This is what you need to know about how those propositions get on your ballot.

Arizona Republic

A proposed initiative to raise pay for some health care workers and rein in the practice known as surprise billing by medical companies cannot appear on the ballot in November, a judge said on Friday.

Superior Court Judge Pamela Gates ruled that the short summary of the measure printed on petitions and signed by voters was misleading.

And she tossed out a pile of signatures filed by supporters of the measure after the signatures either were deemed invalid or the volunteers and workers who turned in the petitions did not appear for court hearings to answer questions about their filings as part of a lawsuit over the initiative.

That left supporters of the Stop Surprise Billing and Protect Patients Act short of the number of signatures required to get the measure on the ballot.

“We are disappointed by the ruling,” said Rodd McLeod, a spokesperson for the Healthcare Rising Arizona campaign. “Arizonans continue to suffer with millions of dollars of surprise medical bills and remain vulnerable to a lawsuit that could eliminate pre-existing condition protections. That is why we plan to appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.” 

With the measure backed by a labor union that represents health care workers, it met heavy opposition from Republican lawmakers and business groups such as the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. They filed suit to stop the initiative and welcomed Gates’ ruling.

“The proponents attempted to jam a number of health care related items into one initiative that, if passed, would have forced tremendous cost increases onto patients and hospitals,” said Garrick Taylor, a spokesperson for opponents of the measure.

The measure calls for a 5% wage increase each year for four years to direct-care hospital workers, such as nurses, aides, technicians, janitors, social workers and nonmanagerial administrative staff.

Proponents say the measure also would stop surprise billing from out-of-network providers, require refunds for patients who are overcharged and require private hospitals to meet national safety standards on hospital-acquired infections.

Gates took issue with the way some of the proposed initiative’s various provisions were worded in the summaries printed on petitions.

The judge said that a 93-word summary of the measure included on each petition was misleading because it stated that the proposed initiative would prohibit “insurers from discriminating based on preexisting conditions.”

That provision only would apply to insurers in the individual market or group market, not the majority of insured Arizonans, she wrote.

The judge also took issue with the summary’s claim that the initiative “sets new minimum wages for direct care workers at private hospitals by requiring raises of at least five percent for each of four years.”

That phrasing leaves the summary open to two different interpretations, the judge said.

While the measure calls for raising the pay of health care workers in a range of positions, the term “minimum wages” suggests that the measure would only set a new floor for the wages of the lowest-paid workers, she wrote.

Limited to 100 words, the summaries of proposed initiatives printed on petitions have ignited several legal battles this year.

Courts have said the summaries must describe the key provisions of an initiative so voters know what they are signing when they attach their names to a petition. But the summaries do not have to be unbiased or describe each facet of a petition in detail. The summaries simply cannot be false or misleading.

Still, opponents of various initiatives have challenged proposed ballot measures in court on the grounds that the 100-word summaries were incorrect or confusing.

The three other initiatives proposed for the ballot this year all faced legal challenges over 100-word summaries. These initiatives would legalize the recreational use of marijuana, overhaul the state’s criminal sentencing laws and increase taxes on higher income tax filers to boost funding for public schools.

Contact Andrew Oxford at [email protected] or on Twitter at @andrewboxford.

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