Judge strikes controversial initiatives from Spokane ballot
Voters in Spokane won't be seeing two controversial city initiatives on their November ballots.
Spokane Superior Court Judge Maryanne Moreno has ruled the two initiatives were outside the scope of city powers. The ballot measures--pushed by a range of special interest groups—sought to, among other things, amend Spokane’s City Charter to grant inalienable legal rights to the Spokane River’s water and sediment.
The Community Bill of Rights proposal, included four provisions; giving neighborhoods veto power over development, granting unions extended powers, giving citizens legal power to sue on behalf of the environment, and limiting free speech rights. Voters rejected the measure in two previous attempts in 2009 and 2011.
The second measure, Initiative 4 by the PAC ‘Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution,’ sought to amend the Spokane City Charter to criminalize any political speech made by businesses and would have blocked businesses from communicating with elected officials or candidates for public office.
Judge Moreno said she admired the defendants' "passion and advocacy," but that the initiatives simply reached too far.
She was right. Washington Policy Center research found the initiatives directly in violation of at least 48 state or federal laws and 37 court rulings in similar cases. The proposals come with considerable economic cost. The Community Bill of Rights zoning regulations could have cost the taxpayers up to wards of $3.2 million and resulted in hundreds of jobs lost per year. Endowing the Spokane River and other waterways, and rocks, trees, grass or meadows with human legal rights would open up a vast new way for citizens to sue each other at the cost of taxpayers.
Perhaps more troubling is Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution. The measure would have posed catastrophic economic implications especially for a city like Spokane who registers 99.82% of corporations as small businesses. Meanwhile, the proponents ignored money spent by unions, political parties, 527 organizations and Political Action Committees—only speech by business owners was targeted.
The legal logistics are daunting, and a likely consideration underlying Judge Moreno’s ruling. If enacted, the Spokane City Attorney would have had to use city funds to defend the initiatives in court.
Despite being ruled unconstitutional, Envision Spokane and Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution have already filed appeals which must be decided by the time ballots are printed on September 4th. It appears the third time won’t be the charm for Envision Spokane and the far-reaching Community Bill of Rights. Following two rejections by voters, the Pennsylvania-based environmental activists have seen their latest pet project crash to Earth before it even got off the ground. As it has for millennia, the Spokane River will just have to get along without being granted the right to sue.
[Note: WPC Eastern Washington Research Assistant Mary Catherine McAleer authored this report.]