Washington House Bill 2601 (2008)

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Washington House Bill 2601 was a legislative bill introduced in January 2008 in the Washington House of Representatives by Democratic representative Sam Hunt that would have imposed aggressive new regulations on petition circulators in the state of Washington.

The bill passed through a House committee (the "State Government & Tribal Affairs" committee, which Hunt chairs) on a 5-3 party line vote on February 5, 2008.[1][2]

The bill was defeated on February 20, 2008.

Signing a petition.jpg

Hunt's bill would have required paid circulators and companies that employ paid petitioners to register and be licensed by the government before gathering signatures. Recently modified to incorporate provisions in Washington House Bill 2019,[3] sponsored by Democrat Joe McDermott, the bill would require all paid petitioners to publicly identify themselves and list their permanent residences.

In addition to Hunt, the other sponsors of HB 2601--all Democrats--are Geoff Simpson, Maralyn Chase, Timm Ormsby, Zack Hudgins, and Bob Hasegawa.

In the Evergreen Freedom Foundation report on Washington's biggest spending legislators for 2008, Sam Hunt is listed as the number one biggest spending legislator, with the five other sponsors of HB 2601 listed among the top 13 (out of more than 100) biggest-spending legislators.[4]

Specific requirements of the bill

Petition management companies would be required to identify their business name, any other names they do business under, and the names of all owners, as well as the address of their main office in the state, mailing address, business phone number, and business email address. If operating out of a residence, that address would be considered the main office address.

Petitioners would have to register separately for each measure they wish to circulate petitions for. Companies who employ paid petitioners would register for each calendar year, required to inform the state within five business days if they become involved in any petition efforts that employ any paid gatherers who were not included on their original registration for that year.

Paid petitioners as well as petition companies owners must provide a signed statement that they have:

  • not having been convicted of any crime involving fraud, forgery, or identification theft in the past five years
  • not having been convicted of election crime in the past five years
  • not having been convicted of a sex offense

They must also provide:

  • a signed statement acknowledging that they have read and understood Washington law applicable to the gathering of signatures
  • evidence that they have completed an online training program to be provided by the Secretary of State's office
  • a photo of themselves (and for companies, photos of any petitioners it will be paying)
  • a statement signed by the prime sponsors of the measures they will be circulating petitions for, stating that they acknowledge personal liability for any violations of the law by the circulator

Petitioners would be required to carry evidence of their registration, including their registration number and a photo of themselves, which they would be required to display upon request when they are petitioning.[5]

Penalties for violation

Any signatures collected by petitioners prior to being registered would be automatically considered invalid. Any signatures collected by an unregistered petition company and its paid petitioners will be invalidated, and the company will be subject to penalties of up to $10,000.

A paid petitioner who submits an invalid signature that he knew or should have known was invalid will have his registration revoked and will be prohibited from re-registering for five years.

A paid petitioner who is determined to have been convicted of any offense that he denied being convicted of in his application will have his registration revoked and will be prohibited from re-registering for five years. If a paid petitioner is found to have been convicted of a sex offense, his registration will be permanently revoked.[6]

Defeat of the bill

Some of the things that led to a defeat of the bill were:

  • Key Republican legislators -- Senators Pam Roach and Don Benton and Representatives Bruce Chandler, Joel Kretz, Mike Armstrong, and Cary Condotta supporting that "valid voter signatures should always count."
  • Roy Ruffino and Edward Agazarm and providing compelling and informational testimony during hearings.
  • Initiative & Referendum Institute attorney Shawn Newman for his expertise and testimony against these bills.
  • The ACLU's continued stand in favor of the initiative process.
  • The 300 plus citizens who wrote letters against the anti-initiative bills that were entered into the public record.

Supporters

Supporter of the bill, including sponsor State Rep. Sam Hunt (D-Olympia), argue that the bill is necessary to fight fraud and forgeries that corrupt the initiative process.

Andrew Villeneuve, chairman of Permanent Defense, which defines itself as "Opposing Right Wing Initiatives and Fighting Tim Eyman," testified in favor of HB 2601 and HB 2019:

In recent years the number of initiatives and referenda submitted to the people annually has grown in number, aided by the rise of a for profit signature gathering industry. With half a million dollars, any individual or group willing to spend the money can force a public vote on their idea, regardless of its true popularity.

Requiring the many independent contractors who are paid to circulate petitions to register with the state will strengthen the spirit of the initiative process by providing more transparency.....

Almost every state in America with the initiative and referendum process has established regulations to protect their powers of direct democracy from fraud and abuse. Washington is one of the few that has not, and it’s time to change that.[7]

Opponents

Washington political activist and initiative rights advocate Tim Eyman is a major opponent of this bill. He insists that the bill is clearly unconstitutional, quoting a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling from 2000 (WIN v. Warheit), which ruled that a Washington state law requiring the disclosure of names and addresses of signature gatherers violated the First Amendment. "There can be no doubt that the compelled disclosure of this information chills political speech," the court wrote.

The ACLU has expressed opposition to the bill, noting its chilling effect and interference with First Amendment rights, but also focusing on the bills requirement that otherwise-valid voter signatures be invalidated if a petitioner has not properly registered with the state. "We believe that this rejection disenfranchises eligible voters who signed the petition. Whether or not the signature gatherer followed the rules or regulations, the intent of the voter is to support the initiative or referendum. That intent should be honored."

Opponents also argue that supporters' claims that this bill is intended to protect against fraud and forgery on initiative petitions have no basis. Put the Secretary of State's office acknowledged, in response to a public records request, that there were "no instances of verified forgeries or fraud in the signature gathering process for initiatives in those years (1999 through 2006)."

Fears of harassment and sabotage

Opponents are particularly vocal about the likelihood that the bill will facilitate the harassment of signature gatherers, a problem many initiative proponents in Washington have identified in recent years as a growing concern.[8] Since petitioners would have to make their names and addresses public under this bill, opponents of HB 2601 believe such harassment would be likely to follow petitioners home.

Eyman points to a number of instances of public unions encouraging their members to harass petitioners. In a post on the Washington State Council of County and City Employees web site:

Keep an eye out -- The best way to beat this is at the signature gathering stage. Please let us know if you see those paid signature hunters in your area and let them know in no uncertain terms what their job will do to your job! Every signature we stop is one more Eyman has to pay for."[9]

In an article on the same web site about Initiative 864, it was recommended that:

you ask signature gatherers if they are being paid, find out their names and take their pictures (alone). "We would like to identify as many as possible."[10]

Another article at the site noted, hundreds of government workers around the state contributed to the failure of Initiative 864 to make the ballot.

They cruised Puget Sound looking for signature gatherers, held up signs next to them and persuaded store managers to ban them from their premises.[11]

Sabotage is another major concern of the bill's opposition. Since petitioners, petition companies, and the initiative's prime sponsors would all be legal liable for any invalid signatures, many argue that opponents of any initiative effort can easily sabotage efforts by signing petitions fradulently or multiple times. They argue that sophisticated "petition blocking" and harassment efforts against many recent initiative campaigns make such sabotage a real concern. Not only would successful sabotage invalidate many signatures, but it would put "guilty" petitioners, petition companies, and even sponsors out of initiatives for five years.

Washington newspapers opposed to HB 2601 and HB 2019

  • The Seattle Times on January 24, 2008 editorialized against HB 2601 and HB 2019, saying, "These bills are not aimed at making democracy better. They are aimed at infecting it with rigmarole and risk, and thereby restricting it, so that certain measures never reach the ballot."[12]
  • The Columbian, a daily newspaper in Clark County, Washington, editorialized against HB 2601 on February 6, 2008, arguing that it is "a misguided solution to a nonexistent problem" and it has "received far too much attention already and should be rejected by lawmakers."[13]
  • The Tacoma News-Tribune on February 10, 2008 editorialized against HB 2601 and HB 2019. They wrote that the bills are caused by "Eymanphobia" and comment that, "We have found little to admire in Eyman’s initiatives ourselves; most of them have been wrecking balls. But going after the initiative process out of distaste for Eyman is like dismantling the jury system because you didn’t like the O. J. Simpson verdict."[14]
  • On February 7, 2008, Tracy Warner, the editorial page editor of the Wenatchee World, editorialized against the initiative-restricting measures, saying, "The net effect, of course, will be to make it more difficult to collect signatures, and more difficult to qualify initiatives for the ballot. This will be accomplished by intimidating signature gatherers and tossing out the valid signatures of registered voters. It will be wholesale disenfranchisement, voiding the right to petition."[15]
  • The Columbia Basin Herald editorialized against some of the restrictions on January 31, writing, "The last thing we want to do is reduce the ability of the people to make laws by hindering the folks gathering signatures."[16]

See also

External links

References