OLYMPIA — With biennial budget deadlines looming, state lawmakers were hit with an affirmative-action curveball last week.
Initiative 1000, which would allow affirmative action in hiring through use of goals instead of quotas, was introduced to lawmakers with the distinct possibility that, instead, voters will end up deciding the measure in November.
The One WA Equality Campaign, the fundraising arm of I-1000, has raised $141,000 toward its approval, including a hefty infusion of cash from the Sequim-based Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, which has donated $10,000, and other Native American communities.
Seven of the top 10 contributors to the effort are tribal entities, including the Jamestown S’Klallam and the Washington Indian Gaming Commission.
Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Chairman Ron Allen did not return calls for comment on the legislation late Friday afternoon.
The measure was introduced Thursday for lawmakers’ consideration and was fleshed out at a public hearing, coming as somewhat of a surprise to lawmakers who face an end-of-legislative-session deadline of Sunday, April 28.
“It did just pop up,” 24th District Rep. Mike Chapman of Port Angeles said Friday.
“If we don’t take action, then it goes to the people.
“The question is, does it have enough time to go through a thorough [legislative] vetting?
“Coming this late, it may be difficult.”
I-200, approved by voters in 1998, bans discrimination and preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, national origin and age.
I-1000 would allow those factors and the presence of a sensory, mental or physical disability and a person’s honorably discharged veteran or military status to be used as factors “to implement affirmative action, without the use of quotas or preferential treatment (as defined), in public education, employment and contracting,” according to the ballot title.
As part of I-1000, a governor’s commission on diversity, equity and inclusion would draft implementing legislation.
Supporters include Gov. Jay Inslee, former Democratic Govs. Christine Gregoire and Gary Locke, and former Republic Gov. Dan Evans.
Opponents include Washington Asians for Equality, and I-200 sponsors Tim Eyman, Ward Connerly and John Carlson.
Chapman said he supports the measure.
“There are circumstances where people are taken advantage of,” he said.
“It’s not a mandate.
“It’s raising awareness, and it very well could help veterans.”
State Rep. Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend, the 24th District’s other House member, said I-200 has limited the opportunities for minorities to compete within tight networks of contractors.
The Port Townsend Democrat would not comment on whether he supports or opposes the initiative.
“The Legislature needs to deal with it,” he said Friday.
“Through the legislative process, we’ll figure out a good way to solve the problem.
“We need to figure out how to open up some opportunities, to figure out a way to get some folks into those networks.
“That’s what the legislation should be about.”
State Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim said I-1000 “is something I’m very open to.”
The 24th District Democrat said Friday he hasn’t yet looked at the legislation in detail.
“I support having those types of programs that incentivize folks,” Van De Wege said.
I-1000 is further explained at tinyurl.com/PDN-AffirmativeAction.
All three lawmakers lauded the passage of an amended HB 1087 in the Senate, a House health care bill Tharinger co-sponsored.
It would make Washington the first state in the nation with a long-term-care benefit — a lifetime maximum amount of $36,500 per person — paid through an employee payroll premium of 0.58 percent of a person’s wages.
“It’s important to the district,” Van De Wege said, adding all three 24th District lawmakers worked hard for its passage.
The Senate made changes to ensure “it’s as financially sound as possible,” Van De Wege said.
Tharinger said he expects the House and Senate to resolve their differences on the bill and that it will go to the governor for his expected signature.
Chapman said he’s still hopeful on 2019-21 funding for $5 million in boulevard-barrier improvements to the Morse Creek Curve on U.S. Highway 101 east of Port Angeles, a top safety project of the state Department of Transportation (DOT).
He wasn’t sure whether funding for the improvements would be part of the biennial spending plan or be made available in DOT traffic-safety funding, in which case he said work on the improvements might not begin until 2020 instead of this year.
“My read is it will be funded through one avenue or the other,” Chapman said.
“We should know by Tuesday or Wednesday if it’s in the draft budget.”
The last day of the session is April 28.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at email@example.com.