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Vote no on I-517: protect our speech and property rights
In 1912, Washingtonians approved a constitutional amendment backed by the Direct Democracy League that created our state’s initiative and referendum process, which gives the people the “power to propose bills, laws, and to enact or reject the same at the polls, independent of the legislature,” as Article II, Section 1 of our state Constitution says.
The initiative process is invaluable in that it gives the people of Washington a way to get around a gridlocked Legislature; that’s why we have it. The initiative process exists not to supplant representative democracy, but rather to complement it. Unfortunately, in recent years, we’ve seen our initiative process used by powerful interests to force public votes on laws favorable to them. And well-known initiative sponsor, Tim Eyman, has made initiatives a lucrative business.
This year, Eyman is sponsoring an “initiative on initiatives.” I-517 is designed to help him double his output and increase his profits. It would allow out-of-state signature gatherers to operate in Washington state year round, and they’d have free reign to hawk petitions inside of any public building. Existing law already allows petitioners to operate outside of public buildings and on sidewalks, but under I-517, petitioners could go inside zoos, libraries, sports stadiums, convention centers... practically wherever they want.
They would also be able to operate on private property. Section 2 of I-517 explicitly says that petitioners must be able to set up shop in front of the entrances or exits to “any” store that is open to the public. Under I-517, it would be illegal to maintain an “intimidating presence” within 25 feet of a petitioner. What’s more, law enforcement would be required to “vigorously protect” petitioners. Small business owners would have no ability to rein in aggressive signature gatherers or regulate petitioning activity on their property, while those opposed to an initiative could find themselves in trouble just for expressing their views within 25 feet of a petitioner.
All a wily signature gatherer has to do is claim that they feel threatened, and they have grounds for a criminal complaint. Under I-517, our constitutionally guaranteed free speech rights and property rights would be disregarded, and petitioning would become far more intrusive.
I-517 isn’t just poorly written; it’s unnecessary. Former Secretary of State Sam Reed says that during the many years he served as Washington’s top elections official, most of the complaints his office received were from citizens who felt harassed by aggressive, in-your-face petitioners.
The right to petition the government for a redress of grievances is an important First Amendment right. But all rights have limitations. Yelling fire in a crowded theater is not protected speech. Why should petitioners have the power to stand in the middle of doorways intercepting people going in and out of stores, or roam the stands of venues like CenturyLink Field shoving petitions in the faces of fans who have paid to watch a game with their family and friends?
I-517 is opposed by a diverse, bipartisan coalition of Democrats and Republicans that includes small business owners, major retailers, sports teams like the Seattle Seahawks and Sounders FC, civic groups and concerned citizens. Join us in protecting our constitutionally guaranteed speech and property rights. Vote no on I-517.
Andrew Villeneuve, a Redmond native, is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute.