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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Challenge to partner benefits misses goal

The referendum drive to repeal Spokane’s domestic partner benefits ordinance has failed.

County elections officials say sponsors of the referendum petition fell 121 signatures short of the number needed to qualify for the ballot.

Attorney Michael Smith, of Choice of the People, which had circulated the petitions, said he didn’t know what the group will do next.

“That won’t be the end of it,” said Smith, who added he had not yet received formal notice on the shortfall in signatures. “We’re talking. We haven’t made any decisions.”

The referendum targeted an ordinance the City Council passed in April, which extends city employee benefits to domestic partners of unmarried employees the way the city has for years offered benefits to its employees’ spouses. Under the ordinance, participants would have to sign an affidavit declaring their partnership. Extension of the benefits, however, is subject to contract negotiations for all but 17 city workers who are not represented by unions, along with the City Council.

Proponents say the ordinance provides equity to unmarried employees.

Opponents said it condones cohabitation, which they believe is morally wrong.

The ordinance passed 5-2 in April and became law after Mayor Jim West declined to either veto or sign it. Choice of the People quickly began circulating referendum petitions to give voters a chance to overturn the ordinance in an upcoming fall election.

If it had been on the ballot this fall, the referendum could have had a significant impact on City Council races, with a primary in September and a general election in November, by affecting voter turnout and forcing candidates to answer questions about their stance on the issue.

But referendum sponsors needed 5,103 valid signatures from registered city voters to qualify for the ballot.

They turned in 6,532, but only 4,982 were valid.

That was an invalidation rate of about 23 percent, which is slightly below the average of 25 percent to 30 percent, county Auditor Vicky Dalton said.

The domestic partner benefits ordinance was scheduled to take effect June 11 but was put on hold when referendum supporters submitted their petitions on June 8. That was the deadline set by the city charter, so it’s not possible for them find another 121 valid signatures to make up the deficit.

Assistant City Attorney Mike Piccolo said the ordinance will go into effect as soon as the city receives formal notice from the county that the signature campaign was insufficient.

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