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Community Bill of Rights goes to Supreme Court

OLYMPIA – Spokane city voters didn’t get a chance to vote on a Community Bill of Rights in 2013 but some two years later, supporters told the state Supreme Court they still should get that chance.

Spokane’s City Charter gave its voters the “direct democracy” of ballot measures even before the state’s Constitution was amended to allow statewide initiatives, attorney Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin told the court Tuesday.

But opponents, which include city and county governments and some area businesses, argued a Spokane County trial court was right in saying the proposal was beyond the scope of laws a city could pass.

“If it’s outside the scope (of state law), it shouldn’t go on the ballot,” Michael Ryan, an attorney for the city, said.

The case involves a series of proposed changes to the city charter that would give neighborhoods greater control over local developments, employees certain rights in the workplace, the Spokane River a right “to exist and flourish” and make corporated rights subordinate to people’s rights. Envision Spokane gathered enough signatures to qualify those changes for a 2013 ballot, but city and business leaders moved to block it. The lengthy court fight and appeal process kept it off the ballot.

Envision Spokane came back this year with a different proposal, the Worker Bill of Rights, which was defeated in last week’s general election.

Some two years later, the dispute reached Supreme Court, which is normally reluctant to block state initiatives from the ballot. Justices questioned both sides about conflicting rulings on whether the proposal was “outside the scope” of laws cities can enact.

But even if some or all of it is unconstitutional, should the court intervene before the people have a chance to vote, Justice Susan Owens wondered.

“We don’t enjoin the Legislature across the way from passing unconstitutional laws,” she said. The courtroom in the Temple of Justice is across a grassy oval from the Legislative Building on the Capitol Campus.

A ruling is expected in the next several months.


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