Arizona State Senators assemble, Thursday, May 16, 2013, at the Capitol in Phoenix.

Associated Press

A Senate panel voted along party lines Monday for what some contend is an end-run of a referendum to force a public vote to kill a series of controversial changes in state election law.

SB 1270 would repeal legislation approved on the last night of the 2013 legislative session which would affect everything from early voting and ballots to imposing new hurdles on citizens who want to propose future initiatives. It also would make it more difficult for minor parties to get their candidates on the ballot.

In the interim, foes of the law gathered more than 140,000 signatures to put the law on “hold” and give voters the last word. SB 1270 would eliminate the underlying law and therefore eliminate the need to have it ratified or rejected by voters.

“We are directly responding to people who signed the petition,” said Sen. Adam Driggs, R-Phoenix.

“They signed the petition because they wanted this law repealed,” he said. “We're repealing it.”

That, however, is not what petition circulators want.

Eleanor Eisenberg, who represents the League of Women Voters, told members of the Judiciary Committee the fear is that the Republican-controlled Legislature will repeal the 2013 law, kill the referendum – and then just reenact one or more of the provisions. That would force foes to start all over again with a new petition drive.

“That will just be, frankly I think, a slap in the face of the people who circulated the petition, the people who signed the petition, the citizens of this state that expect to be able to have their voices heard,” she said.

No one on the committee vowed to block such a move, but Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale, came as close as anyone.

“Based on the thin margin by which the original bill passed, I suspect that it's extremely unlikely, if not totally unlikely, that anything resembling (that bill) would pass out of this legislature, either this year or any time soon,” he said.

But several legislators in the House, which is considering a companion measure, already have said they want to proceed with reenacting at least some of the changes. That specifically includes one provision to set up a procedure where someone who has registered to permanently receive an early ballot could be removed from that list.

Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said his concern goes beyond what might happen this year.

Gallardo pointed out there is a constitutional provision which says that anything approved at the ballot cannot be altered by the Legislature. He said that means if voters approve the referendum – and reject the changes in election laws – that Voter Protection Act. would permanently preclude any future legislature from trying something like this again.

Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, questioned whether voter rejection of the 2013 legislation forever precludes lawmakers from enacting similar provisions.

This measure now goes to the full Senate.

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