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Out of the House

Legislation to gut Clean Elections, block gun buybacks and aid the mentally ill advance



A bill that would put a stop to city-run gun buybacks passed through the House on a 36-23 vote on Thursday, March 7, but not without attempts to exclude Pima County from the ban and accusations of gun fetishes.

HB 2455, sponsored by Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, prohibits the government from destroying a firearm unless it can't be lawfully sold.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, introduced two floor amendments that failed. His first amendment excluded Pima County from the bill. The other amendment allowed for buybacks as long as the city wasn't funding them.

"What the amendment is really attempting to do is allow governments to get in the business of destroying guns as long as they partner up with a private company," said Rep. Justin Pierce, R-Mesa.

Gallego argued that having police involved in buyback programs is helpful since they can then check serial numbers to see if a gun was involved in a crime.

Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, questioned this argument, asking if a private company funding a buyback program could hire a police officer to check serial numbers.

Gallego said the way he read the bill, it would prevent hiring a police officer for a buyback. Orr then asked if Legislative Council had determined that. Gallego said it hadn't.

Gallego compared turning in guns to being able to turn in other harmful items such as old batteries.

Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, took offense to this comparison, arguing that someone might turn in a civil war gun, which has a lot of history and shouldn't be compared to a battery.

Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said he didn't care if it was the first gun ever, if someone wants to destroy their property they should be able to do so.

"I think it is ridiculous that we are blocking [this amendment]," Gallego said. "And the only reason we are blocking this is because we have some weird gun fetishization where we deem that guns have some kind of intrinsic right."

A bill that would ask voters if they want to defund Clean Elections in favor of education barely passed out of the House Thursday, March 7, on a 31-27 vote.

Republicans and Democrats argue that HCR 2026 is designed to deceive voters.

"Clean Elections was not voted at a time where it was tied to education funding," said Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman. "I believe that's kind of a playbook out of the dirty playbook of sleazy political tricks."

The bill's sponsor, Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, said that for him, tying the two together made logical sense because he is passionate about education funding and doesn't think public money should go to politicians.

Goodale, who chairs the House Education committee, also took issue with throwing money into the "black hole of education." She said she would rather see the money targeted at something specific.

When the bill went through the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, the committee's chair, said he didn't understand what was wrong with asking voters if they want to redirect money during tough economic times.

"When we take it to voters and it's in a vacuum we have the other side of the problem, which is we have limited resources and now we are saying, 'Do you want Clean Elections?' and we're not going to consider what the rest of the budget is," Farnsworth said.

Those on both sides of the bill argued that the issue is about trusting voters.Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, said he voted for the bill even though he has depended on Clean Elections and hopes to do so again.

Thorpe said he isn't afraid of what voters want.

Rep. Martin Quezada, R-Phoenix, asked if lawmakers are afraid of simply asking voters if they still want Clean Elections. He questioned why education should go on the ballot.

While Goodale argued that liking Clean Elections is irrelevant, for several members, personal feelings about the program seemed to be a determining factor (with Rep. Phil Lovas, R-Peoria, joking that he's the only Republican to ever quote from the Phoenix New Times on the House floor as he read from an article about abuse of the program).

Rep. Carl Seel, R-Phoenix, who has always run using Clean Elections voted for the bill, noting that during his campaign he said he would work to get rid of the program.

Rep. Jonathan Larkin, D-Glendale, said he voted against the bill because as a blue-collar worker (Larkin is an assistant produce manager at Fry's Food Stores) campaigning traditionally was extremely difficult.

"I found out very quickly how much of an impact it can have on your finances and personally I don't know how I did it financially," Larkin said.

Two Tucson lawmakers are hoping their bipartisan bill will help Arizonans be more attune to the mental health needs of their community.

HB 2570 passed out of the House of Representatives on a 54-04 vote on Wednesday March 6. It would take $250,000 from the general fund to expand the Arizona Department of Health Services' Mental Health First Aid program.

The program runs 12-hour training sessions to help the public to understand and assist people with mental illness. The training is often free and is similar to taking a CPR class, according to the Department of Health Services' website.

The Tucson Police Department came out in support of the bill. TPD Sgt. Jim Kirk compared the program to neighborhood watch efforts, which he said were a great help when he was a burglary sergeant.

The bill came out of conversations the bill's sponsors' Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, and Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, had when running against one another. Orr and Steele both live less than a mile from the Safeway where former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot. The two started talking and realized what they had in common, Orr said.

HB 2555 would require health care providers and teachers to report patients or students that are a danger to themselves or others while HB 2618 would require officers be trained on how to recognize and respond to someone who is seriously mentally ill.

Steele said she is hopeful that the bipartisan support will continue.

"We know that prevention and treatment work. We know we can prevent further deaths," Steele said, adding that just about a year ago her friend shot herself in the head.

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