Marijuana petition off ballot

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Petitions to legalize 1 ounce of marijuana and to prevent doctors, contractors and other businesses from imposing tougher limits in damage suits suffered the same fate Tuesday as a petition to raise the minimum wage.

Secretary of State Dean Heller ruled neither has enough valid signatures in enough counties to qualify for the November ballot.

But Heller said a petition designed to roll back insurance rates in Nevada did have enough signatures and will be put before the voters this fall.

The so-called "frivolous lawsuits" initiative was removed for the same reason as the minimum-wage initiative - improper verification of some petition books by the people who gathered the signatures. With the 10,331 signatures that were disqualified, the petition would have qualified, Heller's office said.

Heller said his office was forced to disqualify those petitions because they didn't meet validation requirements spelled out in the Nevada Constitution. The same problem invalidated nearly 14,000 signatures on the minimum-wage petition.

The marijuana petition, according to Chief Deputy Secretary of State Renee Parker, failed because it simply didn't have enough signatures. Organizers of that petition drive lost a box containing 6,000 signatures and never gave it to the Clark County registrar of voters. By the time they found it, registrar Larry Lomax said it was past the legal deadline.

Initiatives needed 51,337 valid signatures to qualify this year - 10 percent of the total turnout in the last general election. They also needed 10 percent in 13 counties.

The lost signatures in Clark County stopped the marijuana petition by preventing it from qualifying in Clark; therefore, it qualified only in 12 counties.

The marijuana petition asked voters to approve legalizing possession of up to an ounce of pot by adults, but maintained stiff penalties for selling the drug, especially to minors, or being under the influence while driving.

The "frivolous lawsuits" petition was designed to prevent doctors and contractors from pushing for lower damage caps than the $350,000 now allowed by Nevada law. But it also would impose penalties on lawyers if a judge ruled a lawsuit frivolous.

The insurance petition would order companies to reduce existing rates by 20 percent, effective December 2007. It also gives the Insurance Division more power to make insurance carriers justify any increases. Finally, it would remove the statutory limit on malpractice judgments unless the insurer can prove it has reduced premiums for that coverage by at least 10 percent.

The minimum-wage petition asked voters to order a $1 an hour increase in the minimum wage to $6.15. The AFL-CIO, which was behind the petition, has already filed suit to reinstate it.

Nevada AFL-CIO Danny Thompson said the signatures were valid, and keeping the measure off the ballot because of a technical error by signature gatherers would unconstitutionally disenfranchise voters.

Organizers of the "frivolous lawsuits" initiative could seek to join that court battle.


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