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Referendum 90 on Washington 2020 ballot asks voters to approve or reject comprehensive sexual health education in public schools

On June 24, the Washington Secretary of State’s office found that Parents for Safe Schools, proponents of Referendum 90, had submitted enough valid signatures to qualify the measure for the 2020 ballot.

Referendum 90 asks voters to approve or reject Washington Senate Bill 5395, which was designed to require comprehensive sexual health education in public schools.

A vote to approve Referendum 90 would allow SB 5395 to go into effect. A vote to reject this referendum would repeal Senate Bill 5395. The bill is on hold pending the result of the election.

Senate Bill 5395 would require public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education to students in grades 6-12 beginning in the 2021-22 school year and for all public school students, including those in grades K-5, beginning in the 2022-23 school year. The curriculum would have to include instruction and information regarding affirmative consent (defined as “a conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity as a requirement before sexual activity”) and bystander training.

Parents for Safe Schools sponsored the referendum measure in an attempt to repeal SB 5395. In a random sample check of 7,940 signatures submitted by the group, the secretary of state’s office found that 7,186 signatures were valid, projecting a signature validity rate of 90.5%. This means that of 264,637 signatures submitted by proponents, 239,496 were deemed valid through the random sample verification. To qualify for the ballot, 129,811 valid signatures were required.

Senate Bill 5395 was sponsored by Senator Claire Wilson (D), vice-chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. SB 5395 was passed in the state House on March 4 with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans voting against. SB 5395 passed in the Senate largely along party lines on March 7, 2020, with one Democrat, Tim Sheldon, joining all Senate Republicans in voting no. Governor Jay Inslee (D) signed the bill into law on March 27, 2020.

Under SB 5395, comprehensive sexual health education means “recurring instruction in human development and reproduction that is age-appropriate and inclusive of all students.” The bill would require course materials to be verified or supported by scientific research, published in peer-reviewed journals, and recognized as accurate by organizations such as the Washington State Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Comprehensive sexual health education for students in grades K-3 would need to be taught as instruction in social and emotional learning (SEL). Social and emotional learning is defined by the Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction as “a process through which individuals build awareness and skills in managing emotions, setting goals, establishing relationships, and making responsible decisions that support success in school and in life.” Sexual health education would need to be provided at least once to students in grades K-3, once to students in grades 4-5, twice to students in grades 6-8, and twice to students in grades 9-12. Sexual health education would not be required to be integrated into unrelated subjects or courses.

Schools would be required to notify parents that they are providing comprehensive sexual health education and make all course materials accessible to the parents. Parents could file a written request with the school district or the school’s principal to excuse their child from sexual health education instruction. The bill would require school officials to grant such a request.

Parents for Safe Schools said, “As parents, we have a responsibility to protect our children from inappropriate, ideology-based curriculum. This bill was passed late in the session with very little opportunity for ordinary citizens to testify and no amendments accepted. Parents and their local school boards deserve a voice in controversial curriculum decisions and many districts cannot afford an expensive, unfunded mandate.” As of June 21, Parents for Safe Schools had raised $178,846. The largest donor to the committee was The Reagan Fund, which gathers contributions for the Washington State House Republican Leadership PAC, and which gave $25,000 to Parents for Safe Schools.

Senator Claire Wilson (D), sponsor of Senate Bill 5395 and vice-chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, said, “Some people hear the words ‘sex education’ and mistake the focus of the curriculum, which is health and safety, and is age-appropriate for each grade level. This is about making sure younger children know what kind of touching is inappropriate, whether by peers or predators. It’s about helping older students recognize and resist abusive or coercive behavior. It’s about teaching all children to respect diversity and not to bully others. […] There are children who will be targeted for molestation in the coming year, there are young women who may face sexual coercion or assault. They need access to information and lessons that will enable them to make decisions to ensure their health and safety.”

Since the first in 1914, Washington voters have decided 38 statewide veto referendum measures at the ballot. The most recent veto referendum was on the ballot in Washington in 2019, when voters rejected Initiative 1000, an affirmative action-related measure approved by the legislature. In 81.6% of veto referendums (31 of 38), voters repealed the targeted bill. Conversely, in 18.4% (seven of 37) of veto referendums, voters upheld the targeted law.

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Proponents of a veto referendum in Washington file signatures to repeal a bill requiring comprehensive sexual health education in public schools

Parents for Safe Schools, sponsors of Referendum 90, submitted 266,000 signatures to the Washington Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday. To qualify the referendum for the November ballot,129,811 of the signatures must be valid.

Referendum 90 petitioners seek to repeal Senate Bill 5395, which was signed by Governor Jay Inslee (D) on March 27, 2020. Senate Bill 3395, sponsored by Senator Claire Wilson (D), vice-chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, was passed in the State House on March 4 along party lines with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans voting against. It passed in the Senate along party lines on March 7, except one Democrat, Tim Sheldon, joined all Senate Republicans in voting no. The bill is on hold pending the verification of signatures, and if placed on the ballot, the result of the election.

Senate Bill 5395 would require public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education to students in grades 6-12 beginning in the 2021-22 school year and for all public school students, including those in grades K-5, beginning in the 2022-23 school year. The curriculum would have to include instruction and information regarding affirmative consent and bystander training. Sexual health education would need to be provided at least once to students in grades K-3, once to students in grades 4-5, twice to students in grades 6-8, and twice to students in grades 9-12. Sexual health education would not be required to be integrated into unrelated subjects or courses.

Under SB 5395, comprehensive sexual health education means “recurring instruction in human development and reproduction that is age-appropriate and inclusive of all students.” Course materials would need to be medically and scientifically accurate, meaning the information has been verified or supported by scientific research, has been published in peer-reviewed journals, and is recognized as accurate by organizations such as the Washington State Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Under the bill, schools would be required to notify parents that they are providing comprehensive sexual health education and make all course materials accessible to the parents. Parents could file a written request with the school district or the school’s principal to excuse their child from sexual health education instruction. School districts would be required to grant such requests.

SB 5395 sponsor Sen. Claire Wilson (D) said, “Some people hear the words ‘sex education’ and mistake the focus of the curriculum, which is health and safety, and is age-appropriate for each grade level. This is about making sure younger children know what kind of touching is inappropriate, whether by peers or predators. It’s about helping older students recognize and resist abusive or coercive behavior. It’s about teaching all children to respect diversity and not to bully others. Students need a safe place to ask questions, to fully understand consent, and to have the information they need to make safe decisions.”

Parents for Safe Schools said SB 5395 “mandates graphic sex education starting in elementary school” and “orders school districts to ‘comprehensively’ include sex ed in all curriculum — including math, social studies, science, business and computer classes. … Keep the Olympia activists out of our classrooms. Parents and elected local school boards should be the only people deciding what is taught in our classrooms.”

The Washington State Catholic Conference, which opposes SB 5395, said, “The law requires ‘affirmative consent curriculum’ defined as ‘a conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity as a requirement before sexual activity.’ This requirement is not in accordance with church teaching that sexual activity be reserved for marriage. Parents can opt their children out of classroom instruction, but they cannot opt them out of school yard discussions and the culture change that may take place at school.”

Parents for Safe Schools had raised $158,903 according to the most recent reports available on June 11, 2020. The largest donor was The Reagan Fund, which is the name of the Washington State House Republican Leadership PAC.

Since the first in 1914, Washington voters have decided 38 statewide veto referendum measures at the ballot. Opponents of laws targeted for repeal collect signatures for veto referendum petitions hoping that voters will repeal the laws at the ballot. The most recent veto referendum, Referendum 88, was on the ballot in Washington in 2019. Voters rejected the targeted law, Initiative 1000. In 81.6% of cases (31 of 38), veto referendums resulted in the targeted bill being repealed. Conversely, 18.4% (seven of 37) of veto referendum measures resulted in the targeted law being upheld.

Between 1906 and 2019, 522 veto referendums appeared on the ballot in 23 states. Voters repealed 341 (65.3%) of the targeted laws. Voters upheld 181 (34.7 percent) of the targeted laws. The states with the most veto referendums were North Dakota (75), Oregon (68), and California (48).
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State legislative special elections scheduled in Louisiana, Washington

A new state legislative special election has been added to our list. The special election is for the District 54 seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives on July 11, 2020. There is no primary, and the filing deadline was on May 22.

A new state legislative special election has been added to our list. The special election is for the District 38 seat in the Washington State Senate on November 3, 2020. The primary is on August 4, and the filing deadline was on May 15.



Order highlights role of federal agencies in preemption decisions

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)— the federal agency tasked with regulating the transportation of oil and other hazardous materials—issued an order on May 11 that blocked a Washington state law that would have placed restrictions on crude oil transportation beyond those required by federal law.

The Federal Hazardous Materials Transportation Law (HMTA) allows individuals and government entities affected by state or local hazardous materials transportation requirements to apply to the secretary of transportation for a determination of whether federal law preempts those requirements. The secretary of transportation delegated the authority to issue preemption determinations to the PHMSA.

The Washington state law, passed in 2019, set vapor pressure limits on crude oil transported by rail with the goal of minimizing the explosion risk in the event of a train accident.

The attorneys general of oil-producing states North Dakota and Montana applied to the PHMSA to determine whether federal law preempted the Washington state law. They argued (1) that the Washington law was an obstacle to implementing the HMTA and (2) that the Washington law was not substantively similar to the federal law.

The PHMSA held that the Washington state law did not conform to the U.S. Hazardous Materials Regulations and could disrupt nationwide implementation of the HMTA by encouraging other states to set their own vapor pressure requirements. The PHMSA also cited a Sandia National Laboratories study to support its determination that Washington state’s vapor pressure requirement would not reduce the risk of explosions.

Washington state can submit a petition for judicial review of the PHMSA’s order to a federal court of appeals within 60 days. A spokesperson for Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D) said that state officials were disappointed in the agency’s determination and were considering their options.

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Legislators appointed to Washington State Senate, House

The Snohomish County Council made a state legislative appointment to each chamber of the Washington State Legislature May 13.

The council appointed June Robinson (D) to represent District 38 in the Washington State Senate, following the resignation of former Sen. John McCoy (D) from the chamber last month. Robinson previously represented the District 38-Position 1 seat in the state House since 2013. She had already declared her candidacy for the special election to fill McCoy’s seat at the time of her appointment. Robinson will serve in the state senate until the certification of the special election results, which take place 21 days after the general election on Nov. 3 The winner will serve the remaining two years of McCoy’s term.

The council filled the House vacancy left by Robinson’s elevation that same day, appointing Emily Wicks to the Position 1 seat in District 38. She will serve the remainder of Robinson’s unexpired term in the house, set to end on January 11, 2021. Wicks has also filed for re-election.

All 98 seats in the Washington House of Representatives are up for election in 2020. Roughly half the seats in the Washing State Senate are up for election this year as well, as senators serve staggered four-year terms. Washington currently has a Democratic state government trifecta, with the Democratic Party holding the governorship and majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. The state has had 14 years of Democratic trifectas and no Republican trifectas since 1992.

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Former Wisconsin state Senate minority leader resigns from legislature

Wisconsin State Senator Jennifer Shilling (D) submitted her resignation from the legislature on May 15, effective immediately. Shilling had previously announced she would not seek another term and did not file to run for re-election.

Shilling said that she was resigning to explore unspecified employment opportunities. Wisconsin state law prohibits legislators and other public officials from holding office while actively pursuing employment that presents a conflict of interest with their government duties.

Shilling served as State Senate Minority Leader from 2015 until last month when she stepped down in anticipation of her departure from the legislature. Senate Democrats selected Janet Bewley as the new minority leader on April 24. Going into the 2020 elections, the Democratic Party holds 13 seats to the Republican Party’s 19 seats in the chamber. The Republican Party has held a majority in the state senate since 2011.

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Candidate filing period for state-level races ends in Washington state

On May 15, the statewide filing deadline passed to run for elected office in Washington state. Candidates filed for the following state-level offices:

State Executive
  • Governor
  • Lieutenant Governor
  • Attorney General
  • Secretary of State
  • Superintendent of Public Instruction
  • Commissioner of Public Lands
  • Treasurer
  • Auditor
  • Commissioner of Insurance
State Legislative
  • Washington State Senate (25 seats)
  • Washington House of Representatives (98 seats)
State Judicial
  • Washington Supreme Court (4 seats)
  • Washington Court of Appeals (8 seats)

The primary is scheduled for August 4, and the general election is scheduled for November 3, 2020.

Washington’s statewide filing deadline was the 38th to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next statewide filing deadline is on May 28 in Vermont.

Washington has a Democratic state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

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Candidate filing period for state-level races to end in Washington

The statewide filing deadline to run for elected office in Washington is on May 15, 2020. Prospective candidates may file for the following state-level offices:

State executive
  • Governor
  • Lieutenant Governor
  • Attorney General
  • Secretary of State
  • Superintendent of Public Instruction
  • Commissioner of Public Lands
  • Treasurer
  • Auditor
  • Commissioner of Insurance
State legislative
  • Washington State Senate (25 seats)
  • Washington House of Representatives (98 seats)
State judicial
  • Washington Supreme Court (4 seats)
  • Washington Court of Appeals (8 seats)

The primary is scheduled for August 4, and the general election is scheduled for November 3, 2020.

Washington’s statewide filing deadline is the 38th to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next statewide filing deadline is on May 28 in Vermont.

Washington has a Democratic state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.



Filing period for congressional candidates to end in Washington state

The filing deadline to run for elected office in Washington is on May 15, 2020. In Washington, prospective candidates may file for all 10 of the state’s U.S. House seats.

The primary is scheduled for August 4, and the general election is scheduled for November 3, 2020.

Washington’s statewide filing deadline is the 38th to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next statewide filing deadline is on May 28 in Vermont.

Heading into the election, the Democratic Party holds both U.S. Senate seats and seven of the 10 congressional seats from Washington. The U.S. House has 233 Democrats, 196 Republicans, one Libertarian, and five vacancies. All 435 seats are up for election. A majority in the chamber requires 218 seats.

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Washington senator McCoy announces resignation

Washington senator John McCoy (D) announced his retirement and resignation effective April 17, 2020. McCoy is a 17-year Washington legislature veteran and one of the state’s longest-serving Native American legislators.

McCoy’s letter of resignation to the Washington Senate stated, “When I first came to the Legislature in 2003 as a member of the House of Representatives, I was humbled to represent such warm and vibrant people in Everett, Marysville, and Tulalip. Through changes in committees, leadership roles, and even chambers over the course of my legislative career, it was always an immense privilege to represent my neighbors.”

McCoy served in the Washington House of Representatives, representing District 38-Position 1 from 2002 to 2013. He was elected to the state Senate in November 2013 and was re-elected to represent Washington Senate District 38 in 2018. Before joining the Washington legislature McCoy served 20 years in the United States Air Force and as a computer technician for the White House.

The Snohomish County Council will appoint a representative to temporarily fill McCoy’s seat from a list of names submitted by the Democratic Central Committee for Senate District 38. That appointee will serve until the November election. Candidates interested in running to serve the remaining two years of McCoy’s term and being on the ballot in November must file before May 15, 2020.

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