A Republican bill to give Arizona’s attorney general the authority to unilaterally change wording that describes citizen initiatives on ballots is effectively dead.
At least four Senate Republicans oppose an amendment to SB1451, adopted by GOP representatives in the House, that enshrines broad authority within the Attorney General’s Office to make eleventh-hour changes to language used to explain to voters what laws proposed through the citizen initiative process would do.
Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, told her Senate Republican colleagues Wednesday morning that she supports the underlying measures in SB1451, which add new restrictions for paid and out-of-state signature gatherers who collect petitions to propose or challenge laws on the ballot.
But Brophy McGee won’t vote for the bill if language allowing the attorney general to “accept, reject or amend” ballot descriptions remains.
Sens. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, and Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, said they also don’t like the amendment.
And Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, told the Associated Press he’s opposed to the amendment.
That leaves the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Vince Leach, in a pickle. The Tucson Republican needs to get three of those Republican senators to change their minds for the bill to pass.
Instead, Leach said he expects the bill will need to be amended again.
“We are working on something to make this bill palatable for all,” Leach said.
Though Leach concurred with the House amendment to SB1451, he can always change his mind and send the bill to a conference committee, where three lawmakers from the House and Senate would meet to discuss potential changes.
Rep. Kelly Townsend, a Mesa Republican who sponsored the controversial amendment in the House, encouraged Leach to do that.
“If we can’t get (SB1451) across the finish line without taking the part out, then I would recommend he take it out,” Townsend said, adding the attorney general can affect ballot language regardless of whether the office has the power to rewrite the description itself.
“The AG can effectively, by denying the language until it comes back to his liking, it’s pretty much the same as just modifying it himself or herself … I don’t think it’s a deal breaker to not have that in there,” she said.
Townsend said her measure was simply meant to expedite the process and avoid a situation where the attorney general continuously denies ballot language prepared by the Secretary of State’s Office. Democrats said the measure would turn the attorney general into a “kingmaker” that could change language to sway public opinion on ballot measures.