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Bill gives citizens right to sue schools, cities over elections

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Saying state and county prosecutors may balk, a House panel voted Tuesday to let anyone file suit to claim that public dollars are being used to influence elections.

The 5-4 vote by the House Elections Committee on HB 2026 came after claims by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, that individual taxpayers need the right to step in to enforce the law.

He acknowledged that current law permits either the attorney general or county attorney to sue local governments or school districts that use public resources to urge people to vote for or against individuals or ballot measures. But Kavanagh said those officials, being political animals, worry about getting re-election.

“They don’t stand up to their responsibilities and they take the cowardly way out by, for whatever reason, saying, ‘I don’t think this deserves being looked into’ (or) ‘lacks merit,’ ” he said.

Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, agreed, saying that taxpayers should not have to rely on a county attorney or attorney general to enforce the laws.

“There are perhaps elected officials which may run for cover and not want to get into it for various political reasons,” he said.

“What this does is it allows the average person, whether Democrat or Republican or independent, that feels there’s been some malfeasance, to raise the issue and follow it up in court,” Fillmore said. “It’s a very reasonable thing.”

Tom Savage of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, urged defeat of the measure, saying the existing laws are adequate. And he said this change could lead to unnecessary lawsuits.

That’s also the assessment of Rivko Knox who lobbies for the League of Women Voters. She told lawmakers that “frivolous lawsuits” could force school districts to use their resources to hire attorneys rather than spend the time and money “to be used to educate future Arizona voters.”

Kavanagh conceded under questioning that he knows of no specific incident where either a county attorney or attorney general actually refused to pursue a complaint.

But he said that’s irrelevant.

“Even if there weren’t any I don’t see why we would object to having the public have this remedy, because it could happen tomorrow,” Kavanagh said.

The measure now goes to the House Government Committee.

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