Spokane City "Community Bill of Rights" and "Voter Bill of Rights" Questions, Initiatives 3 and 4 (November 2013)

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Two ballot questions referred to by supporters as the "Community Bill of Rights" and the "Voter Bill of Rights" may be on the November 5, 2013 ballot for voters in the City of Spokane in Spokane County, Washington.

Although more than enough signatures were gathered to force a spot on the November ballot for both of these measures, the legality of the measures is being questioned in court. A dozen plaintiffs, including Spokane County itself, sued to keep the initiatives off the ballot. Although these two measures are separate as are the groups that filed them, they will likely combine their campaign efforts and they are both listed as defendants in the court case.[1]

Initiative 3, known by supporters as the "Community Bill of Rights" question, is an initiative measure filed by the group Envision Spokane. This is the third successful initiative petition executed by Envision Spokane[2]. Two previous "Community Bill of Rights" questions were rejected by voters, one in 2009 and another in 2011. The 2011 measure received 49% voter approval. This measure seeks to grant voters more control over development projects and open the door to citizen lawsuits to stop pollution of the Spokane River. It also looks to increase union rights and challenge corporate rights.[1]

The petition drive for Initiative 4, the ballot question known as the "Voter Bill of Rights", was run by a group called Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution (SMAC), which focuses on denying first amendment rights to corporations and removing campaign spending from free speech protection.[3] The initiative, if it reaches the ballot and is approved, bans corporation representatives or employees from communicating to city officials about proposed legislation outside of a public forum. The initiative also seeks to prohibit corporations from monetary contributions to any city election campaign. According to SMAC organizer Chris Nerison, this measure may also limit unions from lobbying elected officials. [4][1][5]

Text of measures

Initiative 3

The question on the ballot:

Shall the City Charter be amended to add a Community Bill of Rights, which secures the right of neighborhood residents to approve re-zonings proposed for major new development, recognizes the right of neighborhood residents to reject development which violates the City Charter or the City’s Comprehensive Plan, expands protections for the Spokane River and Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, provides constitutional protections in the workplace, and elevates Charter rights above rights claimed by corporations?[6][7]

Initiative 4

The question on the ballot:

Shall The Spokane Municipal Code Be Amended To Add A Voter Bill Of Right For Clean And Fair Elections And Government Ordinance That Prohibits Corporate Lobbying, Corporate Involvement, And Corporate Donations To Candidates For Elected Office?[4][7]

Initiative 3: "Community Bill of Rights"

Support

Supporters

  • Envision Spokane
  • Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution (SMAC)
  • Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane County
  • International Association of Firefighters Local 29
  • United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1439
  • Community Building Foundation
  • Laborers Local 238
  • Upper Columbia River Group – Sierra Club
  • Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 44
  • Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane[8][9]

Arguments in favor

Supporters argue that a sustainable, democratic and healthy Spokane can be achieved through four changes, which would be established by the four sections of Initiative 3:

  • First: Let voters have control over how their neighborhoods are developed. Supporters say that currently the city council, largely influenced by corporations, decide on development and zoning changes. They argue that residents should be able to directly decide what is best for their neighborhoods.
  • Second: Protect the river and drinking water supplies. Supporters point out that the Spokane River is one of the most polluted in the country. They argue that protections for the river and for the aquifer concern all residents and that all residents should have the standing to defend the water sources of the community against any who would harm them and see to it that those who do harm the river pay to restore it.
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  • Third: Protect the rights of all workers. Supporters allege that, under current laws, workers in the private sector are not reaping the benefits of the federal Bill of Rights in the workplace. They argue that the "Community Bill of Rights" would ensure that Spokane workers retain their constitutional protections and protect unions' rights to collective bargaining.
  • Fourth: Downplay corporate rights and protect community rights. Supporters say that corporations are currently seen as persons by the law and are thus given the rights of persons. But they argue that corporations are not people and that they have wealth that makes them overly influential in city elections and legislation. Supporters propose that it is important to limit corporate power to protect the rights of individuals.[10]

Kai Huschke, campaign coordinator of Envision Spokane had this to say about 2011's nearly identical measure: “It’s about getting local self-government and making sure you protect community values." Concerning the 2011 measure Huschke went on to say, “Communities are overridden by corporations on a regular basis. It’s an open challenge to that case law.”[11]

Opposition

Opponents

The following list of organizations and people oppose Initiatives 3 and 4 and are listed as plaintiffs in the court case to keep them from the November ballot:

  • Spokane County Commission
  • Spokane Entrepreneurial Center
  • Downtown Spokane Partnership
  • Greater Spokane Incorporated,
  • the Spokane Building Owners and Managers Association
  • Spokane Association of Realtors
  • Spokane Homebuilders Association
  • Inland Pacific Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors
  • Avista Corp.
  • Mike Allen, Spokane City Council member
  • Nancy McLaughlin, Spokane City Council member
  • Pearson Packaging Systems
  • Tom Powers, Spokane Resident
  • William Butler, Spokane Resident
  • Neil Muller, Spokane Resident[1]

Others opponents of Initiative 3:

  • Spokane Councilmen Mike Fagan, Steve Salvatori and Jon Snyder

Arguments in Opposition

Opponents of Initiative 3 argue that it establishes general rights with vague language making it very difficult and potentially expensive to enforce. They also anticipate that the measure would allow for an overwhelming number of lawsuits, taking advantage of unclear concepts. Opponents are also quick to point out that no council members support this measure, an obvious sign, according to opponents, that the "Community Bill of Rights" is impractical.[12]

On June 21, the Spokane County Commission voted to challenge Initiative 3 and Initiative 4 in court. Some Commissioners stated that they fear that the so called "Community Bill of Rights" and "Voter Bill of Rights" could be harmful to the economy and impede development. County Commissioner Al French said that both Initiative 3 and 4 would take legal authority from government officials and argued that this could end up leaving it up to the taxpayers to carry the burden of defending certain development projects, such as the county's wastewater treatment plant in east Spokane.[1]

In 2011, while considering the nearly identical "Community Bill of Rights" initiative of that year, former Mayor Mary Verner concluded that it would be a mistake because it is in conflict with a supreme court ruling. Verner said, “It would be a waste of the paper it’s printed on."[11]

Text of the initiative

Community Bill of Rights

Initiative 2012-3

First. Neighborhood Residents Have The Right To Determine Major Development In Their Neighborhoods.

Monroe Street Dam on Spokane River in City of Spokane

Neighborhood majorities shall have the right to approve all zoning changes proposed for their neighborhood involving major commercial, industrial, or residential development. Neighborhood majorities shall mean the majority of registered voters residing in an official city neighborhood who voted in the last general election. Proposed commercial or industrial development shall be deemed major if it exceeds ten thousand square feet, and proposed residential development shall be deemed major if it exceeds twenty units and its construction is not financed by governmental funds allocated for low-income housing.

It shall be the responsibility of the proposer of the zoning change to acquire the approval of the neighborhood majority, and the zoning change shall not be effective without it. Neighborhood majorities shall also have a right to reject major commercial, industrial, or residential development, which is incompatible with the provisions of the City’s Comprehensive Plan or this Charter.

Approval of a zoning change or rejection of proposed development under this section shall become effective upon the submission of a petition to the City containing the valid signatures of neighborhood majorities approving the zoning change or rejecting the proposed development, in a petition generally conforming to the referendum provisions of the Spokane municipal code.

Second. The Right To A Healthy Spokane River And Aquifer.

The Spokane River, its tributaries, and the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer possess inalienable rights to exist and flourish, which shall include the right to sustainable recharge, flows sufficient to protect native fish habitat, and clean water. All residents of Spokane possess fundamental and inalienable rights to sustainably access, use, consume, and preserve water drawn from natural cycles that provide water necessary to sustain life within the City. The City of Spokane and any resident of the City or group of residents have standing to enforce and protect these rights.

Third. Employees Have The Right To Constitutional Protections In The Workplace.

Employees shall possess United States and Washington Bill of Rights’ constitutional protections in every workplace within the City of Spokane, and workers in unionized workplaces shall possess the right to collective bargaining.

Fourth. Corporate Powers Shall Be Subordinate To People’s Rights.

Corporations and other business entities which violate the rights secured by this Charter shall not be deemed to be “persons,” nor possess any other legal rights, privileges, powers, or protections which would interfere with the enforcement of rights enumerated by this Charter.[13][7]

Time table

Similar measures

Initiative 4: "Voter Bill of Rights"

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Supporters

  • Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution (SMAC)
  • Envision Spokane

Arguments in favor

Supporters argue that corporations abuse their rights and wealth to influence elections in an unfair way and that corporations should not have the constitutional rights of a person. They argue that Initiative 4 is a way to achieve clean fair elections in the City of Spokane, through informing citizens about corporate influence of elections and legislation and through limiting corporate use of money to impact campaigns.

SMAC organizer and Spokane resident Chris Nerison said, “The idea is transparency – that everybody know what’s going on.”[14]

Opponents

The opponents of these two initiatives are mainly common. See Initiative 3 opponents above for a full list of the plaintiffs suing to keep both Initiative 3 and Initiative 4 off the ballot. This list includes the Spokane County Commission, 2 Spokane City Councilmen and nearly a dozen organizations, corporations and residents of the City of Spokane.

Arguments in opposition

County Commissioners stated that the two measures threaten to hamper economic development by putting more decision-making into the hands of voters.[1] Opponents argue that this measure exceeds the city's authority. They also simply state that the "Voter Bill of Rights" flies in the face of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme court case, which ruled that corporations have first amendment rights and that corporate campaign spending is protected by freedom of speech. Many believe that Initiative 4 is a waste of time because, if it were allowed on the ballot and approved, it would merely be overturned in courts.[15][16]

Text of the initiative

Summary of the Measure:

The effect of the measure if approved:
This ordinance would ban corporations from making contributions or expenditures to influence any election with in the City of Spokane. The measure would ban lobbying by corporations, making it unlawful for corporations to communicate with City of Spokane elected officials urging support or opposition to pending legislation or citizen initiative. The ban on corporate lobbying shall not be construed to prohibit open forum communications between corporate lobbyist and elected officials. Monies expended within the City of Spokane for political purposes shall not be constitutionally-protected speech within the City of Spokane. Corporations in violation of this ordinance shall not have the rights of "persons" as afforded by the United States and Washington Constitutions.[4][7]

Text of the initiative:

Title: "A Voter Bill Of Rights: A Clean And Fair Elections And Government Ordinance"

Ordinance No. An Ordinance Amending the Spokane Municipal Code To Prohibit Corporate Lobbying, Corporate Involvement In Initiative, And Corporate Donations To Candidates For Elected Office

NOW, THEREFORE, THE PEOPLE OF THE CITY OF SPOKANE HEREBY ORDAIN;
Section 1. That there is adopted a new chapter 2.06 to Title 2 of the Spokane Municipal Code to read as follows:

Chapter 2.06 Fair and Clean Elections and Government Ordinance

Sections:
2.06.010 Finding and Purpose
2.06.020 Right to Fair Elections
2.06.030 Right to Clean Government
2.06.040 Prohibited Activities
2.06.050 Corporate Rights
2.06.060 Enforcement
2.06.070 Definitions

2.06.010. Findings and Purpose
The purpose of this chapter is to recognize the right of Spokane residents to fair electios nd clean local government by prohibiting corporate involvement in elections and lobbying activities.

2.06.020 Right to Fair Elections
The people of the City of Spokane have the right to fair elections, which shall include the right to an electoral process free from corporate influence, and the elimination of the treatment of money as speech for elections purposes.

2.06.030 Right to Clean Government
The people of the City of Spokane have the right to clean government, which shall include the right to a City legislative process free from corporate influence.

2.06.040 Prohibited Activities
2.06.040(a) Ban on Electioneering. It shall be unlawful for any corporation to make a contrabution or expenditure to influence any election with in the City of Spokane.
2.06.040(b) Ban on Lobbying. It shall be unlawful for any corporation to communicate with an elected offical within the City of Spokane urging support or opposition to pending legislation or citizen initiative.
2.06.040(c) Exceptions to Ban on Lobbying. The ban on corporate lobbying shall not be construed to prohibit open forum communications between corporate lobbyist and elected officials.
2.06.040(d) Money as Speech. Monies expended within the City of Spokane for political purposes shall not be considered constitutionally-protected speech within the City of Spokane.

2.06.050 Corporate Rights.
Corporations in violation of rights and prohibitions established by this ordinance. or seeking to engage in avtivities prohibited by this ordinance shall not have the rights of "person" afforded by the United States and Washington Constitutions, nor shall those corporations be affored rights under the First and Fifth amendments to the United States Constitution or corresponding sections of the Washington Constitution.

2.06.060 Enforcement.
Violation of the provisions of this ordinance shall constitute a criminal offense under 01.02.950(f) of the Spokane Municipal Code, with remedies sought against the corporate entity violating this ordinance, in addition to corporate directors, officers, or other corporate agents participating in the decision to violate the provisions of this ordinance.

2.06.070 Definitions.
"Communicate" The term shall include any written or oral communication, and shall include, but not be limited to, political advertising.
"Contribution or Expenditure" The phrase shall include any action deemed to be a contribution or expenditure under Washington State election law, including, but not limited to, expenditures made independently of candidates, and in-kind contributions of anything of value.
"Corporation" The term shall include any corporation, limited partnership, limited liability partnership, business trust, or limited liability company organized under the law of any state of the United States or under the law of any country, and any other buisness entity that possesses State-conferred limited liability attributes for its owners, directors, officers, and managers. The term shall include Individuals purporting to communicate on behalf of corporation.
"Open Forum Communications" The phrase shall include any communications made at a forum open to the public, including, but not limited to, meeting of the Spokane City Council.

Section 2. Effective Date of Amendment to City Charter.
If approved by the electors, this city ordinance amendment shall take effect and be in full force upon issuance of the certitcate of election by the Spokane County Auditors Office.

Section 3. All ordinances, resolutions, motions, or orders in conflict with this City ordinance amendment are hereby repealed to the extent of such conflict.
If any part or provision of these Chapter provisions is held invalid the remainder of these provisions shall not be affected by such a holding and shall continue in full force and effect.[4][7]

Path to the ballot

See also: Laws governing local ballot measures in Washington

Initiative 3

Signatures were gathered for Initiative 3 by a group called Envision Spokane, who turned in more than an adequate number in early April.[2] This is the third successful initiative petition executed by Envision Spokane[2]. Two previous "Community Bill of Rights" questions were rejected by voters, one in 2009 and another in 2011. The 2009 measure only received 21% voter approval. Supporters say that this is because the City Council strategically put two presumptuous advisory questions asking voters if they would rather cut services or increase taxes if the "Community Bill of Rights" passed. Envision Spokane tried again in 2011. When the initiative qualified for the ballot, a resolution to put influential advisory questions similar to the ones employed in 2009 was presented to the Spokane City Council but council members voted 4-3 against the resolution. Unhampered by the council's advisory questions, the 2011 measure received 49% voter approval, with just 500 votes deciding the election. This gave petitioners hope and encouraged them to run a third petition effort resulting in the 2013 initiative. Initiative 3, along with Initiative 4, is now being challenged in court. Envision has pledged that its attorneys will fight to keep Initiative 3 on the November ballot.[14][17][18][19]

Initiative 4

The petition campaign for Initiative 4 was run by a group called Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution (SMAC), which focuses on denying first amendment rights to corporations and removing campaign spending from free speech protection. In early April, the group turned in more than enough signatures to qualify their "Voter Bill of Rights" for the November ballot. On its website, SMAC describes itself in this way: "We are a grassroots assembly of real people---local business owners, civic leaders, teacher,executives, workers, doctors, nurses, artists, parents, retirees and citizens of all stripes who are dedicated to bring back the democracy of the people envisioned. Impersonal, international megacorporate money and power stand against us."[3] SMAC and Envision Spokane have joined forces and now await the fate of their initiatives to be decided in court.[17]

Court case

According to Michael Riyan of K&L Gates and members of the city prosecutor's office, Washington courts allow very few challenges to ballot measures go through before an election. But among the challenges the court does allow is one alleging that the measure overreaches the authority of the city and concerns a matter that is outside of the people's initiative power. The "Community Bill of Rights" and the "Voter Bill of Rights" may fall under this category as they contradict Supreme court rulings and could allow voters to reject zoning decisions, decisions which are under control of the City Council, not the voters.[8] On June 21, the Spokane County Commission voted to file a lawsuit in Washington State Superior Court to try to keep Initiatives 3 and 4 from the ballot. The County Commission was joined by nearly a dozen other plaintiffs, including two Spokane City Council members - Mike Allen and Nancy McLaughlin - and multiple organizations and corporations. For a full list of plaintiffs see the Initiative 3 Opponents section above. The defendants in this lawsuit are the sponsors of the initiatives, Envision Spokane and Spokane Moves to Amend (SMAC), as well as county Auditor Vicky Dalton and the city of Spokane, who are included among the defendants because the number of signatures collected gives them a legal duty to put the initiatives before the voters.[20][1]

Opposition to the lawsuit

Concerning the lawsuit, President of Envision Spokane Brad Read stated, “Polling shows that the vast majority of Americans believe corporations have too much control over our elections, spending millions of dollars to influence how we vote. Now they want to go even further, as corporations seek to control not only how we vote, but whether we can vote.” He went on to say, “This lawsuit is a clear attempt by business interests to interfere with the ability of the initiative sponsors to mount campaigns in support of the measures. Rather than educating voters, proponents are forced to spend resources fighting simply to maintain the right of citizens to the initiative process and the right to vote, rights that we thought we’d won generations ago.”[19]

The filing of this lawsuit has created a new division of opposition and support for these initiatives. Although many who oppose Initiative 3 and 4 are in support of the lawsuit, some initiative opponents have spoken out against the lawsuit and in support of putting these measures on the ballot. The debate has shifted to one over the right these petitioners have to the initiative and referendum process. Tim Eyman, who has written 19 initiatives and referendums and has stated that he would not vote for either initiative, said, “The vote itself has a lobbying effect. It has political free speech value associated with it. ...  Let ’em vote, and if there are legal issues with the initiatives, just like at the state level, they have the pleasure of our wonderful court system.”[21]

In a letter to the Mayor and City Council of Spokane, initiative supporters wrote, "Regardless of what position one takes on the Community Bill of Rights, threatening to stop it from going to the voters for their decision is undemocratic in the extreme."[9]

Support for the lawsuit

County Commissioners say the initiatives are economically threatening. The lawsuit to keep Initiatives 3 and 4 are based on the their contradiction of Supreme court rulings and the possibility that they would allow voters to reject zoning decisions. According to city code, these decisions are under the authority of the City Council, not the voters.[8]

Some have come forward to support the lawsuit, despite agreeing with the content of Initiative 3 and Initiative 4. These argue that, because the proposed "Community Bill of Rights" and "Voter Bill of Rights" contradict supreme court rulings and are likely illegal, it would be better to seek a court decision now then wait until after an election.[1]

External links

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 The Spokesman Review, "Spokane County to challenge city voter initiatives," June 21, 2013
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Envision Spokane website
  3. 3.0 3.1 Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution website
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 SMAC website, Initiative Petition To The People Of The City Of Spokane Initiative No. 4
  5. Spokesman-review, "Groups hope to place initiatives on city ballot," April 12, 2013
  6. Envision Spokane website, Official Ballot Title
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 The Spokesman Review, "Proposed initiatives in Spokane may get fight," May 15, 2013
  9. 9.0 9.1 Envision Spokane website, Open Letter to Mayor and Council
  10. Envision Spokane website, WHAT-WHY-HOW section
  11. 11.0 11.1 Spokesman-review, "‘Community Bill of Rights’ group launches new proposal," March 17, 2011
  12. Spokesman-Review, "Editorial: Council fair in deciding not to add ballot items," April 17, 2011
  13. Envision Spokane, "Community Bill of Rights" text of the initiative
  14. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Hope
  15. Spokesman-review, "We’ll learn more if we let folks vote," May 18, 2013
  16. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission court case decision
  17. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Fair
  18. Spokesman-review, "Editorial: Council fair in deciding not to add ballot items," August 17, 2011
  19. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Lawsuit
  20. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Folks