When the 2019 legislative session was coming to an end, elected Democrats used a little-known legislative loophole to pass their desired tax hikes. Democrats went the route of introducing “title-only bills,” which, according to the Washington Policy Center, are essentially a way to circumvent the Washington Constitution, which states in Article 2, Section 36 that, “No bill shall be considered in either house unless the time of its introduction shall have been at least ten days before the final adjournment of the legislature, unless the legislature shall otherwise direct by a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, said vote to be taken by yeas and nays and entered upon the journal, or unless the same be at a special session.”
The Washington State Legislature’s glossary of legislative terms defines a title-only bill as, “a bill which contains nothing more than a title and a number. It is introduced in order to have a vehicle on which to amend substance at a later time.” The Constitution lays out the directive that bills cannot be introduced less than 10 days before the end of the legislative session. The workaround legislators found in the Constitution is that it doesn’t prohibit amending a bill less than 10 days before the session ends. Title-only bills are just as the name implies: bills with a title, number and minimal information. Because title-only bills are in essence blank pieces of legislation, they afford legislators the opportunity to introduce them before the 10-day cutoff and in turn add whatever they please into them later without needing the required two-thirds majority vote.
Title-only bills are not a new thing. They have been used in Olympia for years. Every so often a bill is introduced to put an end to the use of them, but those bills have never gone anywhere. Title-only bills not only allow legislators to bypass the state constitution, but they rob citizens of the opportunity to be engaged in the political process. Moreover, title-only bills thwart the legislative process due to the fact that most regular bills go through several committees and analyses and are in full view of the public.
Last week in an interview with the Columbia Basin Herald Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, and Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, spoke of their frustration with title-only bills. “It’s not fair to anybody,” Warnick told the Herald. “It’s not fair to the people that have to vote on it, it’s not fair for the lobbyists trying to represent their clients, and it’s for sure not fair for people out here that are trying to watch what’s going on.” “It’s a game,” said Dent.
The state legislature is no place for games. The democratic process allows citizens to be active participants in the legislative process and we believe it is time for lawmakers to adhere to democratic principles and ban title-only bills outright.
— Editorial board