Bill addresses local petition signatures

Legislation asks that one be counted in cases of duplicates

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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A bill making its way through the Washington Legislature would change the state law that landed a local light rail petition in court last year.

House Bill 2296, introduced by state Rep. Liz Pike, would allow duplicate signatures on a petition to be counted once, rather than thrown out entirely. The Camas Republican said last year's ill-fated light rail petition in Vancouver largely inspired her bill, but it's found support from elsewhere in the legislature.

The bill sailed through a House committee last week. It's co-sponsored by four Democrats and five Republicans, among them Rep. Paul Harris and Brandon Vick, both of Vancouver.

"I think the merit goes beyond (Vancouver), as well," Pike said.

For years, opponents of the Columbia River Crossing circulated a petition aiming to prevent the city of Vancouver from spending any resources on light rail. The proposed Interstate 5 Bridge replacement includes plans for a light rail extension from Portland to Vancouver.

In 2013, petitioners learned their effort had fallen just a few dozen signatures short of the threshold required for certification. Part of the reason was duplicate signatures and a state law that said "signatures, including the original, of any person who has signed a petition two or more times shall be stricken."

Petitioners challenged the law, and ultimately scored a victory in Cowlitz County Superior Court. Pike's bill would follow that ruling and allow the original signature to count — not the duplicates — as it would for statewide initiatives.

"Once that was decided in Cowlitz County court, it really made sense to fix it once and for all and protect voters' intentions on all petitions," Pike said.

Also supporting the bill is Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey. He was the defendant in last year's lawsuit but actually agreed with the petitioners and welcomed the challenge.

"In my view it was a bad law, a law that needed to be changed," Kimsey said. "We shouldn't assume that when someone signs a petition twice, that there's fraudulent intent."

Though the duplicated signatures counted, last year's light rail petition was ultimately thrown out when a Clark County judge ruled that it exceeded the scope of local initiative power. The issue never came to a vote.