August 14, 2015 – Inlander – Jake Thomas
Envision Spokane’s Worker Bill of Rights campaign was handed a victory by Spokane Superior Court Judge Salvatore Cozza, who denied an attempt by Mayor David Condon to keep the the sweeping measure off the November ballot. However, Envision Spokane, operating under an offshoot Envision Worker Rights, could still see its ballot measure blocked.
Last week, the city of Spokane filed a lawsuit challenging the Worker Bill of Rights initiative, which had qualified for the November ballot, arguing that the measure, which would grant sweeping protections to workers, was unconstitutional and would harm the municipal government. Specifically, the lawsuit argued that a provision seeking to subordinate corporate rights to the people’s was so legally flawed that it should keep the entire measure off the ballot.
Michael Ryan, an attorney representing the city, told the judge that the lawsuit was not entered into lightly before citing a city legal opinion issued last spring that questioned the legal viability of the initiative.
“The city is here to protect the integrity of its initiative process and to prevent voter confusion,” he told the judge. “When an invalid initiative appears on the ballot, the entire initiative process is harmed.”
Ryan went on to argue that the Worker Bill of Rights would unconstitutionally deny corporations access to the courts and that the measure was outside the scope of the initiative process.
Lindsey Schromen-Wawrim, the attorney for Envision, responded that Spokane City Council needed to first sign off on Condon’s legal challenge, and that the mayor lacked legal standing in the case. He also argued that initiative could only be kept off the ballot under very limited circumstances.
“The conclusion of this court is that the mayor does have standing to bring this challenge, but that being said, the principle of judicial restraint in this matter strongly persuades this court that this court should not enjoin this challenge at this time,” said Cozza, who ruled that the initiative will stay on the ballot after hearing arguments.
Ryan noted that he would seek a declaratory judgement, a much broader challenge, against the initiative before the ballots were sent to be printed on September 3. But Kai Huschke, Envision campaign coordinator, said after the hearing that he was confident that Cozza wouldn’t rule against the initiative shortly after ruling in its favor.
“We are very happy for the voters of Spokane who will get their right to vote in November,” said Brad Read, campaign manager for Envision Worker Rights, in a statement issued shortly after the ruling. ”Corporate lobbyist groups like the Downtown Spokane Partnership and the Spokane Homebuilders are like the aristocracy in Downton Abbey who ring the bell expecting to be served by the system. At least in this case entitled nobility and privilege had to bow to the people.”
Condon also issued a statement: “Asking a judge for clarity on the hearing examiner’s opinion was an action the City did not take lightly. We weighed the hearing examiner’s opinion and decided it was a necessary protection of the citizen initiative process as outlined by City ordinance. The ordinance, which the Council President and I championed and the majority of the City Council supported, requires the hearing examiner to provide voters guidance as to the legal validity of a proposed ordinance. The hearing examiner’s opinion identified legal flaws that we determined were best evaluated by a judge because placing a legally flawed measure on the ballot leaves taxpayers vulnerable to costly litigation that arises out of enforcing an invalid initiative.”
However, this might not be the end to the legal challenge. City spokesperson Brian Coddington, when asked if the city would appeal, replied: “Still to be determined. The ruling just came today. City legal will take a look at it and evaluate the judge’s decision.”