A 20-year ban on affirmative action in Washington was reversed this week by state lawmakers.
That means public schools and government agencies can now consider race and gender in admissions and hiring processes, though it does not require them to do so. State lawmakers approved the measure, Initiative 1000, 56-42 in the House and 26-22 in the Senate. The initiative was submitted to the Legislature in January with nearly 400,000 signatures. Democrats largely supported the measure with Republicans opposing it.
I-1000 overturns a voter-approved initiative in 1998 prohibiting the government from either giving preferential treatment to or discriminating against people or groups based on their sex, ethnicity, race or national origin.
Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley), part of the House Civil Rights & Judiciary Committee, opposed the initiative because he argued it goes against American values. (Shea is under formal review by the House Republican Caucus for his role in an online discussion describing possible violence against political opponents.)
"I believe I-1000 undermines that essential ethic of America, and being an American means equality," Shea said during a committee meeting. "Not special treatment, but true equality under the eyes of the law."
Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) argued the initiative promotes fairness in hiring and application processes.
"It will make sure that we take the path that Dr. [Martin Luther] King encouraged us to take, to end discriminiation, to create equal opportunity for everyone in this state," Jinkins says.
Already, a group opposing the initiative filed a referendum to put it to a public vote in November.