Judge upholds most of liquor initiative

KELSO — A Cowlitz County judge on Friday upheld most of a voter-approved initiative that requires the state to get out of the liquor business, but called for a trial to determine whether a provision for public safety funding caused voters to approve a measure they otherwise would have rejected.

The entire measure would be nullified if the court determines that voters would have rejected the initiative without the provision.

Voters approved Initiative 1183 last fall to privatize liquor sales and dismantle Washington’s state-run liquor system, which was formed in the 1930s in the aftermath of Prohibition. The measure, backed by retailing giant Costco, allows stores larger than 10,000 square feet to sell liquor, though it could allow smaller stores to sell liquor if there are no other outlets in a trade area.

Seattle attorney Michael C. Subit argued Friday that the initiative violated a rule requiring voter initiatives to address just one subject because it included $10 million to enhance public safety.

Subit successfully made the single-subject argument against an initiative more than a decade ago. In this case, he represents the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention, the landlord to a state-owned liquor store in Cowlitz County and two Red Apple stores in Kitsap County, who filed suit in December.

The state attorney general’s office argued for the state.

Attorneys for both sides were left scrambling Friday to decide what preliminary hearings and discovery they will need for a quick trial — necessary because the initiative takes effect June 1.

Brian Smith, a spokesman for the state Liquor Control Board, said Friday that the agency continues to move forward with implementing the initiative as required.

A similar lawsuit in King County Superior Court, which was filed by unions whose members stand to lose their jobs if the initiative is implemented, was put on hold in January, pending the Cowlitz court decision.

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