PHOENIX -- State lawmakers are moving to put additional hurdles in the path of those who want to bypass the Legislature.
But one of them will require voters themselves to approve.
The House Judiciary Committee approved a measure to require those proposing their own laws and constitutional amendments to get signatures in at least five of the state's 15 counties.
But simply getting one from Mohave, one from Yavapai and one from Cochise won't cut it. SCR 1019 also spells out that at least 25 percent of the total signatures required must come from somewhere other than Maricopa and Pima counties.
"We all know when an initiative passes and gets enacted it affects everybody in the state, not just Maricopa County or Pima County,' argued Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, who crafted the measure. But Reagan said the record shows that most recent initiative drives concentrate their efforts on those two population centers.
"We'd like to see people from some other parts of the state included,' she said.
The change would mean that 43,202 signatures for statutory changes would have to come from outside the two big counties out of the 172,809 now required. Constitutional amendments require 259,213, meaning at least 64,804 of the signers from rural Arizona.
Reagan said the concept is not unique, saying the same multi-county procedure is required for those who want to form a new political party that is recognized by the state.
But Rep. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, pointed out that this signature requirement is more stringent than for those running for statewide office.
That requires signatures from just three counties. And there is no mandate to collect a certain percentage from any specific area.
"It places an undue burden on the people who are trying to conduct the initiative process,' he said.
But Rep. Justin Pierce, R-Mesa, who said he grew up in rural Arizona, said it is important that people living outside the metropolitan area have a say in what gets on the ballot. He also said that most measures qualify for the ballot with the use of paid circulators.
"They're going to go to the most populous area where they can get those in the quickest amount of time,' Pierce said. "Most of the time that's going to be right here in Maricopa County.'
A separate change approved by the panel would affect those paid circulators, requiring that they first register with the Secretary of State's Office. There is no such requirement now.
SB 1263 also includes new provisions for the companies that hire individuals, including conducting background checks and providing proof they have undergone certain training. This measure, which already has been approved by the Senate, needs only final House approval before going to the governor, with no requirement for voter ratification of the change.
Reagan said someone needs to ensure that those gathering petitions are qualified. And she said that should not be the state itself.
Sydney Hay, a former Republican congressional candidate who now runs an organization that does paid petition circulation, said this creates an additional and unnecessary burden on those who want to propose their own laws and constitutional amendments.
But Paul Ryan, who worked with Reagan on the change, said the current situation is unacceptable, with some petition drives turning up with 40 percent of signatures being invalid. He also cited a case last year where some signatures on petitions were thrown out because the circulators were later found to be felons who cannot legally circulate petitions.
Ryan said the result is that the will of the voters who signed these petitions was undermined.