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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Condon backs change to initiative process

Changes to the way citizens can sidestep elected leaders to pass their own laws received the endorsement on Wednesday of Mayor David Condon.

But there will be more steps before the new rules become law if some citizens have their way.

Ian Moody, a marijuana reform advocate and candidate for Congress filed a referendum in hopes of preventing the ordinance, which was approved by City Council on April 30, from becoming law.

Supporters of the referendum will have until June 14 to collect 6,262 signatures of registered voters in the City of Spokane – 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the last city election – to prevent the rules from becoming law on June 15. If enough signatures are verified, the City Council will reconsider the ordinance. If the council upholds its decision, voters would have the final say in November 2013 election – though the City Council could opt to hold the election sooner.

Moody said it may be difficult to gather signatures in time, so he also will work to gather signatures for an initiative that would repeal the new initiative rules in favor of City Council President Ben Stuckart’s proposed initiative rules, which are similar to what’s currently on the books. To qualify an initiative for the next city general election – November 2013 – he would have a year to collect signatures, and he only needs 3,131 signatures. That’s 5 percent of the number who voted in the November 2011 election.

The new initiative rules eliminate one of the two paths for getting an initiative on the ballot. That path allows citizens to propose an initiative without consulting with the city attorney’s office. The other controversial change requires the city to craft a financial impact statement about any initiative.

Supporters say that working with the city attorney ensures that the proposals will fit correctly within city code and that the ballot measure will be written without bias. Opponents argue that forcing citizens to work with the city attorney means that the city could bias their initiative.

Moody said he expects Occupy Spokane activists to assist in collecting signatures.

Brad Read, president of Envision Spokane’s Board of Directors, said the group has not decided if it will help collect signatures for Moody’s effort. Envision Spokane, which successfully collected enough signatures to place its “Community Bill of Rights” on the ballot in 2009 and 2011, was strongly opposed to the council’s decision to change the initiative process.

Condon was widely assumed to support the changes, but he had not taken a public position on it. He had the power to veto it because it was approved in a narrow 4-3 vote. He signed the ordinance on Wednesday.

Referendums are rare in Spokane. The last time someone filed a referendum announcing his or her intent to stop an ordinance from becoming law was in 2005 when a group tried to prevent the city from enacting domestic partner benefits for city employees. That group barely fell short of the signatures needed to make the ballot.

Jonathan Brunt
Jonathan Brunt joined The Spokesman-Review in 2004. He is the government editor. He previously was a reporter who covered Spokane City Hall, Spokane County government and public safety.

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