Friday, August 23, 2013

Judge blocks Envision, SMAC initiatives from appearing on ballot

Posted By on Fri, Aug 23, 2013 at 10:52 AM

A Superior Court judge ruled this morning that two local citizen initiatives — one from Envision Spokane and the other from Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution — should not appear on the November ballot because they are outside the scope of the city’s power.

Envision’s initiative would be its third try at a Community Bill of Rights, expanding neighborhood powers, labor rights and environmental protections. The one brought by SMAC would outlaw private lobbying — corporations’ employees talking to city officials about legislation — and corporate contributions to local campaigns.

Judge Maryann Moreno ruled the two initiatives attempted to create new regulations or constitutional protections — like those for the Spokane River — that were not within the city’s power to enact, or would attempt to override state or federal law on issues like labor protections. She said SMAC’s initiative would suppress the free speech rights of corporations, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of in the controversial Citizens United case.

Running through the initiatives piece-by-piece, a calm Moreno called each “outside the scope” of the city’s legal powers to whispers from a naturally divided courtroom — suits on the left, plain-clothes on the right.

“Let’s not pretend we’re surprised,” Envision Board President Brad Read told other activists as the court adjourned. Despite their hopes to reach voters on the ballot this fall, many of the proponents believe they are in a fight against a broad power structure designed to suppress the voice of the average citizen. The court, they say, is only part of that structure.

The challenge was brought by a coalition of business interests, Spokane County and Spokane City Council members Steve Salvatori, Mike Allen and Nancy McLaughlin acting as individuals. The group argued (and lost) in a hearing last month that the initiatives would cause harm before the election by discouraging development in Spokane. Today, they argued the legality of the initiatives on the basis that citizens should not vote on measures that could not legally be enacted if passed.

In a statement after the ruling, the Alliance for a Competitive Economy — a group supporting those who brought the challenge — praised the ruling.

“Our coalition of community leaders, nonprofit organizations and businesses are convinced that these initiatives are an abuse of the process and do not belong on the November city ballot,” Michael Senske, CEO of alliance member Pearson Packaging, said in the statement.

Envision attorney Michael Whipple said he'll consult his clients first, but is prepared to appeal the ruling in coming weeks. Things will have to move quickly, though. Ballots head to the printer in early September. 

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Heidi Groover

Heidi Groover is a staff writer at the Inlander, where she covers city government and drug policy. On the job, she's spent time with prostitutes, "street kids," marriage equality advocates and the family of a 16-year-old organ donor...