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Washington Supreme Court to review Spokane homelessness initiative


(The Center Square) – The Washington State Supreme Court announced it would review a City of Spokane ordinance that effectively regulates homelessness, though it was never fully enforced.

Tuesday’s announcement follows two other challenges by the Spokane County Superior Court and a state court of appeals that already ruled Proposition 1 valid. The initiative received overwhelming support on the ballot last year, with around 75% of respondents voting in its favor.

The camping ban within 1,000 feet of public parks, playgrounds, daycares and schools, whether private or public, will now go before the state’s Supreme Court. Its review stems from several petitioners, including a local homeless provider and Spokane’s former council president, who say the initiative was administrative, not legislative.

“Given the well-reasoned decision by the Spokane Superior Court and the Division 3 Court of Appeals unanimously affirming and protecting the rights of citizens to have a say in the safety of their children, we are confident that the State Supreme Court will reject this ill-considered appeal,” Mark Lamb, an attorney representing Brian Hansen who initially proposed Prop. 1, told The Center Square back in February.

However, the Supreme Court’s review will not determine constitutionality regarding camping bans, which was done by a federal court’s ruling over Martin v. Boise; instead, the review will consider whether Prop. 1 stepped outside the realm of what local initiatives can do.

Given that state law requires local initiatives to concern legislative matters and not administrative affairs, the Supreme Court could reverse the measure if it determines that the ordinance was actually a zoning issue.

“The basic difference between the two categories is that legislative decisions establish policies for future application, while quasi-judicial, or administrative decisions are the application of those policies,” Iowa State University defined on its website.

While zoning can pertain to legislative affairs, it also requires several other administrative decisions made outside of city council, such as by a planning commission, which could, in turn, pose a legal challenge.

Two months before passing Prop. 1, Spokane updated its municipal code in response to the Martin v. Boise ruling, which the Spokane Police Department previously stated as its reason for not enforcing the new voter-backed initiative.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling effectively prohibits camping bans on city property if a municipality lacks the needed homeless shelter space. SPD is worried about potential fallout in the future if it enforces Prop. 1, which courts could later rule as unconstitutional given the 2018 decision.

However, a similar SCOTUS case, City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson, could reverse the precedent set by Martin v. Boise later this month if the judges rule differently.

“Further, to be clear, despite the narrative put forth by local media and the City of Spokane, Prop 1 is the current law of Spokane, and the City of Spokane is required to enforce the law unless and until the State Supreme Court rules differently on this matter,” Lamb said in February.