Legislator: Ballot items need can't-be-repealed notices

2013-01-04T00:00:00Z Legislator: Ballot items need can't-be-repealed noticesHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
January 04, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - A Scottsdale legislator figures you might have second thoughts about buying something if you knew all sales were final.

Rep. Michelle Ugenti figures the same thinking applies to measures placed on the Arizona ballot for voter approval every two years. So Ugenti is pitching legislation to require that every ballot measure contain a warning it cannot be repealed by the Legislature once approved, even if it turns out to be a mess.

Ugenti, a Republican, said voters are generally unaware of a 1998 constitutional amendment. It precludes lawmakers from rescinding or altering anything approved at the ballot.

The only exception is for an alternation that "furthers the purpose" of the original measure. And even that takes a three-fourths vote of both the House and Senate.

"A lot of people do not realize that the propositions that are passed on ballots cannot be changed," she said, unless they meet both the vote and purpose requirements. And she said those hurdles to amending ballot measures are so significant that "you really can't change them."

Constitutional changes always have had to be approved by voters.

But much of what voters approve is statutory, ranging from expanding the state's Medicaid program to cover everyone below the federal poverty level to the 2010 medical-marijuana law. And it used to be that lawmakers were free to alter voter-approved changes in state law.

The current restriction traces its roots to 1996, when voters approved Arizona's first law allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana and other drugs that are otherwise illegal.

The following year, lawmakers voted to override that measure, adding a provision that made prescription of any drug subject to federal approval. That effectively negated the law.

So in 1998 proponents came back with two measures.

The first overturned the 1997 action by the Legislature. The second enacted a constitutional ban on legislators tinkering with anything voters approved.

Technical issues with the 1998 drug law kept it from ever taking effect, prompting the successful 2010 initiative that resulted in patients being able to get marijuana.

But the constitutional limit on legislative power remains.

Ugenti's measure, HB 2007, would require disclosure throughout the process.

First, anyone pushing a ballot measure would have to disclose the constitutional limits on legislative repeal in every TV and radio commercial, newspaper ad and mailer that promotes the item.

There also would be similar disclosure in the publicity pamphlet distributed ahead of every election explaining each proposal on the ballot.

Finally, that same warning would have to be adjacent to the place on every ballot where voters are asked to support or reject each measure.

"It's kind of a transparency bill," she said.

Ugenti said she sees this as a way for voters to avoid buyer's remorse.

"If you were at a store, and you knew the item that you were about to buy you couldn't return, would that have an impact on your purchase?" she asked.

"Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't," Ugenti continued. "But that's for you to determine."

She said the disclosure she wants on the ballot measures becomes the equivalent of the sign at the store, giving consumers fair warning all sales are final.

Ugenti said she was not pushing this measure in reaction to any specific voter-approved measure since 1998, and offered no guess whether those propositions would have passed anyway had the disclosure notice been on the ballot.

The disclosure in HB 2007 also would apply to measures lawmakers themselves put on the ballot.

"A lot of people do not realize that the propositions that are passed on ballots cannot be changed."

Rep. Michelle Ugenti, Scottsdale Republican

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