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Lawmakers achieved election reform, tax reform and tort reform

Robert Graham (Photo from Twitter)

Robert Graham (Photo from Twitter)

I commend the governor and the Legislature for enduring the stress of a lengthy session and passing some much-needed legislation that will have a positive effect on our state for a very long time.

While our Republican caucus was split on some major issues, let’s remember the importance of legislative acts that may not have received the boldest headlines but still deserve a prominent place on the list of achievements this year.

Fairness in elections rewards people of every political stripe, and the equalization of candidate signature requirements contained in HB2305 creates a more rational basis for proving a candidate has enough public support to qualify for the ballot. All candidates must now meet the same minimum number of petition signatures, regardless of party affiliation, in order to qualify for the ballot.

The election-related reforms include changes that discourage fraud and ballot tampering. While many Arizona voters rely on voting by mail, a large number of voters in 2012 elected to receive an early ballot but failed to turn it in, leaving all those un-voted ballots in circulation. In fact, some voters were sent an early ballot but still went to the polls to vote, where they voted a provisional ballot, causing long lines and delaying the results. The new law allows elections officials to contact voters who have not used an early voting ballot in the prior four elections, and require those voters to opt-in before they can use early voting.

As anyone in Arizona who waited anxiously for November’s election results can attest, the post-Election Day tally delays were unacceptable. Record numbers of provisional ballots were one cause, but there was another. Certain organizations were canvassing neighborhoods before Election Day, going door to door to pick up early ballots, holding them for an unnecessary period of time, and apparently dropping them off just before Election Day. Thankfully, the new law ends this suspicious practice and prohibits committees and organizations from collecting ballots from voters.

Arizona’s campaign finance limits have been some of the most restrictive in the country, but thanks to new legislation the state’s limits on contributions now reflect the federal limits. Also, the severe restrictions on an individual’s overall contributions have been abolished, and contribution limits to candidates have been removed for committees such as those funded by employees and trade association members. This is good news for free speech, for community leaders who want to help more than just one candidate, and for candidates who can now accept contributions from a broader group of people.

Tax reform this year involved an important change to sales tax collections, a welcome change for a state that is longing to help Arizona businesses operate more smoothly. We’ve simplified the payment of sales taxes owed to state, county and municipal jurisdictions, so we are no longer one of the most complicated states in the nation for sales tax collections. Now, a single state agency acts as a “one-stop-shop” for paying sales taxes that must be distributed to multiple jurisdictions.

Lastly, this session’s tort reform will help businesses fight the often frivolous class-action lawsuits that can threaten to choke off the success of any business in Arizona. Simply put, a court’s granting of class-action status now requires a written certification, and the new law provides a process to appeal that status early on in the process.

Legislative Republicans and our governor were united for the sake of all voters in making these changes, as Arizona has increased the fairness and security of our elections and improved the business climate so critical to our economic prosperity.

— Robert Graham is chairman of the Arizona Republican Party.

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