Arizona legislators want to water down voter intiatives

[Source: Kellie Mejdrich,  Arizona-Sonora News Service] – State legislators want voters to scuttle the power of their own initiatives. Legislators crafted a number of constitutional amendments that subjects voter initiatives to periodic re-authorization, audits their effectiveness, subjects them to legislative appropriation and repeals certain initiatives altogether. GOP legislators say voter initiatives limit their ability to appropriate funds from a tight budget and call the process an outright threat to a “republican, smaller, form of government,” said Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Vail.

Critics call the push to water down voter initiatives a legislative intrusion into the peoples’ lawmaking process. GOP legislators tout the reforms as essential to maintaining Arizona as a state governed by a legislature, not direct democracy. Now, citizens can put laws to a vote by collecting signatures from 10 percent of the electorate—around 100,000 signatures—and change the state constitution by collecting 15 percent—around 150,000 signatures. If approved at election, the initiative becomes law and cannot be repealed or vetoed by the Legislature or the governor. That initiative remains law unless voters gather the necessary signatures to repeal the measure.

Republicans argue that reauthorization helps voters, but critics say it’s an attempt to alter fundamentally Arizona’s identity as a state. “This state would be so different if this legislature overturned the will of the people who passed these initiatives,” said Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson, during a committee hearing for a bill sponsored by Antenori, which requires reauthorization of any initiative passed after 1998 that ” creates a fund for public monies, dedicates public monies to a specific purpose or otherwise affects (general fund) revenues or expenditures,” the bill language states.

Antenori’s SCR 1031 requires reauthorization of such initiatives after eight years. A similar bill, HCR 2005, is sponsored in the House by Rep. Chester Crandell, R-Heber. Crandell and Antenori will combine their bills as they approach final passage, Antenori said. The measure would push re-votes on a number of initiatives including Clean Elections, the Independent Redistricting Commission, various tobacco taxes and litigation funds used for education.

Why not let citizens who want to change an initiative propose a revote on it? It’s not that simple, legislators said. “A lot of folks aren’t able to get that done. They don’t have the resources to do it,” Antenori said. “The threshold for doing that is significantly higher, and more difficult and costly.”

Tim Hogan, executive director of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, a nonprofit law firm that defends ballot initiative cases in the state, rejected that argument, adding “the legislature just doesn’t like the initiatives.” “They can come up with those kind of silly arguments. Well, it doesn’t stop people from doing initiatives. We have a ton of them all the time,” Hogan said. “If the people thought those laws were so terrible, I’m sure that somebody would do an initiative to get rid of them.”

Legislators also argue that the electorate has changed — voters die or move and new voters often do not know what initiatives are on the books. “People are uninformed,” Crandell said. “Once it becomes an initiative, and once it starts collecting the money, nobody ever goes back and looks at it again.” Hogan said that argument was glib.

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