Edi­tor’s Note: The fol­low­ing are the remarks I pre­pared as the basis for my spo­ken tes­ti­mo­ny in favor of SB 5375. This bill was sup­posed to be heard by the Sen­ate Gov­ern­ment Oper­a­tions and Secu­ri­ty Com­mit­tee today. I nev­er got a chance to tes­ti­fy in favor of SB 5375 because com­mit­tee chair Pam Roach refused to allow me and oth­ers (includ­ing a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the Sec­re­tary of State’s office) to speak. Read more about how the hear­ing turned into The Pam Roach Show

Good morn­ing, Madam Chair and mem­bers of the committee:

For the record, my name is Andrew Vil­leneuve.  I am the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, based out of Red­mond. I’m pleased to be here today on behalf of our team to express our strong sup­port for Sen­ate Bill 5375. We’d like to offer our pro­found thanks to Marko Liias for spon­sor­ing it.

We believe this bill does two very impor­tant things: it pro­tects work­ers who gath­er sig­na­tures on peti­tions from unscrupu­lous employ­ers look­ing to exploit their labor, and it pro­tects the pub­lic by deter­ring sig­na­ture fraud and harass­ment of cit­i­zens by untrained work­ers, which are grow­ing, doc­u­ment­ed problems.

If this bill were an attack on the peo­ple’s right to make laws, as has been argued here this morn­ing, we would not be sup­port­ing it.

The ini­tia­tive, ref­er­en­dum, and recall are use­ful tools for bypass­ing a grid­locked Leg­is­la­ture, and they have been used for that pur­pose many times, such as when the vot­ers cre­at­ed the Pub­lic Dis­clo­sure Com­mis­sion in the 1970s.

We want to see the ini­tia­tive process strength­ened and returned to the peo­ple. It belongs to the cit­i­zens of Wash­ing­ton, not to out of state corporations.

Data com­piled by the Sec­re­tary of State’s office shows that we have a grow­ing sig­na­ture fraud prob­lem. Large batch­es of fraud­u­lent sig­na­tures have been dis­cov­ered on peti­tions year after year.

On August 16th, 2013, the Everett Her­ald ran a sto­ry on our grow­ing sig­na­ture fraud prob­lem. The Her­ald’s Eric Ste­vick report­ed:

Get­ting to the truth has been elusive.

Bob Calkins, a spokesman for the Wash­ing­ton State Patrol, said some inves­ti­ga­tions have run into dead-ends.

“Not only were the sig­na­tures fraud­u­lent, but the iden­ti­fy­ing infor­ma­tion about the sig­na­ture gath­er­er was fraud­u­lent and we were nev­er able to run that down to an indi­vid­ual per­son,” he said. “So those oth­er cas­es we were unable to take for­ward for prosecution.”

Over the past few months, our team has had sev­er­al con­ver­sa­tions with the Ore­gon Sec­re­tary of State’s office, which imple­ment­ed major reforms to their ini­tia­tive process sev­er­al years ago. Ore­gon now requires paid peti­tion­ers to reg­is­ter and pass a back­ground check. They also adopt­ed a law to stop the abu­sive prac­tice of bal­lot title shop­ping… repeat­ed­ly fil­ing mul­ti­ple iter­a­tions of a mea­sure in attempt to get a good bal­lot title. These reforms have been very successful.

In fact, the Ore­gon Sec­re­tary of State’s office tells us that over the course of the last two cycles they’ve actu­al­ly had an uptick in the num­ber of grass­roots style petitions.

There was, of course, some grum­bling when Ore­gon put its new laws into effect, but that’s since dis­si­pat­ed. The free­dom to peti­tion remains alive and well in the Beaver State today. The pub­lic can have more con­fi­dence in Ore­gon’s process.

Wash­ing­ton has a strong tra­di­tion of open, trans­par­ent gov­ern­ment. It’s why we require pro­fes­sion­al lob­by­ists to reg­is­ter with the state and dis­close their deal­ings with law­mak­ers. Peo­ple who are being paid to lob­by Wash­ing­to­ni­ans in their capac­i­ties as cit­i­zen law­mak­ers should like­wise be required to reg­is­ter with the state. To pro­tect the right to freely and anony­mous­ly peti­tion, this bill exempts peti­tion­ers’ per­son­al infor­ma­tion, includ­ing con­tact infor­ma­tion, from pub­lic dis­clo­sure. It strikes the right bal­ance between trans­paren­cy and privacy.

Ore­gon’s expe­ri­ence shows us that sub­ject­ing the paid sig­na­ture gath­er­ing indus­try to over­sight and account­abil­i­ty results in a stronger ini­tia­tive process with more grass­roots activ­i­ty. That’s exact­ly what we need here in Wash­ing­ton. This thought­ful­ly craft­ed bill is ready to become part of the Revised Code of Wash­ing­ton. We urge you to pass it out of com­mit­tee with a “do pass” recommendation.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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