Nov. 1 Daily News editorial
In 2011, people opposed to red-light cameras asked the Longview City Council to put an initiative about the issue before voters. The city attorney determined that the city didn’t have such authority. The matter went to the state Supreme Court, which ruled in the city’s favor, saying the Legislature gave the power of enacting such laws to local governing bodies, not to voters.
That episode is one of the reasons we oppose Initiative 517. Among other things, I-517 would force local governments to put measures on the ballot if they receive enough signatures, even if they appear to be illegal. This would only add to the expense of futile elections and cities’ legal costs of defending measures that eventually get thrown out by a judge.
Though I-517 includes some good ideas, it goes too far and we suggest a “no” vote.
Two words associated with I-517 are likely to draw a quick response from most Washingtonians: “Tim Eyman.”
Eyman has made a career for himself — and lots of enemies in state government — by sponsoring several initiatives, including this one. In fact, the Washington State Democrats cited Eyman widely in their February vote opposing I-517.
The initiative has drawn opposition from prominent Republicans, too, including former attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna, who has said that it would take away the rights of private businesses.
McKenna’s argument is one of the strongest ones against I-517, which would vastly expand where initiative signature gatherers could work. Currently, they can gather signatures on “public squares” but not inside public buildings. I-517 would allow signature gatherers inside or outside of all public buildings, including governmental offices, K-12 schools, sports stadiums and convention centers. In other words, someone with a petition could await fans at everything from Seahawks games to the bleachers at local high school basketball games. Some business owners object to a section of I-517 that would allow signature gatherers in front of the entrances and exits of any store.
I-517 also would prohibit people from being verbally abusive or throwing things at signature gatherers, though such actions are already against the law.
Currently, signature gatherers have six months for initiatives submitted directly to the people, which would double under I-517. That one-year time limit would move Washington from one of the shortest periods to the middle of the range of the 24 states that allow initiatives, according to an analysis by the Washington Policy Center.
That seems like a reasonable provision, though not enough to carry the entire initiative.
We’ll reiterate our belief that elected representatives remain the core of our system of government and that initiatives can be deceptive and expensive.
For instance, making hard liquor available in grocery stores came about because of an initiative. Now people can buy booze right down the aisle from milk and hot dogs, though many supporters were surprised to find out that liquor is not necessarily cheaper than it was under the old state store system.
We’ve previously opposed I-522, which would require the labeling of genetically engineered foods. But regardless of what voters choose, it will be an costly battle, with about $28 million spent so far. Retailers have spent a relatively paltry $600,000 to oppose I-517.
Much of those expenses will be passed on to consumers, one of the costs of letting voters bypass legislation through their elected representatives.