Pulling grass roots
The latest in a long line of disputes over the use of public property for signature-gathering for initiative and referendum petitions unfolded last week, when longtime activist Janine Hansen and her son Zachary Triggs were jailed for circulating petitions at the Citifare bus depot.
The two were charged with trespassing and spent nine hours in the slammer. They walked out at 1 a.m.
They put themselves in the situation after an earlier volunteer was thrown off the property for collecting signatures.
“Two days ago, one of my petitioners said they were thrown out of there and told they had to have a permit,” Hansen said. Another one was chased off the next day.
Hansen then spent a day gathering information on the right of citizens to be on the premises.
Janine Hansen contacted Regional Transportation Commission lawyer Stanyan Peck and notified him that she would be collecting signatures at the depot at Center and Fourth streets. She also told him of a section of Nevada Revised Statutes that had been added to state lawbooks by the Nevada Legislature, in part at Hansen’s request, after similar disputes with other agencies.
The law, passed by the 2001 Legislature, empowers citizens to use “each [government] building that is open to the general public” for signature-gathering if they first “notify the public officer or employee in control of the operation of the building…”
In notifying Peck, Hansen said she followed the same procedure she has used before, “like I did at the DMV, like I did at the convention center, like I did at the livestock events center.”
But Peck later faxed a letter to Hansen telling her that notification is not enough, that she must read, fill out and submit RTC forms. He sent along two RTC documents, “Guidelines for petition signature gatherers” and “Request to gather signatures for initiative or referendum petition on an RTC facility.”
Peck said this week that Hansen failed to notify the proper person of her intentions, and that was not Peck himself. It was Derek Morse, the person in charge of the property, and Peck had furnished that name to Hansen in his letter.
In addition, Peck said that “general law” allows the RTC to impose additional rules beyond notification.
“First and foremost,” Peck says, “the fact that this is public property doesn’t mean that anyone can come onto the property to campaign. The RTC has generally considered their property closed for these purposes.”
He said the state requirement for access to the RTC property is only for ballot petitions, and thus the agency must require signature gatherers to fill out forms to make sure the petitions are valid ones registered with the secretary of state.