Things are going pretty much as you’d expect at the Arizona Legislature: Public schools are under assault, Planned Parenthood funding is in jeopardy, dark-money campaign groups are getting more protection, low-income Arizonans are facing the loss of benefits that help them put food on the table, special interests are having their way and so on and so on.
Here’s a list of 10 of the worst bills still rolling through the Legislature as of our deadline.
1. The Destroy Public Education Act
Supporters of using taxpayer dollars to support private and religious schools made their biggest grab at the public treasury yet this year with SB 1279, a bill that would provide $5,0000 in tax rebates for any parent who wanted to send their kid to a private school.
Opponents of the legislation said the move would have essentially gutted public schools in Arizona by ensuring that parents who could afford private schools made the switch, further diverting dollars from traditional school districts and furthering the decline they’ve suffered as state lawmakers have starved them of funds. Legislation like this creates a vicious cycle: As schools struggle to keep up with less funding, more parents pull out their kids, until the public school system collapses.
SB 1279 passed the Senate on last month and is awaiting action in the House.
But a House version of the bill, HB 2482, has stalled. It got through the House Ways and Means Committee last month but has not come up for a vote of the full House. Sponsor Justin Olson (R-Mesa) has tried to offer changes to entice more Republicans to vote for it but—so far—they’re not on board.
2. The Lawyer Employment Act
Defunding Planned Parenthood’s many medical services for women and men—the birth-control services, the cancer checks, the STD treatments—is all the rage with Republican lawmakers these days, so it’s no surprise that they’re trying to do it at the AZ Legislature. The snag: That funding comes from the federal government and the state is obligated to let low-income women (and men) who are on the state’s version of Medicaid, AHCCCS, decide where they want to go for health care, as long as the provider is qualified to deliver health care services.
The Legislature passed a law a few years back determining that any abortion provider was automatically disqualified, but Planned Parenthood took them to court and won. On top of that, the federal courts ordered Arizona to pay Planned Parenthood’s attorney fees, which came out to about $200,000. (And that’s on top of the money the state had to shell out for their own attorneys.)
That legal loss notwithstanding, Republicans in the House are pushing HB 2599 to try once again to defund Planned Parenthood. This time, they’ve cooked up a variety of conditions that would disqualify Planned Parenthood from receiving payments from AHCCCS patients. Planned Parenthood President and CEO Bryan Howard is promising to take the state to court again if the bill passes and—anticipating that the state will once again pay for his lawyers—is openly scoffing at the idea that the bill is called the Taxpayer Protection Act.
The bill passed the House and was set for a hearing in the Senate Federalism, Mandates and Fiscal Responsibility Committee this week.
3. The Lose Another Court Fight Act
There’s a reason about half the abortions in Arizona are now done by taking medication rather than the surgical alternative: It’s less invasive from the perspective of many women who seek to terminate their pregnancies in the first nine weeks.
And—even though anti-abortion activists say otherwise—it’s a safe alternative to surgical abortion.
Nonetheless, in the name of protecting women, Republican lawmakers are attempting to limit the use of medication abortion through SB 1324.
Physicians now can prescribe the use of abortion-inducing drugs up to nine weeks into pregnancy. But SB 1324 would require that abortion medication follow an FDA protocol that is in effect as of Dec. 31, 2015, which limits the use of the drug to the first seven weeks of pregnancy and requires a higher dosage of the medication than is commonly used today. That FDA protocol was established when the federal agency first approved the drug in 2000; the years since then, physicians have developed what are called “evidence-based protocols,” which have shown that the medication is safe to use through the first nine weeks of pregnancy at a lower dosage.
Reverting to the FDA protocols would restrict the use of the drug during those additional two weeks and require that patients make an additional visit to the doctor—a requirement that can be particularly onerous for women in rural Arizona who must travel to a metropolitan area to have an abortion.
State lawmakers passed a similar law in 2012 but—like the efforts to defund Planned Parenthood—it was blocked by the federal courts.
SB 1324 passed the Senate last month and was scheduled for a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee this week.
4. The Block Research Into Cures for Devastating Diseases Act
SB 1474 would ban any research with fetal tissue from aborted fetuses. Fetal-tissue research was spotlighted after an anti-abortion group released videos where members of the group posed as researchers in an effort to entrap Planned Parenthood officials into selling fetal tissue. While no deals were ever struck and no investigations have shown that Planned Parenthood officials committed any wrongdoing (and the makers of the videos ended up indicted in Texas), fetal-tissue research is now under fire in several states, including Arizona.
Fetal-tissue research, which has been going on for decades, has in recent years shown great promise in reversing the effects of diseases such as ALS and Parkinson’s Disease. We don’t know if fetal-tissue research is taking place in Arizona—though we can say for certain that Planned Parenthood Arizona does not participate in fetal-tissue donation programs—but we don’t think it should be illegal in any event, any more than organ donation should be illegal. Research into cures for devastating diseases is a good cause and shouldn’t be a casualty of a political battle.
SB 1474 passed the Senate last month and was scheduled for a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee this week.
5. The Dark-Money Freedom Act
Campaign-finance legislation seems like it ought to be simple: Just who is funding a political campaign? But in the age of Citizens United, it’s a whole lot more complicated than that, beginning with how you define “campaigning” to begin with and then getting into the nitty-gritty of which groups need to report and splitting hairs over whether a group’s primary purpose is campaigning or it’s just doing a little advocacy on the side.
Without getting too deep into the weeds: These days, we have a lot of so-called “dark money” groups that purport to be do-gooder nonprofits but are actually just ways for special interests to keep their identity secret while they engage in politicking.
So it turns out that in the midst of pushing some legislation that was supposed to be a cleanup of Arizona’s convoluted campaign-finance statutes, Secretary of State Michele Reagan and her legal team have slipped in a few lines into SB 1516 that makes it harder for the public to find out who is funding campaigns by providing more protections to groups that funnel money into campaigns.
The legal maneuvers come as the Arizona Clean Elections Commission is taking steps to require more nonprofits to report campaign spending. This legislation seeks to block that delegating most enforcement of independent expenditure violations to the IRS. Tom Collins, the executive director of the Clean Elections Commission, says the bill conflicts with the Clean Elections Act passed by voters, so a legal challenge is likely on the horizon if it becomes law.
SB 1516 got through the Senate last week and was scheduled for hearings in the House Government and House Judiciary committees this week.
6. The Happiness Is a Warm Gun in a Public Building Act
The annual push to allow people with concealed-weapon permits to enter government buildings with their guns is rolling right along. SB 1257 would force local governments to allow CCW permit holders to bring their guns into public buildings unless local governments installed metal detectors at all doorways.
Schools, college campuses, courthouses, events with liquor licenses and a few other select locations would be exempt.
Sponsor John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) says that the bad guys will carry guns into public buildings anyhow, so anyone with a concealed weapons permit should be allowed to bring their guns in to protect themselves from “homicidal maniacs.” Local governments would be on the hook for installing and staffing metal detectors if they are so afraid of guns in their parks-and-rec buildings or their libraries.
Critics like state Sen. Steve Farley have pointed out that local governments will have to spend millions of dollars to install and staff the metal detectors, but Kavanagh says it won’t cost them a thing if they just let people with concealed-weapon permits into the building. “I’m not really sure where the cost factor comes in in this situation,” he said during debate on the bill.
SB 1257 passed the Senate earlier this month and is awaiting action in the House.
7. The Hideous Erection Act
How many times, when driving around Arizona’s highways at night, have you said to yourself: “Boy, it’d be great if there were more bright advertising billboards lighting up the road”?
Most people would answer that question with a simple: “Never.”
Nonetheless, some business wants to dangle such hideous erections in all our faces, even if it means more light pollution that will damage Arizona’s rep for dark skies and an astronomy industry that contributes an estimated $250 million to the state’s economy every year.
HB 2507 passed the House of Representatives earlier this month and was scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Commerce and Workforce Development Committee this week.
8. The Restore Gerrymandering Act
When they realized they couldn’t dominate Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission back in 2011, the state’s GOP decided to do the next best thing: Destroy the reputation of the commission, which has the job of drawing the boundaries of the state’s congressional and legislative boundaries. Republicans went on the warpath, claiming the commissioners gerrymandered the state so the Democrats would have an unfair advantage.
So how unfair were the final maps for the GOP? Well, Republicans hold five of the state’s nine congressional districts, so they have more than half of those; they have 18 of 30 state Senate seats, so they have more than half of those; and they have 36 of 60 House seats, or more than half of those. Yeah, the GOP really got hosed.
Nonetheless, Republicans still want to change the rules so they can control the entire process—and so we have HCR 2009, which would replace the current Independent Redistricting Commission with a five-member body that is elected by the voters. While it sounds mighty democratic on its face, the real effect would be allowing Republicans to completely dominate the panel as they have other statewide offices.
Under the current rules, no more than two commissioners can be from the same political party and membership is limited: If you’ve been a lobbyist, an elected official or been on a candidate’s campaign committee, you can’t be on the commission. All of those provisions would be gone if voters approve the changes to the IRC in November.
HCR 2009 passed the House last month and passed the Senate Government Committee last week.
9. The Extort the Cities Act
Every once in a while, local governments do something that might conflict with state law. A few years back, the Tucson City Council passed an ordinance regarding guns: If you live in the city and your gun gets stolen, you’re supposed to report the theft to the police.
Former Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne concluded that ordinance was in violation of a state law that prohibits local governments from passing any ordinances involving guns that are stricter than state law. But since a court hasn’t ruled on it, the ordinance is still in place.
Well, state lawmakers—who seem to dream up some reason to challenge federal law on a daily basis—are so upset by the city’s insolence that they want to take away the city’s share of state income tax.
Senate Bill 1487 would let members of the Legislature file a complaint with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office if they believe that any county, city or town has passed an ordinance that violates state law or the Arizona Constitution. If the AG concludes that the jurisdiction has passed an ordinance in violation of state law—as Horne did with the Tucson gun ordinance—then the state would withhold all state-shared revenues until the ordinance is repealed. There is no option for local jurisdictions to appeal through the courts.
SB 1487 passed the Senate last month and was approved by the House Commerce Committee last week.
10. The Humiliate the Poor Act
HB 2596 is another effort to humiliate poor people—and it could take away food-stamp benefits from them, too.
The legislation, which passed the House on March 1, would require people to have their photos on their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cards. The SNAP program is the 21st-century version of food stamps; it provides recipients with an debit card to make food purchases. Rep. Justin Olson (R-Mesa) argues that the new requirement would reduce fraud.
The bill would also cut SNAP benefits for an estimated 120,000 low-income Arizonans who are taking advantage of federal waivers, although Olson said he would amend the bill in the Senate to remove those provisions.
The bill is awaiting committee hearings in the House.