Opinion Columns & Blogs

Initiatives and referenda on the agenda

The much-loved but much-maligned initiative process is under assault in the state Legislature. Lawmakers are considering bills that would:

Revoke the people's right to initiative and referendum.

Increase the initiative filing fee.

Require signature collectors to sign an anti-fraud declaration.

Mandate that signature collectors be paid by the hour, not per signature.

Require signature collectors to wear badges.

Some of the proposals make sense. Others should be rejected outright. Our view:

Senate Joint Resolution 8205 ends the initiative and referendum process. It's a terrible proposal.

The state of Washington adopted the initiative and referendum process in 1912. Through initiative, the public can write a law, and through the referendum process, voters can veto a law passed by the Legislature. Creating laws and rejecting others is a cherished right, used repeatedly over the years as the people's check against legislative abuses. Voters' rights must not be abridged. SJR 8205 should be rejected outright.

Senate Bill 5392 would increase the initiative filing fee from $5 to $100. Today's $5 rate is the same that it was in 1912. The bill will get rid of frivolous initiatives because those initiative campaigns that qualify for the ballot get the $100 fee refunded. Lawmakers should pass SB 5392.

Senate Bill 5182 is more complex. To qualify for the ballot, an initiative petition must contain signatures equal to 8 percent of the votes cast for the office of governor in the last election. Under that rule, an initiative today must have 224,880 valid signatures of registered voters.

In 2005, the Legislature added another r equirement. It passed a bill requiring a declaration be printed on the reverse side of every initiative and referendum petitions affirming that, to the best of the signature gatherer's knowledge, the pe ople who signed the petition did so knowingly and without compensation or promise. With his or her signature, the collector acknowledges that forgery of signatures is a felony.

Ever since the law was passed, there has been a debate about whether the signature on the reverse of the initiative is required for the voter signatures on the front of the initiative to be counted. The attorney general said no, the declaration is simply a warning about the consequences of false signatures.

SB 5182 says that unless the signature collector signs the declaration and provides an address, voter signatures on the front are invalid.

Initiative guru Tim Eyman said people paid to collect signatures always sign the back of the petition. This bill would affect the grassroots volunteers who collect signatures. Only about half of them flip the initiative over and sign the declaration. The bill, if passed, would nullify thousands of otherwise valid signatures, and that's why SB 5182 should be rejected by the Legislature.

House Bill 1087 would prohibit the payment of signature gatherers on a per-signature basis.

We don't like the fact that out-of-state residents come to Washington and are paid to collect signatures. It goes against the premise of the initiative process, which is a motivated populace rising in unison to write a state law the Legislature has ignored or to reject ill-advised bills that have found their way into law.

But paid signature gatherers are a way of life. Most campaigns use them. This bill would force campaigns to pay signature gatherers by the hour, not by the signature. According to Eyman, a similar law in Oregon tripled the cost to qualify an initiative for the ballot. He said the average cost climbed from $149,000 to $437,000.

Lawmakers should let initiative issues rise or fall on their merit, not on the way signature collectors are paid. Reject Senate House Bill 1087 and its Senate companion, SB 5356.

Senate Bill 5181 is just plain mean-spirited. It would require signature collectors to wear a badge stating whether they are a volunteer or someone being paid to collect signatures. If paid, the identification badge also must identify who is paying the person to gather signatures.

If voters want to know whether the collector is being paid, they can ask. SB 5181 is an unnecessary, punitive hurdle in the initiative process and should be rejected. For more information

Tracking a bill: To view the text of any bill or to get background information, a summary of committee testimony and how individual legislators voted, go to www.leg.wa.gov/legislature.