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How will Washington state Democrats handle GOP-backed voter initiatives?

caption: Members of the House convene on the first day of the legislative session at the Washington state Capitol, Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, in Olympia.
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Members of the House convene on the first day of the legislative session at the Washington state Capitol, Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, in Olympia.
(AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Washington state Democrats say they're closer to knowing which voter initiatives will receive hearings in the Legislature.

It's the first indication how Democrats will handle a suite of Republican-backed voter initiatives this year. The Legislature, where Democrats have a majority, has an option to take action on the initiatives, or send them to the voters to decide. The measures mainly aim to undo key policies passed by the Democrats in recent years.

RELATED: The 6 voter initiatives likely heading to Washington ballots this fall, explained

"We don't have the final decision on which ones or when, but there will be some hearings," said Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D-Spokane).

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) said four of the initiatives are still being analyzed. They would do things like roll back limits on police car chases, and make the state's new long-term health tax optional.

"Those will be in the mix for us to consider more strongly whether or not we hear them," Jinkins said. "I don't know if we hear all four of them or some subset, but we're getting very close."

But Billig and Jinkins say two initiatives will not get public hearings — one aiming to repeal the state's capital gains tax, and another that dismantles the cap-and-trade program that is at the core of the Climate Commitment Act.

Republicans in the Legislature have pressed Democrats to immediately hold hearings on all six of the initiatives. But the majority has so far rejected those efforts. Democrats have pointed to inconsistent precedent on how lawmakers have handled initiatives in the past, and say they need to better understand the full impact of each of this year's proposals.

RELATED: Republicans, Democrats, carbon, and you. Debating Washington's cap and trade

Democrats say they'll only hear measures that could be enacted or include a proposed alternative. If the Legislature approves an alternative, it will appear on ballots next to the original initiative.

Lawmakers have until March 7 to take action before the issues go to voters this fall.

The six Republican-backed initiatives include:

  • Initiative 2117: Would cancel the the cap-and-trade portion of the Climate Commitment Act. Washington's cap-and-trade program is a carbon auction that sells the ability to pollute to industry. The money is used to fund climate change measures.
  • Initiative 2109: Would repeal Washington's recently established capital gains tax.
  • Initiative 2124: WA Cares program began in 2023 and added a mandatory payroll tax to every worker in the state. The money is slated to pay for long-term care later in life. This initiative would make this tax optional.
  • Initiative 2113: Would scale back new regulations over police chases.
  • Initiative 2081: "Parents' Bill of Rights" that covers parents' authority over education and children's records. Such records include mental health and medical care provided at schools.
  • Initiative 2111: Would preemptively ban income taxes in Washington (which does not currently have a state income tax).
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