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Mon, Aug. 19

Editorial: Lawmakers should think before undermining voters

Government "by the people" and "for the people" is taking a few steps backward in Arizona this legislative session.

A House panel voted Monday, Feb. 15, to ask voters to give lawmakers back some of the powers they took from them to overturn ballot measures, according to Capitol Media Services.

Said a different way, in 1998 voters approved a constitutional provision that says once a ballot initiative has been adopted it can be altered by lawmakers only if it "furthers the purpose" of the original measure. Even then, it takes a three-fourths vote of both the House and Senate, and rescinding it outright is illegal.

A proposal, HCR 2043, by Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, would effectively repeal that, instead saying lawmakers could do whatever they want to what voters approve in the future as long as they do it by the same margin as it was approved by the voters. If a future proposal passes with 53 percent approval, it would take just 16 of 30 senators and 32 of 60 representatives to rescind it.

This is a slippery slope our lawmakers are heading down.

Mesnard told members of the House Elections Committee this change would take place if voters agree in November, and it would not allow lawmakers to alter anything approved before this year. But it would permit them to step in and overturn any move this year by voters to legalize, for example, the use of marijuana for recreational purposes.

This comes across as a one-issue tool - to backstop the marijuana effort.

That reminds me of when voters in Prescott passed Proposition 401, which puts any project with a price tag of $40 million or more before the voters. Organizers at the time denied it, but it was unofficially targeting the Big Chino pipeline. Its price tag has topped $180 million.

And, while that one issue may now be symbolically on a shelf, the initiative has had the unintended consequence of tying the city's hands when it comes to other projects, such as sewer upgrades.

While that handcuffs the city, similarly state lawmakers should not marginalize voters' voices. We already have people who will not vote because they have lost faith in the system. And, the current three-fourths vote of both sides of the Legislature to override an initiative is plenty fair and is completely justified.

If something is "that" bad, our entire Legislature should have no problem overturning something.

Think again, representatives and senators. Disenfranchising voters is not why we sent you to Phoenix in the first place.

  • Tim Wiederaenders, city editor
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