State Supreme Court agrees to review I-124 ruling

Yesterday the Washington State Supreme Court agreed to hear a review of an appeals court ruling that threw out the voter-approved Initiative 124. I-124 granted protections to hotel workers, and required hotel employers to either provide health insurance coverage to employees or pay them the equivalent cost.

The Court of Appeals ruled in December that I-124 violated the “single subject” rule by containing provisions not germane to one another. The single subject rule prevents legislative “logrolling” in which voters must accept a provision they don’t support in order to get one they do.  The court found that the separate provisions in I-124 included:

  • 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.

In January, the City of Seattle and UNITE HERE Local 8, the hospitality workers’ union, both appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.

The provision of I-124 that requires employers to provide healthcare or pay them in-lieu is the subject of a separate lawsuit; that case has been put on hold pending the ultimate resolution of this case (if the Supreme Court had declined to hear the appeal yesterday, I-124 would officially be dead and the other suit would be moot).

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes issued a statement this morning in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case: “Nearly 77 percent of Seattle voters spoke clearly when they approved this initiative in 2016, and my team looks forward to defending this law intended to improve the well-being of our hotel workers. This will be the fourth case my office will argue at the Washington State Supreme Court this year.”

Those other three cases are:

  • Yim vs. City of Seattle (aka “Yim I”), a challenge to the city’s “First in Time” tenant ordinance. Case 95813-1, with a hearing date set for June 11.
  • Yim vs. City of Seattle (aka “Yim II”), case 96817-9, also scheduled for hearing on June 11. This is a much narrower issue: in a U.S. District Court challenge to the city’s Fair Chance Housing ordinance, the judge has asked the state Supreme Court to clarify the standard of review under the Washington State Constitution for a substantive due process claim, and particularly for such a claim against land use regulations. For the past 20 years, the state courts have used a different standard from the one favored by the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Elster vs. the City of Seattle, a challenge to the Democracy Vouchers program. Case 96660-5, with a hearing scheduled for May 14.

A hearing date has not yet been set for the Supreme Court to hear the I-124 challenge.