May 17, 2012 in City

Activist’s referendum targets new city law

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Rare event

Referendums are rare in Spokane. The last time someone filed a referendum announcing his or her intent to stop an ordinance from becoming law was in 2005 when a group tried to prevent the city from enacting domestic partner benefits for city employees. That group, Choice of the People, barely fell short of the signatures needed to make the ballot.

Changes to the way citizens can sidestep elected leaders to pass their own laws received the endorsement on Wednesday of Mayor David Condon.

But there will be more steps before the new rules become law, if some citizens have their way.

Ian Moody, a marijuana reform advocate and candidate for Congress, has filed a referendum in hopes of preventing the ordinance, which was approved by City Council on April 30, from becoming law.

Condon was widely assumed to support the changes, but he had not taken a public position on it. He had the power to veto it because it was approved in a narrow 4-3 vote. He signed the ordinance on Wednesday.

Moody said he has enough time to work on multiple political projects, including his run for Congress, collecting signatures for the referendum and efforts in multiple cities, including Spokane, to place initiatives on the ballot to make the enforcement of marijuana laws related to adults the lowest law enforcement priority.

“All of these projects will support one another,” he said.

Supporters of the referendum will have until June 14 to collect 6,262 signatures of registered Spokane voters – 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the last city election – to prevent the rules from becoming law on June 15. If enough signatures are verified, the City Council will reconsider the ordinance. If the council upholds its decision, voters would have the final say in the November 2013 election, though the City Council could opt to hold the election sooner.

Moody, who expects to be assisted by Occupy Spokane activists, said it may be difficult to gather signatures in time, so he also will work for an initiative to repeal the new rules. He would have a year to collect 3,131 signatures to place an initiative on the November 2013 ballot. The new rules eliminate one of the two paths for getting an initiative on the ballot. That path allows citizens to propose an initiative without consulting with the city attorney’s office. The other controversial change requires the city to craft a financial impact statement about any initiative.

Supporters say that working with the city attorney ensures that the proposals will fit correctly within city code and that the ballot measure will be written without bias. Opponents argue that forcing citizens to work with the city attorney means that the city could bias their proposal.

Brad Read, president of Envision Spokane’s board of directors, said the group has not decided if it will help collect signatures for Moody’s effort. Envision Spokane, which successfully collected enough signatures to place its “Community Bill of Rights” on the ballot in 2009 and 2011, was strongly opposed to the change to the initiative process.


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