I-933 applies to personal property
Seattle Times staff reporter
Little-known fact: Initiative 933, the ballot measure that would require governments to compensate property owners for many regulations that reduce property values, would apply to personal property as well as real estate.
That means animals, cars, boats, businesses, stocks, bonds, trademarks and copyrights.
A prominent Seattle attorney issued a report Wednesday warning that that provision of I-933 could undermine state and local rules regulating everything from food safety and auto emissions to professional qualifications for doctors and accountants.
Hugh Spitzer, a partner in a large Seattle law firm who also teaches law at the University of Washington, said much of the impact would depend on how courts interpret the initiative if it passes next month.
"There would be years of litigation over what it means," he said.
The initiative's backers say Spitzer's fears are overblown. While I-933 would indeed extend to personal property, the kinds of regulations Spitzer cites would be exempt, said Dan Wood, government-relations director for the Washington State Farm Bureau.
"This initiative wasn't written to apply to those things, and it doesn't," he said.
Spitzer is one of six attorneys who produced another legal analysis for a UW institute last month that was highly critical of I-933's effect on real property. Supporters responded that the analysis was tainted because it was funded by foundations connected to contributors to the anti-933 campaign.
In his new report, Spitzer said Washington courts have defined "property" broadly, to include such things as the right to work in a profession and operate a lawful business. He said I-933 could allow owners to seek compensation or waivers from a wide range of regulations, including those that:
• Prohibit dangerous animals in cities.
• Limit how many consecutive hours a commercial trucker can drive.
• Impose new requirements on people in state-licensed professions.
"Disgruntled physicians or plumbers could assert that stiffer regulations or professional requirements reduce the value of their business — for example, by imposing time-consuming procedures or continuing-education requirements," Spitzer wrote.
Wood has said that personal property was included in I-933 to guard against attempts to circumvent the measure's intent.
For example, if I-933 applied only to real property, a county could waive a land-use rule restricting farming in a particular area but pass rules prohibiting livestock or farm equipment there, Wood said.
I-933 wouldn't require compensation for rules needed to prevent an "immediate threat to human health and safety," or rules that "apply equally to all property subject to the agency's jurisdiction."
Those exemptions would cover most rules affecting personal property, Wood asserts.
But it's unclear just what the term "apply equally" means, Spitzer said in his report, and the "immediate threat" exemption may be too narrow.
Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or email@example.com
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