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Sign of the Times

If someone doesn't act soon, you can kiss the idea of citizen initiatives goodbye

Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona Legislature have nearly completed an all-out assault on your right to run an initiative campaign in Arizona.

Hamstringing the initiative process was a major priority of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, whose leadership was unhappy after voters approved a boost in the minimum wage last year.

Two weeks ago, Ducey signed HB 2404, which undercuts the constitutionally guaranteed right for Arizonans to ask voters to approve laws by preventing companies to pay petition passers by the signature (which is how most initiatives get on the ballot) and creates various other ways to kneecap initiative efforts.

And now lawmakers have used the old trick of a strike-all amendment—taking a bill that was all about guns and turning it into a bill about initiatives at the end of the legislative process—to make it easier to knock initiatives off the ballot via minor technicalities by requiring "strict compliance" rather than "substantial compliance." That means that tiny errors—such as the wrong font size on the petition—would disqualify it. HB 2244 was awaiting a vote from the full Senate as of the Weekly's press deadline, but given the contempt that lawmakers have already shown for the idea that Arizona citizens should be able to make their own laws, it's a pretty sure bet it will make it to Ducey's desk for a signature as well.

There has been some talk about a referendum on the new laws. Provided enough valid signatures can be collected, the laws would be put on hold until the voters approve or reject them. But such a campaign would be made more difficult by another law passed in a previous legislative session that requires that aforementioned "strict compliance" standard rather than "substantial compliance" when it comes to a referendum.

But let's assume that organizers could pull together a successful referendum and the law was set to be decided on the 2018 ballot. There's still a problem: Lawmakers could go back next session, make a few changes to the law, and then the referendum would be off. To stop whatever new law is cooked up, the organizers would have to go out and collect signatures all over again. We saw this exact thing happen in 2013, when lawmakers passed a whole bunch of changes to election law meant to screw over Democrats, Libertarians and Green Party candidates as well as the initiative process. Opponents were able to successfully gather the signatures for a referendum, but lawmakers repealed the law and then passed portions of it in a piecemeal fashion in the years since.

The really smart play—as The Skinny suggested a few weeks back—would be to run a simultaneous initiative drive to create new rules for initiatives and referendum. That way, the initiative would be on the ballot even if lawmakers do some kind trick to avoid facing the referendum. And because initiatives are protected from tampering by the Legislature, lawmakers wouldn't be able to mess with the law down the line, so initiative supporters could lock the rules in for good.

The petition-gathering companies would probably be happy to help get the signatures at a discount, as they'll be facing tough times if these barriers to initiatives go into law. And on top of that, it would make a great campaign issue for Democrats, as Republican lawmakers would be forced to defend their votes on the initiative legislation. How hard is it to craft a campaign slogan that Republicans are trying to strip you of your constitutional rights?

So calling all unions, educators, environmentalists, anti-weed prohibitionists and anyone else who wants to run an initiative ever again in Arizona: Consult your lawyers, draw up an initiative and get those clipboards out on the street.

Sign now, or forever hold your peace.

Money Matters

Wondering where the state budget is? You're not the only one

Republican state lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey are still trying to figure out how the make Arizona's budget balance, mostly behind closed doors.

But Democrats in the Arizona House of Representatives are doing a roadshow to talk about their priorities and to hear about yours. Want more money for schools? Think that the state should stop skimming money from the road-building funds? Want to help out the state parks?

Here's your chance to weigh in: A collection of Tucson lawmakers will be hosting a budget town hall at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 8, at the UA Modern Languages Building, 1423 E. University Blvd. Put on your green eyeshades and stop on by.

The televised edition of Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel returns next Thursday, April 13, at 6:40 p.m. on Cox Channel 20 and Comcast Channel 74. It will also air Friday nights at 6:30 p.m. The radio edition of Zona Politics airs at 5 p.m. Sundays on community radio KXCI, 91.3 FM, and at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. Sundays on KEVT, 1210 AM. Nintzel also talks politics on The John C. Scott show at 4 p.m. Thursday afternoons on KEVT, 1210 AM.

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