State lawmakers are pushing ahead with new hurdles in the path of Arizonans who want to propose their own laws and constitutional amendments.
The state Senate on Thursday gave preliminary approval to SCR 1019 to would require petition circulators to gather signatures from at least five different counties. And at least 25 percent of the names needed to qualify would have to come from outside Maricopa and Pima counties.
Now, initiative organizers are free to set up shop and get all the names they need from only one county.
Separately, the House Judiciary Committee voted to alter the deadline for getting those signatures filed with the Secretary of State.
The current cutoff is early July of election years. SCR 1006, which already has been approved by the full Senate, would move that up to May.
Regardless of legislative sentiment, lawmakers do not get the last word.
Both measures would amend the Arizona Constitution. And that can be done only if voters themselves give the go-ahead at the 2014 election.
Senators also voted to put some new rules in place for recall elections in the wake of the ouster in 2011 of Senate President Russell Pearce, the first successful recall of a state official since statehood.
SB 1263 spells out that paid petition circulators must first register with the Secretary of State. And SB 1262 expands the definition of what expenses in favor or opposed to recall elections have to be publicly disclosed.
Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said the latter measure will thwart voter efforts to recall elected officials they no longer feel are representing them.
"It's not an easy process,'' he said. "This would make it more difficult for them to get the signatures.''
The proposal to shorten the filing time actually was on the ballot in 2012, losing by a narrow margin. But proponents contend that can be overcome by better explanation of the need.
Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, said the current July deadline creates a crunch, giving courts little time to consider legal challenges. The result in 2012 was cases going to the Arizona Supreme Court just days before ballots were set to be printed.
But Rep. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, said if circulators are to be given less time, then lawmakers also should consider reducing the signature requirements.
It currently takes 172,809 signatures to propose a new or amended statute. Constitutional amendments now require 259,213 signatures.
Those numbers are based on turnout at the last gubernatorial election. That means the state's increasing population, coupled with efforts to register more voters, will only boost that number.
Reagan conceded the point. But she said efforts to get other Republican senators interested in making that change proved fruitless.
Anyway, she said, nothing precludes those who want to change the law from starting their petition drives earlier.
That's not exactly true: State law prohibits the Secretary of State from accepting any petitions that were circulated before the immediately preceding election.
But Reagan said none of that changes her belief that the earlier deadline is appropriate. And she said it's up to others to decide if they want to remove that existing start-time restriction.
The debate over requiring signatures from multiple counties drew opposition from lawmakers on both sides of the change.
On one hand, Gallardo said the burden for signatures from at least five counties plus 25 percent from outside Maricopa and Pima counties to be too much. He proposed easing that a bit to require only that circulators gather names in just three counties.
And Gallardo said there is precedent for what he is proposing: That mirrors the requirement now imposed on candidates for statewide office.
That proposal was defeated.
At the other extreme, Rep. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, sought to mandate that those pushing ballot measures get signatures from all 15 counties.
He said voters in rural counties are largely ignored during the bid to collect signatures. Crandell said they learn about ballot measures only when the commercials show up on television.
But Crandell did not push for a vote on his amendment.
All the measures still need a final roll-call vote in the Senate before going to the House.