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Aftermath of Prop. 4 

A task force is reviewing the initiative process after Proposition 4 scared the pants off city leaders

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The shock waves from last year’s controversial citizen’s initiative to amend the City Charter and create a bill of rights for the people of Spokane are still rippling.

Proposition 4, as the proposed bill of rights was known on the ballot, would have tasked the city to make sure its citizens had access to affordable health care, affordable housing; that neighborhoods would gain a greater voice in development issues; and that people could sue to protect the environment.

It terrified the mayor and city council members, who doubted the city could even do what was asked by Prop. 4. It infuriated civic and business leaders, who saw it as a socialist manifesto. And it went down in flames at the polls.

Even though it appeared the system worked — a group crafted an initiative, gathered enough signatures to place it on the ballot, and then made their best pitch to voters — the scare was deep enough that a citizen’s task force was appointed late last year to review the process.

The City Council has presented the task force with a proposed new initiative and referendum ordinance — drafted primarily by former councilman Al French — that adds restrictions on how an initiative can reach the ballot.

The proposed new ordinance requires a statement of how much an initiative might cost to implement, it would cut city funding to help initiative sponsors with appeals. There are also changes in whether the sponsors or the city attorneys write the ballot title and summary.

“Adding hurdles is counter to what the process is all about,” says Kai Huschke, a board member with Envision Spokane, the group behind the bill of rights.

Task force members debated this topic last week. Ann Murphy of the League of Women Voters, which is moderating the task force, says many concerns were thrashed out by the end the meeting and that recommendations should be delivered to the City Council by a March 1 deadline.

City Council President Joe Shogan says it’s not an either-or choice.

“This is not to compare the two and decide which one is better. They start, in my opinion, with they current initiative process and may make any changes — or no changes — they desire,” Shogan says.

Given the council’s unanimous opposition to Prop. 4, he says it is important the task force is working with the League of Women Voters and not the city.

Murphy says citizens are encouraged to send comments to [email protected] or mail to the League of Women Voters, 2404 N. Howard, Spokane, 99205. The proposed new ordinance can be found under City News at spokanecity.org.

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