Current State of the Initiative/Referendum Rights for our Citizens:
Sammamish council approves 5-1 initiative, referendum rights (click for the article)
The Sammamish City Council approved, 5-1, initiative and referendum powers after a lengthy fight led by CFS’s own Harry Shedd. All voted in favor (Odell was absent from the meeting, Deputy Mayor Huckabay voted against giving these powers to the citizens)
Background on the Initiative/Referendum Rights:
Why Should Sammamish Citizens Want the I/R rights?
To enact legislation or retract legislation. There are limitations to the I/R rights (see below). Having the power of I/R can do the following:
- It can be used when the city council either doesn’t address an issue of great concern to our citizens or citizens find the issue way down on their agenda list of things to address
- Excellent method to involve citizens in their city government, overcoming “voter apathy”
- Exerts pressure on public officials to act in the best interest of Sammamish citizens
- Allows for “direct democracy” and enables for accountability for elected officials
Examples might be:
- What to do with the old YMCA property after the new community center opens
- Creating districts within the city (instead of having council members be “at large”)
- The community center could have had direct public weigh in (instead of a non-binding advisory vote)
Power of Initiative: the ability of the voters of the city to initiate and enact legislation directly, with or without the consent of their elected representatives or city legislative authority.
Power of Referendum: the ability of the citizens of the city to have an ordinance that has been enacted by the city or legislative authority submitted to the voters for approval or disapproval before it becomes effective or thereafter.
Introduction to the Initiative/Referendum Process:
In 1912, Washington became one of the first states to adopt the initiative and referendum process, thus securing the rights of citizens to make and remake their laws, and to provide a check over the decisions of their Legislature.
Today, if Washingtonians are dissatisfied with certain laws or feel that new laws are needed, they can petition to place proposed legislation on the ballot. It is because the electorate can initiate legislation that the process is termed the INITIATIVE. With the ability to initiate laws, the electorate can either place a proposition directly on the ballot or it can submit the proposed law to the Legislature at the regular legislative session, thereby allowing the elected representatives an opportunity to enact the proposed legislation themselves instead of placing the matter on the ballot.
The REFERENDUM allows citizens, through the petition process, to refer acts of the Legislature to the ballot before they become law. The referendum also permits the Legislature itself to refer proposed legislation to the electorate for approval or rejection.
The initiative and referendum process guarantees Washington’s electorate the right to legislate. Sponsors of initiative or referendum measures must, however, obtain a substantial number of petition signatures from registered voters in order to certify their measures to the ballot or to the Legislature.
Despite the organization and effort required to place a measure on the ballot, Washington’s history has shown the initiative and referendum processes to be effective in protecting the people’s interests. In fact, many of our most significant laws, such as our public disclosure law, were enacted by this process.
Limitations of I/R:
The first test is whether the underlying action is legislative or administrative in nature. If the action is administrative, then it is not subject to the power of initiative or referendum. If it is legislative, then it may be subject to initiative and referendum, depending upon the outcome of the second test:
The second test is whether the power is one that has been granted by the legislature to the legislative authority of a city or county or whether it is a power that has been granted to the corporate entity as a whole. If it is a power that has been granted to the legislative authority (city or county council), then it is not subject to the powers of initiative and referendum. If it is a power that has been granted to the city as a corporate entity, then it may be subject to initiative and referendum.
Citizens may exercise these powers only if the action is legislative in nature and the subject of the legislation is not one that has been granted to the city or county council.
You can read more on the I/R power by going here: http://www.mrsc.org/getmedia/18593BA0-FA89-4776-84DC-3DCAB86B3449/irg14.aspx