Big push on ballot referrals ends with just 2 passed

Paulina Pineda//May 25, 2018

Big push on ballot referrals ends with just 2 passed

Paulina Pineda//May 25, 2018

The Arizona Legislature referred two measures to the ballot this year, more than lawmakers referred in 2016 when they instead focused their attention on trying to defeat several citizen initiatives.

In total, legislators introduced 37 ballot referrals during the 2018 session, up from 23 in 2017 and tied with 37 in 2016. Lawmakers did not refer any measures to the 2016 ballot, and only two measures were referred by the Legislature in 2014.

While the majority of ballot referrals failed to receive both chambers’ approval, there was a greater push by legislative leadership to send measures up to the Secretary of State’s Office this year compared to previous years.

Of the 37 ballot referrals introduced, 12 measures were given the OK by members in the chamber it originated in. Most stalled in the other chamber, and at least two never came up for a second vote in their original chamber after being amended and passed out of the other.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (Photo by Katie Campbell/ Arizona Capitol Times)
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (Photo by Katie Campbell/ Arizona Capitol Times)

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said lawmakers concentrated their efforts in 2016 on attempting to defeat the minimum wage increase and the recreational marijuana legislation. They were also ready to fight a third citizen initiative that would have asked voters to cap the salaries of hospital executives but the measure didn’t make it onto the ballot, he said.

Instead of adding to the number of measures on the ballot, Mesnard said, lawmakers decided to run a “vote ‘no’ on everything” campaign.

“We thought there was going to be so many on there that were bad that it would be easier to have a ‘vote no’ campaign,” he said. “Had we known the hospital CEO one wasn’t going to make it, maybe we would have rethought not having any others.”

He said while voters will have the opportunity to decide the fate of the school voucher expansion law in November, and possibly vote on at least three other citizen initiatives, the Legislature still felt comfortable sending its own measures to the ballot.

“2016 was a strategic decision,” he said. “This year, it was clear we weren’t going to have a ‘vote yes’ or ‘vote no on everything.’ We will just have a smorgasbord of measures.”

The final measure lawmakers approved this session was HCR2007, sponsored by Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction.

If approved by voters, the measure would effectively eliminate the Clean Elections Commission’s oversight over “dark money” spending and other independent authority and place it under the authority of the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council.

The House approved the measure, 33-24, following a robust debate in which several Republican lawmakers accused Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, of impugning the body as a whole in the final moments of the night after she said lawmakers were controlled by dark money. The Senate approved the measure, 17-12.

Earlier in the session lawmakers also approved HCR2032, sponsored by Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, which would allow for changes to the public retirement system that otherwise are prohibited by the Arizona Constitution.

Interestingly, legislators asked the Secretary of State’s Office to return SCR1023, which they approved last year and also dealt with changes to the public retirement system, and replace it with HCR2032 on the ballot.

Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

State Elections Director Eric Spencer said his agency received the Legislature’s request a few weeks ago, and the Secretary of State’s Office transmitted SCR1023 back to Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, and substituted it with HCR2032. Spencer said it’s fairly rare to supersede a ballot referral, but it has been done before.

One referral that almost made it out was SCR1007, which was mistakenly sent to the Secretary of State’s Office in March following what House Majority Leader John Allen, R-Scottsdale, called a “clerical error. The House voted to reconsider its action, however, the second vote never took place.

A notable measure that didn’t make it onto the ballot was Yarbrough’s SCR1034, which sought to overhaul the Independent Redistricting Commission.

The measure was voted down shortly before the Legislature adjourned sine die after Republicans Bob Worsley, of Mesa, and Kate Brophy McGee, of Phoenix, joined Democrats in killing the measure.

And no one was more surprised than the Senate president, he said, especially given that the resolution passed out of the chamber with 17 Republican “yes” votes the first time around.

Another measure that failed to make it onto the ballot was HCR2017, a clean energy measure backed by Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest utility, that would have competed with the Clean Energy for Healthy Arizona initiative backed by California mega-donor Tom Steyer.

HCR2006, which sought to extend the length of terms for members of the House and Senate from two to four years, resurfaced in the final week of the session. The Senate approved a floor amendment that would have left the length of terms for representatives intact, but while bill sponsor Rep. Drew John, R-Safford, said he would have concurred to the changes, the bill never went up for a vote in the Senate.

Several of Mesnard’s measures also failed to get through the Senate after being approved in the House. HCR2029 would have asked voters to amend the state Constitution to prohibit taxes from being levied on the first $2 million of full cash value of personal property that is acquired in 2019 and used for agricultural purposes or business.

This is the third year Mesnard has introduced the measure, and despite unanimous approval in the Senate Finance Committee, it never came up for a floor vote.

“Once again it got shelved here at the end,” he said.