Washington bill addresses library dissolution efforts

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(The Center Square) – A Columbia County Superior court judge last year blocked a ballot measure that if approved by local voters would dissolve the rural library, which would have been a first in Washington state history.

Stemming from controversy over what critics argued were sexually charged books and other materials being marketed to children, the measure was unique in that it only required 100 signed petitioners to get it on the ballot, and urban voters in the actual city the library was located in wouldn’t have been allowed to vote despite paying taxes to support the library.

A bill in the state Senate would change that by raising the threshold of required signatures to get such a measure on the ballot and also expand voter eligibility to those in the district.

Sponsored by Senate State Government & Elections Chair Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, SB 5824 would require 25% of registered voters in the district to petition for the dissolution of a library or library district.

Speaking on the Senate floor prior to the unanimous vote on Jan. 24 in favor of it, Hunt told colleagues that “the incorporated area was not allowed to vote by some glitch in a law,” adding that while he hopes voters don’t dissolve libraries, if they do “this will streamline the process somewhat.”

Also in support of the bill is Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, who testified in person at the Jan. 9 public hearing. “Those being serviced by the library should have an opportunity to vote.”

Another supporter was Alex Hur, representing the Inatai Foundation. He told committee members that the bill is “attempting to prevent another instance from happening,” adding that the bill is about “protecting democracy, protecting equitable governance.”

Inatai financially supports Neighbors United for Progress, a political action committee formed in 2022 that successfully sued to have the ballot measure removed. Testifying in favor of the bill at it’s Jan. 9 public hearing, Chair Elise Severe told committee members that “we need to send a message…that it will not be easy to tear down democracy.”

SB 5824 has not yet been assigned to a House committee.

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