In the Loop: Spokane’s Proposition 1 merits scrutiny

by Max Nelsen

As members and residents of the Spokane community, it is important for Whitworth students to be active in and informed about issues facing Spokane. Local elections, coming up in November, highlight some of these issues. One initiative on the ballot is generating particular controversy. Since it has the potential to result in major changes, this board would like to provide some background and information to help interested Whitworthians stay informed.

The initiative, Proposition 1, has been described as a “community bill of rights” for Spokane. A similar initiative, Proposition 4, was on the ballot in 2009. In that election, it was rejected by 75 percent of Spokane voters.

Sponsored by Envision Spokane, a group of self-described “neighborhood advocates, labor union locals and community activists,” Proposition 1 is a more streamlined version of Proposition 4. It consists of four main provisions.

First, Proposition 1 would give rights to neighborhoods to determine their own development. If passed, neighborhood majorities would be able to reject major zoning changes or significant development in their communities. This would constitute a shift in authority from Spokane’s elected city council to neighborhood groups.

Second, “inalienable rights to exist and flourish” would be given to the Spokane River, its tributaries and the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer. These rights could be enforced by any citizen. This could entail lawsuits in which a single citizen sues another citizen or business for conduct that they deem threatening to the river or aquifer.

Thirdly, the initiative would extend “United States and Washington Bill of Rights’ constitutional protections in the workplace.” While most Constitutional rights are not violated in workplace situations, Envision Spokane argues that this would expand free speech for workers. Also, Envision Spokane contends that this would help eliminate certain “mandatory meetings in the workplace.” The Constitutional right violated by such meetings is not listed.

Lastly, corporations would be stripped of any “legal rights, privileges, powers, or protections which would interfere” with the rest of Proposition 1. However, implementation could be difficult  due to conflicting state law. The Revised Code of Washington 23B.03.020 provides that “Every corporation has the same powers as an individual to do all things necessary or convenient to carry out its business and affairs.” These include, but aren’t limited to, the ability to take legal action, purchase or sell property, make contracts and loan money.

The text of the proposition does not specify how the measures would be funded or enforced.

Supporters say that Proposition 1 is needed for “a sustainable, democratic, and healthy Spokane.” Opponents, including Chris Cargill of the Washington Policy Center, counter that it will “curtail the rights of residents doing businesses in the city of Spokane, harm the economic climate, encourage businesses to move out of Spokane and force taxpayers to pay for a flurry of lawsuits.”

Even if Proposition 1 passes, however, it may face legal challenges. Cargill said, “The ballot measure contains more than one subject and may be struck down as unconstitutional by state courts. “Washington state’s constitution says that “no bill shall embrace more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title.” This provision also applies to ballot measures, which are treated as bills under state law.” Obviously, with four distinct provisions, Proposition 1 could be vulnerable to legal objections.

Regardless, Proposition 1 would involve significant changes for the community and should receive careful consideration from Spokane voters.

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