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Petition gatherer bills clear first hurdles

By Mark Johnson, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs

Two important bills related to registering paid petition signature gatherers with the Public Disclosure Commission have passed reviews by committees of the state Legislature.

House Bill 1537, prime sponsored by Representative Larry Haler (R-Richland) and Senate Bill 5397, prime sponsored by Senator Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake), have passed out of their committees of origin and now head to the Rules Committee for consideration.

HB 1537 and SB 5397 would require paid petition gathering firms, not individuals, to register with the Public Disclosure Commission before they start collecting signatures on behalf of an initiative or other ballot measure.  The problem retailers and other businesses are having is that some petition seekers have been aggressive, rude and ill-behaved with retail customers.

The problem is rarely with a volunteer gatherer but rather with petitioners to come here from out-of-state to be paid based on the number of signatures they can collect. I have learned that pay can be as high as $5 per signature. These individuals purport that it is their first amendment right to be in front of our stores while blocking customers from entering and exiting and harassing them when the customer declines to sign.  They fail to respect retailers’ equally important private property rights and their responsibility to provide a safe and inviting shopping experience.

Our members want to be able to report poor behavior to the proper authorities and get action.  It is hard to take action when you don’t know who is in front of your store and for whom they are working. The bills also require training on the laws and proper etiquette when collecting signatures.

HB 1537 and SB 5397 are long overdue.  The legislature should act swiftly to pass both measures and send them to the Governor for his approval.

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