Washington state residents have plenty of experience voting on new law proposals, but next month they’ll decide on an “initiative on initiatives” that would make it easier to get such measures on the ballot. The proposal, Initiative 517, was sparked in part by a series of legal battles over local measures seeking to block red light cameras, including one case last year that went to the state Supreme Court. By requiring that voters be allowed to have their say on any proposal that qualifies for the ballot, even if a lawsuit has been filed against it, the initiative pushes back at cities that have sued — some successfully — to block local challenges to the cameras. “Initiative power is not subject to pre-election challenges,” said Mark Baerwaldt, a spokesman for the campaign. “It’s the way the will of the people is expressed.” The initiative also would give supporters a year, instead of the current six months, to collect signatures, and it would make it a misdemeanor to interfere with the signature-gathering process.
Business groups and others have lined up in opposition, saying the proposal will affect their ability to deal with nuisances outside of their stores. Jan Gee, a spokeswoman for the No on I-517 campaign, said her group has a problem with language that creates a 25-foot protected area around initiative supporters and details where they can gather signatures.
The initiative gives signature gatherers the right to work on any sidewalk or walkway that has pedestrian traffic, “including those in front of the entrances and exits of any store, and inside or outside public buildings such as public sports stadiums, convention/exhibition centers, and public fairs.”
“The bottom line is, if a petitioner comes onto the property and blocks the doorways or follows the customers into the parking lot and is anyway aggressive, there’s not anything our store owners can do to make their property safe and a pleasant place to shop,” said Gee, president of the Washington Food Industry Association, which represents independent grocery stores.