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Initiative rules to get more study

Revisions proposed on process to place proposals on ballot

Changes to Spokane’s law for citizen initiatives will get up to four more months of study.

The Spokane City Council voted 5-2 on Monday to delay a decision on proposed revisions to the city’s rules for placing proposals on the ballot.

The changes were drafted in response to the Community Bill of Rights, an initiative that was rejected by city voters in November. Some city leaders argued that the rules in place allowed Envision Spokane, the group that gathered the signatures for the issue, to phrase the question that appeared on the ballot in a way that was biased in favor.

Envision Spokane leaders dispute that claim and have said some of the proposed changes could be barriers to citizen rights.

One proposed change would place the final authority to craft a ballot question with the city attorney’s office, a change modeled after state rules. For state initiatives, the attorney general’s office writes ballot questions. Supporters of the revision note that city officials would be prohibited from changing the language in the proposal that would become city law and that those who bring forth an initiative could propose an initiative for the city attorney’s review.

But Kai Huschke, an Envision Spokane board member, questioned whether city officials could be trusted to craft unbiased ballot questions. He pointed to the City Council’s decision to add questions to the November ballot that asked if taxes should be raised or services cut to pay for Envision’s proposal. Envision supporters argued that the questions were meant to influence voters.

More than 20 people testified at Monday’s hearing. Many asked that a decision be delayed so a task force could be created to review the proposal.

Councilman Steve Corker said it is important “to take the time to give credibility to the process because (initiative rights are) sacred.”

The council decided to ask the League of Women Voters of the Spokane Area to lead a review, even though some members opposed handing the task off to another group. If the group declines to lead that process, the council could create its own task force.

Former Spokane County commissioner Kate McCaslin said a delay of a couple of weeks to review some proposed changes made sense, but not a long delay or creation of a task force.

“We elected you to be our task force,” McCaslin said.

Ann Murphy, president of the League of Women Voters of the Spokane Area, said Monday’s vote requesting assistance from the league came as a surprise. She said her board will decide if it is willing to perform the council’s request.