OLYMPIA — Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, has teamed up with initiative advocate Tim Eyman on a bill to limit local government interference in the initiative process.
Senate Bill 5347, which had a public hearing in the Senate Governmental Operations Committee on Tuesday, mandates that any local initiative that receives enough signatures must be placed on the ballot, regardless of whether local government officials agree with it.
Similar language is included in Eyman’s “Protect the Initiative Act,” Initiative 517.
Local initiatives can be blocked by city or county governments, but that shouldn’t be so, Rivers said at Tuesday’s hearing.
“If the people take the time to sign their name and say this is something we need to have a look at, we ought to respect that,” Rivers said.
Eyman, who has made a career out of promoting ballot measures, on Tuesday listed several examples of local governments suppressing initiatives.
“The Bellingham City Council sued to stop citizens voting on a no-coal initiative,” Eyman said. “In the city of Renton, they said a fireworks initiative was OK, but rejected an initiative about library locations.”
Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, cited the city of Vancouver as another example of local government suppressing an initiative movement. A recent petition to give Vancouver residents a direct vote on light rail was ruled invalid last month because, after removing the signatures of people who signed the petition more than once, the petition no longer had enough signatures.
“The city has thrown out both the duplicate and original signatures, a practice ruled to be unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court,” Benton said during the hearing, referring to a 1977 case. “Unfortunately, they claim the ruling only affects state initiatives, not local ones.”
Vancouver is the only Clark County city to have used the initiative process, the county’s elections supervisor, Tim Likness, said. Signatures from fifteen percent of the people who voted in 2012 are needed for an initiative to be successful locally. In Vancouver, that works out to 5,472 people.
Rivers said the failed Vancouver initiative played a part in her proposing the bill, “but initiatives that meet the requirements are being rejected all over the state.”
Although the rules on statewide initiatives have been well-defined, more clarity is needed when it comes to local initiatives, Rivers said.
“Local initiatives need to be addressed so that everyone knows the rules we are going to be following,” she said.
Although the Senate Governmental Operations Committee has a Republican majority and conservatives have control of the Senate, Rivers’s bill might face resistance in the House, which has a Democratic majority.
Allowing the people to band together, propose a change to the law, and then vote on that proposal is “a foundation of our Constitution,” Rivers said.
Additionally, Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, proposed a bill that would settle the Vancouver initiative debate regarding duplicate signatures.
It’s too late to impact the failed light rail initiative, but her bill would ensure that when there are duplicate signatures on future petitions, the original signature will count and only the duplicates will be thrown out.
Roach’s bill also would put a 60-day time limit on the petition-validating process.