Trial begins in challenge to the Arizona Chamber of Commerce bill to deny your constitutional right to citizen initiative (Updated)

Yesterday I posted about the signature gathering efforts for the referendums currently circulating out there challenging onerous changes to Arizona’s citizen initiative process passed by our lawless Tea-Publican legislature to effectively render the citizen initiative process impossible unless financed by big corporate dollars, i.e., the Arizona Chambers of Commerce, the evil bastards behind these bills to take away your constitutional rights as a citizen of Arizona.

One petition is from Grassroots Citizens Concerned (R-01-2018), and two other petitions are from Voters of Arizona (R-03-2018 and R-04-2018). These are grassroots efforts, and I have not heard from either group how their signature gathering is going to date. They have an August 8 deadline to file.

UPDATE: The Arizona Capitol Times now reports Campaign to overturn citizen initiative restriction dead:

Foes of new restrictions on the ability of people to propose their own laws have suspended their effort to used paid circulators to gather signatures to quash the law.
Campaign manager Joe Yuhas said this afternoon that all the financial resources of Voters of Arizona are being funneled into convincing a judge that one of the changes violates the state constitution. What that means, he said, is no cash for anything else.

Yuhas said that, strictly speaking, the political campaign to refer — and overturn — what the legislature did is not over. He said volunteers continue to try to get the 75,321 valid signatures on each of two separate petitions.

These groups have a second prong of attack against the chambers’ attempt to take away your constituional right to citizen initiative, a legal challenge in court. It turns out that yesterday was day 1 of the trial. Howard Fischer reports, Judge hears arguments that new law curbs Arizonans’ initiative rights:

Andrew Chavez, a consultant who has helped with many recent initiative drives, told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens that it is not unusual for petitions to be challenged for technical errors. The errors could be something as simple as a signer failing to insert a full city and state address, to putting the date of the signature outside the small box where it is supposed to go, he said.

Until now, Chavez said, trial judges have generally resolved those disputes in favor of allowing the measure to go on the ballot. That’s because the Arizona Supreme Court says initiative petitions to propose new laws need be only in “substantial compliance” with all election requirements.

But Chavez, whose AZ Petition Partners provides paid circulators, said the mandate approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature in HB 2244 will require “strict compliance.” That likely will force judges to disqualify petitions with simple technical errors, he said.

He told Stephens that will require circulators to gather far more signatures than needed, as a “cushion.” And the more signatures a petition needs, the more expensive it will be.

Chavez said he charged $700,000 to collect signatures last year — under existing law — for a group that put a measure on the ballot to legalize marijuana for recreational use. He said just the change to strict compliance will increase that price tag by up to 30 percent, money he said many nonprofit and volunteer groups do not have.

His testimony is significant because foes of the new law — set to take effect Aug. 9 — hope it will convince Stephens that lawmakers acted illegally in changing the standard.

Part of the case being presented by their attorneys goes to the legal question of whether the Legislature has the right to change the standard.

But they cannot make that case unless they can first prove to Stephens that they have standing to sue because they will be harmed if the change is allowed to take effect as scheduled. The testimony from Chavez provides the legal basis for that.

It was not just Chavez who contends the new law will make future initiative drives more difficult.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, said she already is working with other groups to put two measures on the 2018 or 2020 ballots. One would make it easier for people to register to vote. The other would outlaw so-called “trophy hunting” of wild animals.

“This would be very harmful to a fundamental right that we have to initiate law,” she said of the new law. “It will make it more difficult, it will make it more expensive. It’s likely to mean that more initiatives will fail.”

The Arizona Constitution gives voters the right to propose their own laws. That right exists “independently of the Legislature,” attorney Roopali Desai, who is representing challengers to the new law, told Stephens.

“This provision is in the constitution for a very important reason,” she said.

“It is in the constitution because the people of Arizona believe their right to legislate is co-equal to that of the Legislature, and not subordinate to that of the Legislature,” Desai said. “And that is the premise our entire case is built on.”

She said that right “should be leniently applied with respect to initiative efforts that are undertaken by the people.”

Desai cited a series of changes in state law that exist because voters approved them at the ballot after the Legislature refused to act. These include creation of an optional system of public financing for statewide and legislative candidates, having an independent commission rather than politicians draw legislative and congressional districts, and creation of a statewide minimum wage.

She also noted that women got the vote in Arizona in 1912 — before it was required by a change in the U.S. Constitution — because of a voter initiative.

Desai also pointed out that the Voter Protection Act, approved at the ballot in 1998, specifically precludes lawmakers from repealing or making significant changes to the laws voters have enacted.

“It is their agitation with this significant right where they cannot come in and amend or repeal laws that are passed by the people that drove them to pass HB 2224 that essentially limits the right of initiative by making it more difficult to achieve ballot access,” she said.

Attorney David Cantelme, representing GOP legislative leaders defending the law, told Stephens that the claims of harm are exaggerated.

He said all petition organizers and circulators have to do is follow the Arizona laws which spell out what is required to put a measure on the ballot. And Cantelme noted that HB 2244 says petition drives that use the form written by the Secretary of State’s Office are presumed to be valid.

But he also argued that the plaintiffs, including Bahr, have no standing to sue because they cannot show they have been harmed by the new law, as nothing they have proposed for the ballot has been kicked off because of the strict compliance standard.

This would mean the law goes into effect first, followed by the resulting harm. In other words, closing the barn door after the horse has already left. Too late then.

Desai countered that all the plaintiffs not only have been involved in prior initiative drives but also are weighing future ones, giving them a legitimate interest.

Bahr said her organization is working with other challengers including the Arizona Advocacy Network and the Animal Defense League of Arizona. Others challenging the law include the Friends of the Arizona School Boards Association, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, and Matthew Madonna, who was regional president of the American Cancer Society when it launched a successful ballot effort to ban smoking in public places.

Whatever Stephens rules is unlikely to be the last word: Whichever side loses is expected to seek Arizona Supreme Court review.

UPDATE: The Arizona Capitol Times updates Campaign to overturn citizen initiative restriction dead:

Attorneys for the campaign wrapped up their case late Thursday, asking Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens to conclude lawmakers had no right to do what they did. Stephens, after hearing arguments from both sides, said she will decide by Aug. 4, just days before the law is set to take effect.

But the campaign is not seeking to overturn HB 2404, also approved earlier this year by the Republican-controlled legislature. That measure makes it illegal to pay petition circulators based on the number of signatures they gather.

And with the referendum drive to kill that one all but dead, that measure will take effect as scheduled on Aug. 9 and be in place for future petition drives.

So our corporate overlords have successfully made your ability to pursue a citizen initiative virtually impossible without their financial largesse and support. The only way to reverse this law is to rid this state of their Tea-Publican lickspittle servants in the legislature with a Democratic majority. Otherwise, consign yourself to living under the boot of corporatocracy oppression.

One Response to Trial begins in challenge to the Arizona Chamber of Commerce bill to deny your constitutional right to citizen initiative (Updated)

  1. This is one of those times when you and I are in agreement, AzBM. Taking away the Initiative Process was a bad idea that was used, I think, to strip the voters of a bypass to the Legislative Process when they did not think they were being well served by that process. As much as I think conservatives are the best people to run the government, I don’t think it is a good idea to completely shut out a segment of your population from any input whatsoever on what happens legislatively. The initiative process can be misused, I think, by big money from outside the state, but that is not a good reason to make it so difficult to use that it is almost the equivilent of repealing it.