[Source: Linda Valdez, azcentral Opinions] –The Sierra Club’s Sandy Bahr told the Senate Appropriations Committee today that “the only way” Arizona will get meaningful environmental protections in the future is through the initiative process. She should know. She’s been up at the Legislature for years trying to get the conservatives who run the place to be nice to Mother Nature.
When Bahr took the podium to speak in opposition to a package of election law changes, committee chair Sen. Don Shooter, said: “Sierra Club? Are you worried we are going to chop up too many trees for ballots?”
The package of election bills – which has been contentious throughout the session – was tacked on to a Senate budget that emerged only this week. Democrats on the committee objected to the quickie budget in general — Sen. Anna Tovar said it would have been better to write a state budget in a “transparent, open process.” They also opposed the election changes.
Bahr’s call for transparency was aimed directly at the election changes. She said proposed changes in the initiative process do more than just move deadlines, they allow signatures to be thrown out on technicalities, such as whether the pages are submitted in the right order. They will create barriers.
The state Constitution gave voters the initiative/referendum process as a powerful tool and a check on Legislative power, Bahr said. Voters used the process to ban cockfighting, outlaw leg-hold traps, require humane farm animal practices, as well as to expand health care for the working poor, better fund education and create the Heritage Fund – which lawmakers gutted in a nasty slap at both voters and Mother Nature.
The Legislature should not put itself in charge of changing a system that was designed to give citizens the power to go around the Legislature. Any changes should come from a public discussion involving the interest groups that use, understand and value the initiative process. Not lawmakers who see it as a pain in the neck.
Bahr made valid points about the importance of preserving a process voters depend on to get around dunderheads in the Legislature. The dunderheads were unmoved.
All six Republicans on the committee voted for the election changes. All three Democrats voted no.