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Sat, March 28

GOP proposals in state assembly would raise bar for voter initiatives

Rep. Mark Finchem (Capitol Media Services 2017 file photo by Howard Fischer)

Rep. Mark Finchem (Capitol Media Services 2017 file photo by Howard Fischer)

PHOENIX — Republican legislators are moving to erect new hurdles in the path of Arizonans who want to propose their own laws and constitutional amendments.

HCR 2039, pushed by Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, would require that signatures on initiative petitions be gathered from each of the state's 30 legislative districts. More to the point, they would have to get one-thirtieth of the minimum from each of those districts.

With a requirement for 237,645 signatures for statutory changes, the measure would mean at least 7,922 signatures from each district; constitutional changes which have to have 356,467 signatures on petitions would need at least 11,883 names on 30 separate batches of petitions from each district.

That is far different than existing law which does not impose a geographic requirement. It is that lack that Finchem seeks to alter to ensure that measures do not get on the November ballot solely because they might have support only in one area of the state.

The flip side of that, however, is that organizations that lack volunteers throughout the state -- or cannot afford to send paid lobbyists to rural counties -- would never get their measures before state voters.

There are other states which have geographic requirements on the initiative process.

But Geoff Esposito, who represents Living United for Change in Arizona, told lawmakers considering a similar plan last year that this is far more onerous than anything else.

In Colorado, he said, it takes the equivalent of only 5 percent of those who voted in the prior election to get a measure on the ballot. In Arizona that figure is 10 percent.

And while there is a mandate for signatures to be gathered in each of the state's Senate districts, the number is just 2 percent of the total, versus the 3.3 percent it would be here.

There's another issue.

The hurdle Finchem is proposing would apply only to initiative petitions. Nothing in his proposal would affect candidates for statewide office who still could get their names on the ballot for the election by without gathering signatures across the state.

There were objections from those who have been involved in crafting initiatives and getting them on the ballot.

"This would unduly constrain the people's right to initiate laws,'' said Sandy Bahr, director of the Arizona chapter of the Sierra Club. Her organization has been involved in multiple ballot efforts, ranging from the successful ban on leghold traps on public lands to a failed 2000 effort to curb urban sprawl.

Finchem's measure is just one of several being considered by the House Elections Committee.

HCR 2032, being pushed by Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, would spell out that initiatives being sent to voters "shall embrace but one subject and matters properly connected therewith.'' And it says any provision not in the official title of the measure would be void, even if approved by voters.

Rivko Knox of the League of Women Voters warned lawmakers of pitfalls.

For example, she noted, the 2016 measure which hiked the state's minimum wage also contained a provision to require companies to provide paid time off for their employees, provisions Knox said were all part of the issue of workers' rights. She said a measure like this could preclude such a proposal from ever getting enacted again.

And, if nothing else, Knox said that creating this new hurdle would give challengers new legal opportunities to try to knock proposals off the ballot with claims of multiple subjects, potentially quashing initiatives even before voters got a chance to weigh in.

HouseSpeaker Rusty Bowers is pushing HCR 2046 which would require that anything voters enacted would have to go back on the ballot every 10 years. That, in turn, would force those who managed to get a proposal approved by voters to once every decade again have raise money to run a campaign to preserve the change.

That measure also would be retroactive, requiring reauthorization of anything approved going back to 1994. That would force new votes on everything from medical marijuana and that minimum wage hike to creation of the system that allows statewide and legislative candidates to get public funding if they agree not to take special interest dollars.

And Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, has crafted SCR 1020 which would at least partly override the1998 Voter Protection Act which prohibits lawmakers from repealing or making changes to anything voters have approved.

On paper, Leach's proposal would apply only to measures of public health and safety. But he acknowledged to Capitol Media Services that could be interpreted broadly.

For example, he cited the 2016 measure creating a $12 minimum wage. That, he said, was a matter of public health and safety as it had an effect on the ability of some organizations which provide services to the developmentally disabled to be able to hire staff.

Even if all the measures gain legislative approval that does not mean they will take effect: Each change would go on the November ballot where voters would get the last word.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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