We believe in the initiative process in our state; it gives all of us a chance to put ideas we are passionate about in front of the voters of Washington. But Initiative 517 aims to make drastic changes to the system. The measure is riddled with a lack of clarity and is full of negative, unintended consequences for Washington business owners and citizens.
The basics are this: I-517, sponsored by professional initiative promoter Tim Eyman, would amend the initiative process and treat paid signature gatherers as a special protected class, often at the expense of citizen safety and business owners’ rights. This is why a diverse and growing coalition of citizens and business leaders is coming together to oppose I-517.
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, subject to punishment as a misdemeanor.
Clearly harassment should not be tolerated, but this initiative goes much further.
If store owners try to establish rules as to the time and location that signature gathering takes place on their property, they are interfering in the process. If business owners wish to establish standards of personal conduct for how petitioners go about gathering signatures, they are in violation of the law. Even objecting to the content of the initiative could be construed as interference, restricting all citizens’ right to free speech.
As responsible store owners, if a signature gatherer outside one of our stores is exhibiting aggressive behaviors toward our customers – such as blocking entering or exiting, yelling or verbally threatening them – we should be able to ask that this individual change his or her behavior or vacate the property without fear of breaking the law.
Currently, paid signature gathering is a legally protected activity on all public sidewalks and walkways. I-517 would expand these protections to allow signature gathering at the doors of any store. Could you imagine trying to enter a store and having to weave your way through numerous people trying to get you to sign on to their initiative?
In most cases the people gathering these signatures are not our neighbors who are supporting a new law that they are passionate about, but rather are hired out-of-state workers who get paid by the number of signatures they gather.
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 property. Initiative 517 takes away our ability to preserve your rights as a shopper to enter a store without having to go through a gantlet of signature gatherers.
In addition to the negative consequences of I-517 for business owners, it also has a big impact on the public by making signature gathering a legally protected activity both inside and outside of any public building or facility. This means that community institutions such as schools, libraries and high school sports stadiums lose all rights to regulate signature gathering, not just outside but inside as well.
Other venues such as the Tacoma Dome, Cheney Stadium, Seattle’s Safeco and Century Link fields, convention centers and public fairgrounds would also be affected. It feels particularly intrusive to be bombarded by signature solicitations inside of venues where we choose to spend our free time with friends and family.
We urge you to take a closer look at this poorly written measure and join retailers, business owners and community leaders from across the state in voting no on Initiative 517.
Mike Hargreaves is the owner of Stadium Thriftway in Tacoma. Greg Saar is president of Saar’s Market Place, a Washington-based independent grocery chain. For more information, go tono517.org