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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Referendum would stop recently approved initiative that allowed some affirmative action plans in Washington

OLYMPIA – Washington voters will likely get the chance to continue or revamp the state’s 21-year-old law that restricts affirmative action programs.

In a demonstration of different aspects of the state’s populist ballot measure laws, supporters of Referendum 88 turned in signatures to force a vote on Initiative 1000, which the Legislature approved this year to change Initiative 200.

I-200 prohibits state or local governments from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment in employment, education or contracts based on race, sex, ethnicity or national origin. It was submitted to the Legislature in 1998, which sent it to the voters rather than voting on it.

The voters approved I-200 that November with 58% of the vote.

Last year, a separate group gathered nearly 396,000 signatures on I-1000 that would allow the state to implement certain types of affirmative action plans in education, employment and contracting to “remedy discrimination for certain groups.” It wouldn’t completely repeal I-200, but adds age, sexual orientation, disabilities, honorably discharged veterans and military status to the groups that can’t be discriminated against or receive preferential treatment.

It also would allow the state to set up laws or policies that fix discrimination against, or underrepresentation of, disadvantaged groups as long as they do not use quotas and do not constitute “preferential treatment.”

The 2019 Legislature passed I-1000 on a mainly partisan vote in the closing hours of the session, while members of an opposition group, Asians for Equality, shouted “Let people vote!” outside the chambers.

Opponents quickly filed Referendum 88 seeking to block the Legislature’s action, which would take effect July 28, unless they collected valid signatures from 129,811 state voters.

With strong support from the Asian American community, the referendum campaign raised more than $690,000 in slightly more than two months. Wednesday the campaign submitted what it estimates are about 177,000 signatures, and plans to turn in more before Saturday’s deadline.

Barring some unusual problem with their signature-gathering techniques, voters will get a chance to approve or reject I-1000’s proposed changes to affirmative action laws.