I-713 -- Lawmakers need to fix bad initiative

Dec 2 2002 12:00AM

By the Editorial Board of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

I-713 is a bad law. It takes away options for the state and private citizens to control dangerous wildlife.

Generally, the will of the voters should be treated as sacrosanct.

But there are rare times when a voter-approved initiative is so problematic that the Legislature has to step in and fix problems. That's exactly why the state constitution gives lawmakers the power to tinker.

Unfortunately, lawmakers are afraid to use their power even when a voter-approved initiative is clearly flawed. Initiative 713 stands as an example. The law bans the trapping of animals with steel-jawed traps and the use of some poisons. It's made it difficult to stop wildlife from encroaching on human habitat.

Lawmakers - many conceding there are serious problems with I-713 - have failed to take action the past two years.

As a result, the problems have grown worse.

Citizens are rising up to take action. A lawsuit has been filed challenging I-713 on constitutional grounds. Those filing suit contend I-713 covers multiple topics, which is not allowable under Washington's constitution.

The State Attorney General's Office, which has a constitutional obligation to defend the initiative, contends there is ``rational unity'' in the various subjects covered in the initiative.

Who cares?

It's a bad law. That should be the focus of the debate.

It really shouldn't make any difference how the state court rules because the Legislature, if it had a backbone, would step in and repeal or, at the least, tweak I-713.

In the first two years after an initiative is adopted it takes a two-thirds majority of each house of the Legislature to change an initiative. The two years are up. A simple majority is now enough to fix I-713.

I-713 takes away options for the state and private citizens to control dangerous wildlife.

The initiative was sold to the voters on pure emotion. After all, nobody wants to see cute, cuddly animals hurt with steel-jawed traps.

But what wasn't mentioned to voters by advocates of I-713 was that many of the animals protected from trapping are too mean to be cuddled and pose a danger to livestock and humans. Traps are a necessary tool to deal with predatory animals.

Since I-713 went into effect there has been a dramatic increase in wildlife complaints. Ranchers losing their livestock to coyotes are frustrated and so are homeowners who are having trouble stopping moles ruining their yards.

Ironically, backers of I-713 assured voters that mole trapping wasn't going to be banned. But the Attorney General's Office, after a legal review, concluded moles were protected whether in lawns, parks or golf courses.

Given there was an understanding yard pests would not become a de facto protected species, that's the place lawmakers should start fixing the law.

After that, the concern about predators threatening livestock and people must be addressed.

Legislators need to fix - or repeal - this broken law.


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