SAFEWAY DROPS LEGAL CHALLENGE TO INITIATIVE SIGNATURE GATHERING
Citizen Solutions is pleased to announce that Safeway has dropped its legal challenge to initiative signature gathering at its stores throughout Washington state.
Safeway had sued Citizen Solutions and Progressive Campaigns for their activities in gathering signatures on I-1366, a Tax Reform Act, and I-1401, an initiative to protect endangered animals. Safeway initially sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, but dropped that request just hours after Citizens Solutions responded with substantial evidence showing that Safeway stores across the state are modern town centers – in Safeway’s own words. Two weeks later, just hours after Citizens Solutions formally responded to all of Safeway’s claims by asserting the rights of initiative sponsors under Washington’s constitutional protection for the initiative process, Safeway threw in the towel and asked simply to drop its law suit.
Safeway’s action to file its lawsuit followed similar claims by other stores, including Fred Meyer. Safeway’s quick turnabout was an acknowledgement that the Washington Supreme Court decision in the Alderwood Mall case from 1981 firmly protects the right of the people to gather initiative and referendum signatures at malls and other locations that are town centers. Safeway’s lawsuit was dismissed on July 17, 2015.
1218 Third Ave., Suite 1000
Seattle, WA 98101
When it comes to spending priorities, citizens are often entirely dependent on the stewardship of elected officials and public employees. Most people agree things like roads, fire departments, law enforcement, and schools are core functions of government. And most people are willing to pay taxes to support these services. Yet these are the first things threatened with cuts when politicians would like a tax increase. Politicians threaten to reduce library services rather than sell the city golf course (which consistently loses money. This is why initiative and referendum are often used by citizens when they don’t like the priorities of politicians.
Stavros Mendros has filed paperwork to begin the referendum process and call for a people’s vote.
AUGUSTA, Maine — A group of concerned Mainers, including three Republican lawmakers, has launched a petition drive for a people’s veto of a controversial bill that extends General Assistance benefits to some immigrants for up to two years.
Mendros is not opposed to immigration but sees the need for prioritizing spending.
“I’m disappointed in the Legislature to come up with $300 million and not take people off of wait-lists. Waiting for nursing homes, our nursing homes are closing down waiting to be properly reimbursed,” Mendros said.
Petitioners want voters to have a say on a new city streetcar project.
If successful, the city would be required to hold a binding referendum before spending $10 million or more to expand or alter the streetcar plan approved by the Common Council in February.
Colorado legislators finally ended their session and went home, but not before weakening voters petition rights.
HB15-1057 creates petty new hurdles for initiatives.
In Colorado the politicians love making the initiative harder. Initiatives must have two sponsors. There are multiple review and comment hearings where the public can complain about the petition and changes can be demanded. Each time a change occurs a new comment hearing must be held. This process takes months. A representative of the sponsors had been required to attend each of these review hearings. If they didn’t attend it started the entire process over. This can be tedious considering a sponsor from Cortez would need to drive over 7 hours to be in Denver for the hearing. But they could have a representative in Denver attend in their place. Not anymore!
How petty can legislators be? They now require both sponsors to attend every hearing, and if one of the sponsors is unable to attend for any reason, the initiative is withdrawn and the process must be restarted.
From the bill:
BOTH DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PROPONENTS MUST APPEAR AT ALL REVIEW AND COMMENT MEETINGS. IF EITHER DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVE FAILS TO ATTEND A MEETING, THE MEASURE IS CONSIDERED WITHDRAWN BY THE PROPONENTS.
IF ONE OF THE TWO DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVES FAILS TO ATTEND THE REVIEW AND COMMENT MEETING ,THE PETITION IS DEEMED TO BE AUTOMATICALLY RESUBMITTED TO THE DIRECTORS OF THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL AND THE OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE LEGAL SERVICES FOR REVIEW AND COMMENT, UNLESS THE DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVE PRESENT OBJECTS TO THE AUTOMATIC RESUBMISSION.
NO LATER THAN FIVE BUSINESS DAYS AFTER THE RESUBMISSION , THE DIRECTORS SHALL CONDUCT A REVIEW AND COMMENT MEETING IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE REQUIREMENTS OF THIS SECTION.
IF BOTH DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVES FAIL TO ATTEND THE REVIEW AND COMMENT MEETING OR IF THE DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVE PRESENT OBJECTS TO THE AUTOMATIC RESUBMISSION, THE PROPONENTS MAY THEREAFTER RESUBMIT THE INITIATIVE PETITION IN ACCORDANCE WITH SUBSECTION (1) OF THIS SECTION
Sammamish, Washington will be having an advisory note next Tuesday 4/28/2015 to judge public support for initiative and referendum. An advisory vote is not legally binding but should influence the council. Advisory votes can be called through an advisory petition (read more about advisory petitions here,) or by the legislative body in that jurisdiction. This advisory vote has been called by the Sammamish city council at their February 3, 2015 meeting.
Sammamish is a charter code city under Washington state law, but citizens do not currently have a binding legal means to propose municipal legislation apart from the city council. Harry Shedd a resident of Sammamish has put together a beautiful website explaining the advisory vote, and the initiative and referendum process.
For more information:
Arguments in favor
Colorado’s legislature is on the attack. They have gotten the word from their lobbyist friends to gut the initiative process. We can’t go a single session without legislators deciding the citizens aren’t smart enough to decide issues for themselves.
Online petitions, advisory petitions, plebiscite petitions, and initiative petitions, each involve you signing your name in support of an issue. How are they different?
Online petitions are becoming more and more common. It’s easy to make an online petition. Google “petition” or “online petition” and you’ll get links to many places that will let you set up and account, link to your social media accounts, and ask your friends to sign your petition. Change.org, ipetition, and We The People are all petition sites where you can use social media to build awareness for your issue. People use these sites to put pressure on politicians, companies, individuals or organizations to change laws, policies, or behaviors. There are many success stories. These petitions are not legally binding. Online petitions are effective in the same manner a boycott or rally can be effective, by drawing attention to a problem and putting pressure on people who have the power to take action. They’re also very effective for building lists.
Advisory petitions are a less common form of legal petitions. An advisory petition typically allows citizens to call a non-binding vote on a particular issue. The results of that election are intended to show public support or opposition to an issue with the hope politicians will take action to change the law.
A plebiscite petition is similar to an online petition but it’s not done online. Circulators carry petition forms and ask people to sign in support of a specific issue. Like online petitions they are used to put pressure on decision makes. They are also used to build lists.
Initiative petitions are different, they are a legal document people sign to force government officials to call a vote on a specific piece of legislation written on the petition. When you sign an initiative petition or gather signatures on an initiative petition you are working to allow voters a choice on that piece of legislation. Initiative petitions lead to a binding vote and are governed by very specific laws. These laws require the petition to comply with many specific details, details that are different in every state. When sponsors of an initiative petition have gathered enough signatures and submit the petition, the governing body is compelled to let voters decide the issue. When voters go to the ballot box the legislation is presented as a ballot question and people vote to approve or reject the initiated legislation. If voters approve the legislation it become law in that political subdivision.
The initiative is a means to bypass politicians. In many initiative states initiators have the choice of circulating petitions to propose a statute or a constitutional amendment, (in home rule cities initiators choose between ordinance and charter amendment). In some states lawmakers have the option of approving statutes and ordinances without sending the issue to voters, amendments require voter approval. Amendments also require more petition signatures.
Why do most initiators choose to put in the extra money and effort to propose amendments? Once passed amendments can’t be overturned without a vote of the people.
Gathering signatures, fighting legal battles, and running a campaign is a big commitment most initiators are only willing to make when they know their initiative will result in real change. It’s not surprising most initiators choose to go the constitutional or charter amendment route when possible.
Two recent examples where legislators are able to mess with voter approved initiatives:
South Dakota lawmakers recently exempted persons under 18 from a minimum wage increase approved by voters last November. Supporters of the minimum wage increase are organizing to run a referendum petition drive to challenge the exemption.
Washington state voters approved an initiative last fall to require lower class sizes in public schools. The senate recently passed a measure to change the initiated law and only require k-3rd grade classes be reduced in size, now they want to send it back to voters (further delaying the class size requirement.)
A ballot title is what you read when you vote on a ballot question. Ballot titles like push polls can result in huge differences in how voters perceive an issue at the moment when they must make a choice. In the case of recall, millage, or referendum most state statutes give fairly strict guidelines on how the question must appear on the ballot. Shall X be approved? Shall John Doe be recalled from office for XYZ?
However when it comes to the initiative process writing a ballot title can be much more subjective. The law is different in every state and ballot titles are most commonly written in one of three ways:
State or local elections official or their agent, this might be the Attorney General, Secretary of State, or city clerk.
Legislative body, the legislature, city council, or county commission.
Proponents of the initiative, the group circulating petitions to call for an election on a particular initiative.
Problems occur when a ballot title appears biased. When the ballot title appears to make a yes or no vote sound more appealing, or is outright deceptive in explanation of the issue, people on the other side of the issue will justifiably take offense. In many cases this results in expensive lawsuits and people without deep pockets are at a huge disadvantage. Groups may spend tens of thousands of dollars only to have courts rule against them despite obvious bias.
This week a judge in Mississippi ruled that the legislature had crafted a ballot title that was deceptive.
“Judge Winston Kidd ruled in favor of Adrian Shipman, a mother of two in the Oxford Public Schools, that the legislature’s alternative language was too confusing and too similar to the original citizen’s initiative language. Kidd has ordered that language to be changed. The new alternative language, which was not immediately available, would follow a suggestion offered by Better Schools, Better Jobs, the group that worked to put the initiative on the ballot for this November.“
The easiest remedy to this issue is to let voters read the entire measure on the ballot, but often lengthy legislation makes this impractical (I consider lengthy legislation a problem on its own).
It’s not often we hear about a city council approving a petition without sending it to the voters, but that is the case in Port Arthur, Texas this week.
Typically it goes like this;
Activists decide they’d like to see some new legislation enacted. They approach their elected officials and ask (lobby) for approval of the new legislation. If for any number of reasons officials don’t enact the new legislation, they become frustrated at government and pursue a petition drive. If they have the support they need, they eventually turn in the required petition signatures. The legislative body then calls an election and gives voters the opportunity to approve or reject the legislation. In some situations (enacting local ordinances or state statues) the legislative body can approve the legislation without sending it to voters. However, this rarely occurs. More often petitions are challenged and officials attempt to undermine the process to avoid letting voters decide.
This week in Port Arthur, Texas, officials took the high road, and voted to have complete a forensic audit without sending the issue to voters first. Petitions had been collected to have a forensic audit of the city. The council had previously opposed a forensic audit (even though an employee had been indicted and now convicted of theft) expressing concerns over costs (the cost of a municipal election is $75,000 to $85,000.) I’m sure many considerations went into the change of heart. Like the recent firing of a court clerk was for theft and tampering.
The Port Arthur city government was held accountable by citizens who knew how to use the initiative process.