Today’s hearing on Senate Bill 690, Senator Jeff Wentworth’s “Anti-Petition” bill, was a display of the Real Estate Council of Austin’s unbelievable temerity in stepping out in front of the train that’s been long overdue–that’s the citizen participation train. This is not a time to be trying to circumvent or stifle voter participation. This is what SB 690 is really about, though RECA’s new President, Craig Douglas, today tried to stress that RECA was all for the process of citizen initiatives. They were just so very concerned that there were “too many” citizen charter amendments coming up for a vote in Austin, this was “costing the City” too much money, and besides, they argued, these pesky petitions don’t really have much support anyway.
The only problem is that since 1997, there’s only been five citizens charter amendments on the ballot in Austin, and only two initiatives since 1992 (Save Our Springs and the recent anti-smoking ordinance). Since then petitioning access at local stores has been severely curtailed. The recent Prop 2 charter amendment (Stop Domain Subsidies) had widespread support, came in at 48% and even after it failed it led to some changes at City Hall (though much more is certainly needed).
Senator Wentworth was seemingly caught off guard when Brian Rodgers blew through RECA’s claim that charter amendments are costing the city money. Amendments are placed on the ballot only during regular elections and if there’s no city election happening, the City simply shares the cost with the County — so there’s no additional costs to the taxpayers!
Did RECA write the bill and the bill analysis for Wentworth? This was real tacky.
You democracy junkies might get some entertainment watching the actual testimony here (go to Intergovernmental Relations Committee, Part II, 56 minutes 12 seconds in to the tape). You’ll see a number of Wentworth’s fellow Republicans like Roger Borgelt, Green Party parttime lobbyist Bill Stout, and a gal who came in from Bryan, Texas, to beg Wentworth not to make this more difficult for citizen activists there and in 345 other Home Rule cities.
Special thanks to attorney Michael Miller who spent a full day of volunteering to research the legislative history of charter amendment petitioning. It was great to know that the legislature UNANIMOUSLY passed the 5%/20,000 signature cap requirement in 1973 because the 10% rule was too difficult for citizens groups.
My personal favorite was the testimony of Mike Ford of InitiativeforTexas.org, who urged for a reality check on RECA who was simply trying to make sure they have access to hundreds of millions of dollars in special interest subsidies! At 77, Mike not only looks great, he is great — a great defender of the people’s constitutional right to petition government for redress of grievances.
We will keep you informed as to what happens with SB 690, since it is now in the “pending” file. Is it dead? We have no idea. But we know some in the Senate are listening to us, but not yet Senator Wentworth. You might give him a call at 512-463-0125.