The Fair Wages and Healthy Families initiative survives its first legal challenge

RaiseTheWageMore good news from the courtroom on Friday. A Maricopa County Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging thousands of petitions gathered supporting the Fair Wages and Healthy Families initiative (Prop. 206) to increase Arizona’s minimum wage to $12 over the next four years. $12 Arizona minimum-wage measure on the November ballot, judge rules:

During court hearings earlier this month, the Arizona Restaurant Association argued that many of the people collecting signatures were not properly registered with the state, so their petitions should be invalidated.

The state requires paid and out-of-state petition circulators to register with the Secretary of State’s Office. They must show they are 18 or older and have an address where they can be reached. Individuals who have been charged with a felony are also not allowed to circulate petitions for pay.

“It’s a privilege to use out-of-state circulators for petitions,” attorney Roopali Desai argued on behalf of the restaurant association. “There are many, many circulators who didn’t register, so their petitions are invalid.”

She said some registration forms appeared as if they were illegally altered after a circulator turned them in, claiming there were “some shenanigans and fraud involved.”

But the ruling came down to a technicality: The law requires that signatures be challenged within five days of their submission to the Secretary of State’s Office. After a thorough discussion of whether that meant business days or calendar days, Judge Joshua Rogers dismissed the case, saying the suit hadn’t been filed in a timely manner.

Howard Fischer has more on this aspect of the ruling. Judge tosses out challenge against minimum wage initiative:

In his decision, Rogers acknowledged various claims by the Arizona Restaurant Association that some of the people who circulated the petitions had not complied with all of the requirements of state law. That includes registering with the secretary of state’s office, not having been convicted of felonies, and providing an Arizona address where they could be contacted if necessary.

In fact, the judge said, based on those requirements, he would have thrown out “a score” of petitions circulated by those people, potentially leaving initiative backers with insufficient signatures.

But Rogers did not do that for one simple reason: He said challengers waited too long to file suit. And that means any and all of their claims are legally void and Proposition 206 can go on the ballot,

Arizona law does allow any person to challenge the registration of circulators. But Rogers said there is a caveat.

“A challenge may not be commenced more than (ITALICS) five days (ROMAN) after the date on which the petitions for which the circulator is required to be registered are filed with the secretary of state,” he pointed out. And Rogers said the lawsuit was not filed within that period.

Rogers specifically rejected the contention of attorneys for the challengers that the measure should be read to mean “five business days” which would exclude Saturday and Sunday from the count — and would have meant the complaint was filed in time.

“Courts are to interpret a statute according to the ordinary meaning of its terms unless a specific definition is given or the context clearly indicates that a special meaning was intended,” the judge wrote.

Steve Chucri, executive director of the Arizona Restaurant Association, said paperwork already has been filed to take the issue to the state Supreme Court.

We believe that there is a valid argument to be made on that portion of the ruling,” he said.

More to the point, Chucri contends that if the high court concludes the lawsuit is filed in time, the rulings already made by Rogers about unqualified petition circulators will leave initiative backers with fewer than the 150,642 valid signatures they need to put the issue on the November ballot.

If that happens, it could be close.

Backers submitted nearly 272,000 signatures. But after a preliminary review, Secretary of State Michele Reagan struck many of the names, leaving the measure with just 238,937 signatures.

Back to The Republic:

Jim Barton, the attorney representing the Fair Wages and Healthy Families campaign, said nothing can keep the minimum-wage effort off the ballot — save an appeal and higher court reversal of Friday’s decision. But he said he’s confident “voters are going to get a chance to raise the minimum wage.”

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Following Friday’s ruling, Fair Wages and Healthy Families campaign Chairman Tomas Robles called the decision “a big victory for direct democracy and a step in the right direction for hardworking families in Arizona.”

“We are looking forward to taking this initiative to the voters,” he said.

You probably should wait to see what the Arizona Supreme Court has to say about this appeal before getting too excited.

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