Despite Washington voters’ approval of I-1183 in the November 2011 election, the effort to privatize the wholesale distribution and retail sale of liquor in Washington faces another hurdle. Last week, two lawsuits were filed in Washington courts challenging the validity of I-1183. The plaintiffs in both cases contend that the newly enacted law violates the single-subject rule for legislative bills and ballot initiatives under the Washington Constitution. Article II, § 19 of the Washington Constitution, which applies to both legislative bills and ballot initiatives, provides that “[n]o bill shall embrace more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title.” The plaintiffs allege a violation of that constitutional provision because the terms of I-1183, in addition to paving the way for private retailers to sell liquor, affect fines for selling alcohol to minors, taxes, and the wine distribution and pricing scheme.
Some past single-subject challenges to ballot initiatives have been successful. For instance, in 2000 a group of plaintiffs succeeded in repealing an initiative that addressed both the fees for car license tabs and required voter approval for all future state and local tax increases. But I-1183 differs from that initiative because it did not join together two completely separate subjects but instead deals entirely with various aspects of state regulation of alcohol distribution and retail sales. Thus, the key issue in the litigation appears to be whether I-1183 conforms to the single-subject rule when the provisions deal with the same general subject.
One of the challenges to I-1183 was filed in King County Superior Court, and the other in Cowlitz County Superior Court. The King County case was brought by two labor unions and is named General Teamsters Local Union No. 174 v. State. The Cowlitz County case was brought by the Washington Association for Substance and Violence Prevention, a property owner who leases a liquor store to the state, and two grocery stores. It is named WASAVP v. State. Both groups of plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief blocking the implementation of I-1183. The plaintiffs in the WASAVP case have also filed a motion for preliminary injunction, which is scheduled to be heard in Cowlitz County Superior Court on Friday, December 16.
Even though both lawsuits are against the Washington state government, it is very likely that businesses or associations whose interests are affected by I-1183 will have the opportunity to intervene in the litigation. We will continue to monitor the proceedings. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.