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WA initiative supporters turn in signatures to repeal capital gains tax, carbon auctions

Large metal cages on wheels are seen outside of a building, as people put boxes with orange markings into them, and protestors stand with signs in the background.
Jeanie Lindsay
NW News Network
Supporters of an initiative to repeal the state's new carbon emissions auctions, including Washington State Republican Party Chair and State Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen), pictured left, deliver petitions to the Secretary of State's office in Tumwater Nov. 21, 2023, as protestors hold signs in the background.

Supporters of an effort to repeal several new policies in Washington are making more progress toward qualifying their initiatives for consideration in 2024.

Let's Go Washington, the group funded by Republican megadonor Brian Heywood, turned in thousands of signatures Thursday, delivering petitions to repeal the state's new capital gains tax. The group also delivered petitions to ban local governments and the state Legislature from creating income taxes.

The group has already delivered signatures in recent weeks to roll back limits on police car chases, establish a so-called "parents' bill of rights," and get rid of the state's new carbon emissions auctions.

Organizers say they have brought more than 400,000 signatures in support of each of the five initiatives Let's Go Washington has delivered petitions for so far, and the group plans to bring even more to the Secretary of State's office next week. Initiatives need 324,516 verified signatures from registered Washington voters in order to move forward in the process.

Deputy director of external affairs for the Secretary of State, Derrick Nunnally, says the elections office won't begin verifying the petitions until after the Dec. 29 deadline passes. State law requires that officials validate at least 3% of the total number of signatures turned in.

Nunnally says the office will do whatever it takes to ensure lawmakers have enough time during the upcoming 60-day legislative session to consider any initiatives that qualify.

"It has happened before that the Secretary of State's elections office has worked on weekends and employed extra staff to be able to count signatures and get them to the Legislature in time," Nunnally said.

If an initiative qualifies, it would first go to lawmakers for consideration. The Legislature can adopt the initiative language as is, or propose an alternative. Several of the proposed initiative measures would unravel high-profile policy changes recently made by the state's Democratically-controlled Legislature, meaning the issues will likely end up on voters' ballots next fall.

But the effort hasn't been without controversy. Let's Go Washington sent a cease-and-desist letter last week threatening legal action against organizations that oppose the initiatives, alleging they have attempted to block and harass signature gatherers. Washington law makes interfering with a voter's right to sign a petition a gross misdemeanor.

Similar concerns came up over the summer as people gathered signatures to repeal a new health care law aimed at supporting transgender homeless youth. That repeal effort did not gain enough support before a deadline earlier this year, prompting Republican lawmakers to call on the state to investigate claims that protestors illegally interfered in the process.

The renewed concerns over signature gathering have now spurred some Senate Republicans to propose priority legislation that would create a "buffer zone" around signature gatherers. Sen. Jeff Wilson (R-Longview) pre-filed the bill ahead of the 2024 legislative session – it would require people opposed to an initiative to stand back at least 25 feet.

Jeanie Lindsay is a radio reporter based in Olympia who covers the Washington state government beat for the Northwest News Network, the Pacific Northwest's regional collaboration of NPR stations.