Court ruling likely kills some initiative drives The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Court ruling likely kills some initiative drives

Court ruling likely kills some initiative drives

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

Arizona groups still trying to put measure on the November ballot are going to have to try to get needed signatures the old-fashioned face-to-face way despite the COVID-19 outbreak.

In a brief order last week, the Arizona Supreme Court rebuffed pleas by several organizations to allow them to use an existing online signature-gathering system available to candidates.

The court, in its 6-1 order, was not swayed by pleas for special permission this year only because of the pandemic but gave no reason for their decision.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich, whose office argued against allowing the change, said the justices could not provide the relief sought.

“Arizona has had a provision in its constitution since statehood that provides that signatures in the initiative process have to be done by an actual human being,’’ he told Capitol Media Services.

The online E-Qual system has no circulators, with supporters “signing’’ online petitions by providing identifying information through a web site maintained by the secretary of state’s office.

Only Justice Ann Scott Timmer voted to grant the request.

Wednesday’s action may seal the fate of initiative drives that had not already collected sufficient signatures by the time Gov. Doug Ducey directed Arizonans to stay home.

A similar request was rebuffed by a federal judge and upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

That leaves the question of what will be on the ballot for voters to consider.

One measure that appears to have at least the bare minimum 237,645 signatures needed is the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, which seeks to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults.

Spokeswoman Stacy Pearson said circulators already have more than 300,000, enough to provide a margin should some signatures turn out to be invalid and challenges are made to other petitions.

Less clear are the fates of two other measures.

One would put a 3.5 percent surcharge on taxable income above $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for couples to raise about $940 million a year for public education.

The other would allow judges to impose shorter prison sentences than now required under “truth in sentencing’’ laws and permit inmates sentenced for non-dangerous offenses to be released after serving 50 percent of their time versus the current 85 percent.

Pearson, who represents both, said the signature gathering had continued through the governor’s stay-at-home order.

She said crculators put the petitions on a clipboard, stepped back, let the person sign it in their presence, and then picked it up.

The deadline to file petitions is not until July 2.

Other proposals, though, are dead.

That includes the Save Our Schools Act, which sought to ask voters to limit the number of vouchers of state tax dollars that parents can use to send their children to private and parochial schools.

It would have prohibited the state from issuing vouchers to more than 1 percent of total children enrolled in public schools.

With about 1.1 million students in traditional district and charter schools, that would have set the cap at about 11,000.

“We had a robust start and, had that continued, we would have been fine,’’ said Dawn Penich-Thacker, one of the organizers. She also said the group did not have a lot of money to hire paid circulators.

“Our own network is passionate about the issue,’’ Penich-Thacker said. “But they’re not comfortable going door to door, not social distancing, and we’re not going to ask them to do that.’’

Also dead is a proposal that was being pushed by the National Credit Alliance to overturn virtually all of the laws that now limit annual interest charges on loans to 36 percent a year.

Sean Noble, who was managing the campaign for the lenders, had called it a “stand against socialism.’’

Brnovich said that’s not a decision for courts to make.

“The constitution is very clear on this,’’ he said. “If petitioners don’t like what the constitution says they need to work on changing the constitution.’’ 

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