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8:02 PM Fri, Sept. 21st

Initiative circulators face new hurdles

An unidentified man wheels in signed initiative petitions in Maricopa County. Howard Fischer/Courtesy

An unidentified man wheels in signed initiative petitions in Maricopa County. Howard Fischer/Courtesy

PHOENIX — A state law throwing new hurdles in the path of initiative circulators will remain, at least for now.

In a new ruling Tuesday, the state Court of Appeals did not dispute the contention of challengers that a 2017 statute requiring strict compliance with all election laws could keep some individuals and groups from writing their own laws and asking voters to approve them.

But Judge James Beene, writing for the three-judge panel, said they cannot rule on the issue because no one is actually being penalized — and no initiative is at risk of being thrown off the ballot — for failing to comply with the new standards. And that, in legal parlance, means the case is not yet “ripe’’ for a decision.

Attorney Roopali Desai said she has not had a chance to consult with her clients to decide whether to seek Supreme Court review. But she said the ruling leaves a whole host of questions about exactly when those who believe their constitutional rights are being violated can seek judicial intervention.

At the heart the issue is the right of voters to create their own laws.

The Arizona Constitution spells out that any group, which gets the signatures equal to 10 percent of the people who voted in the last gubernatorial election, can put a statutory change on the ballot. This year that figure is 150,642.

Constitutional changes have a 15 percent requirement, or 225,963.

Many lawmakers have complained about the initiative process, saying it has led to special interest groups proposing measures that affect the state and its budget.

But proponents contend they go directly to voters when legislators won’t act. Recent examples range from banning gestation crates for pigs and outlawing leghold traps on state land to allowing patients to use marijuana for medical reasons and an increase in the state minimum wage.

It was that last measure, approved by voters in 2016 by a 3-2 margin over the objection of the business community, that led some GOP lawmakers to seek curbs.

Powerless to increase the number of signatures required, they instead imposed impose some new requirements — including this new “strict compliance’’ standard.

Up until last year, court has interpreted the Arizona Constitution to say that initiative organizers need only be in “substantial compliance’’ with election laws. That means technical flaws, ranging from the wrong type size to voters signing with initials instead of their full names, did not automatically void petitions.