Academic journal article Washington Law Review

Washington's Title Match: The Single-Subject and Subject-in-Title Rules of Article Ii, Section 19 of the Washington State Constitution

Academic journal article Washington Law Review

Washington's Title Match: The Single-Subject and Subject-in-Title Rules of Article Ii, Section 19 of the Washington State Constitution

Article excerpt

Abstract: Article II, section 19 of the Washington State Constitution provides that "[n]o bill shall embrace more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title." This provision contains two rules. First, an act violates the single-subject rule if it has a general title and its provisions lack rational unity, or if it has a restrictive title and contains provisions not fairly within the scope of that title. Second, an act violates the subject-in-title rule if the plain language of its title does not indicate the scope and purpose of the bill to an inquiring mind, or if it does not give notice to parties whose rights and liabilities are affected by the legislation. During the 2005 legislative session, the Washington State Legislature enacted Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5395, "AN ACT Relating to requiring electronic voting devices to produce paper records." This Comment argues that ESSB 5395 violates both the single-subject and subject-in-title requirements of Article II, section 19. The bill violates the single-subject rule because section 5 of the act, which requires county audits of electronic voting devices, is not fairly within the scope of its restrictive title. The bill also violates the subject-in-title rule because the plain language of its title does not provide adequate notice of the legislation's scope and purpose, specifically the county audit requirement.

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a majority of states enacted constitutional provisions requiring that each legislative bill contain a single subject reflected in the bill's title.1 States enacted these provisions to check legislative abuse.2 For example, legislators used single bills to enact laws on diverse subjects, no one of which had the political impetus to pass on its own.3 Legislatures also passed bills under titles that gave inadequate notice both to legislators and to the public of the legislation's contents.4

Like many states during this period, Washington enacted a constitutional provision to limit the ability of the legislature to pass multi-subject laws.5 Article II, section 19 of the Washington State Constitution provides that "[n]o bill shall embrace more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title."6 This provision contains two checks against legislative abuse: (1) no bill shall embrace more than one subject (single-subject rule) and (2) no bill shall have a subject which is not expressed in the title (subject-in-title rule).7 Provisions of an act are unconstitutional if they violate either of these two requirements.8 An act violates the single-subject rule either if it has a general title and its provisions lack rational unity9 or if it has a restrictive title and contains provisions not fairly within the scope of that title.10 An act violates the subject-in-title rule if either the plain language of its legislative title does not indicate the scope and purpose of the bill to an inquiring mind or it does not give notice to parties whose rights and liabilities are affected by the legislation.11 These rules prevent "logrolling," the practice of attaching unpopular provisions to popular legislation,12 and ensure that legislators and citizens receive adequate notice of proposed legislation.13

The recent passage of Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5395 (ESSB 5395)14 in 2005 raises single-subject and subject-in-title concerns.15 The main thrust of the bill requires electronic voting devices to produce paper records, and regulates the use, storage, and preservation of these records.16 The bill also contains a separate provision, section 5, which requires county auditors to conduct audits of votes cast on electronic voting devices.17

This Comment argues that the legislature violated both the singlesubject rule and the subject-in-title rule of Article II, section 19 by enacting ESSB 5395.18 The bill violates the single-subject rule because its title is restrictive and the requirement of county audits in section 5 is a second subject not fairly within the scope of the legislative title. …

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