Opinion

I-517 allows the public to be heard | Sen. Pam Roach

Last year, Washington’s initiative process celebrated its 100-year anniversary. During that time, people from across the political spectrum have presented their reform ideas to the voters. Each of those qualified initiatives spurred a robust debate and healthy citizen involvement. Voters had the opportunity to learn more about public policy and discuss important issues with friends and family.

In the end, the voters had the chance to decide.

I support Initiative 517 because I believe in the citizens’ right to have a voice in their government.

As chair of the Senate Governmental Operations Committee, I held a hearing on I-517 during the legislative session. During the hearing, we learned that dozens of citizen-sponsored initiatives — liberal and conservative — were blocked from a public vote even though local citizens followed all the rules. People from across Washington testified. Sponsors of local initiatives on red-light ticketing cameras from Bellingham, Wenatchee, Redmond, Longview and Monroe talked about how they were individually sued by the out-of-state red-light camera companies to prevent the vote even though their measures qualified. A library initiative qualified in Renton but was initially blocked from a public vote by the city council. Two initiatives in Spokane qualified for the ballot but special interest groups sued and blocked the vote. The sponsors of an initiative to shrink the size of the King County Council were individually sued by the county, forcing them to incur $250,000 in legal costs. There were many others.

All these citizens followed all the rules and qualified their initiatives but were nonetheless individually sued and had their measures blocked from a vote. Over and over again, voters were prevented from having their say.

That’s why I-517 is so important. I-517’s primary policy change is guaranteeing you the right to vote on qualified initiatives. With I-517, if the initiative qualifies, then the voters decide.

That policy is endorsed by the state Supreme Court. In a unanimous ruling, they wrote:  “Because ballot measures are often used to express popular will and to send a message to elected representatives, pre-election review unduly infringes on free speech.”

That’s what really moves me about I-517 – it guarantees that the people get to vote on qualified initiatives. Whether the initiative is liberal or conservative is not the issue. What matters is this: did the citizens follow the rules and collect the required number of voter signatures in the required time frame?  If the answer to that question is yes, then I-517 guarantees a vote. That’s how it works with state initiatives and I-517 simply applies that same protection to local initiatives. I strongly support that.

I-517 also gives everyone greater access to the initiative process. Since 1912, the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot has skyrocketed almost tenfold, while the time to manually collect signatures has remained the same at six months. Oregon allows two years; Idaho allows a year and a half. I-517 simply matches the national average which is one year to collect signatures. More time means grassroots groups can qualify without big money.

I-517 does one other thing that’s really important: it stops initiative opponents from bullying people who want to sign an initiative petition. Bullying – on sidewalks, walkways, and other public places – is becoming far too common and I-517 puts a stop to it. I-517 sets penalties for interfering with or retaliating against petition-signers. I-517 makes it safe for you to exercise your right to participate and vote.

I-517 supports democracy, promotes respectful speech and stops bullying.

With I-517’s protections, future generations will have the chance to have their voices heard at the state and local level on issues they care about, whether liberal or conservative.

Please join me in voting yes on Initiative 517.

Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, represents the 31st Legislative District.

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