Citizen Blog

In the State of Washington, citizens can take two initiative routes to the ballot. The direct initiative is for putting measures directly to a public vote after submitting the required voter signatures and having those signatures verified.  There is also the indirect initiative, whereby after signature submission and verification, the initiative instead goes to the Washington Legislature. The legislature can then (a) adopt the measure “as is,” (b) place the measure “as is” on the ballot in addition to an alternative measure drawn up by legislators, thus letting the voters decide which they prefer, or (c) do nothing and let the initiative go directly on the ballot for a vote.

Controversial Oregon legislation, which makes minor petitioning infractions a potential felony offense for initiative sponsors, passed the Oregon House in a 35-22 vote along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. Senate Bill 154 had already passed the state senate and is now headed to Governor John Kitzhaber, who is expected to sign it.

The bill requires any initiative campaign to have representatives sign a statement that the group’s petitioners understand Oregon laws regarding petitioning and that the campaign will abide by all laws. Initiative supporters fear that any infraction by any petitioner could then subject the measure’s sponsors to a felony charge of “False Swearing.”

On June 28, the Lucy Burns Institute released a summary of news related to the Initiative and Referendum process. Several court cases, news stories and bills to watch are profiled.

Read more: here.

Updated, July 3, 2013.

Since the US Supreme Court’s decision on Hollingsworth v. Perry, several outlets have written about the impact on the Initiative and Referendum process not only in California, where the case began, but nationwide in the states that allow I&R.

Here are links to several articles on the topic:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/justine-sarver/after-prop-8-decision-pro_b_3505463.html

http://www.ocregister.com/articles/state-514594-officials-california.html

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the legal proponents of California’s Proposition 8 lacked standing to appeal the federal district court ruling, which had overturned the state’s voter-enacted ban on same sex marriage. In so doing, the High Court dealt a blow to citizen initiatives by blocking initiative proponents from defending their voter-enacted measures in federal court – even when state officials refuse to legally defend the initiative, thus dooming it to defeat.

Privacy issues are the focus of a first-in-the-nation petition bill in Iowa City, Iowa, which seeks to curb automated law enforcement in the form of red light cameras, license plate readers and drone aircraft used to catch traffic violations.  The petition was originally a referendum against the red light cameras and was sponsored by the citizen group “Stop Big Brother” as well as the ACLU of Iowa. The referendum was later expanded to include plate readers and drones.

A “proactive” move, says “Stop Big Brother” member Aleksey Gurtovoy since Iowa City currently does not utilize the plate readers or drones.

Arizona legislators and Governor Jan Brewer snuck one past the citizens of the Grand Canyon state in the final hours of this year’s seemingly never-ending legislative session. Legislators passed House Bill 2305, a sweeping new elections law that, among other suppressive features, allows officials to throw out perfectly valid signatures of Arizona voters on initiatives, referendums and recalls on the slightest of hyper-technical grounds.

Though Democrats protest that Governor Jan Brewer promised she would veto this legislation, she signed the controversial legislation into law last week.

Ohio’s Hamilton County Court of Appeals blocked a voter referendum in Cincinnati over the proposed decades-long lease of city parking lots to a private company in return for a lump sum payment of $92 million to plug a $35 million city budget deficit. The legal case concerns whether an ordinance passed as an emergency measure was subject to a citizen-initiated referendum.

This week’s appeals court ruling overturned an earlier decision by Common Pleas Judge Robert Winkler allowing the referendum to go forward. Winkler found that the right to referendum trumped the city council’s determination that the lease agreement was an emergency.

A University of Wisconsin-Platteville student leader may have met the repercussions for expressing his freedom of speech when his anticipated placement on the UW Board of Regents was pulled by Governor Scott Walker.  As a freshman, Joshua Inglett had signed the petition to recall Gov. Walker.

“I felt like my character had been attacked,” Inglett said.

UW-Platteville had even announced Inglett’s appointment on their website. The governor offered no reason for withdrawing the appointment.

“We’ve got plenty of other good candidates and we’re not going to get into specifics about it,” said Walker. “We’ve made a decision to withdraw the name in our office and we’ll be submitting another name to the Board of Regents.”

Targeted Senate President Appears Vulnerable

Pro-Second Amendment activists in Colorado recently turned in 16,199 signatures in an effort to recall State Senate President John Morse, who helped pass three gun control bills earlier this year. Of that total, only 7,178 valid signatures are required to force a recall election.

Due to the narrow margin of Sen. Morse’s election victory in 2010 – he won by less than 350 votes and only 48 percent of the total – backers of Morse recognize he may have a difficult time winning a recall election.

Referendum returned to Maryland last November in the form of three ballot questions seeking to do away with recently passed laws in the Old Line State.  The efforts came to naught as the ballot questions failed, but the three questions were unique in the fact that in the last 20 years only one previous referendum had graced the ballot in Maryland.

Past petition drives had tried and failed to make the ballot, but a new online petitioning website MDPetitions.com, sponsored by Maryland Delegate Neil Parrott, made it easier for citizens to refer laws in the state by petition.

Senate Bill 154 continued its march through the Oregon legislature this week, despite the protestations of prominent petition-rights supporters and citizen groups.  The bill moved via a party-line vote of 16-14 in the Senate, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing the legislation.

SB 154 requires petition firms to register with the Secretary of State and also to sign a statement affirming that the firms will not break the law. The bill also forces initiative campaigns to have two representatives swear that the campaign has broken no law. The problem is that petition companies and initiative sponsors can then be prosecuted on a felony charge of “false swearing” if someone working for them does anything wrong, even through an innocent mistake.

The 4th Circuit unanimously upheld a lower federal court’s decision declaring Virginia’s residency requirement for petition circulators unconstitutional. The challenge was brought by the Libertarian Party of Virginia; the case is Libertarian Party of Virginia v. Judd.

The three judge panel joins recent 6th, 9th and 10th federal Circuit Courts of Appeal, which have also unanimously overturned residency requirements for those circulating petitions.

Legislators in Missouri have passed and delivered to Governor Jay Nixon an initiative reform bill that increases penalties for fraud and forgeries on petitions, bans those convicted of fraud or forgery from circulating petitions, provides a time-limit on ballot title challenges (so that petitions cannot be held up indefinitely through litigation) and requires the Secretary of State to post the text and ballot titles of initiatives online (something the current Secretary of State has already begun doing).

“We’re trying to make sure that the signature gatherer isn’t a forger,” State Senator Scott Sifton, D-Affton, said.

A broad coalition of citizens groups and petition-rights supporters in Oregon, joined by Citizens in Charge, sent a letter to state senators urging them to defeat Senate Bill 154, which “represents the extreme criminalization of direct democracy.” The bill is expected to be voted on by the full state senate next week.