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Legislature sends Voter Protection Act change to ballot

June 26, 2021 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona voters will be asked next year to amend the state constitution to give the Legislature more power to change citizen’s initiatives they have approved.

The Legislative referral approved by the Republican-controlled House on Friday and previously approved by the Senate would amend the Voter Protection Act. That constitutional provision was approved by the state’s voters in 1998 after lawmakers overturned a 1996 initiative legalizing medical marijuana.

The act prevents lawmakers from changing a law passed by initiative unless the change both “furthers the purpose” and obtains a 3/4th vote of the Legislature. Republicans in the Legislature have chafed for years about their inability to change voter initiatives because of the constitutional provision.

Under the proposal approved with only Republican support by the House and Senate, lawmakers would be able to make any changes they want to an initiative if any part of it is declared unconstitutional by the state or U.S. supreme courts.

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Democratic Rep. Athena Salman said if the measure is approved by voters, it will give the Legislature the right to gut any voter-approved law if just one small part is found to violate the constitution. She pointed to the Citizens Clean Elections Act, which set up a public financing system for elections and gave oversight to a commission that can enforce campaign finance laws.

That 1998 initiative initially gave matching funds to candidates who opted for public campaign financing if they were outspent by non-participating candidates. The U.S. Supreme Court struck that provision down, but the rest of the act remains in force.

“It’s a very sneaky way to undermine the Voter Protection Act without actually having to repeal the Voter Protection Act,” Salman said.

Republicans say it is fine to ask the voters to review the Voter Protection Act.

“It’s true that we have certain things in law that were referred to the voters or that the voters established,” Republican Rep. Mark Finchem said. “I have a real struggle with believing that that pre-empts any future ask to the voters for clarity and precision.”