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Bainbridge change of government bill sets course through legislature

A bill that would allow a Bainbridge change-of-government vote to take place on a special or primary election has started making its way through the State Legislature.

Bainbridge's Rep. Christine Rolfes and Sen. Phil Rockefeller co-sponsored the bill, which was pre-filed in both the House and Senate on Jan. 5.

The issue is being heard in a House committee tomorrow.

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.

Bainbridge council members involved in placing the issue on the ballot and citizens who have promoted the change-of-government vote will be in Olympia tomorrow to voice their support of the bill.

"We've gotten good feedback from (Rolfes and Rockefeller)...this thing could sail right through," council member Bill Knobloch said.

Under current state law, change-of-government votes can only be held during November general elections, which can coincide with mayoral elections. If the bill passes, the 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 after the governor's signature, 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".

The Local Government and Housing Committee will have the final say if the bill goes to the House with its emergency clause intact.

"This committee will make the decision whether this bill takes the fast track or the slow track," council member Debbie Vancil said.

Vancil, along with Knobloch and citizens Dennis Vogt and Andy Maron, are expected to make testimony at Thursday's hearing to press for the bill to go to the House as is.

It was previously thought that an emergency clause would unlikely pass Olympia lawmakers since the use of emergency legislation has been significantly curbed in recent years. However, in a letter to council members, Rolfes said the bill shouldn't face much opposition in the House despite its emergency status.

"This shouldn’t be a controversial bill," she said. "It’s a simple bill and good public policy."

Rep. Jan Angel (26th District), the ranking Republican on the Local Government and Housing Committee, agreed with Rolfes.

"I spoke to Rep. Rolfes yesterday and I am aware of the house bill," Angel said. "It's the No. 1 public hearing on our agenda. It sounds like the people of Bainbridge deserve the opportunity to choose their form of government, and I will certainly help them to do that."

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 Legislature convened for a 105-day session on Jan. 12.

The bill's language can be read at: www.leg.wa.gov . Search for HB 1066.

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