Senate Majority leader to sue over Initiative ruling - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Senate Majority leader to sue over Initiative ruling

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Associated Press - March 2, 2008 11:05 PM ET

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said Sunday she will sue in a bid to overturn the tax-limiting provisions of Initiative 960, a Tim Eyman-sponsored measure aimed at curbing the Legislature's power to raise taxes.

The lawsuit, which is technically against Lt. Gov. Brad Owen over a Senate floor ruling upholding I-960, will be filed on Monday with the state Supreme Court.

I-960 reaffirmed higher vote thresholds for tax hikes and was passed by voters in November. It requires that all state tax votes would take a two-thirds vote in both houses. An alternative is a majority vote that refers the tax increase to the voters.

Brown told The Associated Press Sunday the two-thirds requirement is "clearly unconstitutional."

"This isn't about 960, and this isn't about undoing the will of the people," Brown said. "This is about defending the Constitution and the Legislature's ability to pass laws under the Constitution."

Brown said the lawsuit doesn't address any other aspect of I-960, such as votes on fees and the public notification process.

"The specifics of the suit is very narrow," she said. "It says that the Constitution says that 25 votes in the Senate and 50 in the House is what is required to pass legislation."

Brown laid the groundwork for the lawsuit on Friday, when she asked Owen to rule I-960 unconstitutional for the purposes of a pending vote on a proposed $10 million liquor increase that would pay for drunken driving enforcement and substance abuse treatment.

Under I-960, the bill would have required approval from two-thirds of the Senate.

Eyman opponents, including legislators, believe I-960 is illegal because it conflicts with the state constitution's provision that the Legislature can pass bills with a simple majority. The initiative shouldn't be allowed to alter that requirement, the argument goes, because it wasn't a constitutional amendment.

In his ruling, Owen said Brown's arguments are "cogent and persuasive" but it was up to the courts to decide the constitutionality of I-960. He also ruled the proposed tax increase did meet the thresholds in I-960, and would require a two-thirds vote.

The tax increase then got a simple majority vote of 25-21, but was defeated because supporters couldn't get the 33 votes needed.

"The ability we have here is to protect the Constitution," Brown said. "We have this opportunity to clarify it, and I'm anxious for the courts to do so."

Brown will be represented by attorneys Hugh Spitzer and Thomas Ahearne; Owen will be represented by the attorney general's office.

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