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TUESDAY, AUG. 27, 2013

Editorial: Judge right on initiatives but topics need forum

Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno’s ruling Friday that two initiatives be removed from the city of Spokane ballot should put an end to these misguided efforts to curtail constitutional rights and give natural resources new ones.

Denying voters a voice is an extreme step, but putting freedom of speech and association at risk would have done far greater damage to Spokane citizens.

Businesses and their employees would have been denied access to their representatives except in public forums, a ridiculously narrow window. Any other communication would have been forbidden.

In a world of social media, the exchange of information would have been cast back to the days before writing was developed. Sound absurd? It was.

That was certainly the sweep of the proposal from Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution. Thankfully, leader Chris Nelson says his organization will not appeal Moreno’s ruling.

If Envision Spokane wants to pursue the litigation, it has little time, and no need for haste. Its Community Bill of Rights was very narrowly defeated in 2011. Given Moreno’s decision, the better part of wisdom here would be a redrafting of its proposal to satisfy, if it can, the judge’s concerns.

This would also be an opportunity for community education about the limits of the initiative process. In making her ruling, Moreno relied for the most part on her conclusion that, as laudable as the goals might be, there are provisions in state and local law that limit how far initiatives can go before they interfere with powers the Washington Constitution and Spokane City Charter vest in government.

That there are limits to the initiative power will be news to many who have become accustomed to claims from Tim Eyman and supporters that anything goes if voters say so. Eyman supported a vote on the local initiatives despite misgivings about their potential impact.

The City Council in July endorsed one way of exploring the line between what is legal and what is not, and avoiding voter resentment in the process. Giving the city’s hearing examiner a crack at determining a proposed initiative’s validity before supporters collect signatures would – especially if done in conjunction with a public hearing – allow for just such a roundtable discussion before the matter reaches a courtroom, where the legalese takes over.

Neighborhood councils, some of which could have had their ability to work with the city compromised by the Spokane Moves proposal, could also be forums for education on initiative issues.

If neither of these initiatives gathered another signature, that would be a good thing for individuals and business. Democracy in Spokane would be plenty robust if more people voted. Barely one-fifth did in the Aug. 8 primary.

It takes no more time to fill out a ballot than it does to sign an initiative petition.

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