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House Democrats block GOP effort requiring two-thirds super-majority to advance legislation

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 for representatives’ consideration.

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

House Republicans proposed the rule change based on what Washington voters adopted this past November as Initiative 1185, which requires a two-thirds super-majority approval by the legislature for any increase in taxes.

That initiative earned 63.91 percent approval from voters last fall. Of the more than 3.9 million registered voters in the state, 2.96 million voted on I-1185 with about 1.9 million supporting the ballot measure, according to the Secretary of State’s election summary.

House Republican Leader, Rep. Richard Debolt (R-20th District, Chehalis) said Thursday that some in his caucus are worried the initiative would be taken up in the courts, as did three out of five of the initiative’s predecessors. As a result, Republican legislators attempted to have the amendment, which they said would legislatively affirm the people’s vote, heard and adopted in House Rule 10(b).

Three of those five previous statewide initiatives were suspended by lawmakers by a simple majority vote. The remaining two were challenged in court on questions of constitutionality.

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 — to advance to third reading and final consideration after the full text of a bill is read to members by the clerk, and amendments considered section by section. Thus all bills could 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 is to continue through the legislative process.

Urging lawmakers to pass the amendment, Rep. J. T. Wilcox (R-2nd District, 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.”

Seventeen other states require some type of supermajority to raise taxes and most are constitutional requirements.

However, Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-43rd District, Seattle) disagrees:

“This proposed amendment is not common,” he said. “It is, 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 the House Democrats will not support the proposed amendment out of a desire to protect the voice of the minority party and 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-27th District, Tacoma) echoed similar sentiments to Pedersen’s, 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,” said Jinkins.

“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,” she continued.

DeBolt, on the other hand, said that the measure actually stops special-interest spending. The amendment would 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-10th District, Clinton). “We don’t have to do what they do in D.C. We don’t have to be frozen in in-action.”

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