Emergency clause included in prefiled bill allowing for an early change-of-government vote

A bill that would allow a Bainbridge change-of-government vote to take place on a special election ballot was pre-filed Jan. 5 by Bainbridge's Rep. Christine Rolfes and Sen. Phil Rockefeller. The bill was filed in both the House and Senate, Rolfes said.

It is the first state legislative step taken on the issue, which could pave the way for a referendum on Bainbridge's form of government in May or August 2009.

Under current state law, change-of-government votes can only be held during November general elections. If passed, the newly filed legislation would change state law to allow change-of-government votes to be held during special, primary or general elections.

According to the language of the bill, which amends RCW 35A.06.050, a vote on change of government could take place "at a special election held prior to the next general election in accordance with the resolution of the legislative body" - that legislative body would be the city council.

Once the council votes on the measure, the city attorney would have to write up the language that would appear on an island-wide ballot.

Also included in the bill is an emergency clause, which allows the legislation to go into effect immediately, suspending the 90-day wait-period that applies to most approved state legislation.

The emergency clause reads, "This act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety, or support of the state government and its existing public institutions, and takes effect immediately".

It was previously thought that an emergency clause would unlikely pass in Olympia since the use of emergency legislation has been significantly curbed in recent years. There was also some speculation by Rolfes and Rockefeller that other members of the House and Senate would balk at describing Bainbridge's change-of-government vote as an "emergency".

Rolfes and Rockefeller were then criticized by some Bainbridge citizens for being pessimistic regarding the chances of a law change at the state level.

"I think perhaps our concerns have been misread as a lack of interest," Rockefeller said. "But I think it's important that we don't promise anything we can't deliver on."

The Bainbridge City Council planned to lobby for a tweak in state law to avoid having a change of government vote coincide with a mayoral vote in November 2009. The council decided to press forward with a May 2009 special election on the issue, contravening state law.

If the proposed bill passes with its emergency clause intact, that could pave the way for a May 19 election.

On Bainbridge, there has been some speculation that if the bill is passed without it's emergency clause, the issue could turn up on an August 2009 primary election ballot.

The August election would significantly reduce the cost of putting the change-of-government measure on a special election ballot.

The Kitsap Auditor's office had opined that a special election (in May) could cost the city up to $70,000. Including the measure on the August primary ballot will run as low as $5,000, Kitsap Auditor representatives said.

"It all seems much more achievable and less costly for tax payers and it gets the issue resolved before the mayoral campaign season gears up," council member Barry Peters said of a potential August election.

The change of government initiative has been taken up by the city council after a citizen's petition for a change of government was certified by the Kitsap County Auditor in October 2008.

In the council/manager system, a professional administrator hired by the council would replace the mayor. The council/manager and the current mayor/council system are both approved forms of government under Washington State law.

The state legislature will convene for a 105-day session on Jan. 12.

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