Washington legislature brings back affirmative action

Washington legislature brings back affirmative action
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The Washington state legislature late Sunday voted to strike down a statewide ban on affirmative action, twenty years after voters approved a ballot measure in one of the most contentious and emotional political fights in state history.
 
The state House and Senate voted just before a midnight deadline to end the session to repeal Initiative 200, which prevents state government from giving any preferential treatment on the basis of race, gender or national origin. 
 
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In an emotional debate below a balcony of jeering protesters, supporters and opponents of affirmative action offered deeply personal reasons for their votes.
 
Backers of affirmative action pointed to statistics showing the number of women- and minority-owned businesses had plummeted in the years after Initiative 200 passed.
 
“What we all love about America is that it’s a country that believes in equality, treating everyone the same, justice for all, and these are amazing principles,” said state Sen. Manka Dhingra (D). “You know what the reality is in this country, unfortunately? That the darker your skin color, the harder it is for you in life. That is borne out in all aspects of our life.”
 
Opponents of the measure said it was overly broad, lumping government contracting in with student success and access to higher education.
 
“We need to exercise caution as we seek to do something that the people of this state said we do not want: discrimination based on race, based on gender, based on other categories,” said state Sen. Hans Zeigler (R).
 
The measure reached the legislature after supporters of affirmative action collected more than 395,000 signatures. Under Washington law, an initiative can be referred to the legislature for action; if the legislature fails to act or rejects that initiative, it is referred to voters on the November ballot.
 
 
“Our state is stronger when it is inclusive of all people, and everyone has an equitable chance to participate,” Inslee said in a Twitter post after the vote.
 
 
Voters approved Initiative 200 by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin in 1998, at a moment when repealing affirmative action laws was trending in state legislatures across the country. California voters passed a similar measure, Proposition 209, in 1996.
 
California and six other states — Arizona, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Florida and New Hampshire — still bar race-based affirmative action in public universities. Arizona’s law bans affirmative action by any state or local government.