On November 8, voters across the state of Washington will decide Ballot Initiative 1501, the Seniors and Vulnerable Individuals’ Safety and Financial Crimes Prevention Act. If passed, the measure’s proponents claim, I-1501 will increase criminal penalties for targeting seniors and vulnerable individuals in acts of identity theft and consumer fraud and will prohibit the release of any public records that may facilitate such crimes. But it would accomplish neither objective. The measure’s sole sponsor, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), is brazenly attempting to deceive voters and misuse the statewide initiative process.
To look into the facts is to discover that I-1501’s intent has nothing to do with protecting citizens, and everything to do with altering the Public Records Act to prevent the Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank, from obtaining the membership list of the SEIU – and, specifically, from obtaining the names of members who serve as home care providers and informing them of their constitutional right to opt out of paying union fees.
The Freedom Foundation effortlessly obtained SEIU 925’s membership list through the Public Record Act and notified members of their rights. The union shrunk nearly 60 percent. In the courts, Washington’s other SEIU chapter, SEIU 775, challenged the Freedom Foundation’s use of public records, and the Freedom Foundation prevailed. The state supreme court refused to hear the union’s appeal. In the aftermath of its legal loss, SEIU has donated $1.6 million to fund I-1501 public advocacy in a final attempt to prevent the think tank from obtaining its membership list. The authors of I-1501 don’t explicitly state its true purpose, though. They have disguised the initiative with the spin that it protects seniors and vulnerable individuals from identity theft.
This notion that I-1501 would impede identity theft by prohibiting the release of public records is ludicrous. The state’s Public Records Act does not allow individuals to request sensitive information, and, as Minnich notes, the lists in question show only a member’s name and date of birth. “I-1501 is a Trojan horse,” as the Seattle Times editorial board perfectly describes the initiative and the SEIU’s attempt to deceive voters. Identity theft is a hot topic, and few people would oppose what seems to be an effort to close significant loopholes that identity thieves could exploit.
If I-1501 passes, one effect will be that individuals will have less access to government records. Another noteworthy demand that the initiative stipulates is that within 180 days the department of social and health services will be required to “report to the governor and attorney general about any additional records that should be made exempt from public disclosure.” In other words, I-1501 would continue to erode the Public Records Act after it was implemented.Regardless of the outcome on November 8, the Freedom Foundation will continue to challenge SEIU and other unions by contacting their members. In just one month, SEIU 775 lost 1,600 dues-paying members because of the Freedom Foundation’s activism and message, which has clearly resonated.
Ballot Initiative 1501 is a sham that, if passed, will allow the SEIU to chip away at the Public Records Act for the sake of keeping members uninformed about their constitutional rights. On November 8, Washington State voters should read past I-1501’s reassuring title, which is a Trojan horse.
— Austin Yack is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.