McKenna on KIRO: Lawsuit filed to block vote on heroin injection sites

KIRO 97.3 host Dave Ross asked Rob about a lawsuit that attempts to block a public vote on heroin injection sites in King County. I-27, which seeks to ban injection sites in the county, garnered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. The King County Council chose to place it on the February 2018 ballot instead of this November’s general election, over the objections of I-27 organizers.

The lawsuit against I-27 was filed by a group calling itself Protect Public Health. The group wrote in its lawsuit, “Unlike the board of health and the county council, voters are in no position to weigh the scientific evidence or understand the impact of vetoing part of a multi-prong response to a local public health crisis.”

Dave Ross: “Regardless of what the arguments are, at least my perception of what’s going on here is that there are people who think this is just disgusting and they don’t want it in their neighborhood. Can you sue on that basis?”

Rob McKenna: “There’s no question that…voters make all kinds of policy decisions all the time. And deciding to block funding for a particular public health measure would otherwise be within their authority. Again, unless the Legislature has exclusively granted that decision-making authority to the department of Public Health in King County.

“It’s interesting to me that in the news coverage of this lawsuit, members of the County Council were quoted who were saying, ‘Hey, we’re not going to allocate any money for safe injection sites until the voters have had their say.’ So, the authority ultimately may be the County Council’s, but they’re – at least the ones quoted in the news articles, including the Council chairman – are saying, ‘We’d like the voters to have their say.’

“That’s important because it sends a signal to the courts. And the courts may decide, ‘You know what, we don’t need to block this from being voted on. We can always just decide afterwards whether it was an impermissible use of the initiative and referendum power.’ As I say, courts are generally reluctant to stop measures from going to the ballot and letting voters have their say – but, not always.”

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