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Politicians NationwideTrying to Turn Back Direct Citizen

by: Beau Treadwell---Undergraduate student in Journalism who's doing this for two(2) Independent Study credits

According to Dane Waters, President of the Initiative and Referendum Institute (IRI) in Washington, D.C., legislators nation-wide are trying to tighten the regulations making it more difficult for citizen sponsored bills to be go to the ballot. They argue that the restrictions make it too easy for citizens to abuse the process and take out their frustrations on government.

Supporters of the I&R process claim that it's the elitists who are just feeling their power threatened.

Currently, there are many states in which bills are being proposed by legislators to further restrict the initiative process.

In Washington State there are five bills pending. All but one are imposing more restrictions on the I&R process.

Some of these, for example, are requiring that no more than 1/6 of the signatures come from anyone of the nine congressional districts and to create an initiative review commission to check the constitutionality of proposed bills and to inform voters of their findings in the voter's pamphlet.

The one Washington State bill in favor of the I&R process would prohibit legislators from acting on legislation relating to anything having to do with a defeated initiative for at least two years unless of the legislators agree.

In Maine, it's a similar story. There at least four bills currently pending to weaken the citizen's power.

Two bills are raising the required

number of signatures from 10% to15% of voters who voted in last gubernatorial election, and requiring signatures from all 16 counties.

The other two would prohibit failed referendums from resurfacing for at least six years, and force signature collectors to say whether or not they're being paid.

This movement to impede direct democracy is not going unnoticed and a few people are beginning to organize in order to think about how to counteract it.

For example, at the national level, a number of judges, legal experts, and political scientists who support I+R will be meeting at Santa Clara University on March 23, 2001 for a Symposium to discuss the California initiative process.

Topics of discussion include how it's implemented, and possibilities for reform.

On a local level, a conservative christian group called Take-Back Miami in Dade County, FL, have recently issued signatures in order to overturn a previous law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.  They needed 35,000 signatures or 4% of  the voter turnout. 

Although the signatures have been collected, they still have to be verified.  If it were accepted it would not be voted on until 2002 when the next county-wide election is held.

The Dade County commissioner, when asked, felt that an overturning of the law is unlikely.

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