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Voter Initiative Appealed to Washington Supreme Court
Sponsor of Longview anti-photo ticketing referendum appeals to Washington Supreme Court.

Richard M. Stephens
The private citizens in Longview, Washington who forced a vote on photo enforcement want the ballots that were cast last November to count. Although 59 percent approved an outright ban on automated ticketing machines, lower court rulings stripped the initiative of its force of law, leaving only one provision creating an advisory vote. On Monday, initiative sponsor Mike Wallin presented his case in a brief to the state supreme court.

Wallin's attorney, Richard M. Stephens, reminded the high court that the state constitution provides a great deal of deference to the referendum power. As the court has interpreted in the past, initiatives are to be "liberally construed" while avoiding "a hyper technical construction which deprives them of effect." Longview and its automated ticketing vendor, American Traffic Solutions (ATS), have argued state law gives the "appropriate legislative authority" or the city council enact a photo ticketing ordinance, and the state appeals court believed this meant the public could not overturn the city council's decision. Stephens insisted that reading stretches the law.

"The statute describes the basic minimum requirements for establishing automated traffic cameras," the initiative sponsor's attorney wrote. "However, the statute is silent on how a decision to stop using these cameras must be made. There is no legislative restriction on how discontinuation of traffic cameras must be implemented, namely, no reference to adopting an ordinance or otherwise. Additionally, doubts about the scope of the initiative power must be resolved in favor of allowing the citizens to initiate the legislation."

Longview also argued that it filed suit against Wallin before his initiative was certified because it would, if passed, have impaired its contract with ATS. Longview had no choice but to act quickly because of the cost involved in setting up an election.

"The city argues that it had standing, so long as the court looks at events two steps into the future, not at the time it filed suit," Stephens wrote. "The timing is crucial, as the city is well aware.... Additionally, the city's claim of additional financial burden begs the question: How much extra cost warrants a burden sufficient to justify judicial intervention in the initiative process before the election? Is it the extra cost of ink for inserting another paragraph of text? Or is it the few additional minutes it takes to tabulate the results?"

Stephens also argued that Wallin was entitled to a judgment under the state's anti-SLAPP law which seeks to discourage "strategic lawsuits against public participation." Longview's suit intentionally sought to prevent the public from having input on the question of cameras.

"By seeking declaratory relief before the signature gathering phase of the initiative was completed, the city adversely affected Wallin's efforts to obtain the requested signatures needed to place an initiative on the ballot in the next general election," Stephens wrote.

The Washington Supreme Court has been considering the issue of referendum votes against speed cameras and red light cameras since May 2011.

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