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State Supreme Court rules Legislature must abide by will of voters

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The Arizona Supreme Court sided with schools today, ruling that the Legislature violated the Voter Protection Act by not funding inflation for K-12 education three years ago.

At issue was whether voters can tell the Legislature what do and whether the Legislature can ignore the directives of voters without violating the Voter Protection Act. It was passed in 1998 and prohibits lawmakers from repealing voter-approved measures or amending them unless the change furthers the purpose of the ballot measure and it is passed with a three-fourths vote in both chambers.

The court rejected the argument of the Attorney General that voters cannot restrict the discretion of future Legislatures absent constitutional approval.

“We reject the state’s argument because its premise is flawed, it is based solely on pre-VPA case law, and it fails to give meaning to the VPA,” Justice John Pelander wrote on behalf of the unanimous court.

Pelander wrote that the relevant question was whether the Arizona Constitution keeps voters from giving the Legislature directives.

“The state does not cite any state or federal constitutional provision that restricts the voters’ authority as the state posits,” Pelander wrote.

Proposition 301 from 2000 included a provision later put into statute that sets out the formula for funding inflation.

The Legislature in 2010 passed an appropriations measure that did not fund parts of the inflation formula.

Pelander said that since the measure didn’t include the full inflation adjustment as required by statute, it “violated the VPA’s express limitations on legislative changes to voter-approved laws.”

The ruling upholds an Arizona Court of Appeals decision.  The case now returns to Maricopa County Superior Court for a judgment consistent with the high court ruling.

In the 2013 session, the Legislature set aside $82 million for fiscal year 2014 for schools to spend on inflation or anything else they wanted. The prevailing sentiment at the Capitol was it would be better for legislators to fund the education component in case the high court ruled against the state.

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