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Arizona lawmakers fight over language for up to 14 ballot measures

A ballot for Tempe Propositions 301, 302 and 303.
Jean Clare Sarmiento/KJZZ
A ballot for Tempe Propositions 301, 302 and 303.
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At a hearing Monday, Arizona lawmakers accused each other of trying to mislead voters with the language that will be used to describe ballot measures.

There could be 14 measures on the ballot this year.

A panel of lawmakers must approve the “impartial” descriptionsof those measures, which are prepared by staff, but the panel struggled to get consensus.

For example, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein (D-Tempe) argued that language in a GOP-supported measure that would affect pay for tipped workers is not clearly being presented to voters.

“You cannot claim to care about how inflation is affecting people and then put a proposal on the ballot like this that allows people to work for less,” Epstein said.

Republicans disagreed with her assertion that the Tipped Workers Protection Act will actually function as a pay cut. That very issue is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit.

Other arguments included whether to use the term “fetus” or “unborn human” in describing a measure that would enshrine a right to abortion in Arizona’s constitution.

“I am also of the opinion … that “fetus” is an insult to an unborn baby and you’re trying to color it as such. So, as though you have your opinion, we have ours,” Republican Rep. Teresa Martinez (R-Casa Grande) said.

Ultimately, the majority-Republican panel passed most of the ballot descriptions on party lines without the support of Democrats who objected strongly to what they consider partisan or misleading writing.

Another debate was over whether to use the word “alien” as opposed to “non-citizen” to describe a person who has entered the state outside of a designated port of entry in a ballot measure that would make doing so a state crime.

“I don't think it’s factually correct to say ‘non-citizen,’” House Speaker Ben Toma (R-Peoria) said. He noted that the border security measure the term is included in refers to some non-citizens and not to others like tourists and people on visas.

“At the end of the day, words matter, and every word that we have in our language evokes an image in our brain,” Rep. Strephanie Stahl Hamilton (D-Tucson) said. “‘Alien;’ it evokes something that is other. … We are dealing with people.”

Democrats suggested several amendments to most of the measures, which Republicans voted down.

Most of the legislative referrals that lawmakers sent to the ballot over the course of the past two years made it through the legislature on party lines. Those are the ones Democrats expressed the most concern with.

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Camryn Sanchez is a field correspondent at KJZZ covering everything to do with state politics.