Eyman readies I-517, adding six months to get signatures

Staff writerDecember 26, 2012 

Initiative promoter Tim Eyman says he will turn in signatures next week for Initiative 517, proposing to add six months to the time that initiative backers in Washington have to collect signatures and get on the ballot. I-517 also creates a harassment-free zone of 25 feet around signature gatherers and makes it a misdemeanor crime to intimidate or interfere with signature gathering.

The deadline for signatures is Jan. 4 and Eyman is filing his signatures a day early. The move comes as state elections watchdogs are investigating the lawfulness of the signature-gathering effort.

Because I-517 is an initiative to the Legislature, it would go to the Legislature before going to the ballot next fall. Lawmakers then would have three options: vote to adopt it; take no action and let it go to the ballot; or place an alternative on the ballot next to I-517.

Given political realities in the divided Legislature, it is hard to see lawmakers taking any action next year. Whatever happens, Eyman is touting I-517 as the first initiative to qualify for the November 2013 ballot.

Eyman declined to say how many signatures his allies have collected. But he needs 241,153 valid voter signatures – which in practice means he’ll want to turn in about 320,000 signatures or more as insurance against invalid ones.

Democratic Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia is chairman of the House committee that would hear the measure. I couldn’t track down Hunt this afternoon, but in recent years he’s been on the opposite side of the initiative debate from Eyman – preferring to seek limits on signature gatherers.

As outlined by Eyman, I-517 would add harassment of signature gatherers to the disorderly conduct statute, RCW 9A.84.030, which previously was amended to criminalize unruly protests at military funerals. Such a misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Eyman contends it is needed to discourage acts of intimidation, which his campaign committee has documented here.

I-517 also seeks to extend the time period for collecting signatures by six months. Current law requires initiatives to the people to be filed 10 months before the election – in other words, in January - and to have signatures collected by early July. That results in a signature-gathering period of about six months.

Eyman’s proposal would let proponents file 16 months before an election, providing roughly a year until signatures were due. The I-517 campaign has stirred some controversy over its funding, and the state Public Disclosure Commission is looking into complaints that costs for signature gathering were not properly reported earlier this year.

Eyman contends all was done legally and he points to reports on file that have been amended. Those revised reports at the PDC show that $305,454 was raised and spent to qualify the measure and that all of the funds were donated in-kind.

The largest of those contributions – $182,806 – came from Virginia-based activist Paul Jacob’s Citizens in Charge group. Jacob apparently donated his help straight to firms that collect signatures.

Another group, People’s Petitioning of Edmonds, donated $42,712 worth of signatures. Eddie Agazarm, who led signature gathering efforts for I-517, added $3,886 worth. Several individual gatherers also reported donating signature work.

Sherry Bockwinkel, who formerly ran an initiative-signature firm based in Tacoma, said the I-517 PDC reports don’t account for actual payments to its signature-gatherers. She said she has turned evidence of such payments over the PDC.

Bockwinkel also contends that Eyman’s other measure, I-1185, was used to subsidize I-517 by having signature-gatherers on the first measure also collect signatures for the second one. Eyman says he, Agazarm and Jacob plan to attend the signature turn-in in Olympia.

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