Heavy hitters at work behind state initiatives

  • By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
  • Sunday, June 19, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

Before we all get too tied up in who will be the next governor, the election this fall could really shake up life as we and the chickens know it in Washington.

Petitions are on the street for initiatives to change how hens are caged, tolls are set, booze is bought and health care workers are trained.

Major forces are pushing each one — and in the case of those chickens, there’s an Everett firm financing the push back.

To get their measure on the November ballot, supporters must turn in petitions with signatures of at least 241,153 registered voters. Their deadline is July 8.

Here is a snapshot of each initiative in case you find yourself face-to-face with a petition-toting signature-gatherer in the very near future.

Initiative 1130: Called the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, its aim is to stop raising egg-laying hens in cages in Washington by 2018.

Supporters, who’ve been collecting signatures since early March, say they have attained the minimum number and are now building a substantial cushion.

This battle teams the Humane Society of the United States and Farm Sanctuary of New York with family farmers and food safety activists against a phalanx of large producers and distributors of eggs. Both sides are piling up cash for a fall showdown.

Washingtonians for Humane Farms had raised $542,000 by Friday though most has been spent getting those signatures. Opponents, organized by the Northwest Poultry Council under the flag of Stop the Extremists, have raised $420,000. Of the total, $130,000 came from the National Food Corp. of Everett, a 55-year-old company whose eggs are sold in stores around the country and the world.

Initiative 1125: Dubbed the Protect Gas Taxes and Toll Revenues Act, it is better known as the Tim Eyman Initiative of 2011.

This measure would require state lawmakers rather than the citizen-run Transportation Commission to set tolls on bridges and highways. Those toll revenues could be spent only on the road or bridge on which they were collected, under this initiative.

It also bars use of money collected in gas taxes and vehicle tolls from being diverted into the state’s general fund or spent on any non-transportation purpose.

Eyman hit the street with petitions May 1, a bit late for him. But a $500,000 contribution from Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman should ensure it gets on the ballot. So far, there’s no organized opposition.

Initiative 1163: Named the Restoring Quality Home Care Initiative, it is the work of the Service Employees International Union.

This measure would reinstate rules requiring criminal background checks and increased training of health care workers who serve the elderly and disabled. If those sound familiar, they are. Voters backed checks and testing of workers with passage of Initiative 1029 in 2008. But this year, lawmakers didn’t fund training and revised the requirement for background checks in order to delay when it kicks in.

SEIU isn’t willing to wait. The powerful labor union has put up $1 million so far, with about a quarter of that going to the signature-gathering effort. There’s no formal opposition, yet.

Initiative 1183: You can call this one Costco II — The Sequel. In 2010, voters turned down a Costco-backed initiative to get the state out of the hard liquor business and allow distilled spirits to be sold wherever one can pick up a case of beer or bottle of wine.

Costco returns with what it hopes will be a more palatable idea for breaking the state’s monopoly on the distribution and sale of hard liquor. Under this measure, state liquor stores would be closed and sold and hard liquor will show up on the shelves of supermarkets and superstores like Costco — but not every corner market. A store must have at least 10,000 square feet of retail space to qualify for a license to sell liquor.

Costco figures this initiative will generate as much revenue for the state in the future as it is collecting now. That will certainly be part of the campaign debate.

Thus far, Costco is in for about $350,000 to get it on the ballot. No one is gearing up to fight it though almost certainly someone will.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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