Judge rejects bill to throw energy proposal off the ballot
By JACQUES BILLEAUD
Aug. 27, 2018
PHOENIX (AP) — A judge has denied a bid to prevent a proposal requiring the use of more renewable energy in Arizona from appearing on the November ballot, rejecting arguments that backers of the measure hadn't gathered enough valid signatures from supporters to let voters decide the issue.
Superior Court Judge Daniel Kiley ruled Monday that some signatures in support of the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona proposal had to be thrown out, such as those collected by signature gatherers who didn't appear in court to testify at a five-day trial and those from by 35 signature gatherers who are convicted felons.
But the judge rejected an argument that he ought to rule against backers of the ballot proposal because they said they had a 47 percent validity rate in the collected signatures. Kiley said there would still be enough support to put the measure on the ballot even if such a rate were applied to the signature total.
Earlier this month, the state said the campaign in favor of the proposal had gathered enough signatures to appear on the ballot. But opponents pushed forward with a lawsuit alleging that not enough valid signatures were collected.
The Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona proposal would require half the state's energy to come from renewable sources by 2030, compared with the current mandate of 15 percent by 2025.
A campaign opposing the measure is funded by Arizona Public Service Co.'s parent company. APS has said proposal would cause utility rates to rise and harm reliability.
A large amount of the renewable energy campaign's funding has come from a group backed by San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer. Supporters of the initiative say Arizona hasn't taken advantage of its role as the sunniest state in the nation to develop more solar energy.
"I think it (Monday's decision) vindicates the efforts of the citizens who want to put this question to voters," said Jim Barton, an attorney who defended the signature-collection effort in court.
Matt Benson, spokesman for opponents of the ballot proposal, said those who filed the lawsuit will appeal the decision. Benson had no further comment on the decision on Monday afternoon.
Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at https://bit.ly/2GGWEPO.