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Wed, April 01

Senate proposal: Make it tougher to remove state officials

SB 1664, approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 4-3 party-line vote, says that anyone who injured while in a government-created "gun-free zone" can sue that agency for any damages. Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, who is sponsoring SB 1664, said the law is justified. (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)

SB 1664, approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 4-3 party-line vote, says that anyone who injured while in a government-created "gun-free zone" can sue that agency for any damages. Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, who is sponsoring SB 1664, said the law is justified. (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)

PHOENIX - A Senate panel voted Thursday to erect some new hurdles in the path of those seeking to recall state and local elected officials.

SB 1434, crafted by Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, adds new requirements for paid circulators and those from other states to first have to register with the secretary of state. This mirrors changes the Republican-controlled Legislature already has imposed on those proposing new laws through initiatives.

The legislation also spells out in detail exactly how petitions must be formatted with language allowing legal challenges if the forms are not in "strict compliance'' with those standards.

Potentially most significant is that it permits anyone challenging the recall to demand that paid circulators show up in court. And if that person does not appear, it requires judges to disqualify all the signatures that person collected, regardless of whether there is other evidence to show that the signature is valid and the signer does support the recall.

That provision, too, already exists for initiative petitions.

Another bill approved Thursday by the Judiciary Committee permits -- but does not require -- county election officials to reach out to voters who forget to sign the envelopes in which they return their early ballots.

This version of SB 1032 is less severe than the original proposal by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, which would have banned the practice entirely.

But Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, said that still leaves the door open for inconsistent practices across the state should some county recorders decide that they don't want to do that. And that effectively would nullify any ballot within an unsigned envelope.

Both measures drew strong opposition from the League of Women Voters.

Rivko Knox, the organization's lobbyist, told lawmakers that her members oppose all efforts to require "strict compliance'' with election laws, where technical violations can disqualify petition drives.

"The Arizona Constitution speaks favorably and strongly in support of direct democracy, as does the League,'' she said. "And although direct democracy remains in our laws, so many barriers have been placed before it that it may shortly become a part of history and unusable by Arizona citizens.''

Knox also said there is "some irony" in the fact that lawmakers have not extended that requirement for strict compliance to their own nominating petitions or those of other elected officials.

"Why should the latter not be subject to all the hoops that a recall petition would be subject to if this bill is passed?'' she asked. "Does this Legislature believe those circulating nominating petitions are somehow more trustworthy than those circulating recall petitions?"

The issue of early ballots and unsigned envelopes addresses a different problem.

Election officials in each of the 15 counties had their own policies of whether to try to contact voters when ballots showed up without the legally required signature. There also were differing practices about how much time voters had to come in and make the fix, with some setting the deadline at 7 p.m. on Election Day and others giving voters up to five days after.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, responding to a lawsuit filed by the Navajo Nation, agreed to a uniform standard of five days.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich vetoed that agreement, saying Hobbs lacked the authority to make such a change. That sent the issue to the Legislature to resolve, which is what SB 1032 is designed to do.

But that language allowing -- and not requiring -- election officials to seek out voters who forgot to sign their envelopes annoyed Randy Perez, the democracy director for Living United for Change in Arizona.

He told lawmakers there were thousands of ballots that were not counted in the last election. And Perez said this bill, along with other moves by the Republican-dominated Legislature, has an ulterior motive.

"We know these bills are not in a silo," he said.

"This Legislature has a horrible, horrible partisan history of attacking the right to vote,'' Perez continued. And he said LUCHA believes that Republicans are pushing this now because they fear that will lose their legislative majorities in the 2020 election.

"We know that we are only one seat away from power in the House and two seats away from power in the Senate,'' Perez said, referring to the 31-29 GOP edge in the House and 17-13 margin in the Senate. "And we know that bills like this will not be able to move forward in the future."

Both measures now need full Senate approval.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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