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Homebuilders group files suit to block initiative

Supporters of an initiative dubbed the Homeowners' Bill of Rights will have to fight to see their measure printed on the 2008 ballot after a group representing homebuilders filed a lawsuit July 22 claiming the proposal is rife with errors and intentionally misleading.

To date, the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona has made no secret its distaste for the union-led ballot initiative, which the group claims to be financial revenge for its refusal to force subcontracting members to unionize.

The lawsuit seeks to prevent the initiative from appearing on the ballot, and the association's president, Connie Wilhelm, isn't hiding the fact she does not want to engage in a lengthy campaign war to convince voters to reject the proposal.

"I'd rather face them in court than on the ballot," she said. "And if I can get them kicked off I will."

The homebuilders group claims the initiative lacks a title, according to court records. And the group's attorney, Lisa Hauser, said language noting that the act may be called the "Homeowners' Bill of Rights" is not sufficient to satisfy constitutional requirements or Arizona Supreme Court precedent set in 1998.

Without a title, the ballot initiative committee's qualifying signatures are effectively invalid because state law demands that signature petitions contain a "full and correct copy of the title of the measure,"according to the court records filed by the homebuilders group.

The proposal also is purposefully misleading because a summary of its provisions fails to acknowledge that it would extend a 10-year warranty to all types of newly constructed buildings, not just residential dwellings, according to the court records.

Right now, buyers of new homes have eight years to sue or seek legal remedy for construction defects.

The committee "appears to have attempted to conceal or discourage discovery of the true scope of the proposed amendment" as the proposal's changes to warranty lengths are included last in the initiative, but first in the committee's provided summary, Hauser wrote.

The initiative committee also failed a legal requirement to capitalize all proposed changes to state law that would occur if the measure is passed, according to the filing.

Though the measure was created by and received funding from the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, the Arizona chapter of the AFL-CIO is handling press requests for comment.

The union's executive director, Rebekah Friend, blasted the lawsuit as attempt to deny a citizen vote through the use of "hypertechnicalities."

"In most cases of this sort, courts see through such suits as meritless efforts to frustrate the will of the tens of thousands of people who signed the petition," she said. "We're optimistic the same result will occur here."

Supporters of the measure have said at the initiative is necessary to provide additional legal protections to citizens that buy new homes that turn out to be poorly constructed.

They also said buyers are dissuaded from seeking legal redress because they would have to pay the legal fees of builders if a court rules in favor of the builder. Other changes in the initiative would require builders to make it clear to potential buyers of existing differences between model homes and homes for sale.

On June 30, the Homeowners' Bill of Rights committee filed an estimated 230,000 voters' signatures to help the measure qualify for the 2008 ballot. As an amendment to state law, 153,365 valid signatures are required.

The lawsuit's chances could hinge on whether or how strictly the Arizona Supreme Court decides to apply a 1998 decision reached during a title challenge against the Citizens Clean Elections Act, said Hauser, who lost the attempt to remove the initiative from the ballot.

In the case, Meyers v. Bayless, the court ruled the ballot committee was in "substantial compliance" with title requirements in the state Constitution and statutes because the title, though it didn't precede all of the text, was distinguishable by its spacing, centering and capitalization.

The fact that the initiative only sought to amend one article of state law also was deemed "critical" in the written opinion, and Hauser noted that the Homeowners' Bill of Rights seeks to amend several articles in statute.

"The framers of the Constitution intended this to be a very significant right (the citizens' initiative process), but they also intended to have rules attached to it," she said.









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