Even opponents of Initiative 517 in Washington state have largely conceded that the ballot measure’s provisions to allow citizens more time to gather signatures on petitions and also to allow a public vote on any issue garnering the requisite number of voter signatures make good sense.

Still, opponents argue that, “Under I-517, it would be easier and cheaper for [Tim] Eyman to qualify future initiatives to the ballot…” Mr. Eyman is well known – loved and hated – for his work placing initiatives on the ballot to limit taxes and hold government accountable. But what opponents don’t mention is that Eyman has been very successful under the current rules. What I-517 will do is make it easier for everyone else.

One initiative on the November ballot would guarante the right to vote on qualified initiatives — I-517. It’s an initiative on initiatives if you will. I believe the right of initiative, and to petition our government to change things when it takes actions we don’t agree with, is the single most important tool citizens have to force our state government to listen to us. They’ve proven over and over again, that no matter what we think, they believe they know what’s best for us down there in Olympia. The initiative process is one of the few ways citizens have to keep the tax-and-spend zealots in check.

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In November the people of Washington will vote on Initiative 517. The measure would make several changes to state law concerning signature gathering for initiatives and referendums. Initiative 517 would increase the time period for gathering signatures, require proposals that receive an adequate number of valid signatures to proceed to the ballot, change the penalties for interfering with signature gathering, and increase the number of locations, both public and private, where signature gathering can occur.

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Initiative 517, the “Protect the Initiative Act,” appears to be gaining traction among likely voters, with the most recent polling showing the ballot measure currently ahead by 36 points. According to the non-partisan Elway Poll, published on September 10, the initiative enjoys 58 percent support against only 22 percent in opposition.

Washington State initiative promoter Tim Eyman doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the political Left on most issues, but, as a proponent of voting rights for people of every political persuasion, he is standing up for the right of a progressive group to place an issue on the ballot in Spokane.

Washington’s Initiative 517 is well on its way through the Legislature and recently earned some new allies. An unlikely supporter, perhaps, is attorney Stonewall Jackson Bird, who has never supported an initiative sponsored by Tim Eyman.

Bird has a special interest in I-517 though, as one of its provisions requires a vote on any initiative that receives the required number of verified signatures, stopping any legal actions that would keep it off the ballot. A previous local initiative that Bird championed, dealing with corporate personhood, was struck down in court before voters had a chance to weigh in at the ballot box.

Stonewall Jackson Bird had never supported a Tim Eyman initiative. But earlier this month the Bellingham progressive rode to Olympia to speak on behalf of Eyman’s newest effort, Initiative 517, the “initiative on initiatives.”

“Stoney” Bird had been a corporate attorney in London. He became disenchanted, moved to the Skagit Valley, and later to Bellingham. He says that for a long time he “wanted to find a way to use my corporate legal experience for something important.”

Last year he found his cause: stopping coal trains.

Read more at the Seattle Times

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Previous efforts to get pro-initiative measures on the ballot in Washington have been dodgy at best. The last one to make it through with a full Senate vote was 19 years ago in 1994. This term seems to be different with Tim Eyman’s Initiative 517 and other proposals progressing through committee and being divvied up into 4 easily-digested bills.

The ease with which I-517 has progressed has something to do with the new Senate majority. Chairwoman Pam Roach (R-Auburn) has been a supporter of I-517 and pushed for its passage out of committee.

Here’s one small measure of the difference the new leadership in the Senate has made – sometime soon, the full Senate likely will vote on bills that buttress the initiative process, rather than throwing acid on it. They might even include this year’s biggie, Initiative 517, the so-called ”˜initiative on initiatives’ from ballot-measure promoter Tim Eyman, which would extend the time for signatures to be gathered and establish the right of signature gatherers to canvass in public places.

Yesterday, the Washington Secretary of State’s office reported that Initiative 517 had passed the obstacle of signature validation on the 346,906 signatures submitted on petitions. The measure was certified as having 272,425 valid voter signatures after the state performed a check on a random sampling of 3% of the signatures. More than 78.5% of the signatures in the sample were verified giving the initiative a cushion of more than 30,000 valid signatures over the legal requirement.

The Washington State group, Voters Want More Choices, has set up a website to promote Initiative 517. The site, yeson517.com, carries the tagline, “I-517 puts the citizen back in the citizens’ initiative,” and features various resources, such a video of a recent TV interview and story on the measure.

The Washington Retail Association recently expressed misgivings about the protections for petitioning found in Initiative 517. Last year, the group of retailers praised the initiative process based on their strong support for I-1185, which required a vote of the people or a two-thirds legislative majority for any tax increase, but on the heels of activists turning in nearly 350,000 signatures last week to put the initiative reform measure on this November’s ballot, the WRA argues that allowing petitioners to gather signatures outside their establishments may be going too far.

One of the proponents of Washington State’s Initiative 517 and retired president of Citizen Solutions, Eddie Agazarm, drafted a letter which can serve to answer opponents to portions of I-517’s protections. It follows:

Eddie Agazarm, co-sponsor of Initiative 517 which puts the citizen back in the citizens’ initiative.

Yesterday, supporters of Initiative Measure turned in 345,000 signatures to the Secretary of State in Olympia, Washington, to put the measure on the November, 2013 ballot.

Tim Eyman, the state’s most prolific initiative proponent and leader of Voters Want More Choices, addressed the media at a news conference following the submission. Eyman was joined by Paul Jacob, president of Citizens in Charge, the initiative’s largest financial backer, and Edward Agazarm, former head of Citizens Solutions, a petition management firm.

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New Eyman initiative would protect petitioners

Thursday, January 3, 2013 sees the first ballot initiative of the New Year turned into the Washington State Secretary of State’s office.

The collected signatures for Initiative Measure No. 517 will be turned in at the Union Building in Olympia, Washington by Tim Eyman, Eddie Agazarm and Paul Jacob.

“[Petitioning is] a guaranteed First Amendment free speech right and it deserves protection,” said Eddie Agazarm of the initiative, which would also extend the time allotment for signature gathering and guarantee that issues petitioned will be voted on, provided enough signatures were gathered.