To The Legislature

How do initiatives work?

For more than 100 years, Washington state has entrusted citizens with the right to propose laws that may then be enacted by voters or legislators through the initiative process. There are two types of initiatives: An initiative to the people is placed directly on the ballot for the electorate to decide, while an initiative to the Legislature is first submitted to representatives and senators in Olympia for consideration during their regularly scheduled legislative session.

In 2024, a record six initiatives to the Legislature received enough signatures and were certified by the Secretary of State before being sent to the Legislature for the 2024 session, scheduled to run Jan. 8–March 7.

What is an initiative to the Legislature?

While an initiative to the people goes straight to voters’ ballots, an initiative to the Legislature is a measure that is initially introduced as proposed legislation alongside regular bills in the House and Senate. When it receives such an initiative, the Legislature may do one of the following:

Adopt the initiative as law. It will become law without a vote of the people and may not be vetoed by the governor.

Reject the initiative or do nothing. In either case, the initiative will then appear on the November ballot for a vote of the people.

Adopt an alternative to the initiative. Both the alternate proposal and the original initiative will appear on the ballot.

Before an initiative to the Legislature may appear on petitions for signature-gathering, it must be submitted to the state Office of the Code Reviser, where it is reviewed for technical errors and potential conflicts with existing laws. Then it must receive a ballot title and summary from the Office of the Attorney General.

Once supporters have a ballot title and summary, they must print petition sheets at their own expense and begin gathering signatures. If enough signatures are collected, petitions are turned in to the Secretary of State, which conducts signature verification and certifies the initiative.1

How common are initiatives to the Legislature?

Since Washington became one of the first states to adopt the initiative and referendum process in 1912, citizens have attempted 1,728 initiatives to the Legislature. Organizers have only been successful in getting 38 of these measures certified and sent to the Legislature, where they have been mostly successful with some version of the proposed initiative being adopted 23 of 38 times2 — a 60 percent success rate.

The Legislature has adopted an initiative on six occasions.

Voters have approved an initiative to the Legislature 15 times.

Voters have rejected an initiative to the Legislature 15 times.

Voters twice adopted the Legislature’s alternate proposal to the initiative.

The main reason initiatives don’t get certified is because they cannot garner enough signatures, and that has not gotten easier in recent years for organizers on both sides of the political spectrum, according to a report by The Seattle Times3. An initiative to the Legislature has not been certified by the Secretary of State since 2019, when majority party Democrats ignored — then voters approved — a measure requiring $30 car tabs, which was later struck down by the state Supreme Court.

In order to qualify, an initiative must receive signatures from registered voters equal to at least 8 percent of the number of votes cast for the office of governor in the most recent gubernatorial election4. In 2024, that number is 324,516. The six initiatives to the Legislature each surpassed that threshold by more than 100,000 signatures, with I-2124 receiving the fewest at 427,481 signatures and all six initiatives receiving more than 2.6 million total signatures5.

Why are House Republicans supporting these initatives?

House Republicans believe the hundreds of thousands of citizens who brought these initiatives to the Legislature represent a groundswell of resistance to majority party polices that have gone too far in recent years. In each case, when proposed by Democrats, these policies were questioned by House Republicans in committee and fiercely debated on the House floor. House Republicans have consistently stood in firm opposition against these policies with their voice and their votes.

Now Republicans are asking majority party Democrats to give these initiatives to the Legislature the consideration required by the state constitution, which instructs they be prioritized above all other non-budget policy proposals.

What has happened with the initiatives this legislative session?

In January, House Republicans made motions to require each of these six initiatives to receive a public hearing from the committee to which they were assigned. Each of the six motions failed, with every House Democrat voting against holding hearings.

On Feb. 14, Democrats told the media they would hold hearings on some of the initiatives, but ruled out the two that hit Washingtonians’ pocketbooks the hardest — I-2117 repealing the costly gas tax hidden in the Climate Commitment Act and I-2109 reversing the controversial capital gains income tax. On Feb. 16, Democrats ruled out the only other initiative that would bring immediate tax relief — I-2124 allowing employees in Washington to opt out of the long-term care payroll tax.

This left three initiatives that would receive public hearings. A hearing for I-2111 on prohibiting future state and local income tax was held on Feb. 27, while hearings for I-2081 on parental rights and I-2113 on vehicular police pursuits were held on Feb. 28. All three initiatives were passed by the Legislature on March 4. The measures become law on June 6, 2024.