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GOP-backed measure would weaken Arizona’s Voter Protection Act

(KTAR News Photo)

PHOENIX (AP) — Republicans in the Legislature who have long chafed at a ban on changing voter-approved initiatives are moving to ask voters to allow them to do just that on measures affecting “public health or safety.”

The proposal from GOP Sen. Vince Leach approved by a Senate committee Thursday would gut a major part of the Voter Protection Act. That 1998 constitutional amendment approved by voters bars any changes to voter approved laws unless they “further the purpose” of the measure and get a three-quarters vote of the Legislature.

Leach told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the effort was prompted by concerns about voter-approved laws, including one allowing the use of medical marijuana and one approved in 2016 that raised the state minimum wage to $12 by this year. That measure has increases state heath care costs, while lawmakers have been stymied in efforts to regulate THC-infused candies and marijuana growing operations.

He also noted concerns about a failed 2018 initiative known as Proposition 127 that would have required utilities to get 50% of their power from renewable sources by 2030.

The measure was approved on a 4-3 party-line vote.

Leach said unnamed “stakeholders” raised concerns about “what would happen if we had severe shortages as a result of that.”

“So it was brought to me and I finally said let’s do something about it,” he said. Leach didn’t returns calls seeking comment on who was pushing for the measure.

Republican lawmakers and business groups have long groused about the Voter Protection Act, which was passed after the GOP-controlled Legislature repealed a 1996 medical marijuana initiative. That’s partly because voters have passed laws like the minimum wage increase the GOP-controlled Legislature would never approve.

Thursday’s hearing was rushed, with no testimony from the public. That irked Joel Edman, who leads the progressive group Arizona Advocacy Network.

“Amending the constitution to steal power from the voters, on a party-line vote, without public testimony,” Edman tweeted. “These are the actions of a power-hungry majority acting at the behest of corrupt corporate interests and desperately trying to hold on to power.”

Democratic Sen. Andrea Dalessandro was brief in explaining her no vote.

“This severely weakens and undermines the voice of the people of Arizona,” she said.

Republican Sen. Eddie Farnsworth countered that claim.

“Just a reminder, this would have to go to the people, so it would be their voice,” Farnsworth said.

If referred to the ballot by the Legislature, the measure would be on the November ballot.

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