Rivers: I-517 ensures residents' voices can be heard




Initiative Measure No. 517

Initiative concerns initiative and referendum measures.

This measure would set penalties for interfering with or retaliating against signature-gatherers and petition-signers; require that all measures receiving sufficient signatures appear on the ballot; and extend time for gathering initiative petition signatures.

Should this measure be enacted into law?

[ ] Yes

[ ] No

— State of Washington & Clark County Voters’ Pamphlet

Our right to initiative and petition our government is the most important tool we have to push back when government does things we don't like.

I am Sen. Ann Rivers and I support Initiative 517 because I am a strong believer in our initiative rights which our state has had for more than a century. Initiative 517's primary policy change is guaranteeing you the right to vote on qualified initiatives.

In a unanimous ruling, the Washington State Supreme Court in 2005 rejected an effort by special interest groups to stop the people from voting on a qualified initiative. Their reason: "Because ballot measures are often used to express popular will and to send a message to elected representatives, pre-election review unduly infringes on free speech."

Despite this clear ruling by the Supreme Court, dozens of citizen-sponsored initiatives — liberal and conservative — were blocked from a public vote in recent years even though local residents followed all the rules.

In King County, after local residents qualified an initiative to reduce the size of the King County Council, the county sued to block the vote. In Spokane, local residents qualified an initiative for the ballot but special interest groups sued to block the vote. In our own city of Vancouver, local residents collected the required number of signatures, but the city refused to let the people vote. In Bellingham, Monroe, Mukilteo, Redmond, Longview, and Wenatchee, local residents sponsored initiatives letting the voters decide on red-light ticketing cameras in their communities. In every instance, the city or out-of-state red-light camera company sued the citizens to block the vote.

Unfortunately, this same thing has happened repeatedly to state and local initiatives. In every one of these efforts, residents followed all the rules, yet each of them was hit with expensive, needless obstruction because state law doesn't clearly mandate a vote on qualified initiatives. But I-517 fixes that. With I-517, if the initiative qualifies, then the voters decide.

I sponsored a bill in the Legislature that required the same thing: a guaranteed vote on qualified initiatives so voters can have their say. At a hearing on my bill, I heard resident after resident tell their horror stories of having their qualified initiatives blocked, preventing the people from exercising their right to vote. It was heartbreaking. But even with such compelling public testimony, very few of my colleagues in Olympia supported my bill.

The Legislature is never going to protect the citizens' initiative process — that's why Initiative 517 is so important and why I'm supporting it.

I-517 also gives everyone greater access to the initiative process. Since 1912, the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot has skyrocketed almost tenfold, while the time to manually collect signatures has remained the same at six months. Oregon allows two years; Idaho a year and a half. I-517 simply matches the national average, which is one year to collect signatures.

And I-517 does one other thing that's really important: It stops initiative opponents from bullying people who want to sign an initiative petition. Bullying — on sidewalks, walkways, and other public places — is becoming far too common and I-517 puts a stop to it. I-517 makes it safe for you to exercise your right to participate and vote. I-517 supports democracy, promotes respectful speech, and stops bullying.

But what really moved me about I-517 — what convinced me to support it and speak out for it — is its guarantee that the people get to vote on qualified initiatives. With I-517's protections, future generations will have the chance to have their voices heard at the state and local level.

Please join me and the hundreds of thousands of your fellow residents who signed Initiative 517 petitions in voting yes on 517. Thank you.

State Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, represents the 18th District. For more information on I-517, go to its website www.Yeson517.com.