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Proposed Arizona ballot measure restrictions appear dead for this year

By: - March 23, 2022 1:25 pm

Cardboard boxes filled with hundreds of signed petitions from voters across the state were stacked near the Arizona Capitol on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021. The day marked the deadline to submit signatures for measures seeking to block tax legislation passed this year. The Invest in Arizona coalition gathered more than the required signatures to stop two laws that are part of a historic tax cut plan that’s estimated to cost the state $1 billion in revenue. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

Proposals that would have made it harder to get citizen initiatives on the ballot and harder for voters to enact them once they got there are unlikely to pass after missing key legislative deadlines. 

House Concurrent Resolution 2015, which would have required that ballot measures get at least 60% of the vote in order to become law, rather than a simple majority, passed out of the House of Representatives and was on the agenda for Monday’s hearing of the Senate Government Committee. But Sen. Kelly Townsend, the committee’s chairwoman, scratched the measure from the agenda.  

Townsend told the Arizona Mirror she had concerns about the vote threshold in HCR2015. She did not say whether she would support a different, lower threshold that was still higher than the simple majority required to pass ballot measures now. 

Friday is the deadline for Senate committees to consider House bills, and vice versa, and there are no additional hearings of the government committee scheduled for this week. That means the bill can’t make it out of committee before the deadline passes, likely dooming it for the remainder of the 2022 legislative session.

There’s still a possibility that an identical measure could be passed after the deadline through the use of what’s known as a strike-everything amendment, which replaces bills in their entirety with new language. But given that Republicans have only a one-vote majority in the Senate, and Democrats oppose the measure, which they view as an unacceptable infringement on the right of citizen initiative, no such amendment could pass without Townsend’s support. 

If both chambers of the legislature were to pass the measure, it would still require the approval of a majority of voters in the November general election. 

Rep. Tim Dunn, R-Yuma, who sponsored the measure, has said the supermajority threshold to pass citizen initiatives is appropriate because it’s nearly impossible for the legislature to amend voter-approved laws, making them effectively permanent. The 1998 Voter Protection Act requires a three-fourths majority in both legislative chambers to amend voter-approved laws, and only changes that further the intent of the original initiative are permitted. 

Dunn did not respond to requests for comment. 

Another restriction on citizen initiatives that Dunn proposed will also miss the Friday deadline after failing to pass out of the full House. 

To qualify for the ballot, backers of citizen initiatives must collect a number of signatures equal to 10% of registered voters in the state for statutory changes and 15% for proposed amendments to the Arizona Constitution. Dunn’s House Concurrent Resolution 2014 would have required citizen initiative and referenda campaigns to collect that number from each of the state’s 30 legislative districts, creating a significant new hurdle for initiatives to get on the ballot. 

The House Government and Elections Committee approved HCR2014 in February. But the proposal was pulled from the calendar in the full House. Dunn told the Mirror last month that he was working on a potential amendment to change the percentages required in the measure. 

A proposal in the Senate that would have asked voters to impose the same district-based requirement passed out of the Senate Government Committee, but was pulled from the calendar in the full chamber three times, never receiving a vote. 

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”