House, Senate to Debate Major Revamp of Initiative Process

May 8, 2019

The Arizona House and Senate have scheduled debates Wednesday on a contentious plan that makes major changes in how citizen initiatives qualify for the ballot.

The State Capitol Building
Credit Arizona Library

The twin proposals that had been stalled since early in the session would require proponents to collect signatures from 10% of the voters in each of the state's 30 legislative districts for initiatives and 15% for changes to the state constitution. The Arizona Constitution currently has no geographic restriction, requiring 10% of all voters statewide to sign petitions to qualify an initiative for the ballot.

If they pass both chambers, the measures would be put on the 2020 ballot for voters to approve.

The proposals are backed by Republicans who hold a slim majority in both chambers. They argue rural voters' views are ignored by initiative backers. Initiative backers say the change would allow any single district to block a measure with broad support.

The House also plans to debate a GOP-backed proposal to toughen requirements for petition circulators. A proposed amendment would also allow the attorney general to change proposed ballot language.

The Senate also plans to consider a House-approved measure banning payment for people who conduct voter registration drives. The proposal also makes it a misdemeanor not to return a registration form in 10 days and a felony to alter a form.

The moves are part of a years-long effort by Republicans and business interests that oppose many proposed initiatives the GOP-controlled Legislature would never approve.

The efforts heated up after voters in 2016 passed an initiative raising the minimum wage and narrowly rejected a marijuana legalization measure. They've passed laws in recent years that make it easier to disqualify signatures, revamped rules on signature collection and made it easier to sue to block initiatives that qualify for the ballot.

Republicans hold a 17-13 majority in the Senate and just a 31-29 margin in the House. Democrats oppose the measures.