Medical marijuana. A $12 minimum wage. Clean elections.
None of these laws likely would be in place today if it were up to Arizona legislators.
Sam Richard, executive director of the Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition contends that Arizona is quickly becoming a purple state.
But thanks to gerrymandering, the state legislature is overwhelmingly conservative, he says.
If Arizonans want to see progressive change in the next few years, the citizen initiative process — which forces issues that the House and Senate won’t take up onto the ballot — is the only way to make it happen.
“This is a process in which everyday Arizonans are able to act as the legislature in cases where the legislature is out of touch or out of step with the majority of Arizonans,” Richard says.
Proposition 206, which raised the minimum wage to $12, is a prime example, he says.
“There’s a reason why citizens rallied around the idea and put it onto the ballot ourselves — because we knew our very conservative-minded legislature was never going to increase minimum wage.”
Not everyone was happy that Proposition 206 passed — the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, in particular, believes it’s bad for business. And it’s no coincidence that the Chamber is pushing six bills that are designed to impede the citizen initiative process.
Currently, the process looks like this:
• You form a committee and file an application with the Secretary of State.
• You collect a minimum number of signatures — 75,321 for a veto referendum, 150,642 for a statute, and 225,963 for a constitutional amendment
• Once you've met that threshold, the question goes on the ballot for voters to consider in the general election.
Here’s a brief overview of how all that could change:
HCR 2002, HCR 2007, and HB 2320 all target the Voter Protection Act, which prevents lawmakers from making changes to a ballot measure unless they have a three-quarters majority.
Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, has argued that the Voter Protection Act prevents legislators from making “common-sense changes” to ballot measures.
But Tomas Robles, executive director at LUCHA, doesn’t buy that.
“There have been no problems with the bills that were passed,” he says. “They can’t point to any examples of how those common-sense pieces are missing. It’s a ploy, it’s an excuse, it’s a solution in search of a problem.”
The other three bills would make it harder to get a citizen-led initiative on the ballot in the first place.
HB 2404 addresses signature-gatherers, requiring them to undergo a background check and pay a registration fee. They also could not be paid on a per-signature basis.
Supposedly, this will prevent fraud.
But Robles points out that the state already has checks and balances when it comes to signature-gatherers, who have to register with the secretary of state and submit to a background check
“All they’re doing is adding to the cost of the initiative — not necessarily making it more fraud-proof,” he says.
Then, there’s SCR 1013.
Currently, anyone backing an initiative needs to get signatures from 10 percent of all eligible voters in the state in order for it to appear on the ballot — or 15 percent if the initiative would change the constitution.
If this measure passes, though, they’d need to get that many signatures from every legislative district.
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Lastly, HB 2255 prevents out-of-state residents from making financial contributions in support of ballot-measure initiatives.
So what can you do to protect the citizen initiative process? Call your reps, Robles says.
“If you care about your voting rights, if you care about Arizona citizens, call your local representative and tell them to vote no on these bills.”