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Initiative to repeal natural gas phase-out bill could soon get the green light

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(The Center Square) – The court challenge to the ballot title for an initiative to repeal a natural gas phase-out could wrap up Wednesday afternoon.

That means signature gatherers for Initiative 2066 could be out by this weekend.

A judge in Thurston County Superior Court will hear arguments over the initiative’s language, and a backer tells The Center Square he expects a decision just after the hearing.

Washington Environmental Council, Pacifica Law Group, and other familiar names from the left are using this to delay the process because we can’t gather any signatures until the matter of the title is worked through,” explained Washington State Republican Party Chair Jim Walsh, who also serves in the state House of Representatives.

The organizations are contesting the wording of the ballot title and description as not clear and informative.

“These are really silly challenges that, in my mind, are designed to burn time; they’re really not substantive challenges,” Walsh said. “It’s just designed to delay everything by a few weeks.”

Supporters of I-2066 hope to halt controversial House Bill 1589, passed by the Legislature this session, to allow Puget Sound Energy to start planning how to move away from natural gas.

The ballot title and description were written by the state Attorney General’s Office. As originally drafted, the title read, “Concerns natural gas regulations.”

Opponents have asked Thurston County Superior Court Judge Allyson Zipp for significant revisions.

“These reviews are not appealable, meaning the trial court hearing the challenge has unusual complete control over the matter,” Walsh said. “It’s a hearing and the judge has great discretion and could decide to totally rewrite the title.”

He urged Zipp to make a speedy ruling.

“Just give us a quick solution,” Walsh said. “Let’s resolve it now and let the people decide.”

If the ballot title is cleared Wednesday afternoon to proceed, Walsh said I-2066 proponents will be ready to start printing signature petitions almost immediately.

“We’ve only got until July 5th,” he said, referring to the deadline for submitting the signatures of at least 324,516 registered voters.

“It’s not unprecedented, as we’ve done it before and this timeline could work but it’s going to be super tight,” Walsh said.

Three Republican-backed initiatives are already on the ballot to be deiced by voters this November: easing restrictions on police vehicle pursuits, prohibiting income taxes, and establishing a “bill of rights” for parents of K-12 students.

The hearing on I-2066 is set for 3 p.m.

This is a developing story.