Benham gears up to push initiative on constitutions

March 6th, 2003

By Chris Mulick
Tri-City Herald Olympia bureau

OLYMPIA, WA-- Kennewick's Monte Benham promised to file an initiative to the Legislature on Wednesday after lawmakers killed his plan to require teaching of the state and federal constitutions in schools.

That already is required, but Benham isn't satisfied. House Bill 1194 also would have required the teaching of a litany of other historical documents, mandated the posting of the first 12 sections of the state constitution in each classroom and added the content to state standardized tests.

His bill and a watered-down Senate version died Wednesday when they were not moved out of committee before the Legislature's first cutoff deadline.

Benham can't file his initiative for another week. He'll need to collect 197,734 valid signatures by January. If he succeeds, lawmakers in 2004 would have the option of approving the measure or sending it to voters.

"It's now time for the people to speak," said Benham, who is best known for working with Tim Eyman to push 1999's car tab-cutting Initiative 695.

Benham would have until July 3 to collect signatures to qualify an initiative for the November ballot.

Both bills got legislative hearings, including a 75-minute airing Tuesday night. But committee chairmen said they didn't want to create new mandates for school districts and that such decisions should be made by local school boards.

"I tend to stay away from those bills," said Rep. Dave Quall, D-Mount Vernon and chairman of the House Education Committee. "You don't create curriculum through a legislative action."

"The substance is good," said Sen. Steve Johnson, R-Kent and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, noting he's working on another way to "publicize the importance of the issue."

Quall also doesn't believe the current amount of classroom teaching of the constitutions and other documents is as meager as Benham contends. The state Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction and the Washington Education Association have argued the bill is redundant.

Rep. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland and the sponsor of Benham's bill in the House, said he wasn't surprised the bill died. He said he'd ask legislative leaders if they'd be interested in bringing it directly to the House floor without a committee vote. That maneuver is rare, so Delvin said Benham's best shot at getting his plan enacted is probably through an initiative.


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