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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Grocers Push Back On Tim Eyman's Initiative On Initiatives

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Washington grocers say Initiative 517 would infringe on their private property rights. Sponsors reject that claim.

Over the years, Washington lawmakers have pondered ways to rein-in the state’s initiative process. Now comes a ballot measure designed to make it easier to qualify for the ballot.

Retailers and grocers are waving the “no” signs. But it’s Washington voters who will decide this “initiative on initiatives” next month.

Outside Haggen Foods in Olympia, shoppers come and go. But Jan Gee takes a stand – against Initiative 517. “Because," she says, "legally our stores would be stripped of their right to control activities on their private property.”

Gee represents Washington’s independent grocers. If passed, Initiative 517 would make signature gathering a legally protected activity – including on sidewalks and walkways in front of store entrances. It would also make it a crime to interfere, inhibit or restrict a signature-gatherer in anyway.

“So the rights of the customers not to be harassed and the rights of our stores not to have that activity on their property is stripped away,” says Gee.

Initiative 517 is the brain child of Washington’s chief initiative promoter, Tim Eyman, and Edward Agazarm, who once ran Washington’s largest signature gathering firm. The language in the initiative is broad – especially when it comes to where signature gatherers can do their work.

But campaign spokesman Mark Baerwaldt insisted to me on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program that “517 does not affect private property rights.”

He says private property owners could still say no to signature-gatherers.

“If you go to like Costco, Costco’s no. It won’t change. You cannot petition at Costco today. You won’t be able to petition at Costco in the future.”

Costco declined to comment.

Needless to say, if the measure passes legal challenges are almost certain. Initiative 517 has two other provisions of note. One would extend the window for gathering signatures for an initiative from six months to a year. By contrast Oregon allows two years. And Initiative 517 would require a public vote on any local initiative that qualifies for the ballot – even if there’s a legal challenge to that measure pending.

On the Web:

Initiative 517 - Washington Secretary of State 

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."