John Braun: Lawmakers should listen to the people on all six of their initiatives, then vote


Our state Legislature is on a path to make history by enacting three of the six initiatives submitted by Washington voters.

While that is a win for the people of our state, we can and should do even better by taking action on the remaining three initiatives, which have yet to receive any attention. There is still ample time to change that out of respect for the voters and our state constitution.

The three initiatives that have received public hearings and committee approvals are Initiative 2113, to repeal the restrictions on police pursuits; Initiative 2081, about encouraging parental involvement in their children’s schools; and Initiative 2111, which would prohibit any future income tax in our state.

Republicans will absolutely support these measures if they are brought to the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives. They line up with our priorities, which are to make life in Washington safer and affordable, and make the lives of our children better.

This would be historic because Washington voters have submitted 38 initiatives to the Legislature in the 112 years since they were given the constitutional power to do so – and only six of those have been enacted by legislators. The others were rejected and sent on to the general-election ballot. Two of the six were approved during the 1994 legislative session. Enacting three this session would top that record.

Meanwhile, the Legislature’s majority Democrats are on a path to ignore the people and the constitution to an extent we have never seen.

The 1912 constitutional amendment that created the initiative process also requires the Legislature to treat initiatives with great respect. They are to have precedence over all other legislation, except appropriation bills — meaning budgets. While “precedence” isn’t defined, public hearings should be the minimum action we ought to expect.

Despite this constitutional duty, majority Democrats are unapologetically refusing to hold a public hearing on any of the remaining three proposals put before us by the voters: Initiative 2117, to repeal the cap-and-trade law that functions like a tax on gasoline and energy; Initiative 2109, to do away with the state tax on capital-gains income; and Initiative 2124, which would effectively end the mandatory long-term care payroll tax.

It’s one thing for committee chairs to say no to hearings on bills proposed by individual legislators, but each of these measures was proposed by more than 400,000 voters. On the Legislature’s website, the six initiatives are all listed as being sponsored by the “People of the State of Washington.” That designation should be deserving of legislators’ respect.

Amazingly, none of this seems to matter to Democrat leaders. They have already decreed — wrongly, I believe — the remaining three initiatives would have a dire effect on every resident of our state, as though that is a credible excuse for refusing to hold hearings.

Republicans don’t see how that is for Democrats to decide. Our constitution doesn’t allow legislators to discriminate among initiatives according to their subject, or whether they would repeal laws put in place by the majority in previous years. Again, they “shall take precedence” over all other legislation, except appropriation bills.

If those three measures would cause “devastating and deeply felt cuts” to important services, as Democrats claim, there is no better forum than a legislative committee hearing to dig into those claims so the public can decide how truthful they are.

Besides, we would welcome committee hearings so the people can speak to the dire effect of artificially inflated gasoline and energy costs — the products of cap-and-trade — on their household budgets.

In the span of four days, majority-Democrat leaders set aside three hours for public hearings and another half-hour for committee votes on the police-pursuit, parental-rights and income-tax-ban measures.

Surely they can find four more hours before the Legislature adjourns March 7 to hear from the public on the initiatives aimed at cap-and-trade, the capital-gains tax and the mandatory payroll tax. Republicans believe we should take votes on them as well, so the people can see where their lawmakers stand. We would rather do that than be forced to spend time voting on another bill like — no kidding — the one that would prohibit octopus farming in our state.

As long as Democrats insist on sending the three tax-based initiatives straight to the ballot, without even a public hearing, here’s what they are also saying: We don’t want to hear that you and your family are struggling financially because we made it easier for government to reach into your pocket – and we’re not going to make it stop unless we have to.

That doesn’t sound equitable to me. The people of Washington deserve better.


Sen. John Braun of Centralia serves the 20th Legislative District, which spans parts of four counties from Yelm to Vancouver. He became Senate Republican leader in 2020.