Democrats Sue Democrat Over Washington State Veto

The Washington State Capitol in Olympia.

(CN) – The Washington state Legislature sued Governor Jay Inslee on Friday over his vetoes of a single sentence lawmakers say are illegal under the state Constitution.

Inslee vetoed a single sentence each time it appeared in the state’s two-year transportation budget that laid out rules for the funding of public transportation. While the governor has the authority to veto an entire bill, as well as an entire section of legislation, the state Constitution does not allow him to veto only one sentence, according to the Legislature’s lawsuit filed in Thurston County Superior Court.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature says the issue is over the relative power of representatives elected by the people versus that of the state’s chief executive officer – not the policy issues underlying the Democratic governor’s veto.

Inslee, a major champion of clean energy and the fight against climate change, vetoed the sentence “fuel type may not be a factor in the grant selection process.”

In a statement, Inslee said the sentence would have barred the Washington Department of Transportation from considering clean fuels as a factor in divvying up almost $190 million in grant money. And that would go against state law requiring the consideration of “energy efficiency issues” when awarding the grant money.

Inslee said his veto had its own constitutional underpinning.

“The language was vetoed because it indirectly amends an existing statute through the transportation budget,” Inslee said in a statement. “Our Constitution does not allow laws to be changed indirectly.”

The lawsuit was filed by Assistant Attorney General Zachary Jones after the Legislature’s administrative governing committees – the House Executive Rules Committee and the Senate Facilities & Operations Committee – voted unanimously to sue the executive branch.

Majority Leader Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said in a statement that the lawsuit was about preserving the balance of power.

“This is an institutional lawsuit with one branch of government taking issue with the actions of another. We believe the executive branch overstepped its constitutional authority with these vetoes. Therefore, we are moving forward with a lawsuit to ask the judiciary to rule on this dispute and provide additional clarity on executive veto authority.”

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, underscored that point in a statement of his own.

“The checks and balances woven throughout our constitution are essential to a healthy democracy,” Billig said. “This lawsuit is one of those checks.”

Inslee acknowledged the Legislature’s lawsuit raised a valid legal question.

“We don’t believe this issue has been addressed by the courts and we understand the Legislature’s desire to settle the question about important institutional powers,” Inslee said. “This is a respectful difference of opinion, and we look forward to forthcoming guidance from our courts.”

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