PHOENIX (AP) - The Arizona Supreme Court on Aug. 20 ruled that a voter initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana will appear on the November ballot, but it blocked one that would ban surprise medical billing and prevent insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions from the ballot.
Separately, a lower court judge ruled that backers of another initiative overhauling the state’s criminal sentencing laws failed to collect enough qualifying signatures to make the ballot.
The trio of decisions, along with another Supreme Court ruling from Wednesday reinstating an initiative that would tax the wealthy to boost school funding, means voters will likely see just two initiatives on the ballot.
Initiative to fund Arizona's school system expected to appear on ballot
The Invest in Education Act still needs the secretary of state to certify that proponents turned in enough qualifying signatures. That’s expected Friday.
Backers of the measure see it as a way to pump about $940 million a year into the state’s underfunded school system. It would impose a 3.5% tax surcharge on income above $250,000 for an individual or above $500,000 for couples.
It is opposed by a group backed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which argues the measure would harm small businesses because they usually pay taxes on individual tax returns.
Marijuana initiative survives legal challenges
The Supreme Court rejected efforts to block the marijuana legalization initiative, which had survived a lower court challenge.
The Smart and Safe Arizona Act would legalize recreational marijuana use in Arizona for people 21 and over. Opponents said its summary failed to outline a host of changes the initiative would make, including that its proposed 16% excise tax on marijuana sales could not be raised, that it changes the law on marijuana DUI offenses,and cuts penalties for underage marijuana possession.
Superior Court Judge James D. Smith wrote on Aug. 7 that the principal provisions of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act were included in the summary while noting that lawyers for legalization foes took 25 pages to describe provisions they said should have been included.
The high court upheld that ruling Aug. 20.
Medical billing, criminal sentencing initiative thrown out
Whether any initiatives would make the cut was in doubt in March, when the state coronavirus shutdown made it nearly impossible to collect the needed signatures for a slew of proposals to qualify for the ballot. But easing restrictions in mid-May allowed petition circulators to get out on the streets, and backers of the four initiatives collected far more signatures than needed.
Challenges to the signatures led to the demise of the medical billing initiative.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Pamela S. Gates tossed the initiative last Friday after determining that more than 150,000 of the voter signatures collected by proponents were invalid for various reasons, including that many circulators didn’t appear in court. That left proponents short of the 237,635 needed to make the ballot.
The Supreme Court upheld that ruling Thursday.
Gates also found that the 100-word summary of the initiative shown to people who had signed it was misleading and created a significant danger of confusion. But the Supreme Court said it didn’t have to decide on the appeal of that ruling because of its ruling on signatures.
Opponents of the measure had cheered the ruling, saying it upholds the integrity of the state’s initiative system.
The measure was supported by a committee mainly backed by the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, a California-based union that funded most of the $6.7 million raised to promote the initiative.
The measure overhauling the state’s criminal sentencing rules was kept on the ballot by a lower court judge, but the secretary of state found proponents hadn’t turned in enough signatures.
The measure backed by a Quaker religious group would cut sentences for people convicted of non-dangerous offenses by 15% to 50% by allowing inmates to earn release credits., removing some mandatory sentencing rules and making several other changes to sentencing laws.
The Legislature has rejected many of the proposals in recent years.