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WA initiative season opens with Eyman & GMO labeling

by David Ammons | January 3rd, 2013

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Washington’s second century of “direct democracy” has opened. Sponsors of two initiatives to the Legislature submitted boxloads of petitions Thursday in support of measures dealing with the initiative process itself and requiring labeling of genetically engineered foodstuffs.

Sponsors of both measures submitted what they described as 340,000 or more signatures, and thus appear virtually assured of validation during the random sampling process that begins after the petitions are imaged for safekeeping and potential public records release by the State Archives.

First to arrive at Elections Division headquarters near the Capitol was longtime initiative activist Tim Eyman. He brought in over 19,100 petition sheets bearing what he estimated at 340,000 voter signatures.

His Initiative 517 would set penalties for interfering with or harassing signature-gathering crews; extend to one year the time sponsors to collect signatures, rather than less than half a year; and require a public vote on ballot measures that qualify, even if lawsuits are filed.

The second, and apparently last, initiative to the Legislature to make it by the Friday deadline, was I-522, dealing with labeling of most raw farm commodities, processed foods and seeds if genetically engineered. The sponsor, Chris McManus, submitted just over 19,000 petition sheets with an estimated 350,000 signatures.

According to Kay Ramsay at the Elections Division’s initiative desk, both sponsors submitted a large enough pad to allow random sampling, rather than an every-signature check. A crew will check to make sure each signer is a registered Washington voter and that the signature matches the one on file. Eyman’s will be checked first because it was first in line. Imaging should be complete sometime next week and the random sample check should be complete the following week. The second measure will follow a similar timeline, and sponsors should have their answer by later this month.

Because both are initiatives to the Legislature, they will go first to the lawmakers, who begin their 105-day regular session on Jan. 14.  Legislators have three options for each initiative: pass it into law as is, let it go to the November ballot for a public vote, or send it and a legislative alternative to the ballot and let voters decide which, if either, they want to support. The typical initiative to the Legislature takes the second path, going on to the General Election ballot.  One or both houses may hold public hearings.

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