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Arizona Lawmakers Make it More Difficult For Initiative Petitions

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By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Calling it rural protection, the state House voted Wednesday to impose an additional hurdle on those who want to propose their own changes in state law or the Arizona Constitution.

The proposal by Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, would spell out that signatures on initiative petitions must be gathered in each of the state's 30 legislative districts. More to the point, one-thirtieth of the mandatory total would need to come from each district.
Finchem said the problem now is that those proposing initiatives can gather all the necessary signatures in a single county, or even in a single district. He said that favors those individuals and groups who do not have broad support -- and broad organizations -- but instead can simply "hire paid circulators to stand outside of football stadiums and car lots and grocery stores to gather signatures.''
And that, Finchem said, ignores the views of those in rural areas.
"They feel that the great state of Maricopa runs the state,'' he said. "And they are tired of it.''
But Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said what HCR 2039 would do is turn the system on its head.
Under current law, those proposing statutory changes need to get signatures equivalent to 10 percent of the people who voted in the last gubernatorial election. This means 237,645 for proposals for the 2020 and 2022 ballots.
Constitutional changes need 356,467 valid signatures to get on the ballot.
If Finchem's change gets enacted, that means 7,922 signatures in each of the 30 legislative districts for proposed changes in laws and 11,883 for constitutional amendments.
What that means, Salman argued, is that the opposition to an idea by the people of only a single area of the state could deny the ability of every other Arizonan to vote on an issue. She said such single-district veto power is inappropriate.
Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, said he sees the issue from a different perspective.
"We are finally going to have a voice in my district other than just the three that are down here,'' he said, referring to himself, fellow House member Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, and Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake.
But Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, said she sees this as just another effort by the Republican-controlled Legislature to erect another hurdle in the path of those wanting to propose their own laws. Blanc said people push initiatives because lawmakers have failed to enact things that voters have shown they wanted.
That has included issues ranging from a ban on leghold traps on state lands and outlawing cockfighting to legalizing marijuana for medical uses and increasing the state's minimum wage.
Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, suggested that proponents of this plan were being inconsistent. He pointed out there is no similar requirement for those who run for statewide office to get their signatures from all 30 legislative districts before they can be on the ballot.
"That is a very different subject,'' Finchem said.
The 31-29 party line vote sends the measure to the Senate. But as a constitutional measure it would be enacted only if voters ratify it in November.
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On Twitte: @azcapmedia