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Editorial: Proposed initiatives misguided, risky for city

Spokane City Council members are expected to vote Monday on resolutions that would put two proposed initiatives on the ballot, and resolutions that would ask Mayor David Condon to challenge the legality of those same proposals in court.

For political reasons, they probably have to vote to let voters consider the Envision Community Bill of Rights (Initiative 3) and Spokane Moves to Amend (Initiative 4). The sorely mislabeled “bill of rights” nearly passed two years ago.

But legally these measures, however well-meaning, are grotesque. The mayor should undertake litigation as soon as possible, if authorized to do so.

Initiative 3 would give neighborhoods the right to veto development, the Spokane River and Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer the right to flourish, extends collective bargaining rights in all unionized workplaces and strips free-speech rights from corporations.

Initiative 4 goes a step further in the denial of free-speech rights by extending the prohibition to corporate employees.

Separate legal memorandums prepared by the Office of the City Attorney and K&L Gates agree that all these provisions would violate federal and state constitutions or statutes. Really, the only question before the council is whether the initiatives should be stopped before they go before the voters or, if passed, defended against the lawsuits that would inevitably follow.

In fact, a near-twin of Initiative 3 has already had its day in court and lost – twice.

The Bellingham City Council put a more comprehensive bill of rights on the ballot there, but obtained an injunction against a vote in Whatcom County Superior Court. The decision was upheld on appeal.

Local initiatives are held to a much higher standard than state initiatives because, at least in the case of the Spokane measures, they try to take powers the state specifically entrusted to municipalities, city councils in particular; zoning, for example.

In the case of the river and aquifer, protections provided by the federal Clean Water Act and the state Water Pollution Control Act and Growth Management Act cannot be compromised by local initiatives that might take away water rights or seek authority outside city boundaries.

Nor can the city meddle with collective bargaining rights governed by the National Labor Relations Act or, as Initiative 4 would do, restrict corporate speech, obnoxious as some aspects of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case may be.

Given last year’s rulings in Whatcom County, the effort to again put the community bill of rights on the ballot is unlikely to survive in court, nor should it. The same, in spades, for Initiative 4 and its assault on First and Fifth Amendment rights.

We encourage all voters to review the legal memos. The city memo, at just seven pages, is the most readable. K&L Gates’ memo incorporates more information about the legal precedents.

But it does not take a great legal mind to know when constitutional rights are put at risk, as these initiatives would surely do.

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