Washington State Legislature passed three citizen-initiated ballot measures from the Let’s Go Washington PAC, which is the most passed in state history

The Washington State Legislature adjourned this year’s legislative session on March 7. Legislators passed three citizen-initiated measures into law—the most ever for a single year. From 1912, when the state’s initiative process was established, to 2023, just six Initiatives to the Legislature (ITLs) have received legislative approval. With three approved this year, the total increases to nine, a 50% increase.

An Initiative to the Legislature, or ITL, is what the state of Washington calls indirect initiated state statutes. While a direct initiative is placed on the ballot once supporters file the required number of valid signatures, an indirect initiative is first presented to the state legislature. Legislators can adopt the indirect initiative into law. Should legislators take no action or reject the initiative, the initiative is put on the ballot for voters to decide.

The state legislature passed three of them this year, and an additional three did not receive legislative votes. Those three will appear on the general election ballot on Nov. 5.

The conservative PAC Let’s Go Washington was behind the six Initiatives to the Legislature. State Rep. Jim Walsh (R-19), who is also chairperson of the Washington Republican Party, filed the initiatives. Brian Heywood, CEO of Taiyo Pacific Partners, founded the PAC.

Democrats control both chambers of the Washington State Legislature. Legislative Republicans were unanimous in their support for the three initiatives, while Democrats were divided. However, a majority of Democrats supported each of the three. The three approved initiatives remove restrictions on police vehicular pursuits; prohibit income taxes; and designate specific parental rights related to education, including opting children out of sexual education.

History of Initiatives to the Legislature

From 1912 through 2023, 2,133 Initiatives to the Legislature have been filed. 33 have appeared on the ballot. Voters approved 17 (51%) and rejected 16 (49%). Nine received approval from the legislature, including this year’s three measures. The other six initiatives that the legislature approved are described below:

  • Initiative 2 (1935): The legislature approved the initiative to establish blanket primaries. Democrats controlled both chambers of the legislature at the time. Charles Hodde, who lobbied for the initiative, said, “The papers had freely predicted that it would have to go to a vote of the people, that you’d never get the politicians in office, that got elected under the old system, to go for a new system. … It actually passed the House rather easily, something like eighty percent of them voted for it [and] in the Senate it was extremely close.”
  • Initiative 12 (1943): The initiative allowed for joint public utility districts. Democrats controlled the state House and Senate. A veto referendum was then filed to overturn the legislature’s approval of the initiative, which was successful, resulting in the measure being invalidated.
  • Initiative 99 (1989): The initiative provided for presidential preference primary elections to determine each presidential candidate’s percentage of delegates to major party national conventions. The state legislature was divided at the time. Republicans controlled the Senate, and Democrats controlled the House.
  • Initiative 159 (1995): The divided legislature approved two indirect initiatives. Democrats controlled the Sentate, and Republicans controlled the House. Initiative 159 increased penalties and sentencing standards for crimes involving a firearm and also made sentences and plea agreements public records.
  • Initiative 164 (1995): The initiative required the government to pay for property value reductions attributed to government land use regulations. A veto referendum was then filed to overturn the legislature’s approval of the initiative, which was successful, resulting in the measure being invalidated.
  • Initiative 1000 (2019): Before 2024, the most recent indirect initiative to be approved by the Washington State Legislature was Initiative 1000 in 2019. Initiative 1000 was designed to allow affirmative action without the use of quotas. Democrats controlled both chambers of the state legislature, and the indirect initiative was passed along partisan lines. A veto referendum was then filed to overturn the legislature’s approval of the initiative, which was successful, resulting in the measure being invalidated.

Three of the indirect initiatives—Initiative 12 (1943), Initiative 164 (1995), and Initiative 1000 (2019)—faced veto referendum campaigns, and, in each case, voters rejected the indirect initiatives.

Let’s Go Washington Initiatives, 2024

In 2024, Democrats controlled the Washington State Legislature. With the approval of three of Let’s Go Washington’s indirect initiatives, House Speaker Laurie Jinkins (D-27) said, “Part of it is, I think we don’t want to subject voters to big campaigns on things that don’t do a whole lot.” 

Rep. Jim Walsh (R-19), who sponsored the initiatives, said, “I understand the political logic that the speaker and the Senate leader may have to pass that into law now and get it off the ballot in November. So there’s a certain calculation, get the most popular one off the ballot so that it’s not a factor in voter turnout.”

The following are the three indirect initiatives that legislators approved:

  • Initiative 2111 prohibited the state from implementing an income tax. Washington does not have an income tax and state constitutional law and case law already prevent income taxes. The initiative was adopted with unanimous support from Republican legislators. In the House, Democrats were divided 37-21. In the Senate, Democrats were divided 18-11.
  • Initiative 2113 removed restrictions on when a police officer can engage in a vehicular pursuit. In the House, Democrats were divided 38-20. In the Senate, Democrats were divided 16-13.
  • Initiative 2081 received the most support from Democrats. Initiative 2081 provided parents with specific rights surrounding their children’s education, including the right to review materials, be notified of medical treatments offered or arranged for students, and the right to opt out of instruction on topics related to sexual activity. Democratic legislators said parents already have the rights under state and federal law that the initiative enumerates. Sen. Lisa Wellman (D) of Mercer Island said, “This initiative seeks to clarify all these rights and inform parents in plain and straightforward terms what they can expect to know about their children while they’re in school.” In the House, Democrats were divided 43-15. In the Senate, Democrats were unanimous in their support.

The six indirect initiatives were presented to the state legislature this year after sponsors submitted a combined 2,662,425 signatures. At least 324,516 valid signatures were required for each initiative.

The Let’s Go Washington PAC has received $7.82 million through Feb. 29. Brian Heywood has provided $6.24 million to the PAC. Let’s Go Washington expended $9.28 million, including $6.69 million on signature gathering, which is about $3.44 per required signature.

Three of the initiatives were not passed, meaning they will appear on the Nov. 2024 ballot:

  • Initiative 2109 would repeal the capital gains excise tax on individuals’ long-term capital assets with capital gains over $250,000.
  • Initiative 2117 would prohibit carbon tax credit trading and repeal provisions of the 2021 Washington Climate Commitment Act (CCA), a state law that provided for a cap-and-invest program intended to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 95% by 2050.
  • Initiative 2124 would allow employees and self-employed individuals to opt out of the state’s long-term services and supports trust health care program, known as WA Cares.

There has not been an Initiative to the Legislature on the ballot in Washington since 2019, when voters approved Initiative 976, which limited vehicle registration renewal fees to $30. The Washington Supreme Court blocked that initiative from taking effect.