King County Public Health Officer Jeff Duchin co-chaired the task force which recommended safe drug sites in the first place. Photo via KingCounty.gov

Lawsuit Challenges Anti-Safe Drug Site Initiative

The suit argues that this public health decision lies outside the authority of a public referendum.

A new lawsuit may eventually decide the fate of safe drug sites in King County, adding yet another twist to an ongoing public policy drama that has been unfolding across the county.

First, there was an opioid crisis, beginning in the early 2000s and continuing today. Then, last year, at the behest of a public health task force, local leaders pledged to create two pilot safe drug sites as a harm-reduction measure. Then, this year, opponents collected enough signatures to put an initiative on the ballot to ban safe drug sites throughout the county.

Then, on Monday, harm reduction advocates under the group name Protect Public Health went to court to block that initiative from ever appearing on a ballot.

“The proposed I-27, in its entirety, is invalid because it is beyond the scope of the local initiative power, and therefore null and void,” summarizes the lawsuit in its request for relief. Authored by attorneys Knoll Lowney and Claire Tonry, the suit’s argument goes like this:

1. Local ballot initiatives can’t take away authority delegated to city officials by the state legislature. “An initiative is beyond the scope of the initiative power if the initiative involves powers granted by the legislature to the governing body of a city, rather than the city itself,” reads one quotation from the judgment in Mukilteo Citizens for Simple Gov’t v. City of Mukilteo. And another from City of Sequim v. Malkasian: “Stated another way, the people cannot deprive the city legislative authority of the power to do what the constitution and/or a state statute specifically permit it to do.”

2. State law delegates health decisions to local health officials—specifically, the Local Health Officer and the Board of Health.

3. Therefore, local ballot initiatives cannot override public health decisions made by local health authorities, including how to address the opioid crisis.

“The public health of the entire state would be jeopardized if a local initiative or referenda could derail local action to stem an epidemic,” reads the suit, “which is precisely what I-27 seeks to do.”

“I-27 would set a dangerous precedent for public health. Supervised Consumption Spaces are an essential tool in fighting the opiate epidemic,” Dr. Bob Wood, Director of the HIV/AIDS Program at Public Health-Seattle & King County from 1986 to 2010 and member of Protect Public Health, said in a statement. “If I-27 succeeds, other public health policies could be at risk, including vaccination requirements, needle exchange programs, or even efforts to combat sexually transmitted diseases.”

I-27 campaign manager Keith Schipper responded to the lawsuit. “This is just another attempt by the powers-that-be to disenfranchise the KC voters that want to have their say on this radical policy proposal,” he wrote.

cjaywork@seattleweekly.com

More in News & Comment

Most of the tenants at show cause hearings have fallen behind on rent, said Housing Justice Project Managing Attorney Edmund Witter. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
New Report Details Seattle’s Eviction Trends

Analysis of 2017 county records and interviews show that nearly 90 percent of evicted tenants experienced homelessness

Daron Morris Suspends Campaign for King County Prosecutor

After running as a reformer, Morris says medical reasons are preventing him from finishing the race.

Democratic incumbent Rep. Adam Smith of Washington’s 9th Congressional District (right) and challenger Sarah Smith discuss the issues facing the district during a forum the Mirror hosted on Sept. 19. Andy Hobbs/staff photo
Smith vs. Smith: Two Democrats Clash in 9th Congressional District Forum

Democratic socialist Sarah Smith seeks ‘bold new progressive vision’ in bid to replace incumbent Adam Smith.

Teen Immigrants in Washington Programs Claim Sexual Assault and Rape

Police reports from federally-funded facilities in Renton and Fife call the minors’ safety into question.

It’s Official: Safeco Field Will Get $135 Million in Taxpayer Funds

Critical King County Councilmembers call plan “a fleecing” and “irresponsible.”

The Westin Seattle workers represented by Unite Here Local 8 gather at Gethsemane Lutheran Church after voting to strike on Sep. 14. Photo by Abby Lawlor
Hotel Workers Vote to Authorize Strike

The Westin Seattle employees will picket to demand higher wages from Marriott International.

King County Moves to Expand Pre-Booking Diversion Program

Three cities could get money to link low-level drug offenders to services and keep them out of jail.

Immigrant Youth Vulnerable to Abuse in Centers

Federally-funded facilities struggle to maintain health and safety of minors stuck in limbo

Most Read