Why Washington States’ Minimum Wage and Paid Sick Leave Initiative is Unconstitutional

Date: March 07, 2017

The National Federation of Independent Business recently joined with other industry groups in Washington State to challenge last November’s voter adopted initiative raising minimum wage and imposing various paid sick leave requirements on employers throughout the State. We argue in this lawsuit that the initiative violates the Washington Constitution, which includes a single-subject rule. The lawsuit also raises other arguments, including our contention that the initiative in question was not explained properly to voters on the ballot.

Single subject constitutional provisions are not uncommon. They are intended to ensure that the lawmakers (or voters in the case of an initiative) are not forced to compromise their values, and to ensure that the law reflects only sound policy judgments—as opposed to backroom deal-making or “log-rolling” efforts to tack-on extras that are unrelated. The idea is simple: Any newly enacted law must address one subject at a time because otherwise lawmakers (or voters) may be forced to choose between supporting a bill that includes policies that they find problematic, or opposing a bill that includes policies they like. Washington’s Constitution forbids this sort of Hobson’s Choice.

The problem here is that the initiative accomplished two major (and totally unrelated) policy changes at the same time. Many voters may well have supported minimum wage, while opposing paid sick leave mandates—or vice versa. The solution is simple enough: There should have been separate initiatives dealing with separate policy proposals so that all voters could vote without compromising their convictions.

Stay tuned for updates as this suit proceeds.

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