Governor signs law tightening initiative signatures rules
PHOENIX (AP) — Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday signed a bill pushed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry adding new requirements for citizen initiative petition circulators.
The new law is the latest hurdle for promoters of ballot measures and was championed by Republicans and business interests that have seen voters enact policies the GOP-controlled Legislature opposes. Multiple new restrictions in the initiative process have been enacted in recent years by the Legislature and signed by Ducey over opposition from minority Democrats.
The measure requires paid circulators or those from other states to sign a notarized form and supply contact information before collecting signatures, among a variety of other new requirements. Providing false information would be a misdemeanor.
Democrats said it puts roadblocks in front of citizens’ right to pass their own laws.
“I do believe this is a cowardly approach to furthering a political agenda instead of actually persuading voters based on the strength of your argument,” Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada said during Senate discussion last month.
Republicans say rich donors have taken over the initiative process.
“What’s happened today is a complete perversion of the original populist notion,” Republican Rep. John Kavanagh said.
A previous version of the measure gave the attorney general the power to rewrite the ballot language describing an initiative, but that provision was pulled out for lack of support in the Senate.
Democrats issued a scathing review of the measure in a formal report following the bill’s final hearing in a conference committee charged with merging Senate and House versions of the legislation.
“SB1451 tips the scales fully against the constitutional right and in favor of the special interests that don’t like the measures that voters propose and approve, such as medical marijuana and an increased minimum wage,” Democrats said in the report. “But the initiative and referendum right is not guaranteed for the special interests, like the various chambers of commerce that support this measure, but rather for the people of Arizona.”
The Legislature’s budget analysts said it would increase the Secretary of State’s costs of processing petitions, but didn’t review costs for gathering signatures.
The new rules add to the complexity of gathering signatures needed to qualify an initiative for the ballot, making it virtually impossible for grass-roots groups to do it without professional help, said Drew Chavez, who runs one of the state’s largest signature gathering firms, Petition Partners. Collecting initiative signatures and vetting them can cost millions of dollars.
“I think it’s easy for us because we have a system in place and we’re paid to do a good job,” Chavez said in an April interview. “It makes things a lot more difficult for regular everyday citizen groups that want to change laws. Without professional help, they don’t have access to attorneys or professionals to help guide them through the process.
“But this is exactly why they’re doing this,” he added.
Vince Leach, the Republican senator who sponsored the bill, said he’s used to being criticized for his efforts to tighten initiative rules that opponents believe “will end democracy and cut off people’s right to do things.” But he said lawmakers are charged with making sure the initiative process is “as pure as it can be.”
“There’s plenty of ways for local people to be involved and still get stuff across the finish line,” Leach said. “I think that’s a convenient argument that just doesn’t hold water with me.”
GOP efforts to make it harder to put initiatives on the ballot heated up after voters in 2016 passed an initiative raising the minimum wage and narrowly rejected a marijuana legalization measure.
Lawmakers have passed legislation in recent years that make it easier to disqualify signatures, revamped rules on signature collection and made it easier to sue to block initiatives that qualify for the ballot.