Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Initiative 933 ballot title challenge delayed

Yesterday the Seattle Times reported on the legal "war of words" over the ballot title of Initiative 933. The ballot title of an initiative is the text which describes the measure on the ballot. It's what voters see when they go to the polls or when they take out their absentee ballot.

The Times explains how this "clone" of Oregon's disastrous Measure 37 would work pretty well:
Initiative 933, filed last month by the Washington State Farm Bureau, would give state and local governments a choice: in most instances, either pay landowners the difference when land-use regulations lower property values — or waive those rules. Property owners would be entitled to exemptions or compensation for restrictions imposed as long ago as 1996.
The two versions of the initiative are as follows. The first version, which was supposedly drafted by James Pharris in the Attorney General's office, is basically a gift to the Farm Bureau (the initiative's sponsor). Pharris will deny it, but it seems he relied on their focus group and polling data to give them a favorable ballot title. It reads as follows:
"This measure would require compensation when any government regulation damages the use or value of private property, forbid regulations that prohibit existing legal uses of private property, and provide for exceptions and conditions."
The key word in that paragraph is "damage". Why is "damage" a key word? Because according to the Farm Bureau, it polls well. This is the loaded question that the Farm Bureau asked respondents of its poll last fall while it was working on putting I-933 together:
“If there were an initiative on the ballot that would require state or local government to pay a property owner if a government action damaged the value or use of their property, would you vote yes to support the initiative or no to oppose the initiative.”
About 80% of respondents to the poll apparently said they would support such an initiative.

Opponents of Initiative 933 have filed a ballot title challenge - basically, contesting the language the Attorney General has proposed in court. Ballot title challenges are heard in Thurston County Superior Court. There is no appeal of the judge's decision. Here is the language opponents have proposed:
"This measure would require government studies before adopting restrictions on property use, exempt or pay property owners who object to certain zoning, environmental and other laws, and prevent regulations prohibiting previously-existing uses."
The case was supposed to be heard yesterday before Thurston County Judge Chris Wickham, but NPI has learned that the judge ended up putting it on hold. The judge reportedly recused himself because he is a member of one of the groups that filed the ballot title challenge - the Audobon Society.

The Farm Bureau apparently did not mind this and was willing to have Wickham hear the case, but the judge decided he would recuse himself anyway. The case will be delayed for another week and another judge will be appointed to hear it. We'll see what happens next week.

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