Voting-rights bill passes House; Liias tries to get it to Senate

State Rep. Luis Moscoso’s voting-rights bill passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on Thursday and went to the Republican-controlled State Senate, a day after Democratic State Sen. Marko Liias failed to convince Republicans to bring a companion bill to the floor for a vote.

Liias had wanted the Senate to pass the bill for the 50th anniversary of the Selma march that led to the 1965 federal voting rights act.

The Senate committee on government operations and security, on which Liias is the ranking minority Democrat, approved the bill in late February, but the bill has not yet cleared the Rules Committee.

Either bill would allow citizens who believe that a local government uses a discriminatory voting system to negotiate a remedy with that local government and, if negotiations fail, allows a suit in state court rather than in federal courts.

Moscoso represents the 1st Legislative District, including most of Mountlake Terrace, all of Brier and Bothell, unincorporated areas of Snohomish County north and east of Bothell, north Kirkland, and unincorporated areas of King County between Bothell and Kirkland. He is the first state legislator of Peruvian dissent.

Liias, who was a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, represents the 21st Legislative District, including most of Edmonds, unincorporated areas north of Edmonds and Lynnwood and northeast of Lynnwood, all of Mukilteo and part of south Everett.

The House approved the bill Thursday by a 52-46 vote.

After the House vote, Moscoso said the bill could help ensure fair and equitable elections without the need for federal intervention.

“All Washingtonians must have the opportunity to participate in local decisions,” said Moscoso.

He added that the legislation would provide a solution that circumvents the lengthy and burdensome federal process that the City of Yakima recently underwent when Hispanics sued the city in federal court.

The Yakima suit has led to a court-ordered division of the city into city-council districts after two years of litigation that cost each side at least $1 million.

“Under the Washington Voting Rights Act, parties would be required to seek a collaborative solution before pursuing litigation” he said. “Local governments that enact meaningful change would receive a four-year safe harbor.”

The chairman of a House committee that heard the bill said that the act would “create local solutions to local problems and avoid unnecessary, expensive federal lawsuits.”

“It is about reducing federal intrusion in local issues,” Democratic House State Government Committee Chairman Sam Hunt said. “The Washington Voting Rights Act gives tools to local governments and communities to work out their disputes where they are best resolved—at home.”

A similar bill had passed the house and cleared a Senate committee last year only to die on the floor of the Senate.

Liias is pleading with senators not to let that happen this year.

Liias sought last week to bring the Senate bill from the Rules Committee to the Senate floor for a vote.

“Today, after passing a resolution honoring the courageous marchers of Selma and the incredible work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., seemed to me to be a perfect time to honor their legacy by passing our own Voting Rights Act on behalf of disenfranchised voters here in Washington,” he said. “So I was disappointed when Republicans objected, on a straight party-line vote, to our proposal to bring the bill to the floor.”

Evan Smith can be reached at schsmith@frontier.com.

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