OLYMPIA – In an email promoting Thursday’s public hearings on a trio of bills that would change the ballot-initiative process, activist Tim Eyman predicted the hearing would include “fireworks.”
Fireworks did ensue — but not from Eyman. After criticizing a panel of spokespeople testifying for one of the bills at the Senate Government Operations and Security Committee, Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, shut down the meeting early.
The abrupt ending meant only one of three bills on the schedule got a hearing. That one was SB 5375, which would require more disclosure for companies employing people to gather signatures to get initiatives on the ballot. Opponents see the bill as an inappropriate, and possibly unconstitutional, restriction of the people’s right to petition the government.
Gathered to testify Thursday in favor of the bill were security professionals from a variety of retail stores ranging from Fred Meyer and Central Market, as well as the Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA). The speakers argued that their customers have been harassed by paid signature gatherers hired by ballot campaigns.
Now here’s something you should know: Last election cycle, the WFIA gave Roach’s challenger, GOP Rep. Catherine Dahlquist $1,150, according to state records.
Roach, who chairs the committee, pointed out that no one had signed up to testify that they had been personally harassed by a signature gatherer. She asked the speakers for names of customers bothered by signature gatherers, and then talked about how politics sometimes gets messy.
And for Roach, it was time to remind Michael Latham, director of security for Town & Country Markets, which operates the Central Market chain, where his company’s money has gone.
“Were you aware that legislators can be punished, after 24 years, (when) they don’t support a bill that you want, even though they have a perfect record with business,” said Roach, adding later: “Do you think this is kind of heavy-handed, maybe?”
“I think it’s terrible, myself. Anyway, you need to know where your money’s going,” she told him. “Because you know what? I won.”
Roach returned to the point more than once during the hearing. Then, during an argument between Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, and Sen. Mark Liias, D-Mukilteo, and sponsor of SB 5375, Roach reprimanded both and suddenly adjourned the meeting.
That left two scheduled initiative bills hanging, SB 5535 and SB 5661, both of which have at least some bipartisan support. The former would create an independent citizen’s initiative commission to study, discuss and make findings on initiatives. The latter would allow the Legislature to hold public hearings on ballot proposals.
Watch the hearing here: