Members of the state’s largest business group want new restrictions on voter initiatives. The proposal, part of the 2006 legislative agenda of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, would require that statutory and constitutional changes proposed by individuals and groups be reviewed before they could start gathering signatures.
It also would give some sort of independent review board _ and not the circulators — the power to decide what the measure will be called if it qualifies for the ballot. And petitions themselves would have to spell out who is providing most of the financing.
The measure is one of several priorities for the business group for the upcoming session. Chamber members also want a constitutional amendment to block employees who have drugs or alcohol in their system from collecting benefits when they are injured. There also are the usual calls for tax cuts — though chamber spokesman Farrell Quinlan said that is a priority only if the state first straightens out its accounting practices that have been used to artificially balance the state budget in prior years.
The organization also wants another constitutional amendment to curtail or eliminate noneconomic damages, like pain and suffering awards, in some lawsuits. But Quinlan said that will not be a big push as there appears to be little interest — and little chance — lawmakers would approve.
The agenda is not all affirmative: The chamber will oppose efforts to let the state penalize companies found guilty of hiring undocumented workers.
Proposed changes to the initiative process come after business interests have engaged in expensive battles over changes in state laws — battles they sometimes lost. Lobbyist Jay Kaprosy, who is working with the chamber and other business groups to alter the law, said people circulate petitions with a title that is "not necessarily objective.’’
He cited a 1998 initiative dubbed by its supporters as the "Citizens Clean Elections Act’’ to set up a system of voluntary public financing of statewide and legislative elections. Supporters said it would help make legislative candidates less dependent on "special interests’’ for campaign financing. The measure passed despite business opposition.
Doug Ramsey, spokesman for the privately financed Citizens Clean Elections Institute, which pushed the initiative, said his group might not oppose what the chamber is trying to do. He noted this sort of name game works both ways: Last year a business group launched its own initiative to eviscerate the public financing system under the banner of "No Taxpayer Money for Politicians,’’ without ever mentioning the words "clean elections.’’ That measure never made the ballot.
The battle over workers’ compensation comes after the state Supreme Court earlier this year voided a 1999 law which said benefits, including recovery of missed wages and medical care, can be denied if workers who are injured on the job test positive for drugs or alcohol.
In its decision, the high court said the state constitution sets up workers’ compensation as a no-fault system: Employees injured on the job are entitled to benefits no matter who is at fault. And that means the Legislature cannot alter it without amending the constitution.
The chamber’s immigration policy is focused on lobbying Congress to enact "comprehensive’’ changes in the immigration laws. That includes not only more border security but also creating a guest worker program and seeking an easy method for employers to verify that job applicants are in this country legally.
But in promoting federal action, the organization is trying to keep state lawmakers away from the issue. Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, contends one of the best ways to cut down on illegal immigration is to dry up a major reason for crossing the border: The availability of jobs.
Pearce acknowledged the state can’t sanction employers. But what can be done, he said, is suspending the state license of any business that is found guilty of violating federal immigration laws.
The chamber opposes that proposal, saying the penalties are inappropriate.