Efforts to curb initiative process are troubling

The Legislature should abandon efforts to silence Tim Eyman and others who push anti-government initiatives.

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The initiative process was adopted in Washington state as a safety valve for democracy.

If the people are dissatisfied with the direction their elected officials are taking (or not taking), they can enact legislation through a petition calling for a public vote.

The use of the initiative process, at one time a rarity, has become routine. And some, such as Tim Eyman, have built an industry (and a good job) on it.

Eyman has become a master at whipping up support for proposals to limit government's growth, spending and taxing ability. And he uses paid signature gatherers to collect enough names to get his initiatives on the ballot.

We aren't crazy about the paid signature gatherers. It's a bit unseemly to pay folks to drive a process that was once purely the domain of grassroot movements.

But what we find far more troubling is the current effort in the Legislature aimed at limiting the initiative process and putting a muzzle on Eyman. Lawmakers have pitched a variety of measures including limiting financial donations to initiative campaigns and setting limits on how far petition gatherers must stand from buildings.

On Tuesday a proposal was approved by a Senate committee that requires paid signature gatherers to register with the Public Disclosure Commission. It includes onerous mandates that call for those who work as signature gatherers to be photographed, fingerprinted and go through a criminal background check.

Come on. Those who work as signature gatherers are generally folks who are trying to earn a little extra money. It's not a career.

Given that, it's going to be difficult to find people willing to run this registration gauntlet for a temporary job.

And that seems to be the point. The Democrats who control the Legislature would like nothing more than to see Eyman and others with an anti-tax agenda go away -- and stay away.

We don't always agree with Eyman. We have found many of his initiatives to be heavy handed and, ultimately, bad for the state.

But Eyman and his followers should be allowed to use the initiative process like every other Washingtonian.

Paying signature gatherers is legal and protected by the First Amendment. If the right of free speech allows people to hire professionals such as lobbyists to push their cause and those running for office to hire people to manage their campaigns, then hiring signature gatherers is clearly an extension of protected political speech.

Lawmakers are wrong for trying to make it more difficult to get an initiative on the ballot and silence critics of state government such as Eyman.

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