Washington: Protect Right to Petition

Wed, Mar 5 2014 — Source: The Columbian

In seeking the precarious balance between the rights of citizens to petition the government and the right of the public to avoid a nuisance, the choice is clear: Petitioning the government is a sacred prerogative. There is a reason the First Amendment to the United States Constitution includes free speech; there is a reason the Washington Constitution guarantees citizens the right to legislate “independent of the Legislature.” The ability to petition the government must remain inviolate.

Washington’s initiative system long has afforded the public the ability to legislate. If an idea is worthy enough to draw a minimum number of signatures, then the public will have the opportunity to vote on it. The process — which wouldn’t be necessary if the Legislature mirrored the will of the people — gives the public a voice that is essential in a representative democracy. Yet a bill that has passed the state House of Representatives would help to mute that voice.

House Bill 2552, which is almost certain to die in the Senate, would require paid signature gatherers to register with the Secretary of State’s office. They would have to take a training course as defined by the state, would have to carry a registration card when circulating petitions, and would be required to pass a background check proving they had not violated fraud or election laws within the past five years. Petition sponsors could be fined $500 for each unregistered signature gatherer, and petition sheets could be invalidated — throwing out valid signatures without the knowledge of those who signed.

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