October 19, 2013 in Opinion

Initiative 517: Don’t infringe on property owners’ rights

Melinda Merrill
 

It should be our decision whether or not to allow paid signature gatherers on our private property and, if we do, to require them to treat our customers courteously.

The initiative process in our state is one of our most important democratic tools. The right to petition the government is a fundamental one and should be robustly preserved and protected. But professional initiative promoter Tim Eyman’s Initiative 517 is a hastily written, self-serving initiative aimed at increasing the profitability of the signature-gathering business. He claims it’s needed to make reforms to the initiative system but in reality, it is full of ambiguous language that could lead to a terrible experience for anyone who shops at a grocery store, attends a Seahawks or Mariners game, or even stops by the library.

I-517 will have negative customer impacts.

A major part of I-517 concerns harassment protection for petitioners. It establishes a large protected perimeter around a signature gatherer within which any type of interference in that person’s activity is illegal and subject to punishment as a misdemeanor.

Interference under I-517 can mean something as simple as storeowners wishing to establish rules as to the time and location that signature gathering takes place on their property, or imposing standards of personal conduct for how petitioners gather their signatures. It would prevent our store directors from being able to assure our customers can enter or exit our stores free of harassment or intrusion. Store directors from all over the state already receive countless customer complaints about aggressive signature gatherers being coercive to the point of frightening. When these complaints come in, our store directors rely on being able to ask these individuals to leave. Under I-517, they would no longer have that right.

I-517 will infringe on private property rights.

Currently, if a signature gatherer wishes to stand on a public sidewalk outside a store and solicit signatures, it is completely legal. However, if they wish to come on to private property to conduct their business, they may ask the storeowner. It is up to the owner whether to allow them to do so. I-517 takes away the right of the property owner to decide by expanding the law to make signature gathering a legally protected activity on all sidewalks and walkways that carry pedestrian traffic, and specifically states “including those in front of the entrances and exits of any store.”

Can you imagine trying to enter a store and having to weave your way through a gauntlet of signature gatherers? Under I-517 this will be the new reality.

We are not talking about public land; we are talking about private property. It should be our decision whether or not to allow paid signature gatherers on our private property and, if we do, to require them to treat our customers courteously. I-517 means we have no say over who is on our property or how they treat our customers.

I-517 will make signature gathering much more intrusive.

I-517 carries significant consequences to citizens by making signature gathering an unregulated, sanctioned activity both inside and outside of any public building or facility. Schools, libraries and high school sports stadiums lose all rights to control signature gathering inside of these buildings. Other venues such as the Spokane Arena, convention centers and public fairgrounds would also be affected. These special places where we choose to spend our time with friends, family and loved ones will no longer be free of politics.

Please join retailers, business owners and community leaders from across the state in voting no on 517.

Melinda Merrill is manager of community affairs for Fred Meyer stores.


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