State Senate eyes more time for initiative efforts

OLYMPIA — A committee in the Washington state Senate is considering a proposal to increase the amount of time that initiative campaigns have to collect signatures.

Initiative promoter Tim Eyman testified Thursday that the larger window of time would aid citizen-led campaigns that may not have the financial resources to fund an army of signature collectors. He said signature collectors also have to work during challenging winter months and during a time when other political campaigns are not active.

“The more time you allow, the more time you have grass-roots groups compete with the process,” Eyman said.

Signature drives currently have about six months to get enough support to qualify for the ballot. The secretary of state’s office recommends that the campaigns turn in about 325,000 signatures in order to safely get certified.

Opponents of the bill say the timeframe isn’t necessarily a constraint and that the extended period may cause voter confusion if election cycles overlap. Steve Zemke of Seattle, who has participated in past initiatives, said he was part of successful efforts without relying on paid collectors.

“There’s not an urgency to do this timeframe,” he said.

Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, said that while it may be OK to collect signatures in a densely populated place like Seattle, it’s more challenging for citizens in rural places.

Eyman already has an initiative qualified for this year’s ballot that would expand signature collection time. The hearing came a day after the secretary of state’s office announced that it had identified apparent fraud among three paid signature gatherers who provided petitions for Eyman’s initiative campaign and another proposal that would require companies to label genetically modified food.

Eyman’s latest proposal, which lawmakers also began considering Thursday, would separately require that voters be allowed to vote on any initiative that qualifies for the ballot, even if a lawsuit has been filed against the measure.

That second provision drew the support of people on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Randy Elmore, a conservative who pursued a vote on red light cameras in Bellingham, testified alongside Stoney Bird, a liberal who had attempted a vote that could have blocked coal trains in Bellingham.

Both of those Bellingham ballot measures were disrupted by lawsuits. Elmore and Bird said it improperly blocked the public’s right of a vote.

“I never thought in my life that I would support a Tim Eyman initiative, but I’m here,” Bird said.

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