The Chamber of Commerce organizations got their lickspittle servants in our Tea-Publican controlled legislature and our “Koch-bot” governor to do their bidding in making it damn near impossible for citizens to exercise their constitutional right to make laws by citizens initiative. Buying a legislature and governor to do your bidding is the exclusive provence of our Plutocratic corporate overlords, and you will obey!
The ink hadn’t even dried on the bill before Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signs bill banning pay-per-signature for initiative petitions:
Gov. Doug Ducey late Thursday signed into law a bill that will reshape how citizen-initiative campaigns are conducted in Arizona.
The measure, House Bill 2404, was [fraudulently] promoted as a way to fight fraud in petition-signature gathering by banning the paying of circulators for each signature they collect. Instead, they would most likely earn an hourly wage.
Critics denounce it as an attempt to throttle the citizen-initiative process, arguing it will remove the incentive for circulators to gather the thousands of signatures needed to qualify a measure for the ballot.
“We live in a state where citizens have significant input into the policy-making process,” Ducey said in a statement accompanying the announcement he had signed the bill. “That’s a good thing, and this tweak to the law helps ensure the integrity of ballot measures moving forward.”
The bill moved though the Legislature on a wave of Republican support and frequent protests from Democrats and activists. On Thursday, it won final House approval on a 34-22 vote that split along party lines. A day earlier, it cleared the Senate on a similar partisan vote, 17-13. The governor moved with unusual speed in signing the measure.
Meanwhile, two other Chamber of Commerce/Republican-sponsored proposals to restrict the initiative process appear to have hit a dead end in the Senate.
The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to hear Yuma Rep. Don Shooter’s House Concurrent Resolution 2029, which would have required every citizen initiative to have signatures from at least 10 percent of the voters in each state’s 30 legislative districts to qualify. That would grow to 15 percent for a constitutional amendment.
It also was slated to hear House Concurrent Resolution 2002, Scottsdale Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita’s annual effort to refer a repeal of the Voter Protection Act to the ballot.
But committee chairwoman Sen. Judy Burges, R-Sun City West, pulled the two items from the agenda. Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said he didn’t talk to her directly, but said there were “other ways” to convey hesitations about the two bills.
The measures would “struggle” to get through the Senate, Yarbrough said.
The ban on paying per signature was a priority for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry, which praised its passage.
“We are extremely gratified by the passage of this bill, which we believe will add greater rigor and integrity to the initiative process,” said Garrick Taylor, the chamber’s senior vice president of government relations. “Hopefully, by shifting to a new payment structure, we will see less fraud and fewer invalid signatures.”
Critics questioned how much fraud has bedeviled the initiative process, and argued HB 2404 will do little to end it.
What the legislation will end, said Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, is the ability of grassroots groups to launch a ballot measure. It will drive up the cost, he told House members, meaning only organizations with deep pockets like the chamber or unions will have the money to pay circulators, who presumably would be paid on an hourly basis.
Backlash to minimum-wage hike
The bill was widely viewed as a response to last fall’s successful minimum-wage ballot measure, Proposition 206.
Business groups complained that many of the signatures gathered by paid circulators were invalid, but that they ran out of time to challenge them in court. The bill extends to two weeks the amount of time anyone can bring a challenge; it currently is five days.
And they pointed to a payment dispute between the committee promoting the higher minimum wage and the petition firm it hired. The committee refused to pay the firm in full, arguing many of the petition circulators were improperly registered, meaning the signatures they gathered would not count.
But HB 2404 does nothing to address that problem, said Bill Scheel, who advised the Prop. 206 campaign. Settlement talks are underway after the petition firm sued and the committee counter-sued.
Scheel hinted that the bill may face a further fight. There have been talks among progressive groups about referring the matter back to the voters on the November 2018 ballot [by referendum], or potentially suing, but nothing is definitive.
“We’re not prepared to accept this as the final word,” he said, speaking as a citizen activist and not for the Prop. 206 campaign.
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said he’s offended by the notion of paying for signatures. He said he almost would welcome a referral to the ballot because it would put the practice in the public spotlight.
“By the time November of ’18 arrives, every single voter out there will know that the vast majority of signatures are bought,” he said as he cast his vote in support of the bill.
The payment issue is thorny.
Citizen petitions that seek to add a new state law need the signatures of 150,642 voters to qualify for the 2018 ballot. It’s a higher bar to amend the state Constitution: 225,963 signatures.
Those numbers are almost impossible to obtain without paying people to collect them, critics said. Most measures are launched in an election year and must meet a July deadline, meaning a lot of the work is done in some of Arizona’s hottest months. Supporters noted that anyone looking to launch a citizen initiative has two years to collect signatures if they file early.
Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said the fuss over paying circulators is curious.
“I see nothing wrong with paying people to do this work,” she said. “It’s work.”
Besides, the bill won’t stop paid circulators, critics said. If it’s such a heinous process, they argued, candidates also should be subject to the pay-per-signature ban. The bill only pertains to citizen initiatives. Many candidates pay circulators to help them gather enough signatures for their nominating petitions.
The bill won’t have the force of law until 90 days after the Legislature adjourns. It’s not clear when that will happen.
Other measures intended to rein in the initiative process appear stalled.
Bills from Ugenti-Rita to allow the Legislature to repeal matters referred by voters to the ballot never received a hearing in the Senate by Thursday’s committee hearing deadline. Her HB 2320, to require a disclosure statement that initiatives are subject to the Voter Protection Act be printed on ballots, publicity pamphlets and advertising materials for an initiative, also never received a Senate hearing.
The Republic’s Laurie Roberts writes, Remember this day, when Ducey stuck it to you, Arizona:
With one bold – really bold – stroke of his pen, Gov. Doug Ducey has sent a message screaming through Arizona.
The will of the chamber, he declared, is more important than the rights of the citizens he (supposedly) serves.
It took Ducey all of about two seconds to sign one of the worst bills to emerge from this legislative session – one that topped the must-have list of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the power set that runs this state.
‘Tweak?’ More like a full rewrite
“We live in a state where citizens have significant input into the policy-making process,” Ducey said in a prepared statement. “That’s a good thing, and this tweak to the law helps ensure the integrity of ballot measures moving forward.”
This tweak to the law? Tweak?
More like a wholesale slapdown of voters who dare to exercise their own power, as this state’s founders gave them the right to do 105 years ago.
House Bill 2404 isn’t about ensuring integrity. It’s about ensuring that never again will voters be able to go around the powers-that-be and enact laws at the ballot box.
It’s about payback to the 58 percent of Arizona voters who raised the minimum wage in last year’s election. It’s about disrespect and a total disdain for and distrust of voters.
It’s about doing the bidding of those you were elected to serve.
“We are extremely gratified by the passage of this bill, which we believe will add greater rigor and integrity to the initiative process,” chamber spokesman Garrick Taylor said.. “Hopefully, by shifting to a new payment structure, we will see less fraud and fewer invalid signatures.”
What this is about: Control
And far, far fewer opportunities for voters to go rogue.
HB 2404 will make it more difficult, if not impossible, for Arizonans to exercise their constitutional right to make laws via initiative.
By requiring that petition gatherers be paid by the hour rather than by the signature, it ensures that no one but the most well-heeled of groups will be able to successfully mount an initiative campaign.
It ensures control.
If our leaders and their handlers over at the chamber didn’t like Proposition 206, they should have mounted a serious campaign against it last fall.
If they truly believe that wholesale fraud is a problem, then they should beef up elections offices to root it out.
If a ban on per-signature payment really is the answer, then this new law also should apply to them as they hire petition gatherers to get signatures for their nominating petitions. Curiously, it doesn’t.
Why not let citizens exercise their rights?
If a ban on per-signature payment really is the answer, then they should enact this change but at the same time lower the signature requirement to preserve citizens’ access to the initiative process.
Currently, it takes 150,000 valid voter signatures to get something onto the ballot – 225,000 if it’s a proposed change to the state constitution. Then you have to collect half-again as many more to ensure you have enough..
Long gone are the days when a few citizen volunteers can stand outside the library and get enough signatures to mount a serious campaign.
The chamber and legislators have spent a fair amount of time moaning about out-of-state special interest groups seeking to influence Arizona law. Yet they have displayed not a whit of worry about out-of-state special interest groups that contribute to their political campaigns — often through dark money cutouts that make it impossible for us to know to whom they are beholden, In fact, they’ve actually made it easier for their benefactors to remain anonymous.
You want a return to citizen-driven initiatives? Then make it possible for citizens to exercise their rights.
HB 2404, though, isn’t really about stomping out fraud.
It’s about stomping out our rights.
Remember this, Arizona.