Don't weaken initiatives with tight restrictions
The people's right of initiative and referendum would be needlessly weakened by the proposed ban on payment per signature. The proposal, in bills...
The people's right of initiative and referendum would be needlessly weakened by the proposed ban on payment per signature.
The proposal, in bills sponsored by Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, and Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, would allow signature gatherers to be paid by the hour, but not on a piece rate. The ostensible reason is that piece-rate payment increases the incentive to submit false signatures. But it is not an issue. The system filters out false signatures. Really, these are bills to raise the cost of getting measures on the ballot.
Here are some of the choices voters have had over the past few years: to raise the minimum wage, limit car tabs to $30, limit property taxes, legalize medical marijuana, limit animal trapping, raise teacher salaries, cut class sizes, repeal an ergonomics mandate, create a "green" power mandate, raise the cigarette tax and ban smoking in bars and restaurants.
Most of these proposals used some paid signature gatherers. We didn't agree with all of them, but the voters did. Making such decisions is a right the people don't want injured.
Oregon already has such a ban. According to Michael Arno, who runs a California signature-gathering firm, the cost of getting a measure on Oregon's ballot jumped from $175,000 to more than $500,000. In other words, money still talks. You just need more of it.
When Oregon enacted this ban, the number of measures making the ballot fell by two-thirds. Probably that made life easier for Oregon's legislators, but it reduced the rights of the people.
Signature gatherers exercise two First Amendment rights: to speak on political issues and to petition the government. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that any ban that reduces these rights will probably fall. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals approved Oregon's ban, accepting a lower-court ruling that the restrictive effect had not been proved.
Banning piece-rate signature gathering has a restrictive effect that can be proved. That is precisely why certain legislators like it, and why, if they pass it, the courts should eventually kill it.
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.