OLYMPIA – Proposed changes to Washington’s initiative laws were blasted as unconstitutional, arrogant and un-American by a Republican senator trying to block them this week.
But the Democrat sponsoring the effort calls it an attempt to modernize the system and protect it.
In a series of 4-3 votes, the Senate Government Operations Committee on Thursday rejected most attempts by Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, to change the proposal and sent it to the next step of the legislative process. Among the provisions in Senate Bill 5297 were a hike in filing fees from the current $5 to $500, requiring businesses that pay people to gather signatures to register with the state, and requiring paid signature gatherers to present photo identification whenever asked.
“Last time I checked, we live in America,” Benton said as he pushed an amendment to strip out provisions for identification. “We don’t have to carry papers. You shouldn’t have to provide a photo ID to anybody other than law enforcement.”
Benton and Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, had more than a dozen amendments to the bill, so many that committee staff ran out of different colors of paper for the photocopies and had to refer to various proposed changes as “Green A” or “Fuchsia B.”
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, would raise the filing fee to $500, although sponsors would get all but $50 of that back if their initiative qualifies for the ballot. Companies paid to gather signatures would have to register with the secretary of state within three days of collecting signatures or face a $10,000 fine. Paid signature gatherers who don’t fill out a section on the petition for their name and other identifying information would face a $500 fine.
The initiative process is changing, Nelson said, with more paid signature gatherers. The bill would “modernize the process to protect it.” She did agree to change provisions that signature gatherers register and carry photo ID, and to knock out sections that would have held a company liable for illegal actions of its employees.
Benton argued the bill was a perennial attack on the initiative process, which was set up by the state constitution to give citizens a right superior to the Legislature to make laws. Roach proposed an amendment that legislators would have to pay $500 to file the bills they sponsor if initiative sponsors have to pay $500 for proposals they file, although the committee cut off votes on amendments before they got to that one.
The committee’s four Democrats voted to send the bill to the Ways and Means Committee, where they said it will get more work. The panel’s three Republicans voted no.