By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
The kingpin of Washington initiatives is out to defend and expand the political realm he rules.
And give residents help in unplugging red-light cameras as well.
Thursday, Tim Eyman plans to turn in petitions for Initiative 517 which would give signature-gatherers more time, locations and legal protections for exercising their craft.
As proposed, sponsors of initiatives would gain an extra six months to collect signatures and those found to be harassing a petitioner could face criminal charges.
The measure would etch into state law the ability to circulate petitions inside public buildings such as sports stadiums, convention centers, city halls, fairgrounds and the Capitol.
And, most importantly to Eyman, all state and local measures receiving enough signatures must be placed on the ballot. No longer will elected officials or corporate lawyers be able to use the courts to try to block a vote on something they don’t like.
Eyman’s motives stem specifically from his battles against red-light camera use in Mukilteo, Monroe and other cities since 2010. Seven times, Eyman said, camera opponents qualified measures aimed at curbing their use and each time city councils or camera supporters sued to impede their path to the ballot.
“It’s not just red-light cameras, although that’s my driving motivation behind this thing,” Eyman said of the initiative in November.
I-517 is an initiative to the Legislature which means it will get handled like the marijuana legalization measure. If Eyman turns in enough valid signatures of registered voters, the measure will be sent to lawmakers who can adopt it or ignore it and let it go to the ballot. They also could put an alternative on the ballot as a competing measure.
He figures lawmakers will punt it to the ballot as they did with the marijuana initiative.
Then Eyman, who recorded a resounding ballot box victory against taxes in November with passage of Initiative 1185, may have to overcome an ally in that fight to succeed.
The Washington Retail Association is concerned I-517 gives paid petitioners carte blanche to operate in and around their stores.
They fret about language guaranteeing protection for circulation of petitions on “all sidewalks and walkways that carry pedestrian traffic, including those in front of the entrances and exits of any store.”
WRA leaders are talking about supporting an alternative from lawmakers or on their own.
It is “an onerous proposal that puts private property owners at risk of lawsuits for not allowing Eyman’s signature gatherers to be anywhere they want to be on our property,” Jan Teague, the association president and chief executive officer, wrote in the group’s November newsletter.
“I could see these signature gatherers going so far as to be in the store, or at cash registers bogging down the lines, or at consumers’ cars in the parking lots,” she wrote.
Eyman said nothing in the initiative enables a petitioner to operate inside a store as Teague described.
State Supreme Court rulings make clear gathering signatures at regional malls and large supermarkets are constitutionally protected and the initiative only seeks to chisel those protections into law, Eyman said.
What is new is making sure the practice is guaranteed as well inside and outside of public buildings, he said.
“If the taxpayers are paying for it, you should have access to it,” he said, noting petitioners would still have to buy a ticket if they wanted to solicit fans at, say, a Seahawks or Mariners game.
Taxpayers also are WRA customers and Teague doesn’t want that to be forgotten in this pending political tussle.
“The time has come to bring customer rights and property rights into the picture,” she said. “We know it’s time to focus public policy on a balance that respects citizens’ rights to petition their government with other citizens’ rights to not be harassed in public.”
Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or firstname.lastname@example.org.