The Senate yesterday passed an amended version of House Bill 1094, the latest monkey wrench Republicans want to throw in to the initiative and referendum process to prevent citizens from checking the Legislature’s bad policies.
Senator Lee Schoenbeck made one amendment on the floor, putting the petition circulator registry behind a paywall. That’s a disturbing precedent for public records: given the faulty analogy HB 1094 supporters make to the paid-lobbyist registry, we must worry that next the state will hide the names and employers of lobbyists behind a paywall, making the smoke-filled rooms in the Capitol even smokier.
But the main point is that the state should not be requiring volunteer petitioners to register their names in the first place. The circulator registry is prior restraint: HB 1094 says I can’t grab an approved petition and collect signatures from my neighbors until the Secretary of State gives me permission and delivers my official badge.
HB 1094 also retains the problematic language that includes among “circulators” who must register and wear badges anyone who “solicits petition signatures from members of the public for the purpose of placing ballot measures on any statewide election ballot.” As I pointed out last month, that definition would include you when you sign a petition and then call to your buddies across the street to come sign. It would include folks who write letters to the editor urging citizens to support my People Power Petition or any other petition that hits the streets this year. If we encourage people to sign a ballot question petition and we’re not wearing the HB 1094 badge, we commit a Class 2 misdemeanor.
HB 1094 thus criminalizes free speech… but only for people who support ballot measures. The GOP spin blogger can discourage people from signing initiative and referendum petitions all he wants. The Koch Brothers can hire people to jam circulators of Medicaid-expansion petitions or other measures they don’t like. HB 1094 uniquely discriminates against people who support ballot measures, subjecting them to criminal penalty, while leaving their opponents’ free speech unhindered.
HB 1094 has the state cruising for another First Amendment lawsuit. It barely passed the Senate, 19–13. Let’s hope that, after conference committee, a couple more Senators see the light, flip, and kill this unnecessary and discriminatory legislation.