August 24, 2013 in City

Judge orders 2 initiatives to be blocked from ballot

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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A Spokane County judge stopped two controversial ballot measures from appearing on November’s ballot Friday, saying they fell outside the scope of the initiative power.

Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno sided with a coalition of government and business interests, which argued that the initiatives attempted to create regulations and protections that were not within the city’s power to enact. They also said the initiatives would hurt local government and business.

Moreno said that while she admired the “passion and advocacy” of the initiatives’ sponsors, the provisions within the measures either conflicted with state and federal law or infringed on the powers of local government to set policy.

She ordered county Auditor Vicky Dalton to keep the two initiatives off the ballot. Four other advisory questions related to the initiatives placed on the ballot by the Spokane City Council will also be removed.

Chris Nerison, who leads Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution, one of the initiative sponsors, said he was surprised at the ruling but that he would not appeal Moreno’s decision.

“The judge said that she was not going to rule on the constitutionality of the initiatives. And then she did rule on the constitutionality of the initiatives,” said Nerison, adding that he believed Moreno was “moved to submit to corporate interests.”

Brad Read, board president of Envision Spokane, which sponsored the Community Bill of Rights initiative, said his group hadn’t made a decision whether to appeal but would likely do so early next week.

After hearing more than an hour of arguments in late July, Moreno spent just a few minutes explaining her ruling before a packed courtroom of 50 people. She invoked constitutional amendments, Supreme Court rulings and the City Charter.

“I parsed out every section of the two initiatives,” she said. “I really had to go through each piece of each initiative to make a determination.”

Specifically, she applied the Clean Water Act, Growth Management Act, federal and state labor laws, the First and Fifth Amendments, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and campaign exposure law to strike the initiatives.

“I, of course, respect the democratic process, and I, too, am a citizen of this community. But there’s really no room in this particular case for my personal opinions about anything,” Moreno said. “When I took my oath as a judge, my oath was to interpret precedent and to apply the law as it’s handed to me.”

Envision Spokane sought to bolster neighborhood, environmental and labor rights with its Community Bill of Rights. Versions of their initiative were rejected by voters in 2009 and 2011, when it won 49 percent of the vote.

Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution’s initiative was intended to curtail the influence of corporations in local government.

Both initiatives collected enough signatures to appear on the ballot.

Plaintiffs in the challenge were Spokane County, Spokane Entrepreneurial Center, Downtown Spokane Partnership, Greater Spokane Incorporated, the Spokane Building Owners and Managers Association, Spokane Association of Realtors, Spokane Homebuilders Association, Inland Pacific Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, Avista Corp., Pearson Packaging Systems, Tom Powers, William Butler and Neil Muller.

Three Spokane City Council members – Mike Allen, Nancy McLaughlin and Steve Salvatori – were also plaintiffs.

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