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No citizen initiatives will make ballot for first time since 1978

vote-buttons-620For the first time in more than three decades, Arizona voters are not going to get a chance to make their own laws.

It appears that none of the petition drives to amend the state constitution or laws will meet today’s 5 p.m. deadline to submit sufficient valid signatures. That means the only proposals that voters will face in November are two proposed by the Legislature and the recommendation of a special commission that lawmakers get a pay hike.

And that hasn’t happened in any election since 1978.

The “why” behind that is harder to tell.

Certainly, the number of signatures required has increased – but probably no faster than population growth.

It takes the signatures of 10 percent of those who voted in the last gubernatorial election to propose a change in state laws. This year and in 2012, that translated out to 172,809.

Constitutional amendments have a 15 percent threshold, or 259,213.

Pollster Earl de Berge said voters and groups tend to propose their own laws when there is something they want that lawmakers have been unwilling, for whatever reason, to approve. That’s how Arizona got everything from restrictions on pen sizes for pigs and term limits to a state minimum wage that adjusts every year for inflation.

He said there just may be nothing this year that gained sufficient interest.

But the initiative process can be used by special interests in hopes of getting their own way, such as in 2008, when the payday loan industry had hoped voters would keep it alive. But that did not happen, despite a $14.7 million campaign.

What that may have shown, de Berge speculated, is that those who put up “the big bucks for the petition drives and the campaigns that follow have become discouraged by the failure of a lot of those items at the ballot box.”

There were efforts this year to put issues on the ballot.

One campaign that fizzled out in the last weeks would have required labeling on food products that contain genetically modified ingredients and on meats where the animals had been fed genetically modified grains. Backers came up with only about half the signatures needed.

A petition drive to limit the growth of city and county budgets until their pension plans are better funded appears to have evaporated, along with a measure to limit the ability of unions to have their dues deducted from members’ paychecks.

Proponents of a measure to put the question of legalizing same-sex weddings on the 2014 ballot abandoned those plans in favor of waiting until 2016, when a presidential election might improve voter turnout.

And a bid to ask voters to outlaw putting tolls on existing roads never really got off the ground.

There will, however, be other things for voters to decide in November.

Proposition 122 asks voters to put a provision in the Arizona Constitution to allow resident to “reject a federal action that the people determine violates the United States Constitution.”

A nearly identical measure on the 2012 ballot failed by a 2-1 margin.

But this time, lawmakers added language to take the plan even further: It would prohibit the state and local government from using their employees or finance resources to enforce, administer or cooperate with any federal action or program they determine is not “consistent with the Constitution.”

Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, who crafted the measure, said it simply reflects the system of government in the United States. He said the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled the U.S. Constitution is the limit on federal power, not on the power of the states.

The 2013 Senate vote to put the issue to voters this November came over the objections of Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix.

“If we want to get away from ‘The Daily Show’ and all the national-type television shows that keep mocking Arizona, we must put an end to stuff like this,” he said.

Proposition 303 would allow drug manufacturers to provide certain experimental drugs to terminally ill patients even though they have not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Rep. Phil Lovas, R-Peoria, said that patients who have no other options deserve a chance to try to save their own lives. During legislative debate, he cited the “Dallas Buyers Club,” a movie that shows how terminally ill AIDS patients in the 1980s had to go outside the country to find the medications to save their lives.

And Proposition 304 will let voters decide if lawmakers get an $11,000-a-year pay increase, to $35,000.

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