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Lawmaker: Note on ballots that voter-approved laws tough to change

Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale, wants ballots in Arizona to note that voter-approved laws are difficult for lawmakers to change. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Jessica Boehm)

Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale, wants ballots in Arizona to note that voter-approved laws are difficult for lawmakers to change. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Jessica Boehm)

Arizona voters need to better understand that when they approve a ballot initiative it’s almost impossible for lawmakers to make changes when they are needed, a state lawmaker contends.

HB 2014, authored by Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale, would require ballots, campaign literature and advertisements and a background pamphlet provided by the Secretary of State’s Office to note that changing a voter-approved measure requires a three-quarters vote by both houses of the Legislature.

The statement also would note that lawmakers can only make changes that further the intent of a voter-approved law.

“I think that this is about empowering the voter to understand what it is they’re voting for and how it will impact the state financially, of course, in other areas too,” she told members of the House Federalism and Fiscal Responsibility Committee on Jan. 21.

The committee endorsed the measure, with the three Democratic members voting against, forwarding it to the House floor by way of the Rules Committee.

The bill addresses Proposition 105, the so-called Arizona Voter Protection Act, a 1998 ballot measure that makes it more difficult for the Legislature to change voter-approved laws.

Ugenti said her bill would merely disclose information that helps voters make better-informed decisions.

“It doesn’t force a voter to vote in a certain way or a certain kind of capacity but simply allows them to understand what it is – the long-term conditions are under which they’re going to make their decisions,” she said.

The disclosure statement would read: “Notice: Pursuant to Proposition 105 (1998), this measure can never be changed in the future if approved on the ballot except by a three-fourths vote of the legislature and if the change furthers the purpose of the original ballot measure, or by referring the change to the ballot.”

Other media that would include the statement include television commercials addressing ballot measures. It would be spoken or written if shown as text for at least five seconds in a 30-second advertisement or 10 seconds in a 60-second commercial.

Jennifer Sweeney Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, said that while her group supports adding the statement to campaign literature printing the statement on the ballot would prove too costly.

“The ballot is just simply at a premium,” she said. “Anything that we can do to cut the page numbers down is what the counties would like to do because it’s the most cost-effective,” she said.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, said including the word “never” in the statement Ugenti proposes is inaccurate.

“There are a lot of things we all wish voters knew when they went to vote on the ballot, there are a lot of things we wish we could put on there and tell them, but most of the time we have to do that work before someone votes their ballot,” she said.

Eric Emmert, representing the East Valley Chambers of Commerce Alliance, said that all seven chambers support the bill because it would educate voters.

“The alliance likes this bill because a lot of the chamber execs go and talk to their Rotary Clubs over the course of the year and they were finding that even well-educated business people didn’t know about the Arizona Voter Protection Act,” he said.

Explaining his vote against the measure, Rep. Jonathan Larkin D- Glendale, said he was concerned about the cost of complying.

Ugenti authored a similar bill in 2013, but it was held in the Senate. She said she’s cautiously optimistic that she’ll succeed this year.

Proposed statement:

Notice: Pursuant to Proposition 105 (1998), this measure can never be changed in the future if approved on the ballot except by a three-fourths vote of the legislature and if the change furthers the purpose of the original ballot measure, or by referring the change to the ballot.

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