Washington Supreme Court affirms lower court was right to enjoin safe injection site initiative from ballot

By Takesha Thomas | Dec 18, 2018

OLYMPIA, Wash. (Legal Newsline) – The Supreme Court of Washington has affirmed a lower court's ruling that the King County Council overstepped its authority with a ballot initiative regarding funding for safe injection sites throughout the county.

The court upheld a King County Superior Court ruling on Dec. 6 involving the city of Seattle and IMPACtion finding that Proposed Initiative 27 (I-27) "improperly interferes with the budgetary authority of the Council. Therefore, I-27 is outside the scope of the local initiative power, and the Superior Court properly enjoined it from the ballot."

I-27, "would allow King County voters to decide whether to ban public funding for community health engagement location (CHEL) sites, colloquially known as safe injection sites, and to create civil liability for any person or entity who operates a site," according to the opinion written by Associate Chief Justice Charles W. Johnson.

The Superior Court granted a request from Protect Public Health allowing injunctive relief and enjoining King County from placing I-27 on the ballot for consideration. 

In March 2016, elected officials from the city of Seattle and King County convened the Heroin and Prescription Opioid Addiction Task Force to "identify strategies and recommendations to improve access to treatment and services," the opinion states.

According to the opinion, "the Task Force made eight recommendations, one of which was for the county to establish CHEL sites."

The sites would provide "opioid users with a place to safely use drugs, access to medical professionals who can administer naloxone to help reverse overdoses, a needle exchange program, and a way to connect to services and treatment," according to the opinion.

In June 2017, the council appropriated $2.1 million to implement the Task Force's recommendations.  

In August 2017, "public health professionals and community members formed the nonprofit corporation PPH to combat I-27 and defend 'evidence-based public health decisions from interference from the local initiative and referendum process,'" the opinion states.

PPH filed a complaint seeking pre-election review of I-27 and asking the court to "enjoin King County from placing I-27 on the ballot, arguing it is outside the scope of the local initiative power," according to the opinion.

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