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Originally published January 14, 2010 at 7:19 PM | Page modified January 15, 2010 at 11:53 AM

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Bills offered for both sides of Ref. 71 disclosure debate

A public hearing is scheduled today on dueling bills over whether the names of those who sign referendum and initiative petitions — such as Referendum 71 — should be disclosed.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Hearing on disclosure bills

A public hearing on both HB 2418 and HB 2612 is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today before the House Committee on State Government & Tribal Affairs, House Hearing Room D of the John L. O'Brien Building, on the Capitol Campus in Olympia.

Even as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce today or Monday whether it will take up the case surrounding the disclosure of names on Referendum 71 petitions, two dueling bills on that issue are scheduled for a public hearing in the Legislature today.

Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, has introduced House Bill 2418, making clear that the names and addresses of those who sign initiative or referendum petitions are subject to public disclosure. Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, is sponsoring House Bill 2612, exempting such petitions from public inspection and copying.

A hearing on both bills is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today in Olympia.

It's too early to say how any U.S. Supreme Court action would affect the bills — or vice versa.

But both Armstrong and Carlyle say it's an important issue that the Legislature has a responsibility to weigh in on, regardless of any court decisions.

The bills and the case before the Supreme Court stem from Referendum 71, which last fall asked voters to approve or reject a recently expanded domestic-partnership law, granting "everything but marriage" state benefits to gay and lesbian couples. The measure was approved.

Religious conservatives, who gathered 138,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot, argued those names should not be disclosed, saying they feared harassment. Some gay-rights activists had asked for the names under the state's public-records act, and said they would post them on a searchable Web site.

"I think a lot of people didn't have any clue their information — names and addresses — could and would be made public," said Armstrong. "Because of that we decided to put the bill forward."

But Carlyle said "open and transparent government is the DNA and core of our state. ... It's really important to make it crystal clear and take a stand."

The bills also may address issues raised in a lawsuit filed by initiative promoter Tim Eyman, who sought to block the release of names on several of his initiative petitions. The Thurston County judge in that case blocked the release of names on all voter petitions, pending a Supreme Court decision on the Referendum 71 case.

The Secretary of State's Office — the defendant in the case before the Supreme Court — has said all along that signatures are subject to disclosure under the state's public-records act.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com

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