With more than 1,000 new pieces of legislation hatching, it's a safe bet that the session ain't gonna wrap in the 82 days Senate President Ken Bennett and House Speaker Jim Weiers said they were shooting for before opening day.
There's so much going on that we're not even going to try to give you a comprehensive listing of all the bills, but here's a look at some of the more amusing, appalling or absurd bits of legislation under consideration.
Law and OrderThe dozens of bills tweaking the state's justice system may make it seem like lawmakers want to rewrite the entire criminal code. But that's not the case; by our rough calculations, they just want to change about 90 percent of it.
There are bills that change the way judges are selected (including House Concurrent Resolution 2016, which would make all judicial appointments subject to Senate approval every four years), relax the penalties for carrying concealed weapons and stiffen the penalties for prostitution.
Sen. Tim Bee (R-Tucson) has sponsored SB 1145, which would clarify that anyone who shoots an intruder who is forcibly entering a home or car is acting in self-defense. Rick Unklesbay, a senior prosecutor with the Pima County Attorney's Office, worries that the proposed changes will result in more gang members going free at trial. Unklesbay says the legislation would end up forcing the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the shooter didn't act in self-defense, rather than forcing the shooter to show by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she was acting in self-defense.
"It's just going way too far," says Unklesbay. "It's not that we have any objection to people defending their homes or their cars at all. I think our statutes are adequate on that now. The law clearly states that if there's an imminent danger to you, you have the right to protect yourself, your family."
Sen. Jack Harper (R-Glendale) has sponsored SCR 1004, which would ask voters to guarantee a jury trial to anyone accused of a misdemeanor. Under the current system, most misdemeanor charges are handled in justice court with bench trials, with a justice of the peace deciding whether a defendant is guilty.
Given that Pima County handles about 35,000 criminal misdemeanors a year while the city of Phoenix handles more than 70,000, the change would end up costing taxpayers millions of dollars while jamming up courtrooms. Help us out here: Is that a win-win?
Another big law-enforcement issue: Those damn cameras that bust speeders. This particular problem seems to have come up because cities in Maricopa County want to use photo-radar systems on interstate highways.
When it comes to this topic, GOP lawmakers are actually getting soft on crime, tackling the issue with at least a half-dozen bills, including one that would charge the private companies that process the tickets $200 for each citation, because they have to access state records for license-plate numbers. But the most effective bill may be HB 2251, sponsored by Rep. Pamela Gorman (R-Anthem), which would simply grab all revenues from photo-radar tickets issued on state highways, ending any financial incentive for companies and local governments to expand the system.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) has come up with several bills to hinder prosecutors. (Note: None are likely to become law.) Sinema has sponsored HB 2547, which would prevent prosecutors from presenting statements from defendants in court unless they were tape-recorded, no matter how many people might have witnessed the comments. (Exceptions could be made if defendants refused to be tape-recorded, although their refusal would have to be recorded.) She's also behind HB 2548, which would repeal the death penalty, and HB 2549, which would siphon off all those forfeiture funds that cops and prosecutors split into the state's general fund.
Law and Order: Special Border UnitThe ongoing failure of the federal government to secure the border, combined with the business community's eagerness to give out low-wage jobs with few questions asked, has lawmakers busy, busy, busy this session.
Even the Democrats are getting into the act, though that's mostly a political ploy to try to get the Chamber of Commerce to lean on the GOP so that Republicans will quit making Democrats look soft on illegal immigration.
Sen. Bill Brotherton (D-Phoenix) has offered SB 1215, which would sock companies with illegal aliens on the payroll with fines of up to $5,000.
John Dougherty, of the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, calls Brotherton's bill "pernicious nonsense." Dougherty suggests the Legislature needs to come up with bipartisan border reform, whatever that is.
Despite the Democrats' tough talk, Republicans remain much more eager to hammer away at illegal immigration. There are bills that make it illegal for an illegal immigrant to take adult-education classes, get any kind of license or even own a gun. (To imagine the right wing of the GOP has finally stumbled across a class of people who don't deserve the God-given right to self-protection!)
Rep. Doug Quelland (R-Phoenix) has a proposal that will cost $6 million and do little good: HB 2004 calls for carving a dirt road "one and half-lanes lanes in width" along the entire border, except along tribal or military land. No significant gaps there!
But try though they might, no one at the Capitol can match Rep. Russell Pearce (R-Mesa). Among Pearce's legislative efforts:
· HCR 2037, which would ask voters if they'd be willing to spend an unidentified amount to pay for a wall along the entire border. Part of the funding would come from a new 8 percent tax on money that's electronically transferred into Arizona from foreign countries.
· HB 2578, which calls for the state to spend $50 million building a radar system along the border.
· HB 2579, which would spend an unspecified amount of tax dollars to put more National Guard troops on the border, with no details on what exactly they would be doing.
· HB 2583, which would dole out $50 million to a new 11-member Arizona Border Security Council, which would then dole it out to state and local cops, who would use the money to enforce federal immigration law.
· HB 2586, which would ban illegal immigrants from getting any kind of state license.
· HB 2588, which would allow illegal immigrants to be prosecuted for trespassing in the state. Authorities would get DNA samples and fingerprints from undocumented migrants and then transfer them to federal custody or deport them.
· HB 2577, which would levy sanctions on employers who hire illegal immigrants.
· HB 2588, which would prohibit illegal aliens from receiving workers' compensation if they were injured on the job.
· HCR 2036, which would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment making English the official language of Arizona. While an earlier version of this constitutional amendment has been ruled unconstitutional, Pearce says he's worked out all the bugs and is confident that this version will hold up in court.
Law and Order: Special Capitol UnitIn the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal consuming Washington, Rep. Ted Downing (D-Tucson) has proposed HB 2630, which would ensure that the lobbyist-registration form includes info about statutes related to bribery of a public servant or party officer.
Downing--a university professor who must not be getting invited to student parties anymore--also wants to register all beer kegs that are sold with HB 2632.
Spend NotThe budget hawks at the Capitol, worried about rising spending under Gov. Janet Napolitano, are trying to find a way to handcuff the budget process.
Among the most severe proposals is HCR 2022, aka the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which would ask voters to amend the Arizona Constitution to limit spending increases to the rate of inflation, as adjusted for population growth. This idea was adopted by Colorado voters in the 1990s and abandoned by them last year, after the state discovered it could no longer afford luxuries like building roads and nursing-home care for low-income seniors.
TABOR's introduction had Cynthia Fagyas of AARP Arizona scurrying to send out a bulletin warning of dire consequences if it were to pass.
"The goal of TABOR is not to restrain the growth of government but to undermine every vital government service," wrote Fagyas. "It's clear from the experience in Colorado that enactment of this amendment would dramatically limit state investment in education, health care, services for seniors, environmental protection, libraries, economic development activities and many other public services that improve the quality of life for all Arizonans." Whew!
TABOR is the brainchild of none other than Russell Pearce, who has an alternative budget idea if HCR 2022 doesn't make it out of the Legislature: HCR 2021, which would ask voters to amend the Constitution to require the state to end the year with a cash balance of at least 1 percent of the general fund, with additional limits on the budgeting tricks that get the state through economic downturns.
Some Republican lawmakers seem bothered by their inability to get a majority of lawmakers to agree with them, so they're trying to create a new "minority rule" democracy. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Gilbert) has proposed HCR 2007, which would ask voters to pass a constitutional amendment that would require any supplemental appropriation to pass the legislature by a two-thirds majority vote--meaning a minority of legislators could shoot down what the majority wants.
Rep. Rick Murphy (R-Glendale) is proposing a different constitutional amendment: HCR 2040 would require three-fifths of the voters to approve bond measures.
Murphy also wants to stop those dumb voters from continuing to approve bond measures with HCR 2039, which would force local governments to put bond questions on the November ballot rather than the spring elections that tend to bring out fewer voters.
What's the Big Idea?Lawmakers don't just struggle with small issues that benefit narrow interests (like, for example, Rep. John McComish's HB 2478, which would strip worker's compensation benefits from many taxi and limo drivers). They often tackle Big Ideas designed to transform the political landscape.
Take HB 2583 (sponsored by Russell Pearce, that champion of common sense), which would mandate that a flag be displayed in every classroom from kindergarten right up to the universities. Hey, call us anti-American, but if we recall our flag etiquette correctly, we're supposed to treat the flag as a sacred--and living--object. We don't think anyone would advise abandoning puppies in every classroom so that long-haired liberal-ed students could draw peace symbols all over them while no one was looking. Besides--given the general loathing toward government spending in the GOP caucus--aren't their better uses for tax dollars?
Sen. Karen Johnson (R-Mesa) has sponsored Senate Concurrent Memorial 1002, which asks Congress to withdraw from the United Nations. Johnson also wants voters to have a chance to virtually freeze property values for taxation purposes (SCR 1025) and dump the income tax (SCR 1024). How the state would recover lost revenue isn't addressed.
Rep. Collette Rosati (R-Scottsdale) has sponsored HB 2516, which would require anyone who writes an pro or con argument for a bond-election publicity pamphlet to kick in $50 to help offset printing costs. Yeah, that'll go a long way.
In an effort to keep rich college students from subsiding poor ones, Rep. Judy Burges (R-Skull Valley) has sponsored HB 2014, which bans universities from using any tuition or fee dollars to pay for financial aid for students.
Rep. Dave Bradley (D-Tucson) managed the minor miracle--for a Democrat, anyway--of getting a law passed last year that banned bullying. This year, he's pushing HB 2325, which ensures that all teachers get anti-bullying training.
Sen. Jack Harper wants to get rid of Arizona's presidential primary, which has never really fulfilled its function of making Arizona a kingmaker in presidential politics. (Just ask the winner of the 1996 GOP primary, Steve Forbes.)
And finally, Harper has also sponsored SB 1003, which would ban the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System from providing drugs that treat "sexual or erectile dysfunction." What would Bob Dole say?