Pro and con: I-517 — the initiative process

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I-517 helps to protect the initiative process

By Mimi Gates

I am Mimi Gates from Mukilteo, and I support Initiative 517 because I am a strong believer in our initiative rights which our state has had for over a century. 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.

Initiative 517’s primary policy change is guaranteeing you the right to vote on qualified initiatives.

In a recent unanimous ruling, the Washington State Supreme Court 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 citizens followed all the rules.

In King County, after local citizens qualified an initiative to reduce the size of the King County Council, the county sued to block the vote.

In Vancouver, after local citizens qualified an initiative for the ballot, the City Council refused to let the people vote.

In Bellingham, Monroe, Redmond, Longview, Wenatchee, and my hometown of Mukilteo, local citizens sponsored initiatives letting the voters decide on red-light ticketing cameras in their communities. In every instance, the city or red-light camera company sued the citizens to block the vote. Their lawyers said only politicians were capable of discussing, debating, and deciding on ticketing cameras.

They said the topic wasn’t “proper” for the voters to decide.

In my view, what’s not “proper” is having the government telling us it knows best. To me, what’s not “proper” is the government deciding what issues we, the people, can and can’t express our opinion on.

I was part of a team of local citizens in Mukilteo who sponsored and qualified one of those red-light camera initiatives for a vote. It was maddening when the out-of-state red-light camera company sued to prevent the people from voting on it.

Unfortunately, this same thing has happened repeatedly to state and local initiatives.

In every one of these efforts, citizens 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.

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 Initiative 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 citizens who signed Initiative 517 petitions, in voting yes on 517.

Mimi Gates is a longtime resident of Mukilteo. This piece was adapted from material provided by the Yes on 517 campaign.

Vote No

I-517 treads on rights of property owners

By Melinda Merrill

The initiative process in our state is one of our most important democratic tools. The right to petition the government is a fundamental one and should be robustly preserved and protected. Professional initiative promoter Tim Eyman’s I-517 is a hastily written, self-serving initiative aimed at increasing the profitability of the signature-gathering business. He claims it’s needed to make reforms to the initiative system, but in reality, it is full of ambiguous language that could lead to a terrible experience for anyone who shops at a grocery store, attends a Seahawks or Mariners game, or even stops by the library.

A major part of I-517 concerns harassment protection for petitioners. It establishes a large protected perimeter around a signature gatherer within which any type of interference in that person’s activity is illegal and subject to punishment as a misdemeanor.

Interference under I-517 can mean something as simple as store owners wishing to establish rules as to the time and location that signature gathering takes place on their property, or imposing standards of personal conduct for how petitioners gather their signatures. It would prevent our store directors from being able to assure our customers can enter or exit our stores free of harassment or intrusion. Store directors from all over the state already receive countless customer complaints about aggressive signature gatherers being coercive to the point of frightening. When these complaints come in, our store directors rely on being able to ask these individuals to leave. Under I-517, they would no longer have that right.

Currently, if a signature gatherer wishes to stand on a public sidewalk outside a store and solicit signatures, it is completely legal. However, if they wish to come onto private property to conduct their business, they may ask the store owner, and it is up to the owner whether to allow them to do so. I-517 takes away the right of the property owner to decide by expanding the law to make signature gathering a legally protected activity on all sidewalks and walkways that carry pedestrian traffic and specifically states “including those in front of the entrances and exits of any store.”

Can you imagine trying to enter a store and having to weave your way through a gauntlet of signature gatherers? Under I-517 this WILL be the new reality.

We are not talking about public land; we are talking about private property. It should be our decision whether or not to allow paid signature gatherers on our private property and, if we do, to require them to treat our customers courteously. I-517 means we have no say over who is on our property or how they treat our customers.

I-517 carries significant consequences to citizens by making signature gathering an unregulated, sanctioned activity both inside and outside of any public building or facility. Schools, libraries, and high school sports stadiums lose all rights to control signature gathering inside of these buildings. Other venues such as Memorial Stadium, Comcast Arena, Seattle’s Safeco and CenturyLink fields, convention centers and public fairgrounds would also be affected. These special places where we choose to spend our time with friends, family and loved ones will no longer be free of politics.

Please join retailers, business owners and community leaders from across the state in voting NO on 517.

Melinda Merrill is manager of Community Affairs for Fred Meyer stores.

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