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Reject R-88

R – 88 will hurt veterans by eliminating Veterans Preference

The passage of R - 88 will hurt Veterans, their survivors and partners because it eliminates veterans preference in public employment that has been provided in Washington State since 1895. See RCW 41.04.010 and 73.16.010. Before the passage of this initiative by the legislature, honorably discharged veterans, and partners of 100% disabled veterans were entitled to veterans preference in public employment in the following three ways:

  1. a 10% bonus added to their passing score on employment examination;
  2. 5% bonus on promotional examination;
  3. Veterans, their widow/er/s and the partners of 100% disabled veterans, are entitled to a general preference in employment or appointment that does not involve a competitive examination.

That's all ELIMINATED by R – 88, and those statutes will be stricken from state law once the initiative takes effect. The new law is clear, it REMOVES veteran preference from existing state law. Here is how that will work.

First, R – 88 specifically adds "honorably discharged veteran or military status" to RCW 49.60.400 to prohibit Discrimination, and preferential treatment for veteran status.  

Second, Section 3(1) of R – 88 plainly states, "(1) The state shall not [...] grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of [...] honorably discharged veteran or military status in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting." If that becomes state law, the existing veterans preference statutes will go away. Under the law, a conflict exists if one statute allows what another prohibits or prohibits what another allows. Here this means that where R – 88 conflicts with existing laws that provide preferential treatment for veterans in employment, one of those laws has to give way to the other. Section 6 of R – 88 states the new R-88 supersedes other state laws. Therefore, the R-88 law will control and veterans preference laws will be deleted from the state law.

Third, Section 6 of R - 88, directs that within 3 months, "the office of program research and senate committee services shall prepare a joint memorandum and draft legislation to present to the appropriate committees of the legislature regarding any necessary changes to the Revised Code of Washington to bring nomenclature and processes in line with this act so as to fully effectuate and not interfere in any way with its intent." What does that mean? Simple, it means to rewrite the existing RCWs (veterans preference statutes) to eliminate veterans preference so there is no conflict with R - 88.

Proponents of R - 88argue that it simply supplies a new definition for “preferential treatment” and the existing veterans preference statutes do not constitute a preferential treatment under that new definition. First, try to wrap you head around the notion that “veterans preference” is not “preferential treatment.” That makes no sense; of course, a preference in employment is preferential treatment. What else can it be?

Further, the new definition does nothing but eliminate veterans preference. The sole qualifying factor to award veterans preference points at entry and promotional testing is that person's veteran status, a consideration which R- 88 prohibits. Veterans preference works by adding points to a veteran's passing score. In public employment the higher scoring candidates are hired (or promoted) before lower scoring candidates. That means the act of awarding a veteran 10 percent or 5 percent on top of their passing score is a preference, which R – 88 prohibits.

Under current law, Veterans have a mandatory 10 or 5 % preference in hiring and promotion at every public employer in the state –No bureaucrat or committee has any discretion in this because the preference is mandatory. R-88 offers a veteran inclusion in an affirmative action plan, if a bureaucrat or committee decides that veterans are "under represented" as shown by a "valid disparity study." The law does not give specifics on how this would work or operate.

In sum, if R – 88 becomes effective, there will be no more veterans preference in Washington. Veterans preference has been part of public employment in WA law since 1895. It was implemented to make up for the loss of experience, opportunity and the time the veteran was away while they were serving their country, or for those disabled and their spouses to assist in overcoming those disadvantages. While the proponents of R – 88 desire to reverse the I - 200 prohibitions on affirmative action, they can accomplish that without eliminating veterans preference.

Therefore, the Washington State Veterans Bar Association hereby declares that it opposes passage of Referendum 88.  While the WSVBA strongly supports measures taken to combat discrimination in our State, it opposes any legislation that would remove veterans preference or harm Washington's veterans community with regard to job placement or recognition of veterans status.

 Additional Resources:

Reserve Officers of America (ROA) Law Review Article on R-88

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