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Citizen Initiative Process is Under Attack by Some Legislators

Citizen Initiative Process is Under Attack by Some Legislators

February 12, 2015

This year, some legislators are dead set on stripping the constitutional right of citizen initiatives. Some proposals are more aggressive than others, but all will effectively chip away at the power.

Citizen Initiatives are an important check on our Legislature. In fact, the "first power reserved by the people is the initiative" as written in Article II Section 1(a) of our state constitution.

Many legislators despise citizen initiatives because they feel their successful election has ordained them to make laws--forgetting another important principle of our state constitution: "All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights."

The recent voter approval of I-1351, the so-called Class Size Reduction Measure, has given anti-initiative legislators renewed hope that they can snatch this important power from the voters. They reason that initiatives like I-1351 unduly burden the state's budget with unanticipated and unallocated costs.

Interestingly, although citizen initiative is a citizen check on the legislature, the Legislature also has its own check on initiatives. In the first two years after an initiative is approved by the voters, lawmakers can modify it with a two-thirds vote, and they can modify it after the first two years with a simple majority vote.

But regardless of the reasoning, an anti-initiative attack has been launched this session by some legislators.

Here are the bills currently on my radar:

SB 5375 Requiring disclosure by entities that compensate for petition signatures.
Prime Sponsor: Marko Liias (D-Edmonds)
One continuing gripe from the left is that signature-gatherers are paid. This bill would require registration, training and background checks for signature-gatherers. The bill has already had a hearing and I've posted the video below. If you want to see some fireworks this committee hearing is particularly entertaining. Sen. Don Benton (R-Vancouver) did an excellent job at arguing on behalf of the state constitution and citizen's rights. Sen. Pam Roach (R-Auburn) made no bones about her displeasure with the Grocer's Association. Roach perceived a lack of campaign contributions from the association as retribution for not hearing this bill last year, and she let each of them know the consequences of her recent election win. Needless to say, this bill will most likely die in committee.

SB 5535 Establishing a citizens' initiative review pilot program.
Prime Sponsor: Joe Fain (R-Auburn)
This bill will create a government-appointed review panel to create its own statement, which will be published along with a pro- and con- statement in the voter's pamphlet. Under the guise of a "citizen review panel," it's a sneaky way for the Legislature to influence the outcome of a citizen initiative—the very power designed to provide a check on the Legislature.

SB 5661 Allowing the Legislature to hold public hearings on ballot propositions.
Prime Sponsor: Pam Roach (R-Auburn)
Sen. Roach would like to amend the laws that prohibit state officers, state employees or public resources to be used for campaigning to allow the Legislature to hold hearings on initiatives. It's unlikely citizens would look favorably on the state's involvement in any campaign—even as innocuous as holding a hearing on ballot measures sounds. Besides, there is already substantial public debate and scrutiny on ballot measures. TVW often holds debates on these issues.

SB 8201 Initiative measures
Prime Sponsor: Joe Fain (R-Auburn)
Sen. Fain proposed to amend the state constitution to allow a simple opinion of the Attorney General to derail an initiative. The initiative power, as it currently stands, gives all residents an equal voice in the process. If the constitution is amended in the way Fain proposes, citizen voices would easily be silenced by a stroke of the Attorney General's pen. Fortunately, this bill looks to be dead on arrival.

SB 5715 Initiatives, fiscal impact
Prime Sponsor: Joe Fain (R-Auburn)
Sen. Fain proposes to print the fiscal note on the ballot title of an initiative. On the face, this seems reasonable. The problem is, the Office of Financial Management produces the fiscal note. This office is an arm of the governor. It's not an independent research facility providing objective data. The Office of Financial Management has become politicized and will do as it's told. Ballot measures the governor finds favorable will cost very little and those he dislikes will cost a fortune. We don't need the governor having this kind of influence over citizen initiatives. If initiatives are very costly, often the con statements will contain information about the fiscal note. Recently, the con statement for I-1351 began with, "This $4 billion budget buster is not what It claims. Don't be fooled: This is a budget-busting initiative, costing $4 billion at full implementation without a revenue source." It went on with substantial arguments about the cost of the initiative. Leave the voter's pamphlets alone. We don't need government working to unnecessarily assist or torpedo ballot measures.


WATCH: Freedom Foundation argues for citizen initiatives in recent debate.

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