PHOENIX — A Senate panel voted along party lines Monday for what some contend is an end-run to kill a referendum to let the public vote on a series of controversial changes in state election law.
SB 1270 would repeal legislation approved last year which would affect everything from early voting and ballots to imposing new hurdles on citizens who want to propose future initiatives. It also would make it more difficult for minor parties to get their candidates on the ballot.
Foes of the law gathered more than 140,000 signatures to put it on "hold'' and give voters the last word. But SB 1270 would repeal the law, eliminating the need to have it ratified or rejected by voters.
"We are directly responding to people who signed the petition,'' said Sen. Adam Driggs, R-Phoenix.
"They signed the petition because they wanted this law repealed,'' he said. "We're repealing it.''
That, however, is not what petition circulators want.
Eleanor Eisenberg representing the League of Women Voters told members of the Judiciary Committee the fear is the Republican-controlled Legislature will repeal the 2013 law, killing the referendum, and then just reenact one or more of the provisions. That would force foes to start all over again with a new petition drive.
"That will just be, frankly I think, a slap in the face of the people who circulated the petition, the people who signed the petition, the citizens of this state that expect to be able to have their voices heard,'' she said.
No one on the committee vowed to block such a move. But Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale, came as close as anyone.
"Based on the thin margin by which the original bill passed, I suspect that it's extremely unlikely, if not totally unlikely, that anything resembling (that bill) would pass out of this legislature, either this year or any time soon,'' he said.
But several legislators in the House, which is considering a companion measure, already have said they want to proceed with reenacting at least some of the changes, including one that sets up a procedure remove people from from the permanent early ballot rolls if they don't use their early ballot.
Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said his concern goes beyond what might happen this year.
Gallardo pointed out there is a constitutional provision which says anything approved at the ballot cannot be altered by the Legislature. He said that means if voters approve the referendum — and reject the changes in election laws — that would permanently preclude any future legislature from trying something like this again.
But Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, questioned whether voter rejection of the 2013 legislation forever precludes lawmakers from enacting similar provisions.
This measure now goes to the full Senate.