Ballot Measure Descriptions

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This week, state lawmakers adopt the official Legislative Council descriptions of ballot measures that will appear in November’s general election publicity pamphlet. Longtime state lawmaker Pete Rios explains the process and politics involved in coming up with impartial analyses of the ballot measures.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon", I'm Ted Simons. Voters have a lot to learn before the November general election. At least a dozen propositions will be on the ballot. Of course, the best way to know what you're voting on is to read the language of each measure. But if you'd rather rely on a summary that appears in the publicity pamphlet mailed to voters, we thought you might want to know a little more about how those summaries are put together. Producer David Majure and photographer Scot Olson take us to the state capitol where yesterday, lawmakers were adopting descriptions of ballot measures that will appear in the voter's guide.

Chad Campbell: I can't imagine why we'd be opposing this amendment to allow the voters to understand what money they are making.

Narrator: This is Legislative Council. It's a committee of the legislature chaired in alternate years by the Speaker of the House and the Senate President.

Garcia: I would move the chairman's draft, this is for House Concurrent Resolution 2001 be adopt.

Narrator: The Council consists of eight Republicans and six democrats. By law, it's required to prepare an analysis of each ballot measure.

Mike Braun: The analyses that you adopt today are to be included in the publicity pamphlet that is sent by the Secretary of State to all voters.

Narrator: The analyses must be impartial. And, as we're about to see, that's easier said than done.

Steve Farley: If one of our members is led by this language to not know that this is a repeal of something the voters approved, I think that this language is probably going to mislead a whole lot of voters.

Narrator: The process starts with the nonpartisan Legislative Council staff. It writes a rough draft of each analysis without input from anyone - including lawmakers. The rough draft then goes to the Chairman of Legislative Council, in this case, the Speaker of the House. He can accept the analysis or make changes. But the public won't necessarily know what, or if any, changes were made. The result is a chairman's draft of the analysis that goes to the Council for a vote. This is where the fun begins.

Mike Braun: Mr. Chairman, we believe that the chairman's draft analysis for HCR 2001 complies with the statutory requirements.

Narrator: We'll follow along as the council debates the analysis of a measure referred to the ballot by the legislature. It terminates an early childhood development program commonly known as First Things First and redirects the program's tobacco tax revenues to the state's general fund.

Rhian Evans Allvin: We reviewed the analysis for the impartial analysis and the factual interpretation and the only comment I want to make --

Narrator: Committee members and the public may suggest amendments.

Rhian Evans Allvin: It talks about the fund administered by Early Childhood Development and Health Board. There are eight powers and duties that the board shall do and six that the board may do, none of which are funding central and field offices and employing staff, so I wanted to draw your attention to that and we're asking that those words be struck from the analysis.

Steve Farley: I think we are charged statutorily with doing here is our duty and legislative council and reviewing analyses is to make the language clear as possible for the voters so that they may make an informed decision about which way they want to vote no matter which way they think is right. I think we have done ourselves a disservice by not clearly stating that what we are talking about here is First Things First. To not call it "First Things First" anywhere in this analysis does not make things clearer for the voters, it makes things much less clear and in fact muddles the issue.

Kirk Adams: To claim that the funding of field office and staff is not a requirement in this proposition was certainly be a willing suspension of logic. Furthermore I think if this body were to include campaign slogans in these analyses such as "First Things First" I don't think, that's a Pandora's box that we would never really want to open.

Narrator: In the end, state law says, each analysis must describe the ballot measure clearly and concisely, avoiding technical terms wherever possible. It may contain background information and it must be impartial.

John McComish: I am concerned that it is not as complete as it could be, because as President Burns said, there's no comment in here about the budget ramifications, which is the reason for being in the first place. But despite that concern I will vote, "Aye".

Narrator: But as lawmakers debate who to include and leave out of their analysis it's obvious that impartiality is in the eye of the beholder.

Chad Campbell: I think that we are going to possibly see a challenge to this, with that I vote no.

Narrator: Sometimes it just might take a judge to decide if the analysis meets that requirement.

Ted Simons: Here with more insight into the process of drafting ballot measure descriptions is former democratic State Legislator Pete Rios who, as Senate President, chaired the Legislative Council. Good to see you again.

Pete Rios: Good seeing you Ted, Thank you.

Ted Simons: The wording in these publicity pamphlets, how big a deal is it?

Pete Rios: I think it's a huge deal. Because a lot of people do not want to spend a lot of time when they get the publicity pamphlet in the mail reading the pros and cons. Then they see where the objective or impartial analysis and lot of people say, well, that's the one I'm going to read because I want to know the facts. And they read it and they believe that they're truly getting an impartial analysis and they are not. They are getting a skewed and biased analysis depending on which party has control of the Legislative Council. As we saw on the preview tape right now.

Ted Simons: We also saw on the tape the idea that sometimes these things will have to go to court. Often these things have to go to court, correct?

Pete Rios: Yes. And I would imagine that what was on the tape on "First Things First" that will probably wind up in court and be litigated. Because the impartial analysis that was adopted by the committee as was stated by one of the members does not indicate that this was one, a voter approved initiative to begin with. Nowhere does it say that. And people care about that. Because they don't want the legislature changing what they voted for. Two, makes no reference that this is the initial First Things First for children's program up to the age five. And it says nothing about this being completely repealed forever.

Ted Simons: The other side would say, why is that information required?

Pete Rios: It is required for one simple reason. People can identify with the program if they know the name of the program. Because it was used many, many times over and over again when it was voted in by the people. Four years ago. First Things First. They can identify with that. They can identify with the fact that it was voter approved. Here it doesn't say or make any reference to that. So, I would suspect that this will go before a superior court judge, some where in Maricopa County by the supporters of First Things First.

Ted Simons: More often than not you're saying that even the wording goes along party lines, correct?

Pete Rios: That is correct.

Ted Simons: So, what's a better process here?

Pete Rios: I think a better process would be, and I hope that it would work, is to appoint a blue ribbon citizen's committee that would do two republicans, two democrats, and maybe three independents that would do the analysis and then they would vote on it. It would go then to lead counsel, I'm not talking about the committee, I'm talking about the director Mike Braun. He would work with these people to make sure that the terminology and legalese is accepted and constitutional. Then that would go to the Secretary of State as the impartial analysis. What has happened, Ted, anything that came out of Leg. Council almost went straight to the ballot. In 1994, president John green at the time put a question on the ballot that had to do with tort reform. And he wanted to slant the analysis so people would vote for it. At the end it failed, but Paul Ekstein, a local attorney, said this is so unfair. He took it to court and basically convinced the courts that they needed to play a role in the publicity pamphlet and the analysis. And ever since every two years a lot of these ballot questions analysis go to court and the judges have a say in it.

Ted Simons: From your time as Chairman of the Legislative Council, and what is dealt with then to what you see happening now, has there been much of a change, is it trending in certain directions? Is even the process has that changed?

Pete Rios: I think it's trending where it's becoming even more biased. I mean, there's some of these propositions that are pretty objective and people don't object to like changing the filing date for initiative petitions from four months to six months. I think that came out of committee on an 11-0 vote. You're not going to get too much of an argument there. But as far as some of these taking money out of programs or trying to do away with affirmative action or trying to do away with the money for land conservation, those are big issues for somebody. Either the Sierra Club, what I have seen over the years is that it's become more skewed, more biased, because in the process where before the director of the legislative council, Michael Braun would draw up an analysis that would then go to the committee and then you would argue in the light of day, in front of everybody, and offer amendment, now what happens is, the director submits it to the chairman, the chairman's people, attorney, get a shot at it so then they can change verbiage around to make it more slanted, then presented to the committee.

Ted Simons: So the idea for preparing this rough draft, which is supposed to be prepared by an impartial council staff, that's gone by the wayside?

Pete Rios: Let me just put it this way, the lead council, the director they work for the legislature. The legislature is whichever party is in control. So, Michael Braun knows who butters his bread so he's going to work with whoever is in the majority.

Ted Simons: Real quickly, has there been a high profile, or two, measures, ballot measures that were as from where you sit either voted up or down with great emphasis by way of the wording? Did the wording change a lot in a measure you can think of?

Pete Rios: I think in 1994, if President John Green at the time would have gotten his way I think he would have convinced a lot of people to restrict, contributory negligence awards and damage awards by the way he worded because it sounded like American pie, the American flag. Once the court got through with it, no, no you can't do that. The wording was changed. I think because of that it failed. The voters said, no way are we going down that road.

Ted Simons: So bottom line, can voters trust these summaries and descriptions?

Pete Rios: I would basically say to the voters, read the impartial analysis but also read the pros and cons. You will get more information from the pros and the cons more than you will from the impartial analysis.

Ted Simons: All right. Peter, always a pleasure, thanks for joining it.

Pete Rios: I appreciate it.

Pete Rios:Arizona Lawmaker;

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