- Associated Press - Thursday, May 25, 2017

PHOENIX (AP) - The attorney for the Republican leaders of the Arizona Legislature told a judge Thursday they will seek to have a lawsuit challenging a new law targeting citizen initiatives thrown out of court.

Attorney David Cantelme told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joshua Rogers that he doesn’t believe the groups and voters challenging the law have a right to sue. He’s seeking to take sworn testimony from the six named plaintiffs in advance of a full hearing.

The lawsuit seeking to block the law signed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey in April was brought by advocates who have backed citizen initiatives in the past. They argue the law’s provision extending a “strict compliance” standard to initiatives violates the Arizona Constitution and will make it much more difficult for citizens to pass their own laws.

Cantelme said in order to sue they have to prove that, and he thinks they can’t.

“They have said that one of the injuries that they have suffered is that this will increase their costs,” Cantelme said. “And we think that’s nonsense, and we’re entitled to prove it’s nonsense.”

Attorney Roopali Desai is seeking a preliminary injunction blocking the law. She told Rogers that the constitutional challenge doesn’t require a lengthy effort by the Legislature’s lawyers to gather evidence before a hearing.

“This court is going to hear over and over again from defendants that this is not about delay, this is not about increasing costs, this is not about protracting the litigation, but this is precisely what this is about,” Desai said. “This is about making it as difficult as possible for the plaintiffs to have their day in court and have the court decide the constitutionality of HB2244.”

Cantelme said his intent was to defend his clients and he would never intentionally delay a case.

Rogers allowed Cantelme to interview the plaintiffs in advance of a full hearing on the case he set for mid-July.

Ducey signed two laws targeting the initiative process this year that were pushed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the wake of November’s approval by voters of a minimum wage increase. The other makes it easier for opponents to sue over initiatives and bans paying petition circulators by the signature.

The governor called the laws commonsense reforms that add to the integrity of the initiative process.

Democrats and voting rights groups call the measures an all-out assault on citizens’ rights to pass their own laws that was included in the Arizona Constitution at statehood. Republican backers in the House and Senate called them reforms that were needed to ensure that voter-enacted laws that can’t be changed by Legislature are fully vetted and comply with all laws.

Separately, opponents of the two laws are gathering signatures to block them from going into effect until voters have a chance to approve or appeal them at the November 2018 general election. They must collect about 75,000 valid signatures before it officially takes effect on Aug. 9.

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