I’m voting no on Initiative 517 and Initiative 522

Many have asked me lately what I think of the two initiatives on this year’s ballot. After evaluating both proposals, I am urging a no vote on both of them.

Initiative 522
I-522 sounds simple: require foods that contain genetically modified ingredients (for instance, cereal with genetically modified corn) to have a label that indicates that. Many proponents of this initiative are well-meaning, and their rationale sounds reasonable – after all, who could be against more info!

The real aim, however, is to scare consumers away from perfectly safe foods. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that genetically modified foods are just as nutritious and safe for us as non-GMO foods. This initiative is full of confusing, unfair loopholes and exceptions, will require onerous rules on Washington farmers, and allows lawsuits against anyone in the production chain.

The Washington State Academy of Sciences conducted a study at the request of a bipartisan group of legislators. They concluded that I-522 will raise the price of your family’s groceries. Given that those concerned about GMOs can already buy organic-labeled products, it does not make sense to pass this expensive, confusing law that will hurt our farmers.

Initiative 517
I-517, the “initiative on initiatives,” would lengthen the amount of time initiative organizers have to gather signatures and require access to public buildings and certain pieces of private property for signature gatherers to solicit signatures.

The initiative and referendum system is one of our most important democratic tools and the right of the people to petition their government should be robustly protected. While I-517 has some positive aspects, it goes too far and its impositions on private property owners will likely be struck down by the courts.

Former State Auditor Brian Sonntag, former Secretary of State Sam Reed, and I all oppose I-517. From the Columbian’s editorial:

I-517 would expand the locations where signature gatherers could operate, including inside public spaces such as sports venues, convention centers or libraries. The last thing sports fans or concertgoers want at an event is to be bothered by a signature gatherer who is being paid by an initiative’s sponsor based upon how many names they add to their list.

In addition, the initiative says that signature gatherers are not to be “inhibited or restricted in any way” on “all sidewalks and walkways that carry pedestrian traffic, including those in front of the entrances and exits of any stores.” This would restrict the property rights of business owners, preventing them from placing reasonable limitations upon gatherers on their property.

I-522 editorials

I-517 editorials

— Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.