State Supreme Court upholds liquor initiative

OLYMPIA (AP) — The Washington Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a voter-approved initiative privatizing liquor sales, one day before the measure takes effect.

Initiative 1183 allows stores larger than 10,000 square feet and some smaller stores to begin selling liquor Friday. Voters approved the plan last fall, and the state already auctioned off the rights to sell liquor at state stores.

However, initiative opponents filed suit, arguing that the measure violates state rules requiring initiatives to address only one subject. The measure included a provision for public safety funding.

A judge rejected that claim, but opponents appealed to the Supreme Court.

In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the opponents had not overcome the presumption that the initiative meets single-subject rules.

“The challenged portion of I-1183’s ballot title is not palpably misleading or false,” the court wrote, adding that it will not void a law duly enacted by voters based upon ‘the technical significance of a word, where it can hardly be contended that anyone was likely to be deceived.’”

The entire measure would have been nullified if the court had determined that voters would have rejected the initiative without the public safety provision.

In a dissenting opinion signed by three justices, Justice Charles K. Wiggins wrote that an initiative can impose new taxes, but the ballot title cannot misleadingly imply that it does not.

“This initiative would violate the constitution if our legislature had passed it, and it is equally unconstitutional as an initiative of the people,” Wiggins wrote.

In a separate dissenting opinion, Justice Tom Chambers concurred with the majority that there is a “rational unity” between liquor regulation and public safety. But he ultimately agreed with the dissenters that the initiative was unconstitutional because the title failed to mention a new tax.