Sun, Oct. 20

Lawmaker wants 'warning label' on ballot propositions

PHOENIX -- A Scottsdale legislator figures you might have second thoughts about buying something if you knew all sales are final and it could not be returned.

Now Rep. Michelle Ugenti wants to extend that kind of warning to the measures that Arizonans are asked to approve at the ballot every two years. Her legislation would require every ballot measure to contain a warning that it cannot be repealed by the Legislature once approved, even if it turns out to be an unholy mess.

Ugenti, a Republican, said voters are generally unaware of a 1998 constitutional amendment. It precludes lawmakers from rescinding or even altering anything, which had been approved at the ballot.

The only exception is if for an alternation that "furthers the purpose' of the original measure. And even that takes a three-fourths vote of both the House and Senate.

"A lot of people do not realize that the propositions that are passed on ballots cannot be changed,' she said, unless they meet both the vote and purpose requirements. And she said those hurdles to amending ballot measure are so significant that "you really can't change them.'

Constitutional changes always have had to be approved by voters.

But much of what voters approve is statutory, ranging from expanding the state's Medicaid program to everyone below the federal poverty level to the 2010 medical marijuana law. And it used to be that lawmakers were free to alter voter-approved changes in state law.

The current restriction traces its roots to 1996 when voters approved Arizona's first law allowing doctors to prescribe that drug and others which are otherwise illegal to their patients.

The following year, though, lawmakers voted to override that measure, adding a provision which made prescription of any drug subject to federal approval. That effectively negated the law.

So in 1998 proponents came back with two measures.

The first overturned the 1997 legislative vote. And the second enacted a constitutional ban on legislators tinkering with anything that had been voter approved.

Various technical issues with that 1998 prescription drug law kept it from ever really taking effect. It took until 2010 for Arizona voters to enact a law that actually resulted in patients being able to get marijuana.

But the effects of the constitutional limit on legislative power remain.

Ugenti's measure, HB 2007, would require disclosure throughout the process.

First, anyone pushing a ballot measure would have to disclose the constitutional limits on legislative repeal in every TV and radio commercial, newspaper ad and mailer that promotes the item.

There also would be similar disclosure in the publicity pamphlet distributed ahead of every election explaining each proposal on the ballot.

And, finally, that same warning would have to be adjacent to the place on every ballot where voters are asked to support or reject each measure.

"It's kind of a transparency bill,' she said.

Ugenti said she sees this as a way for voters to avoid buyer's remorse with what they have bought in the policy realm.

"If you were at a store, and you knew the item that you were about to buy you couldn't return, would that have an impact on your purchase?' she asked.

"Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't' Ugenti continued. "But that's for you to determine.'

She said the disclosure she wants on the ballot measures becomes the equivalent on the sign at the store, giving consumers fair warning that if they suddenly don't like what was approved, they can't go crying to lawmakers to take it back.

Ugenti said she was not pushing this measure in reaction to any specific voter-approved measure since 1998. And she said she cannot say whether those would have passed anyway had the disclosure notice been on the ballot.

The disclosure in HB 2007 also would apply to those measures that lawmakers themselves put on the ballot, either because they are constitutional measures that have to go there, or they are statutory changes that legislators prefer to punt to voters. And Ugenti acknowledged that wording could end up being a kind of red flag that might convince some who otherwise would support it to vote "no' instead.

But Ugenti said that does not bother her, saying voters are entitled to that information, regardless of who is pushing the measure.

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