GOP effort would have required two-thirds super-majority to advance legislation

WNPA Olympia News Bureau

OLYMPIA — Democrats on Friday blocked passage of a Republican amendment to House rules that would have required a super-majority vote to move a bill forward after its introduction.

The measure, said by supporters to defend the will of Washingtonians, was defeated 52 to 41.

House Republicans proposed the rule change based on voter support for Initiative 1185, approved in November by 63.91 percent of voters. I-1185 requires two-thirds super-majority approval by the Legislature for any increase in taxes.

House Republican Leader Rep. Richard Debolt, R-Chehalis, said Thursday that some in his caucus are worried I-1185 will end up in court, as did three of five earlier tax-control initiatives. As a result, Republican legislators attempted to have the amendment, which they said would legislatively affirm the people’s vote, heard and adopted as House Rule 10(b).

Three of those five earlier initiatives were suspended by lawmakers by a simple majority vote. The constitutionality of the others was challenged in court. Seventeen states require some type of supermajority vote to raise taxes, and most are constitutional requirements.

The House rule targeted by the Republican minority is procedural and provides that bills on “second reading” be moved forward by a simple majority. The Republican amendment would have required a two-thirds vote — 64 of the 98 House members — for a bill to advance to third reading and final consideration, and amendments considered section by section. Thus, all bills would have been affected by the rule change, not just tax measures.

The amendment would have also allowed members of the minority party to have a more influential say on a bill’s content as it continued through the legislative process.

Urging lawmakers to pass the amendment, Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said, “I think that we owe it to our voters to listen to them, to take a stand here that has no constitutional bar. That’s not an uncommon rule. In fact, it’s very common.”

Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, disagreed. “This proposed amendment is not common. It, in fact, not only violates the principle [of majority rule] but is outstandingly different than the other procedural protections that are already included in the rules for the minority process.”

Pedersen is also one of the lawyers who challenged a previous voter-approved super-majority initiative, I-1503, before the King County Superior Court.

On the floor Friday, he argued that House Democrats would not support the proposed amendment because requiring a two-thirds majority places a strain on the political process, making legislative bodies unable to govern properly. He fears that passage of the amendment would allow Republicans to block majority-party legislation.

Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, echoed Pedersen, referencing the U.S. Senate filibustering that she said is caused by the two-thirds requirement.

“This bill would allow 38 members here to filibuster, to give wealthy, special interests the ability to focus their money and their lobbyists on killing progress in Washington State,” Jinkins said. “This rule is nothing more than a system-rigging recipe for killing reform, for creating partisan gridlock and for giving the power of the people to special interests.”

DeBolt, on the other hand, said the amendment would actually stop special-interest spending, allow for greater democratic participation for minority members, and allow Republicans’ opinions to get heard in a Democrat-ruled House.

But a difference in philosophy seemed to separate members on each side of the aisle. While Democrats urged rejection of the amendment using the argument that supermajorities make legislatures ineffective, Republicans asked for approval in order to regain trust from voters and to follow the public will.

"I believe we have an opportunity to demonstrate not only to the people of Washington state, but to the people of the U.S., that there are governing bodies listening to those who send us here,” said Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton. “We don’t have to do what they do in D.C. We don’t have to be frozen in inaction.”


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