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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Proposed initiatives in Spokane may get fight

Lawyers outline leeway courts have on ballot

The city of Spokane may have grounds to challenge two proposed charter amendments and seek court orders to keep them off the ballot, lawyers have told the Spokane City Council.

Groups supporting the initiatives say that would be “a direct subversion of the democratic process,” but the Spokane Home Builders Association is urging the city to go to court.

At issue are the latest version of Envision Spokane’s Community Bill of Rights, which tries to give more power to neighborhoods over development proposals and protect the Spokane River and surrounding aquifer, and the Spokane Moves to Amend initiative, which would ban corporations from making political contributions in city races or issues. The first has enough signatures on petitions to qualify for the ballot, and the second is also expected to qualify, although those signatures are still being verified.

Washington courts only allow a few types of challenges to a ballot measure before an election, according to legal memos from Michael Ryan of K&L Gates and three members of the city prosecutor’s office. But among those challenges are that measures try to do something outside the city’s control or beyond the people’s initiative power.

The Community Bill of Rights might be a candidate for such a challenge because it may conflict with state and federal water laws, and it may give citizens the right to reject zoning decisions, which is something under the control of the City Council, not the voters, the attorneys said. The Spokane Moves to Amend proposal could involve a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on campaign contributions and the state and U.S. constitutions, they said.

“Regardless of what position one takes on the Community Bill of Rights, threatening to stop it from going to the voters for their decision is undemocratic in the extreme,” groups supporting that ballot measure wrote in an open letter to the City Council.

Michael Cathcart, of the Home Builders Association, said the legal analysis supports what the group has contended, that the initiatives would strip legal and constitutional protections, and “we don’t believe the taxpayers should be stuck footing the bill to defend these measures if approved.”

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