Cutting initiative time frame gains

Signature collectors would have to submit petitions by May 1
2013-02-06T00:00:00Z Cutting initiative time frame gainsHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
February 06, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - State lawmakers are making another bid to shorten the time individuals and groups have to put issues on the ballot.

On a 5-2 vote Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Elections approved a measure that would require an initiative to be filed by May 1 of the election year. The current constitutional provision gives them until four months before the election, a date that normally falls in early July.

Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, sponsor of the proposal, refused to consider amendments to balance the earlier deadline with a cut in the number of signatures required. Reagan said that question should be dealt with separately.

Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said taking two months away from initiative efforts and keeping the signature requirements the same is unfair.

SCR 1006 now goes to the full Senate. If the measure makes it through the Legislature, it still must be approved by voters, who narrowly rejected a virtually identical measure in 2010.

Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne said the current deadlines are a problem.

Her office had to delay printing of two ballot measures last fall - one on open primaries and the other on a sales tax increase - while judges weighed multiple legal challenges.

"We go from the courtroom to the printer," she said, sometimes with just hours to go before the presses are set to run. Reagan's proposal, she said, "gives us enough time ... so that we would have those decisions made in time to get proper language to the ballot."

Part of the problem is some of the legal challenges cannot be filed until the counties have finished checking their random samples of petitions and the Secretary of State's Office determines if there are sufficient valid signatures, which takes time.

For the 2014 election, simple initiatives to change state law will need 172,809 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, and constitutional amendments will need 259,213.

Circulators usually turn in tens of thousands of extra signatures, which must be checked as a buffer against the invalid ones.

Reagan said she's not trying to throw new roadblocks in the path of those trying to get issues on the ballot.

Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club said that may not be the intent. But she said the measure would have that effect.

She acknowledged virtually all petition drives now use paid circulators, given the number of signatures required. But she said they also rely on volunteers who need that extra time in May and June.

"Two months really limits your ability to get on the ballot," Bahr said. "It's already very difficult. It's a lot of signatures; it's effectively a lot of money."

Bahr said the initiative process is "a check on the Arizona Legislature," especially when lawmakers will not go along with proposals that a majority of voters might want.

As proof, she cited the 1990 ballot measure appropriating $20 million a year to create the Heritage Fund, with its proceeds earmarked to finance operation of state parks as well as help preserve non-game animals. She said only after lawmakers repeatedly rejected the funding request did her organization and others go directly to voters.

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