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Arizona bill giving attorney general initiative veto in trouble

(Flickr Photo/Gage Skidmore)

PHOENIX — A proposal that would authorize the Arizona attorney general to unilaterally rewrite ballot language for citizen initiatives is in serious trouble in the Senate after at least four members of the Republican majority said Wednesday that they would oppose it.

The four Republicans said they would not go along with the part of Sen. Vince Leach’s bill, saying they prefer the current system, where the attorney general can review language by the secretary of state but not unilaterally change it.

No Democrats supported the legislation in the House last week, and none are likely to support it in the Senate. That means backers need support from 16 of 17 Republicans for it to pass the Senate, and they are well short.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich last year changed the ballot language for a renewable energy initiative, but then secretary of State Michele Reagan went along.

Leach said Wednesday he wasn’t giving up, although he acknowledged he faced an uphill battle. Three senators said during a GOP caucus meeting that they would oppose the provision. A fourth, Sen. Paul Boyer, later told The Associated Press he too was opposed.

“I have three opportunities to talk to them and to encourage them to see the bill the way I see it,” Leach said before Boyer’s opposition became known. “Is that a high hill? Yeah. Have I climbed high hills before? I’ve climbed many high hills before I got to the Legislature, and I will continue to climb hills.”

The other three Republican senators who refuse to back the measure are Michelle Ugenti-Rita, Kate Brophy McGee and Heather Carter.

“The new language that gives the attorney general unilateral ability to change initiative descriptions is a non-starter for me,” Carter said. “One elected position shouldn’t be able to change the course of hardworking Arizonans who have put something on the ballot by changing the title or the description.”

Brophy McGee felt the same way, noting that last year’s solar initiative change showed the system can work.

“I think as has been demonstrated in prior elections the process in place with the back and forth with the secretary of state and the AG, it’s messy but it works,” Brophy McGee said.

The underlying initiative bill tightens registration requirements for paid petition circulators and has a raft of other provisions affecting initiative circulators and legal challenges.

The bill is among a series of GOP-backed election law proposals in the Legislature this year. One that would toughen voter registration rules and add criminal penalties to some violations was rejected by the Senate last week. Another proposal requiring citizen initiative backers to collect signatures from 10% of the voters who cast ballots in the last governor’s election in each of the state’s 30 legislative districts is stalled, with opposition from some majority Republicans in both chambers.

The initiative bill being pushed by Leach is part of a yearslong effort by Republicans and business interests to make it harder to get citizen initiatives on the ballot and easier to kick them off. They opposed many proposed initiatives the GOP-controlled Legislature would never approve and argue that the Voter Protection Act makes it nearly impossible to change a law once an initiative is approved by voters.

Democrats oppose the election-law rewrites, which they see as voter suppression or efforts to block the state Constitution’s provision giving citizens the right to craft their own laws.

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