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Washington voters consider initiative to bolster initiatives

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An initiative about initiatives is one of the measures before Washington voters during the general election.

The proposal would expand the length of time that supporters would have to gather signatures by six months. Initiatives destined for the statewide ballot could be filed up to 16 months before the election.

Backers of I-517 say the extra time is needed to encourage grassroots politics and to collect the increasing number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot. Initiative critic Holly Chisa questioned that.

“With initiative, after initiative, after initiative qualifying for the ballot over the years, there doesn’t seem to be a difficulty in getting an initiative on the ballot or for signature gatherers to have an opportunity to gather those signatures.”

Initiative 517 would also criminalize the act of interfering with signature gatherers and includes a list of prohibited behavior, such as stalking, striking, shoving, spitting, blocking or intimidating signature gatherers. Chisa considers the proposed protections too broad and unnecessary.

Sponsors of I-517 declined requests for an interview. Professional initiative writer Tim Eyman has kept a low-profile during this campaign, deferring questions to other supporters of the measure.

Chisa is with the Northwest Grocery Association. She’s most concerned with a provision of I-517 that allows signature gatherers greater access to public areas, including sidewalks outside private property.

“The primary reason is that it violates the rights of our retailers and property owners to be able to determine how signature gatherers are on our property, so whether they come in on a schedule or whether we can accommodate for them,” explained Chisa. “Under Initiative 517, we would be required by law to accommodate any signature gatherer in the front of our stores; any private business owner.”

Signature gathering would also be legally protected inside and outside public buildings, too, such as libraries and some sports stadiums.

Some critics think a legal challenge will follow if I-517 passes. Freedom of speech, they say, should not trump the constitutional rights of private property owners.

Two recent polls suggest support I-517 is losing favor with voters. A Moore poll, out of Portland, Oregon found that opponents outnumber supporters by 40 percent to 33 percent. An Elway poll done in mid-October found 52 percent support the initiative, down from 58 percent a month earlier.

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