The Senate Elections Committee on a party-line vote has approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Chester Crandell (R-Heber) that would require voters to re-approve ballot measures every eight years.
The bill still needs Senate and House approval and the governor’s signature.
Sen. Crandell, who represents Rim Country, said the measure would make sure voters have a chance to change their minds — and ensure the law they originally passed was properly implemented.
The bill comes in the wake of a series of controversial efforts by the Legislature to get around voter-approved ballot measures that dictated state spending.
Recent examples include repeated legislative efforts to undo a voter measure that earmarked money for early childhood education and support, a ballot measure that made impoverished, childless adults eligible for medical care through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, a voter-approved measure that required the Legislature to provide inflation adjustments for schools, an attempt by the Legislature to reduce the inflation adjustments on the pensions of firefighters, police officers and judges and attempts to undo provisions of the voter-approved Citizens Clean Elections Act.
Crandell argued before the committee that ballot measures effectively lock certain programs into stone. Requiring voters to reapprove the measures every eight years would allow them to change their minds as circumstances change.
However, critics testified the measure would gut the state’s strong voter initiative system. They said lawmakers can already put any measure they want on the ballot — including a ballot measure to modify or repeal a voter-approved initiative. For instance, the Legislature unsuccessfully sought voter approval of a plan to divert to other uses tobacco tax money voters earmarked for the First Things First early childhood education programs.
Crandell’s bill to automatically force a re-vote on voter-approved ballot measures comes in the wake of swirl of controversy about changes in election laws this year.
At the end of the last session, lawmakers on a straight party-line vote passed a bundle of election reforms that made it harder to get measures on the ballot, get a third-party candidate’s name on the ballot or vote by mail. Democrats and Latino groups said the measures would limit the voters’ use of ballot measures and make it harder to register minority voters and get them to the polls.
Those groups quickly gathered 144,000 signatures to put on the ballot a voter referendum repealing those laws.
Republicans in the Legislature then repealed the package of bills themselves, which effectively killed the referendum.
Critics predicted the Republicans would then simply re-adopt the election changes piecemeal, forcing opponents to gather the 144,000 signatures all over again.