Wed, June 26

Proposal would send approved laws back to voters - repeatedly

PHOENIX -- State lawmakers want to force voters to reapprove, over and over again, perhaps dozens of measures they previously enacted.

On a party-line vote Tuesday, the Senate Elections Committee approved a proposed constitutional amendment which would mandate a revote every eight years of any measure which spends or collects public dollars. SCR 1003, which now needs Senate action, eventually would have to be ratified by voters in November to take effect.

Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, said not everything that voters have approved has proven successful. And he said some proposals have outlived their usefulness.

But Crandell said a 1998 constitutional amendment precludes lawmakers from altering or repealing anything approved at the polls. He said putting them back on the ballot is the only way of revisiting them.

Sandy Bahr, lobbyist for the Sierra Club, complained that SCR 1003 is unnecessary. She said it takes a simple majority vote of the Legislature to ask voters to reconsider what they have previously approved.

By contrast, Bahr said this plan would mean forcing perennial votes on issues that should be well settled. She specifically cited the 1998 election where voters approved a ban on cockfighting by a 2-1 margin.

"Should we really have to vote on that every eight years?' she asked.

Crandell said his measure would not apply to that measure because it does not collect or spend public monies. Ditto a ban on payday loans and requirements for larger pens for breeding pigs and veal.

But he said anything with money should get reviewed.

That includes everything from a voter-approved tax on cigarettes to fund health care for the working poor to a requirement to boost state aid to schools every year to match inflation. Even the decision by voters to take from lawmakers the power to draw legislative and congressional lines would be affected because the Independent Redistricting Commission gets public funds.

In fact, Crandell said his measure is written so that voters would get a chance every eight years to actually rescind the $9,000 pay hikes they gave legislators in 1998. But he said this provides "fiscal responsibility to the state.'

The legislation actually has two parts.

First would be a review every eight years of how each specific voter-approved program has operated. That includes not just a financial audit of where the money has come from and where it has been spent, but also a look at whether the program has been effective and done what voters intended.

For example, SCR 1003 would require review of the 2010 law which allows those with a doctor's recommendation to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. That is because the state collects money from those who want the necessary ID cards and those who want to operate dispensaries.

Crandell said a review would determine if those who are getting marijuana are obtaining it through legal sources or on the street.

Those findings would then be made available to voters who would decide whether to reauthorize the program.

Crandell said there's nothing unusual about that. He pointed out that most state agencies are authorized to operate for set periods -- usually every 10 years -- and require legislative review and action to keep operating.

He acknowledged that 1998 Voter Protection Act protecting ballot measures from legislative tinkering is not an absolute bar to revisiting issues. Lawmakers always can ask voters to take a second look.

But Crandell said he wants the process to be automatic rather than having legislators decide which programs need another look.

Norris Norvold, lobbyist for the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, warned that what Crandell wants could create unanticipated problems.

One of the measures that would come back for review is a 2002 initiative that gives tribes the exclusive right to operate casinos in exchange for a share of the profits. Norvold said the state signed 20-year agreements with the tribes based on that vote, contracts which would be voided.

Crandell, however, accused foes of his measure of looking for any excuse to kill it rather than have to justify their proposals again to voters.

"They must have a fear that when they passed these bills that they're not doing the job they needed to do,' he said.

Sen. Adam Driggs, R-Phoenix, pointed out that lawmakers themselves won't have the last word on SCR 1003: As a constitutional amendment, it would have to be approved at the ballot in November.