Arizona to decide 3 statewide ballot measures

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- Voters will decide Tuesday whether Arizona will become the fifth state to make it easier for terminally ill patients to access experimental drugs that haven't been cleared by the federal government.

The measure is one of three statewide proposals on the ballot. The other measures would raise the salaries of state lawmakers for the first time since 1998 and let Arizona refuse to use state workers and tax dollars to carry out federal laws and programs that lawmakers deem unconstitutional.

In Phoenix, voters will be asked to overhaul a city pension system, and Sierra Vista will decide a proposal to outlaw traffic enforcement cameras.

The experimental drug proposal would let terminally ill patients get access to medicines that haven't gone through the full federal drug approval process but have cleared the first phase of clinical trials.

Proponents say the proposal is needed to give options to terminal patients who must now wait months to get government clearance such medication. Opponents say the drugs are already fairly easy to get and that changing the rules could expose patients to the dangers of medicines that haven't been tested thoroughly.

The drugs would still have to be prescribed by a doctor, and the risk from the drug would have to be no greater than the risk from the disease. Similar laws have been approved in Colorado, Louisiana, Missouri and Michigan.

"The unfortunate reality now is that folks in this situation have very few options," said Victor Riches, vice president of external affairs for the Goldwater Institute, which drafted the proposal.

Dr. Raymond Woosley, president of AZCERT, a nonprofit that advocates for the safe use of medications, said the proposal is based on the false belief that terminally ill patients are dying because these drugs are off limits. He says current rules actually allow doctors in special cases to get waivers from the government for terminally ill patients seeking experimental drugs.

He predicts that will change under the "right to try" laws unscrupulous drugmakers try to exploit the new market.

Like the experimental drugs proposal, the measure to let Arizona opt out of federal programs that are deemed unconstitutional by the state was put on the ballot by the Legislature.

Jonathan Paton, a former Republican lawmaker from Tucson who is running the campaign for the measure, said the proposal is a response to an overreach in the federal government's powers on such issues as the health care law pushed by President Barack Obama and spying on American citizens by the National Security Agency.

"Whether you are a Republican or Democrat, I don't think it's a good to give a government that much power," Paton said.

Such laws have become increasingly popular in conservative statehouses around the country amid unpopularity with Obama's policies.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon chapter, which opposes the measure, said the measure in effect lets the Arizona Legislature decide something that it doesn't have power to do - whether a law or policy is constitutional. That is up to the courts, he said.

"It's just a lawsuit waiting to happen," Bahr said of the measure, predicting that the measure would be used to weaken environmental protections pushed by the federal government.

The proposal to lawmakers' annual salaries from $24,000 to $35,000 was put on the ballot by a state commission.

Voters denied raises to lawmakers every two years between 2000 and 2008. In 2010 and 2012, voters weren't asked to approve a pay raise as the state was mired in a recession.

Proponents say the raise is needed, in part, because members of the Legislature technically hold part-time jobs, but their time commitments to the work are really closer to full time. Opponents say state legislative positions were meant to be part-time jobs.

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