OLYMPIA – With shouts from protesters echoing across the Senate floor, lawmakers approved an initiative to reinstate affirmative action in Washington late Sunday.
Initiative 1000 would require state agencies and publicly funded institutions to consider an applicant’s membership in a minority group when awarding contracts or enrolling students.
Race is intertwined with economic security and I-1000 would improve equity of opportunity for everybody, said Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Beacon Hill.
“We can’t close our eyes and say there is no racism or there’s no institutionalized racism or institutionalized barriers,” he said. “The disparities exist.”
Characteristics like race or gender could be considered in employment and education opportunities, but it could not be the sole or deciding factor. The use of quotas is not allowed under the initiative.
I-1000 was submitted to the Legislature in January with a record 395,000 signatures but did not receive a hearing until earlier this month. It passed the House 56-42 and the Senate 26-22 in quick succession prior to a strict midnight deadline. As an initiative to the Legislature, lawmakers could not consider it under in a special session.
Opponents believe it would allow less-qualified applicants to be chosen for belonging to a minority group.
The initiative would take away opportunities from veterans, said Rep. Jenny Graham, R-Spokane, and added the decision should go to the voters.
The group Asians for Equality, which filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the initiative, protested outside the Senate chamber during the debate, with shouts of “Let people vote!”
With the Legislature passing the initiative, a vote in November now won’t happen unless opponents mount a successful referendum campaign.
After final passage, their protest moved to the Senate gallery and forced lawmakers off the floor.
But help for those who face systemic barriers is the very definition of fairness, said Sen. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma.
“It’s not enough to talk the talk. We’ve got to walk the walk,” Jinkins said.
I-1000 would effectively replace a ban on affirmative action from another initiative, which voters passed in 1998.
State spending on businesses owned by women and minorities has dropped from 10% to 3% since that ban, according to the Office of Women and Minority Business Enterprises. Those businesses lost a combined $3.5 billion as a result, the office said.
The voters were promised fairness, and that’s not what the previous initiative delivered, said Rep. Javier Valdez, D-Seattle, at a post-session press-conference.
“Tonight, we righted a wrong,” he said
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.