OLYMPIA – Attorney General Rob McKenna today announced two Supreme Court victories for the Attorney General’s Office and the citizens of Washington state.
The Washington State Supreme Court today ruled 9-0 in favor of the state in a case regarding Initiative 330, a medical malpractice initiative on the November 2005 ballot. The Court also ruled 9-0 that the state’s duty to provide a basic education does not extend to funding learning improvement days appropriated by the Legislature and that reducing funding for these days does not violate Initiative 732, which provided cost-of-living increases for teachers.
In the first case, Coppernoll vs. Reed, the Supreme Court upheld the King County Superior Court’s ruling that I-330 should appear on the 2005 ballot as written and denied the petitioners’ request to bar three sections of the initiative they considered to be potentially unconstitutional.
The Court ruled that I-330 did not exceed the scope of the legislative power of the initiative and expressed no opinion on the constitutionality of the challenged provisions. It concluded that pre-election review of initiatives is only appropriate when the initiative clearly exceeds the legislative authority granted for initiatives under the state constitution.
“This ruling is a win for Washington voters and our initiative process because it clarifies the law significantly as to when somebody can challenge an initiative in court before it reaches the ballot,” McKenna said. “Assistant Attorney General Jeff Even, along with Senior Counsel Jay Geck and Solicitor General Maureen Hart, did an excellent job in protecting the initiative process by preventing an unwarranted pre-election review. This ruling should help prevent unnecessary lawsuits in the future.”
In the second case, Brown vs. Washington, the Court overturned the trial court’s decision and ruled 9-0 that reducing the number of learning improvement days for which teachers are paid is not a violation of the constitutional right to a basic education.
In this case, the Legislature reduced the number of learning improvement days funded for local school districts from three days to two to save $12 million and avoid tax increases in the 2002 supplemental budget. The Legislature maintained funding for the two days in subsequent budgets rather than increasing back to three.
The Washington Education Association sued, claiming that the reduction was a violation of the state’s duty to provide a basic education and that it violated Initiative 732 which was approved in 2000 to provide annual cost-of-living increases for teachers and other school employees.
The Supreme Court found that the law authorizing districts to provide learning improvement days—state-funded, out-of-the-classroom, training days—did not state that these days are part of basic education.
It also ruled that I-732 required cost-of-living increases for educational staff to be calculated by applying the cost-of-living index percentage to the state-funded salary base in the state funding formulas for teachers, not to an individual teacher’s total salary for the previous year. The learning improvement days were included in the salary base, but only to the extent that the legislature authorized them in each biennial budget.
“This ruling helps better define basic education as a fundamental right for all children,” McKenna said. “This was a complex case. Assistant Attorney General Dave Stolier did a tremendous job in sorting through the details to make strong arguments and overturn the lower court's decision. The fact that the ruling was 9-0 speaks volumes about the caliber of his work.”
For the I-330 case : Jeff Even, Assistant Attorney General, (360) 586-0728
For the education case: Dave Stolier, Assistant Attorney General, (360) 586-0279
Janelle Guthrie, AG Media Relations Director, (360) 586-0725