BI’s change-in-government bill passes House of Representatives

Rep. Rolfes
Rep. Rolfes

A bill allowing Bainbridge Islanders to vote early on changing their form of government passed the state House by a wide margin on Wednesday.

Sponsored by Rep. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island), House Bill 1066 passed 95 to two. The bill now moves to the Senate, where it is scheduled for a committee hearing on Monday.

If expedited through the Senate, the bill could allow a public vote in May on whether to replace the city’s elected mayor position with a hired city manager.

“It was remarkable,” Rolfes said of the bill’s easy passage. “It passed by such a large margin most likely because it’s a very straightforward bill.  Legislators, all of whom have run for office, many of whom come from local government, could see the difficulty of the situation and were willing to fix it.”

Sen. Phil Rockefeller (D-Bainbridge Island) persuaded his colleagues on Thursday to allow the bill an early hearing on the Senate Government Operations and Elections Committee.

“This will expedite action on the special election bill, and I hope we can get it voted out of that committee quickly,” he said.

The bill, which was given emergency status to hurry its passage before May, would alter state law to allow Bainbridge and other cities to schedule special elections aimed at altering the structure of local governments. Current rules require that change-of-government ballot measures go to voters only in November.

The law Rolfes’ bill would overturn was enacted to save small cities from having to spend thousands of dollars on special petition-driven elections. Bainbridge’s special election could cost up to $70,000.

Bainbridge’s next mayoral race is scheduled for November. Under state law, both the mayor race and the change-in-government measure would share the November ballot. Petitioners supporting a manager-led government argued that the two elections on the same ballot would confuse voters and dissuade qualified mayoral candidates from running.

Petitioners were unsuccessful in gathering enough signatures for last November’s ballot.

Bainbridge voters defeated a similar ballot measure in 1993.