Friday, February 7, 2014

The Week (At the Capitol) Feb. 3-7

Posted By on Fri, Feb 7, 2014 at 9:59 AM

The cluck of chickens and the howl of wolves:

The Committee of Government and Environment was a zoo of sorts on Monday. The Homegrown Freedom Act, a bill that would allow residents to raise fowl in their backyards, was brought to committee. … “Fowl” encompasses any bird that is raised for the purpose of consumption: chickens, quail, even geese could be raised in backyards, should it pass.

“There are many suburban families who would love to have their children have the opportunity to really find out where eggs come from and how animals really live in our society,” Sen. David Farnsworth (R-16) said.
The bill allows towns to prohibit male fowl, because they make more noise, and enables towns to limit the number of fowl that can be raised. “Many of us moved to the big city and lost the flavor of the hometown freedom that we once had,” said Farnsworth. …The bill passed unanimously.

***

Bills that would allow the Arizona Department of Agriculture and livestock operators to lawfully kill Mexican gray wolves that have been documented in the act of killing livestock; appropriations of $250,000 to the Department of Law in litigation expenses relating to the expansion of the Mexican wolf recovery program; and a resolution that would express the legislature’s support for focusing future introduction of the wolf in New Mexico and northern Mexico — all were heard in the Committee of Government and Environment.

Sandy Bahr, the director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, says that 83 Mexican gray wolves remain today, teetering on the brink of extinction in the wild. While their numbers have risen significantly since reintroduction in 1998, the Federal Endangered Species Act still protects the wolves. “The state government should be setting an example by complying with the law and, in fact, this bill demonstrates why we need the Endangered Species law,” Bahr said.

However, ranchers are frustrated that they can’t do anything to protect their cattle. Sen. Chester Crandell (R-6) voiced the ranchers’ feelings: “What’s happening right now is you’re having the federal government basically come in and say ‘here’s one of the things you can’t control because it’s a protected species.’ You no longer have the ability to protect your investment.”

Doyel Shamley, Apache County Natural Resource Coordinator, expressed frustration that taxpayer money was funding predators. “There’s various methods that they die from,” he said, “but the difference is we’re not, with taxpayer dollars, funding lung diseases in the cattle herds and we’re not funding coyote introductions — but we’re funding this.”

In opposition of the bill, Craig Miller, the Southwest representative for the Defenders of Wildlife, said he’s been working with ranchers on a solution that satisfies interests of both wolves and ranchers. His organization gives out rebates for farmers who lose cattle to the wolves. “Determining which species survive and which do not is a serious responsibility, and whether we like it or not, that responsibility is one that we’ve assumed,” Miller said.

However, the committee passed all three bills along party lines, 4-3. “I have a hard time understanding how we can protect one species at the detriment of another species.” Crandell said, explaining his vote to the audience. … The deciding vote was committee chair Gail Griffin (R-14) who was also the sponsor of the wolf bills. “U.S. Fish and Wildlife chose initially to have their meetings in Albuquerque, San Francisco and Washington D.C. So I think if they want the wolf, we ought to introduce them in those areas,” she said, ending the discussion.

***

Sen. Gail Griffin’s (R-14) bill to create a “Silver Alert” system passed unanimously through the Senate on Monday. Such systems are already in place in at least 15 states, and would be an adjustment to Arizona’s existing missing person’s law. Griffin said. “It’s a good bill; we can save lives, and it’s what we’re here to do.” Griffin sponsored the bill partially because a senior citizen in her district went missing for two weeks and was later found dead. She said that with a Silver Alert system — which sends alerts of senior citizens missing via the media and the Department of Public Safety Resources — that person might not have died. … The bill will head over to the House, where Griffin says that she doesn’t anticipate any problems.

***

On Tuesday, two religion bills were heard in the Committee on Government.

The House Committee on Government passed HB 2153, an identical version of controversial SB 1062, which passed through the Senate last week despite unanimous opposition from committee Democrats. The bill would allow business owners to turn people away if they object based on their religious views. For example, if a photographer refuses to photograph a gay couple’s wedding (the situation for which the bill is based on), that photographer would be legally protected if his or her decision had been based on personal religious reasons. … Opponents fear the law will spread discrimination based on gender, sexuality and religion because of how easy it will be to invoke the religion defense in discrimination cases. The bill is being fast-tracked through the House and Senate.

***

On Thursday Rep. Adam Kwasman (R-11) and Rep. Andy Tobin (R-1) pushed bills through the Committee on Reform and Human Services. Kwasman wants to repeal the Medicaid bill that divided the legislature last session and Tobin wants to amend it by instituting a work requirement for “able-bodied” people to receive Medicaid. Both are running for Congress in District 1.

***

A bill making so-called revenge porn a criminal offense passed unanimously through the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning. Most of the committee members had issues with the language and they all agreed that it would need clarification as the bill moved on. Said Rep. J.D. Mesnard (R-17): “We’re trying to balance out flexibility to go after the wrongdoers, while also not wanting to go after the wrong types of situations. I know folks have thrown out (concerns about) free speech and whatnot, and that’s fine — so we’re going to balance all that stuff out.”

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