The Prop Props

Arizonans have two choices to stop legislative tampering with successful initiatives.

By Dave Devine

THE ARIZONA Legislature is infamous for failing to implement successful propositions it doesn't like.

Take the case of the "Healthy Arizona" initiative. Adopted two years ago by a wide margin, the act was intended to provide health care to more poor people and to fund six specific programs. But the Legislature simply decided not to implement it.

Currents Then there's the medical marijuana initiative, which would have allowed doctors to prescribe pot to relieve the suffering of people stricken with AIDS, cancer and other illnesses. The Legislature forced numerous changes in that law as fast as it could.

It was those changes, in fact, that sent supporters of the medical marijuana initiative back to the street to gather nearly a quarter-million signatures for Prop 105, which sets tougher requirements to protect adopted propositions.

Unhappy with the language of Prop 105, another group of citizens worked with the Legislature to put an alternative, Prop 104, on the ballot.

Both sides are now trading blows. Supporters of the citizen's initiative call Prop 104 "a tool of deception," "watered down," and "The Politician Protection Act." Meanwhile, backers of the Legislature's alternative say 105 includes language that's "a lawyer's dream and the public's nightmare" and a financing mechanism which is "horribly defective."

Both of these ballot measures proclaim the same goal: to ensure that the will of the voters as expressed through adopted ballot propositions is carried out. But the differences between the two are substantial.

Proposition 105 would prohibit the governor from vetoing a voter-approved proposition, like former Gov. J. Fife Whiteguy III threatened to do before he was convicted out of office. The Legislature would also not be permitted to repeal these propositions.

To amend an approved proposition, three-fourths of each house of the state Legislature would have to support the change. These amendments could only "further the purposes of such measure."

For propositions which contain funding appropriations, Prop 105 denies the Legislature the power to appropriate or divert this money unless "at least three-fourths of the members of each house of the to appropriate or divert such funds."

Adopted ballot propositions covered by this measure would be those approved this year or later. It does not retroactively apply to ballot issues adopted before 1998.

Opponents of 105, who instead support 104, point to several potential problems with its language. For starters, what does "furthers the purposes of such measure" mean when it comes to possible amendments? They say such vague language will lead to court cases to decide legislative intent.

Opponents also complain that, under the terms of Prop 105, 45 out of 60 members of the state House and 23 of 30 state Senators have to authorize the appropriation of funds contained in approved propositions. For example, if this proposition applied to the annual $20 million for Heritage Funds taken from lottery proceeds every year, that funding could face an authorization hurdle annually.

Dennis Burke, Arizona Director of Common Cause, thinks this three-fourths requirement will empower a fringe element in the Legislature. He believes there would be "horrendous battles over annual appropriations" and that the proposition's language in this regard is "horribly defective."

To correct these deficiencies, Common Cause and other groups worked with the Legislature to place Proposition 104 on the ballot. Burke says this action "wasn't the typical end run by the Legislature" to try to confuse the voters. Instead, he says, the language of 104 makes it preferable to 105.

Proposition 104 applies to all existing and future approved ballot measures. Like 105, it prohibits the governor from vetoing these propositions.

But this measure does allow the Legislature to "amend or substantially modify" adopted propositions. It also permits the diversion or withholding of money authorized by these measures. A two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature would be required to accomplish either of these steps.

In addition, this ballot question puts in place a mechanism for the Legislature to repeal an entire proposition after five years. It also allows the Legislature at any time to send back to the voters a proposed repeal or amendment to an approved proposition.

Those who favor 105 and oppose 104 call it a "bait and switch" trick by the Legislature, the very people it is supposed to restrict. They think it is intended to confuse voters and that the stricter requirements of 105 are needed to protect approved propositions. Why should you trust the Legislature, they ask, when that is the very institution which has caused the problems? TW

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