EDITORIAL: Get educated on citizens’ initiative issue

Time is running out. You should be concerned enough to act now.

We are less than three weeks away from the day Refer 2404 must turn in over 75,000 valid signatures to refer HB 2404 to the ballot.

Let me tell you a little more about HB 2404 and why it’s bad for Arizona.

The new law makes it illegal to pay circulators by signature – commonly used by citizens’ initiatives. Volunteers are often not enough, and campaigns depend on paid circulators. In other states limited to hourly or salaried circulators, this policy results in making petitioning efforts two to three times more expensive.

Citizens’ initiatives committees typically don’t have this kind of money, leaving only special interest groups to run successful initiatives backed by big dollars (or dark money). What implications could this have on our state?

My counterparts in the House claimed to pass the law to end signature fraud. Yet no evidence of fraud in Arizona was presented.

Common sense leads to the conclusion that if a circulator forged signatures, they wouldn’t get compensated for their efforts. Valid signatures are required for payment. What incentive do they have to commit fraud?

It’s already an uphill battle for citizens to challenge bills passed in the Legislature. Following the requirements implemented through the strict compliance laws (HB 2244) also passed this year is not simple. Pair that with the constitutional requirement to collect signatures from ten percent of all Arizonans during the hottest three months of the year, and any group has their work cut out for them.

The updated law also extends the time campaigns are open to lawsuits. Just what America needs – more lawsuits tying up limited taxpayer dollars.

The first right granted to the people by the Arizona Constitution is initiative power:

“…the people reserve the power to propose laws and amendments to the constitution and to enact or reject such laws and amendments…the power to approve or reject at the polls any act, or item, section, or part of any act, of the legislature.”

As a member of the Senate Judiciary committee, I’ve said it before and I will say it again: The Legislature does not have the authority to tell our judicial branch how to interpret the Arizona state Constitution. This is precisely why separation of powers exist.

Luckily, I’m not the only one disturbed and appalled by HB 2404. Refer 2404, also known as Grassroots Citizens Concerned, formed after the House passed the bill. Their efforts to challenge are completely volunteer-driven from the ground up, as their name implies.

Refer 2404 challenges the law in its entirety, and that is why I’ve supported the efforts in Cochise, Santa Cruz and Pima counties.

As a state senator, it is my duty to listen and speak for my constituents — you. Sometimes I may agree, sometimes I disagree but I always listen and believe in the fundamental right to be heard.

If my colleagues listened to their voters instead of lobbyists, they’d witness the alarm for HB 2404 and passion for Refer 2404. Their leadership team and network has distributed more than enough petitions to be successful, but depend on volunteers to return them by July 31.

Limiting the power of the people’s initiative is a method to marginalize underrepresented groups and ideas. If we do not refer HB 2404 to the ballot, your voices will be quieted. This law affects all of us and must be stopped.

State Sen. Andrea Dalessandro is a Democrat who represents Legislative District 2 in the state Legislature. She lives in Sahuarita.

From  the Green Valley News and Sahuarita Sun today.