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Judge knocks hospital-worker-pay, health-care initiative off Arizona ballot
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Judge knocks hospital-worker-pay, health-care initiative off Arizona ballot

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PHOENIX — Arizonans won’t be voting in November on a proposal to increase pay of hospital workers and guarantee that people with preexisting conditions can get affordable health insurance.

There are not enough valid signatures on petitions submitted by a California union to put the issue on the ballot, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Pamela Gates ruled late Friday.

Some circulators were not legally qualified to circulate the petitions, Gates found.

In other cases, she said, some of the 332 circulators subpoenaed by foes of the initiative failed to appear in court to be questioned. Gates said the signatures they gathered also cannot be counted. That left backers of the Health Care Rising Arizona measure with fewer than the 237,645 valid signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.

There will be an appeal to the state Supreme Court, said campaign spokesman Rodd McLeod.

The initiative’s goals; opponents’ charges

The initiative sought to require a 20% pay raise for hospital workers — excluding executives and doctors — over a four-year period.

It also proposed a guarantee that individuals with preexisting conditions would be able to obtain affordable insurance if the federal Affordable Care Act is repealed.

Another provision was designed to protect patients against “surprise” medical bills from doctors and others in hospitals who turn out to be “out of network.”

The measure also sought to require hospitals to comply with certain national standards of infection control.

Foes, led by the hospitals and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, filed suit. They said there were flaws in how signatures were gathered and in the wording of the initiative’s description provided to petition signers.

They also charged that signers were deceived because the names used by the initiative backers and campaign committee did not disclose that the measure was being financed by the California-based Service Employees International Union — Union Healthcare Workers West.

The judge’s findings

Gates acknowledged that virtually all of the $6.7 million raised by June 30 came from the union.

But she also said there was not “sufficient credible evidence” to conclude that potential petition signers were defrauded or that anyone was confused or misled because SEIU-UHW was not included in the committee’s name.

But Gates did find other legal problems. One, she said, is in the 100-word description, which says the initiative will “prohibit insurers from discriminating based on preexisting conditions.”

The judge said the evidence shows about 60% of Arizonans are insured through an employer’s self-funded insurance plan.

The initiative would apply only to those who purchase individual or group plans. She said it was misleading not to tell signers that the provision would not aid a majority of Arizonans.

Gates also said it was misleading to say the initiative would set “new minimum wages” for workers at private hospitals. She said there was evidence that people, confronted with that phrase, would equate it with some bottom-level wage set by federal and state law and not the fact the raises would be on top of what could be a current $37-an-hour salary paid to an experienced nurse.

Friday’s ruling was cheered by Garrick Taylor, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber.

He said the initiative would “have forced tremendous cost increases onto patients and hospitals.”

Status of other ballot measures

Two other initiatives have cleared their first legal challenges, one to legalize recreational use of marijuana by adults and another to give judges more discretion in sentencing “non-dangerous” offenders.

But a proposal to increase income taxes on the highest income earners to fund K-12 education was found to have a flawed description.

All of those rulings, however, are subject to Supreme Court review.

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