Late-arriving bill aims to tighten Arizona ballot-initiative rules even more

When Gov. Doug Ducey last week signed a bill that will make citizen initiatives more difficult, opponents said they weren't done fighting.

Story by Mary Jo Pitzl, Arizona Republic

Neither, apparently, are those who want to tighten rules for placing initiatives on the ballot.

A new bill on a fast track for passage in the Arizona Legislature would require elections officials to toss out petitions if they don't strictly comply with legal standards.

For example, if a petition sheet has more than the 15 signatures per page allowed by state law, it could be tossed. If a voter's address is missing or illegible, that signature would not count. If a petition sheet didn't meet certain standards for size, a judge could throw out all the signatures on that sheet. 

The change would not pertain to signatures candidates gather on their nomination petitions.

The Arizona Advocacy Network, in a statement, said the change could "change the rules so that even the most inconsequential and honest mistakes would lead to voters’ signatures being tossed out."

Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, introduced the strike-everything amendment to House Bill 2244. It was part of the bill that banned paying petition circulators per the number of signatures they collect, but that portion was dropped during debate in the House before it was sent to Ducey. He signed it on Thursday.

"The initiatives are so permanent; we can't change them," she said, citing restrictions in the Voter Protection Act that prevent lawmakers from making changes to voter-approved laws.

Lesko said she agreed to run the bill because it's important to stick to the guidelines in the state constitution and state laws. She noted that Proposition 204 from 2012 did not meet the strict terms of the law, but was allowed to proceed to the ballot.

Prop 204 sought to extend a 1-cent sales-tax increase to support education and infrastructure. The language filed with the Secretary of State's office didn't match the language on the petitions that were circulated to voters — a disconnect that would not be allowed to stand under strict compliance, she said. Voters ultimately rejected that measure.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, which Lesko chairs, is the only place where bills can be introduced this late in the legislative session.

Lawmakers previously have tried to enact the strict-compliance provision as part of a broader package of initiative changes that passed the legislature in 2013. But after a coalition of citizen groups referred the changes to the ballot, lawmakers repealed them.

HB 2244 was originally sponsored by Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, as a bill that would require the state Department of Public Safety to file its annual reports on concealed-carry weapon permits electronically.

The bill will be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee at 2 p.m. Tuesday.