Wash. SC upholds voter-approved liquor privatization law

Jessica M. Karmasek Jun. 1, 2012, 9:55am



OLYMPIA, Wash. (Legal Newsline) - The Washington Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a challenge to a liquor privatization initiative -- a day before the measure went into effect.

The lawsuit was filed by the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention and David Grumbois, who leased property to the state's Liquor Control Board for a store in Longview.

They claimed that Initiative 1183 violated a state constitutional requirement that proposed laws only address a single subject.

Fifty-nine percent of voters approved the initiative last fall, ending the state's monopoly on liquor sales.

The law includes a requirement that a portion of new revenue coming from liquor license fees be used to increase funding for local public safety programs, including police and emergency services.

The plaintiffs argued "fees" should have been called "taxes" on the November 2011 ballot, and that such language might have changed the outcome of the vote.

The state's high court rejected the claim, saying the ballot title provided voters with "adequate notice of the scope and purpose" of the license fees.

"The challenged portion of I-1183's ballot title is not palpably misleading or false," Justice Steven Gonzalez wrote for the majority.

"We have defined 'fee' as a legal term of art in some particular contexts. But we 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.'"

Attorney General Rob McKenna, whose office argued for the Liquor Control Board, said he was pleased with the Court's ruling.

"We appreciate the Court recognized that this initiative satisfies our state constitution's requirements and agrees that voters understood what they were voting for," he said in a statement Thursday.

"Our office argued, and the Court ruled, that all the provisions of Initiative 1183 were related to its single subject, liquor, and that the subject was appropriately disclosed in the ballot title."

A group of local government officials filed an amicus brief in support of upholding the initiative.

Meanwhile, unions representing store employees and the truckers who hauled liquor to the state stores filed a brief opposing the law.

Many state liquor stores had already closed before Friday, when stores larger than 10,000 square feet, including grocery stores, and some smaller stores could start selling liquor.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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