books is an absolutely necessary and appropriate action.
In 2018, NPI found in its spring statewide poll that a whopping 69% of likely Washington voters supported life in prison alternatives to the death penalty, with only 24% expressing support for the death penalty. Not long after we released that research, the Washington State Supreme Court struck down the death penalty as unconstitutional and converted all death sentences to life sentences, making Governor Inslee’s moratorium on the death penalty permanent.
Though the death penalty has been off the table as an option for prosecutors for years, the unconstitutional statute allowing it has remained on the books. The Senate has repeatedly voted to get rid of the death penalty, but the House of Representatives has inexplicably failed to follow suit, even though the votes exist to get the bill to Governor Inslee’s desk. Hopefully, the fourth time will be the charm and we’ll be able to celebrate this bill being signed into law in a few weeks.
We’ll also be able to celebrate the removal from our books of the right wing’s long-running scheme to mess with our Constitution’s majority vote requirement by specifying a two-thirds vote threshold for revenue bills in clear violation of Article II, Section 22, which says: “No bill shall become a law unless on its final passage the vote be taken by yeas and nays, the names of the members voting for and against the same be entered on the journal of each house, and a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.”
This scheme, first imposed via I‑601 in the 1990s and reenacted with Tim Eyman’s I‑960, I‑1053, and I‑1185, was intended to give Republicans the equivalent of a legislative veto over bills to raise revenue for Washington’s essential public services. Now it’s finally on the verge of going away.
NPI thanks all of the members of the Senate who voted for this legislation today. Abolishing the death penalty and cleaning up our books is one of our 2023 legislative priorities, and we’re pleased to see it receive early floor action.