State Supreme Court rules that Initiative 27 can’t go on the ballot

Today the Washington State Supreme Court handed down a ruling on a legal challenge to King County Initiative 27, which would have prohibited county funding for supervised consumption sites and enacted civil penalties for violating that prohibition or for operating a supervised consumption site.  The court found that the content of I-27 was outside the scope of local initiative power.

The court’s ruling makes clear from the beginning that state initiatives operate under a different set of rules from local initiatives. This is because Article II, Section 1 of the State Constitution explicitly reserves for the people legislative power independent of the legislative branch, while previous court rulings have determined that local initiative power is only reserved for areas delegated to a city or county as a whole, not explicitly to the legislature of that city or county.

In the case of budget power, state law (RCW 36.40.080) delegates it to the county legislative authority. That puts it outside the scope of local initiatives.

Here’s an interesting twist: the lawsuit challenging I-27 was pre-election, meaning it challenged whether the initiative could be put on the budget at all. If it was post-election (assuming it passed), then the “severability” clause in the initiative would have meant that today’s ruling would invalidate the provisions related to budgeting but leave everything else intact — most notably the civil prohibitions on operating a supervised consumption site. But since it was pre-election, the ruling means that none of it can go on the ballot. However, that doesn’t prevent the initiative’s sponsors from trying again with a new initiative that omits the budget provision and just focuses on the civil prohibitions. The Court’s ruling today chose not to weigh in on the legality of such an initiative.

Local officials were quick to praise the decision, including King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, City Attorney Pete Holmes and Seattle City Council member Teresa Mosqueda.