Washington citizens have used the state’s initiative and referendum process since 1914 to address a wide variety of issues in the public interest, from allowing the sale of colored margarine (1952) to prohibitions on forced school busing (1978) to approving same-sex marriage (2012).
The best initiatives reflect the will of the people on matters of serious public interest. The worst ones attempt to deceive the public for some self-interest.
Initiative 517 falls into the later category, and voters should reject it.
The measure is misleadingly titled “Protect the Initiative Act,” because the name implies there is some threat to our well-functioning initiative process. That is not the case. Popular, well-organized statewide initiatives almost always make it on to general election ballots.
Instead of improving the initiative process, this Tim Eyman initiative creates serious new problems.
Initiative 517 would allow signature gatherers unrestricted access to all public venues. Libraries, high school stadiums, hospitals and even schools would lose the right to control signature-gathering activities around and even inside its premises.
Imagine going to a live performance at The Washington Center and being detained by clipboard-carrying advocates, even in the theater’s seats.
The initiative would interfere with individual property rights. I-517 prohibits property owners from regulating signature-gathering around their businesses. If customers felt harangued entering or exiting a store, the business owner would be powerless to set restrictions on signature-gathering.
Former Attorney General Rob McKenna believes that provision of the initiative violates constitutional property right protections. The Washington Policy Center agrees, saying “signature-gathering shouldn’t infringe on private-property rights for those businesses that don’t want to engage in a given political debate.”
The imprecise language of I-517 invites legal challenges on multiples levels. For example, it tampers with the First Amendment in making “yelling, screaming, or being verbally abusive” with signature gatherers a criminal offense.
The initiative also creates a 25-foot interference-free zone around signature gatherers. If a petitioner is aggressively blocking entry into a store, it would become a misdemeanor crime to push or shove pass them.
Former Secretary of State Sam Reed and former State Auditor Brian Sonntag have written that “I-517 protects only the paid petition signature gatherers from harassment, when in reality oftentimes it is the citizens who are being harassed.”
Existing laws already protect signature gatherers from abuse and assault. As the Washington Policy Center says, “It’s unclear how adding new restrictions in law will lead to better enforcement of the current legal protections.”
Don’t be fooled. Initiative entrepreneur Eyman uses I-517 to pose imaginary concerns, and then overreaches for unnecessary solutions. It serves only his personal interests. Vote no.