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Clock running on gathering signatures for three new initiatives to people of Washington

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(The Center Square) – Backers of three new initiatives to the people of Washington state have around 11 weeks to gather signatures, if they hope to qualify for the November ballot.

“It’s a heavy lift,” said Washington State Republican Party Chair Jim Walsh, who is also a state representative from Aberdeen. “I went around the state holding town halls, and these are the three main things people frankly ranted about.”

The new initiatives would repeal House Bill 1589 that phases out natural gas, eliminate sanctuary state polices that prevent local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration agencies, and put an end to squatters’ rights.

Repealing House Bill 1589

“The main one, the biggest one by a long stretch, is this issue of banning or beginning the process of banning natural gas as an energy source,” Walsh said.

The governor reportedly had to lean on members of his own party to find enough votes to get the controversial measure passed.

“Inslee used what little bit of fleeting capital he has left to push HB 1589, when even his own party didn’t want to support it,” Walsh said.

He noted HB 1589 doesn’t ban natural gas per se, “but it begins the process that would move us to eventually ban natural gas.”

The new law, he said, is concerning for the general public.

“Of most concern for working families now is it puts in place a series of mechanisms that allow utilities, namely Puget Sound Energy, to raise rates both for natural gas service and for electricity, basically to fund the destruction of existing capital assets that are involved in the supply of natural gas,” Walsh said.

That means, according to Walsh, PSE will have to write down its assets, including the pipeline system, the hardware and the trucks that deliver natural gas.

“It creates a paper hardship for PSE,” he said. “Then they use that loss as justification for raising all rates, not just natural gas, but all of it.”

PSE and supporters of the measure argue the Utilities and Transportation Commission is nonpartisan and designed to look out for the public when it comes to rates.

Walsh isn’t buying that.

“The UTC is, frankly, instructed by the bill to rubber stamp what the utility would say,” he contended.

Rolling back Washington’s sanctuary state status

“People are frustrated by Washington’s so-called sanctuary state and policies, and they want those basically overturned or undone,” Walsh told The Center Square.

Walsh went on to explain, “Sanctuary state policies are primarily a series of executive orders that the outgoing governor, Jay Inslee, has made.”

That’s not to say there is no mention in state statutes concerning sanctuary policies, “but mostly it’s been these executive orders,” according Walsh.

In 2019, Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law a bill that restricts state and local authorities from asking about people’s immigration status.

Sanctuary-state opponents argue the policy has allowed wanted felons to escape justice and led to community harm.

Doing away with squatters’ rights in Washington

“Another issue people said they care a lot about is this matter of squatters’ rights, with a couple of high-profile stories and cases in the Puget Sound that have really brought this issue to point,” Walsh noted.

In Bellevue, Sang Kim, who along with his family, moved into a $2 million home owned by Jaskaran Singh Sarao in early 2022. Kim put a stated income on the rental application of $400,000 and then, after paying the first month, stopped paying.

“The idea that someone can illegally occupy another person’s property or legally rent it, but then violate the lease and continue to live there, just rubs people as wrong,” Walsh said.

Supporters have less than three months to gather about 324,500 valid signatures to get each initiative on the ballot. The signatures are due by 5 p.m. on July 5.

“Time is so tight here and we may not be able to do all of them, so we’re trying to use our experience with the six from last year and figure out what the best approach is,” Walsh said, referencing three of six conservative-backed ballot initiatives passed and adopted by the state Legislature. The fate of the three remaining initiatives will be decided by voters this November.

The Center Square reached out to the Washington State Democratic Party for comment on the three new proposed initiatives.

“It’s clear that the Washington GOP has given up on recruiting candidates who can inspire voters and win elections so they are instead focusing their turnout operation on putting forward divisive initiatives that will take our state backwards,” Shasti Conrad, party chair, said in an email. “These new initiatives are transparent ploys to muddy the waters and hide from the GOP’s shameful record on the environment, human rights, and keeping our communities safe. We know the GOP wants dirty air, dirty water, and doesn’t view undocumented people as human beings with needs and rights. We won’t stand for it and we don’t think Washingtonians will either.”