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Molera v. Hobbs - 10/26/2020

Arizona Supreme Court holds that the 100-word description of the Invest in Education Act initiative was complete enough to qualify for the 2020 ballot.

In Arizona, an initiative may be placed on a ballot if enough signatures are gathered.  Sponsors of an initiative named “Invest in Education Act” circulated petition sheets to gather signatures and then sought to place the initiative on the November 3, 2020 ballot.

Under state law, petition sheets must describe “the principal provisions” of the proposed initiative in 100 words or less.  A.R.S. § 19-102(A).  The petition sheets for the Invest in Education Act initiative included the following 100-word description:

The Invest in Education Act provides additional funding for public education by establishing a 3.5% surcharge on taxable income above $250,000 annually for single persons or married persons filing separately, and on taxable income above $500,000 annually for married persons filing jointly or head of household filers; dedicates additional revenue to (a) hire and increase salaries for teachers, classroom support personnel and student support services personnel, (b) mentoring and retention programs for new classroom teachers, (c) career training and post-secondary preparation programs, (d) Arizona Teachers Academy; amends the Arizona Teachers Academy statute; requires annual accounting of additional revenue.

The petition sheets also stated that the 100-word description was only a summary and invited potential signatories to read the full text of the initiative.

A trial judge determined that the 100-word description omitted principal provisions of the initiative and was misleading.  The judge therefore prohibited the initiative from being placed on the ballot.

But the Arizona Supreme Court reversed, allowing the initiative to be on the ballot.  The Court explained that a 100-word description need only meet two requirements.  First, the description must cover all “principal provisions” of the initiative—i.e., the “most important,” “consequential,” and “primary” features.  The description is similar to an elevator pitch and need not cover all provisions.  Second, the description cannot be misleading.  This means it cannot include “objectively false or misleading information” or “obscure the principal provisions’ basic thrust.”

Applying this standard, the Court held that the 100-word description of the Invest in Education Act initiative covered all the principal provisions and was not misleading.  Although the description could have been clearer or more detailed in certain ways, additional clarity and detail were not required, and potential signatories were free to read the full text of the initiative.

As a separate issue, state law prohibits paying petition sheet circulators “based on the number of signatures collected.”  A.R.S. § 19-118.01(A).  Sponsors of the Invest in Education Act initiative paid circulators at an hourly rate, and that rate could be increased prospectively depending on how productive circulators were during the prior week.

The trial judge determined that the possibility of a prospective rate increase for productivity was not payment “based on” the number of signatures collected.  The Arizona Supreme Court agreed.

Vice Chief Justice Timmer authored the unanimous opinion.

Posted by: Josh Whitaker.

Disclosure:  Osborn Maledon attorneys were involved with this case.

Posted On: 11/2/2020