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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

WA Lege Day 8: Take loyalty oaths off the books?

OLYMPIA – State workers and public school employees in Washington are supposed to take an oath that they aren’t a member of the Communist Party or any other subversive organization.
At least, that’s what state law has said since 1951, when the Subversive Activities Act was placed on the books a few years after the Legislature Joint Committee on Un-American Activities held a series of high-profile hearings hunting for communists in state government, university faculties and unions.

The committee was led by Spokane Rep. Al Canwell of Spokane, who served only one term in the Legislature but spent the next 50 years hunting suspected communists and compiling files on people.

A Washington Supreme Court ruling in 1964 said the law was so vague in defining a subversive person or group that the loyalty oath was unconstitutional. But that didn’t wipe the oath, or other sections of the act which use the same definitions, off the books.
Several House members have a bill to do that. At a hearing for HB 2251, prime sponsor Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, said it was time to repeal the law nearly a half century after the court ruling.
“I think it devalues our criminal code to  have laws on the books that aren’t being enforced,” Fitzgibbon told members of the House Judiciary Committee.
He got no argument from committee members, and no one spoke in favor of keeping the law. The committee is expected to vote later this week on whether to send the bill to the House floor for a vote.

The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.