Appeals court tosses I-124

Today a Washington State Court of Appeals threw out Initiative 124 in its entirety, holding that it unconstitutionally contains multiple unrelated topics.

I-124, which provides a number of protections and benefits for hotel workers, was passed by Seattle voters in November 2016.

After a King County Superior Court ruled in favor of the initiative, the state Supreme Court last January declined to hear a direct appeal and sent it to the Court of Appeals for further review.

The Appeals Court found that I-124 contains multiple separate parts, including:

  • protecting workers who must enter guests’ hotel rooms from sexual harassment and assault by providing panic buttons and requiring hotels to maintain a list of guests who have been accused of sexual assault or harassment;
  • requiring hotel employers to provide and use safety devices and safeguards, and prohibiting large hotels from requiring hotel workers to clean more than 5000 square feet per 8-hour day without time-and-a-half pay;
  • requiring large hotel employers to provide healthcare subsidies to hotel workers or the equivalent of a gold-level healthcare policy;
  •  when a hotel changes ownership, requiring the new owner to hire from the list of employees prior to the sale for the first six months.

Case law says that an initiative can contain multiple items if they have “rational unity,” which means that they all relate to the title of the initiative and are germane to each other. The appeals court found that the initiative’s title is general, which makes the bar for relating to it low. But it found that the four parts of the initiative listed above were not germane to each other. The key test for this is whether the court couldr reasonably assess that a majority of voters would approve each of them individually, so that it is assured that voters didn’t vote of one they didn’t like in order to get another that they did like. And I-124 most certainly does not pass this test, the court found.

Further, it found that a fifth part of the bill, which establishes a private cause of action allowing individuals to sue employers directly for violations of the legislation, was both a violation of state labor law, and “a classic example of logrolling as prohibited by RCW 35A.12.130.”

The city may choose to appeal today’s ruling again to the state Supreme Court.  If the ruling stands, it makes moot the separate challenge to I-124’s healthcare provision.  UPDATE: the judge in the other case has issued a stay of the case pending further orders, because of the Court of Appeals ruling.



  1. Question for you (or any folks who have an in-depth understanding of Initiative law): How did we get here (again)?

    Surely the folks who put this together and the Council knew about the “too much different stuff” rule (please tell me they did)…if I’m right about that, do they just move it to a vote with blind faith? Are they deluded by their own passions?

    I read various articles about this before the vote and don’t recall warning flags in those articles about it violating this requirement. There was the usual anti-union, “this is too expensive” stuff from various media (Seattle Times editorial board for one, IIRC).

    I voted for this and believe it’s a nice thing to do for hotel workers but why did I get asked to vote for it when it’s clearly not up to snuff and was just going to get canned? It’s very frustrating to see yet another law passed by Council get struck down because it doesn’t satisfy some fairly basic legal test. And meanwhile these people who clean hotel rooms are screwed.

    Apologies if there was a ton of coverage about this being a problem law before I voted on it. I really do try to keep up. 🙂

    1. Don’t blame the Council for this. They didn’t write it, and they couldn’t stop it from going to the ballot once it had enough petition signatures. The Council’s options are only to pass it into law, propose an alternative version to appear next to it on the ballot as an alternative, or do nothing/reject it, in which case the measure still appears on the ballot.

      The statement against from the ballot is here. It doesn’t specifically call out the “multiple topics” issue, but definitely says that it has several legal problems. The Seattle Times also had an editorial recommending a “no” vote on it because of the numerous problems.

  2. Maybe they could have proposed something that WOULD have passed muster? Anyway, thanks for the response…that ST lionk is the one I was mentioning in my comment.

    1. By “they” I assume you mean the people who proposed the voter initiative. You would think that they would get good legal advice… but no. The thing is, they really want to logroll in many cases because it increases the number of people who will vote “yes” because there is something in the bill that they want. So they often go right up to the legal limit of what they think they can get away with. Tim Eyman has screwed this up too.

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