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Voters wild about `direct democracy’

by David Ammons | August 5th, 2010

The use of  the initiative and referendum process ebbs and flows from year to year, seeming to track the economy and whether interest groups believe Olympia is attentive to their issues.  This year is one of those high-watermark years, with a record 75 initiatives to the people  filed and six headed for a statewide vote after meeting the significant signature requirement.

According to a new tally from the state Elections Division Thursday, 2,230,902 signatures were submitted this year in support of six initiatives.  All six measures easily qualified for the ballot, tying the modern record set in 2000 for initiatives in one year. The all-time record was seven initiatives, back in 1914, the first year the process was available.

The Legislature also placed three additional measures on the ballot — two constitutional amendments and one referendum bill.  According to elections official Tami Davis, you have to go back more than 30 years to beat that.  In 1977, voters faced four initiatives, two referenda and four constitutional amendments, for a total of 10 measures.

Said Elections Director Nick Handy:

“We have heard some critics say that people would be less willing to take part in the initiative process this year, given all the talk of the Secretary of State’s policy of allowing public release of petitions. But we are certainly not seeing any hesitation at all.

“Over 2.2 million signatures were turned in — and our total number of registered voters is 3.6 million.  Some people may have signed more than one petition, but the point is that many, many voters were more than happy to sign their names and addresses to petitions. The system is alive and well.”

The six initiatives are:

* I-1053 – The Tim Eyman-sponsored measure would re-establish the two-thirds vote requirement for the state Legislature to raises taxes.
* I-1082 – Headed by the Building Industry Association of Washington, it would allow “three-way” workers’ compensation, with private insurance carriers offering coverage in competition with the state-run program.
* I-1098 – Supported by Bill Gates Sr., it would create a state income tax on high-wage earners and reduce the state share of the property tax and lower the B&O tax on many small businesses.
* I-1100 – One of two measures aiming to privatize liquor sales in Washington, it’s backed by Costco and other retailers.
* I-1105 – Supported by wholesalers, it would take the state out of the liquor retail business. Whereas I-1100 would let retailers buy stock directly from manufacturers, I-1105 would require use of wholesalers.
* I-1107 – It would repeal new taxes on certain candy, pop, and bottled water. Backed by the American Beverage Association, it brought in 408,000 signatures in only three weeks.

The Legislature has sent three other measures to the statewide ballot this fall:

* Referendum 52 would authorize bonds to finance construction and repair projects increasing energy efficiency in public schools and higher education buildings, and continue the sales tax on bottled water otherwise expiring in 2013.
* House Joint Resolution 4220, known as the “Lakewood Police Officers Memorial Act,” would amend the state constitution on bail requirements for judges.
* Senate Joint Resolution 8225 would amend the state constitution relating to state government’s debt limits for the construction projects.

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