Lawmakers shouldn't pass buck to voters


Look up “Legislature” in a Google search (or, old school, in a dictionary) and it is defined something like this: A deliberative body of elected people empowered to make, change or repeal the laws the state.

But that definition seems horribly out-of-date for some legislators in Washington state. They seem to prefer to avoid deliberating and making decisions, preferring to let voters do their jobs.

That latest pass-the-buck moment came Sunday when the Republican-(with-two-Democrats)-controlled Senate approved three proposals asking voters to make major policy changes.

One of the Senate proposals would give public school principals authority to reject teachers assigned to their buildings. Another would to place limits on the rate of growth for state spending except for education. And the last would approve overhauling how the state settles workers’ compensation claims.

None of these proposals seems particularly prudent.

All public school principals are part of a local school system. Each school local district has its policy on hiring — some might give the principal total contol, others much control and others little to no control. It is ultimately a local policy set by local school boards.

Setting limits on how much can be spent doesn’t allow lawmakers to set priorities, which is their job. And what if a fiscal emergency were to hit? This plan essentially lets a computer program write the state budget.

The third proposal might be a good place to start a thoughtful discussion on workers’ compensation reform, but such a complex issue needs to be looked at from many perspectives.

Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, said Senate leaders OK’d the referendums as a concession in budget negotiations.

Hmmm, that’s not a compelling reason for statewide elections on policy issues.

Litzow also said he was confident the first two referendums (principals and budget growth) would be approved by voters.

On this point, he is probably correct. That, however, has no bearing on whether they are worthy of consideration.

A referendum calling for free ice cream on days when the temperature is over 80 degrees could get ballot support.

So, too, could a ballot measure asking if the Legislature should be dissolved. That one might win by a landslide, but it’s not a good idea.

Legislators are elected to do what’s best for the state and its people. Serving as a senator or representative is a difficult job. It requires making tough decisions unpopular with some people.

Tossing contentious issues to the voters is a cop-out.


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