New Republican effort to target Arizona initiatives appears

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(Source: Sean Pepper/Cronkite News) (Source: Sean Pepper/Cronkite News)

Just days after Gov. Doug Ducey signed a new law opponents said will make it harder for citizen initiatives to make the ballot, Republican Arizona lawmakers are reviving stripped parts of that legislation that will make it much easier for opponents to challenge initiatives in court.

The new proposal changes the legal standard required to keep an initiative off the ballot. It says the language in the proposed measure is subject to a "strict compliance" standard rather than "substantial compliance."

That will allow citizen's initiative to be thrown out for mere paperwork or language errors, even if the proposed law complies with other respects to the law.

The "substantial compliance" standard now in place allows such minor errors if the intent of measure remains clear.

"If people are going to put an initiative on the ballot that will either change our Constitution or change our statutes and the Legislature doesn't have realistically a way to change, I think there should be strict compliance," said Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, who is allowing the new language to be put on a bill in her Appropriations Committee.

And there may be more elements that were stripped out of the legislation Ducey signed last week that emerge, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said.

"Yeah, there could be more - people are talking about it now, what pieces," Mesnard said. "Mainly to give options, in other words to have them pass through committee. I don't want something mashed in on the floor."

House Bill 2244 is set for a Senate committee hearing Tuesday.

The bill signed by the governor last week bans paying petition circulators for each signature they gather and make it easier to bring a legal challenge to initiatives.

The bill was originally a catch-all for a series of proposals tightening requirements for paid workers when they're collecting voter signatures to qualify an initiative or referendum for the ballot. It also required petition companies to post a bond, required payments for circulators to register, and created a fund to enforce violations and other changes.

The provisions were stripped out by Mesnard after the measure became a lightning rod for criticism by voting rights advocates and Democrats.

Reviving the provisions in multiple bills may also prevent an effort to block them through a citizen's referendum.

Arizona's Constitution allows 5 percent of voters to sign petitions and block a law enacted by the Legislature until the next general election.

A massive election overhaul bill passed by the Republican-led Legislature in 2013 was repealed the following year because of just such a referendum.

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