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Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signs initiative signature bill into law

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has signed a bill into law that will bar groups that aim to put voter initiatives on the ballot from paying petition circulators per signature.

Ducey signed the House Bill 2404 Thursday night, shortly after the Arizona House gave its final approval.

In addition to requiring that signature collectors be paid minimum wage, the bill also increases the number of days that officials can take to verify signatures — from five days to 10.

In a statement, Ducey praised the bill as “common-sense reform [that] strikes the right balance in making sure it continues to work well.”

“It protects the voters’ ability to directly weigh-in on how the state is run, provides for an additional check on the legality and accuracy of initiative language, helps increase the likelihood of quality, accurate signatures and ensures that signature gathers are paid appropriately for their work,” the statement continued.

The bill “helps ensure the integrity of ballot measures moving forward,” Ducey argued.

But not all lawmakers agreed: Democratic state Rep. Ken Clark of Phoenix said the increased costs won’t prevent special interests from either the right or left from pushing ballot initiatives.

“Any of these groups are still going to be able to afford the 25 to 30 percent increase in the costs of collecting signatures,” Clark said Thursday on the House floor. “We should be concerned about this, because the damage to our initiative and referendum process from that cost alone is demonstrably greater than any fraud we’ve seen.”

The proposal was one of the most contentious of the 2017 legislative session, and came after years of Republican-backed measures that Democrats said amount to voter suppression.

Democrats and voting rights activists opposed the proposal, saying it will make it harder to get citizen initiatives on the ballot. They noted that it doesn’t apply to candidates for office.

Republicans argued the measure is needed to cut fraud in signature gathering, but provided no evidence of actual fraud during Senate committee hearings. In addition to banning per-signature payment, the bill also makes it easier to challenge initiatives in court.

The House vote on the proposal came with no Democratic support and gives Republicans and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry a victory in one of their top priorities of the year. House Bill 2404 was approved by the Senate Wednesday, also with no votes from Democrats.

The Chamber proposed the measure after voters in November approved a minimum wage increase opposed by business groups and they fought against a marijuana legalization proposal that failed at the polls.

House Republican Speaker J.D. Mesnard pushed back again the proposition that the minimum wage increase prompted the measure, noting that former Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano had a similar proposal about a decade ago.

“All this is saying is that you can’t pay per signature. Most people I talk to find it offensive that signatures are paid for at all,” Mesnard said. “If there’s truly this Democratic uprising you don’t have to pay for anything.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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