Conflicting Rulings on Voter Initiative "Strict Compliance Standard"

107 years ago, Arizona's founders protected ordinary voters with a state constitution that guaranteed AZ residents the power of referendum, recall and initiatives.  Many of the bold moves to improve public health policy have come via citizens initiatives. A few examples are:

  • The Smoke Free Arizona Act;
  • The TRUST Commission for tobacco education and prevention;
  • First Things First;
  • Establishment and funding of the Area Health Education Center programs; and
  • Proposition 204 (from 2000) which extended Medicaid eligibility to 100% of federal poverty.

In 2017 the State Legislature passed and Ducey signed HB2244 which changed the citizen's initiative compliance standard from "substantial compliance" to "strict compliance" for putting initiatives on the ballot. This law made it easier to reject petitions if there are any errors on the document, making it more difficult to put measures on the ballot in the future that are good for public health.

Last week there were conflicting court rulings regarding whether the standard set in  HB2244 is constitutional.  Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Smith ruled that the Strict Compliance standard imposed by HB2244 is not constitutional (this was a case related to the ballot measure to fund schools).  However, in the very same day, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Kiley reached the opposite conclusion (on the clean energy initiative). 

Last week’s conflicting rulings mean that the AZ Supreme Court will likely need to settle the matter (and soon).  The result will have a big impact on voter’s ability to put future measures to voters to improve public health.