PHOENIX - A Senate panel voted Wednesday to throw additional hurdles in the path of Arizonans who want to write their own laws.
Existing law already has requirements for putting a measure on the ballot proposing a new statute or constitutional amendment. Those rules cover who can circulate petitions, what has to be on each page and how many names can be on each sheet.
SB 1493 adds new ones, including a mandate to organize petition sheets by county of residence of signers, by the circulator on that signature sheet, and by the name of the person who notarized each.
But the real change is the legislation says both election officials and courts, in reviewing the validity of petitions, must void those that are not in "strict compliance" with all legal requirements.
That change is significant.
Last year the Arizona Supreme Court allowed a vote on an initiative to permanently increase the state sales tax by 1 cent despite discrepancies between one version of the measure submitted on paper to the Secretary of State and a different one in digital format.
Chief Justice Rebecca Berch ruled the issue is whether there has been "substantial compliance" with the laws. She said that "strikes the appropriate balance between protecting our citizens' right to initiate new laws and the integrity of the election process."
This measure would trump that finding with language saying strict compliance "provides the surest method for safeguarding the integrity and accuracy of the initiative and referendum process."
Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr said that erects new barriers in the path of those who feel the need to bypass the Legislature, which includes her organization.
"The only way in the future we will get meaningful environmental protection is through the initiative process," she told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Bahr said this legislation would allow initiative petition drives, perhaps with hundreds of thousands of names, to be thrown out on technicalities.
"That's ridiculous for not organizing your petitions exactly by county and circulator and notary," she said.
"It's very easy to get something out of order, to disenfranchise the people who sign and basically say, 'Well, you didn't really support this because it got out of order,'" Bahr continued. "That just seems wrong."
The measure, which now awaits a vote of the full Senate, also allows county election officials to remove individuals from the "permanent early voter list" if they do not use their early ballots for two elections in a row. That is supported by the county recorders.
It also restricts who can return someone else's early ballot to the polls, and makes it a felony for someone who is a paid of volunteer worker for any political committee.