A group is working bring the power of Initiative and Referendum to the City of Snoqualmie. Direct Democracy for Snoqualmie (DDFS) is a newly formed political action committee (PAC), which earlier this month began campaigning to secure I&R powers.
What is I&R? Initiative and Referendum refer to a set of legislative tools with which citizens of a municipality can propose certain laws for inclusion on the ballot (initiative) and contest certain laws posed and passed by the city council (referendum). DDFS explained both processes involve a petitioning and voting element.
I&R powers come with a host of limitations around how and when they can be used without legal challenge. According to nonprofit organization Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC) – which provides legal and policy guidance to governments across Washington State – state courts have noted that “the power of direct legislation by citizens is not an inherent power of the people.”
I&R powers are restricted to city actions that are legislative – so only ordinances/laws. They cannot be used for administrative actions or council resolutions. Additional limits also exist for those legislative actions, meaning citizens can exercise I&R powers only if the action is legislative in nature AND the subject of the legislation is not one that has been granted to a city or county council.
Some controversial actions not subject to I&R powers in Washington State include tax levies, collective bargaining with city employees and land use actions like zoning, annexation, and legislation related to the Growth Management Act. Below find extensive list of things I&R powers can impact.
DDFS says its mission is simply to promote the attainment of the powers of initiative and referendum for the registered voters of Snoqualmie, adding that it does not promote a specific political agenda, and has likewise not formulated any plans for how initiative and referendum powers should or would be used in the City of Snoqualmie.
According to a press release, “The sole interest of DDFS is to help attain an additional tool for the tool box of civic engagement. Our organization is entirely non-partisan, as are the the rights we seek to secure.”
Of the approximate 280 incorporated cities in Washington, 61 – including nearby North Bend, Issaquah, Sammamish, Bellevue and Monroe – have the powers of initiative and referendum, which were granted by their city councils. DDFS says it has sought comment from Mayor Larson, all council members, as well as the city administration regarding the possibility of a council decision to grant I&R powers to the citizens. However, the group said it has received clear feedback that the vast majority of city elected officials do not support this idea.
Mayor Larson said he has concerns with I&R powers. He commented, “It is an imperfect instrument to use for crafting complex legislation and too often creates more problems than it solves.”
According to MRSC, those opposed to the use of I&R powers are typically supporters of representative democracy, who stress the need for
knowledge and deliberation in the drafting of legislation and the daily business of governing.
Mayor Larson said, “While the notion of direct democracy sounds appealing, it is impractical. We are – in fact by State and Federal constitution – a representative democracy.”
DDFS said due to the lack of mayor and council support for I&R, it is now petitioning for the powers of initiative and referendum through a state-sanctioned process detailed by law. DDFS Founder Dana Hubanks commented, “If we are successful in our campaign, Snoqualmie will become the first city in the State of Washington to secure the rights of initiative and referendum via citizen petition.”
In North Bend, I&R powers were granted by the city council in 2002. According to Mayor Hearing, the catalyst was a distracted driving ordinance passed by the council that a resident felt was illegal and so began gathering signatures to enact I&R powers. Mayor Hearing said the council granted I&R powers before the petition gathering process complete. He also said the council never enacted the law that was the I&R catalyst – and from his recollection, North Bend citizens have never used initiative or referendum powers.
On February 1st, DDFS officially launched a six-month petition campaign and began holding weekly signature canvassing events. Group volunteers meet at 10AM each Saturday at the Black Dog Arts Cafe in downtown Snoqualmie.
Per state law, the PAC will need to gather about 2,000 signatures of City of Snoqualmie registered voters (50% of the last general municipal election turnout) in order for the petition to secure I&R power in Snoqualmie.
Hubanks says those interested in signing the petition or volunteering as a signature gatherer, can stop by the Black Dog during business hours, or contact DDFS at email@example.com.
Direct Democracy for Snoqualmie is on Facebook where residents can receive updates and ask questions. Copies of the petition can also be found at Ana’s Mexican Restaurant, State Farm Insurance (Railroad Ave), Snoqualmie Valley Pet Parlor and Love Bug Pet Boutique.
Hubanks said DDFS is entirely volunteer-run and has to date received no funding from outside sources. It operates using in-kind donations from volunteers to cover minimal costs – all which will be available through the Public Disclosure Commission as the PAC’s reporting begins.
To learn more about I&R powers, see: MRSC Initiative and Referendum Guide.