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Health care initiative resumes signature collection

Two months after it halted in-person signature gathering due to the coronavirus outbreak, a citizen initiative that aims to make sweeping changes to Arizona's health care system is renewing its efforts.

Health Care Rising Arizona announced on Friday that it will begin collecting signatures again for the Stop Surprise Billing and Protect Patients Act. The group suspended its efforts on March 15.

Petition gatherers for the initiative will adhere to a host of social distancing and other safety measures meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the campaign said. They must wear face masks whenever they're collecting signatures. They'll be screened for symptoms at the start of each shift. They'll provide petition signers with single-use, pre-wrapped pens and disposable gloves that will be thrown away after each signature. And they will have petitions laid out on tables, allowing them to stay six feet away from voters while they sign the petitions.

The campaign said it will begin collecting signatures again by the end of May, which won't give it much time. The deadline for the campaign to submit at least 237,654 valid signatures is July 2.

However, Health Care Rising Arizona may not need much time. According to spokesman Rodd McLeod, the campaign has already collected about 280,000 signatures since launching in late August.

"The plan is to hand in a lot more than that," McLeod said.

Initiative campaigns generally try to collect far more signatures than they need to account for invalid signatures and legal challenges.

Health Care Rising Arizona was one of several citizen initiatives that filed a lawsuit that sought to force the state to allow ballot measure campaigns to collect signatures online, as political candidates are able to do. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled against the campaigns on Wednesday.

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Three other initiative campaigns are also in the field seeking to gather enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Campaigns to legalize recreational marijuana, raise income taxes on wealthier Arizonans to fund K-12 education, and loosen Arizona's strict criminal sentencing laws have hired hundreds of petitioners since ending their brief hiatus in early April.

The Stop Surprise Billing and Protect Patients Act would protect patients from unexpected bills from out-of-network providers, increase pay for health care workers, impose new cleanliness standards on hospitals and bar insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions. Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, a California labor union that represents health care workers, is funding the campaign.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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