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King County should defend I-27, then we should vote it down

A pilot program for two safe injection sites has been approved for King County. (AP)

On one hand, there’s a plan for two safe injection sites in King County, which will hopefully become a reality. On the other hand, there is an understandable opposition. They got more than enough petition signatures to establish an initiative to ban the sites, all while playing by the rules. Yet, King County doesn’t seem to be playing as fair.

RELATED: Dwindling options for safe injection sites

Initiative 27 aims to ban safe injection sites in King County. I hope it doesn’t succeed; I’m in favor of the injection sites. But it received more than 69,000 signatures and qualifies to be on the ballot. It’s expected to be up for a vote in February, but a lawsuit aims to stop that from happening. The county is refusing to legally defend the initiative. Yet the City of Seattle has jumped into the legal fight.

The city’s attorney’s office confirmed that Seattle is now officially part of the lawsuit against I-27, in order to “thwart a public vote over establishing safe injection sites.” The office argues that it joined the lawsuit to protect its financial and policy interests.

“This request to intervene is necessary to protect the city’s autonomy, and the next logical step in turning away from relying on the criminal justice system to solve public health problems,” said City Attorney Pete Holmes.

So while one government — whose rules I-27 played by — is refusing to defend a legitimate initiative (and give voters a chance to weigh in), another government is ready to knock it down in court.

It’s not the first time King County has acted unfairly when it comes to I-27. The county used taxpayer funds to pay for Facebook ads opposing the initiative. It could be argued that action violates state law.

Why I-27 should be defended

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg heads up the county’s legal department which is refusing to defend I-27. According to former state Attorney General Rob McKenna, a prosecuting attorney is not required to defend any initiative. But it’s probably a good idea if they did.

“I don’t think he is required to defend it, but he has that power,” McKenna said. “When I was attorney general, more than once we defended the rights of ballot measure backers to get their measure on the ballot and persuaded the state Supreme Court that the voters should have their say — legal challenges to the measures could be considered afterwards. And the state Supreme Court unanimously agreed twice to let the voters have their say.”

For the record, McKenna would likely disagree with me about safe injection sites. He has spoken against them in the past.

Basically, the lawsuit against I-27 is an attempt to strike down the rights of King County voters to have their say — 69,000 of them at least. That’s roughly, only, 3.2 percent of the population of King County. I’d still say that it’s a large crowd. You may disagree with them, but they followed the rules and their initiative should be on the ballot. I should have the ability to vote against it.

It’s understandable, King County. The safe injection site plan is yours. It was developed by a group of informed, intelligent people and approved by the county council. I-27 is an attempt to halt all that work, so it would be convenient if it went away via the court. But legally defending I-27 is not acting in opposition to your own plan; it’s defending your residents’ right to take part in their democracy. Voters should be heard — even 3.2 percent of them.

If I-27 is approved by voters, let the lawsuits come. That is the time to bring the matter to court.

“In general, the courts have supported voters having their say before a measure is hauled into court,” McKenna said. “Courts agree with that because they dislike interfering with voters rights to weigh in on an issue. The problem with the courts deciding in advance what the voters get to vote on, and what they don’t, is it looks too much like judicial interference in the political process.”

The county has said that it will not place a safe injection site in cities that do not want them. Cities have already started passing their own bans to prevent the sites from entering their communities.

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