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25 Bills to Watch 

The Weekly's Annual Guide to the Arizona Legislature

With Arizona's lawmakers introducing more than 1,200 bills, memorials and resolutions this year, it can be hard to keep up with everything that's happening at the Statehouse.

So we here at the Tucson Weekly are highlighting some of the more interesting bills that Arizonans might like to know about with our online Blogislature feature.

Following a few posts in recent weeks, we're officially rolling out Blogislature '13 this week. Over the next few months, we'll tell you about the bills that have captured our attention and let you know if there's something you can do to move them forward or knock them down. You'll find updates at The Range—our daily dispatch at blog.tucsonweekly.com—as well as in our print edition.

This week, we're featuring 25 of our favorite bills. Our summaries here are brief, but we'll be going into more detail as the bills make their way through the legislative process. And we're sure this list will see additions in the weeks to come.

A lot of bills have already died this session. The Senate bills that would have undermined public-sector unions? Dead. The one that would made it a crime to create a parody Twitter account? Dead. A proposal to give former state Sen. Russell Pearce about a quarter-million bucks for suffering through a recall election? Dead, dead, dead.

That's not to say that that legislation couldn't come back. House versions of those union bills are still alive. House Speaker Andy Tobin has a sweeping overhaul of state water law that has stalled, but will probably pop up like a jack-in-the-box later in the session. And, more than ever, lawmakers are introducing bills meant to be "striker vehicles"—innocuous bits of legislation that morph into far more controversial bills as the session draws to a close. We'll let you know when that happens, too.

One important bit of legislation has yet to emerge: the state budget. Gov. Jan Brewer released her version in January, but GOP leaders have yet to unveil their version. (Democrats came up with a budget a few weeks ago, but that's not likely to go anywhere.)

If you want to sound off on any of these bills, there are a couple of ways to do it. There's a toll-free number to call the Legislature: 800-352-8404. Ring 'em up and give 'em a piece of your mind.

There's now also a way for you to weigh in online. Visit The Range for details on how that works.

And now, without further ado: Our 25 Bills to Watch.


EDUCATION

Most of the really silly education bills have been killed off. The bill that would have required high-school kids to take a loyalty oath to the United States before getting a diploma is dead, as is the bill that would have allowed science teachers to dismiss global warming as a myth. And schools won't be required to set aside time each school day for the Pledge of Allegiance.

But there are a few key education bills still floating around. Gov. Brewer has proposed a new pay-for-performance funding model for education that gives schools that do a good job more funding. Critics say it would result in schools with struggling students—often at the bottom end of the economic ladder—having fewer resources to help the kids who need it most.

Brewer's plan has been turned into SB 1444, which creates a complex formula for state school funding based on academic performance. SB 1444 passed the Senate Education Committee last week.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers are supporting HB 2499. The bill would boost funding for Joint Technical Education Districts, which provide vocational and tech courses for students who are seeking careers that typically do not require college degrees. HB 2499 passed out of the House on a 58-2 vote last week.

Former Tucson Weekly automatic-weapons editor and longtime political gadfly Emil Franzi likes to remind us that "somewhere, every day, the fix is in"—and that's true of SB 1239, a bill sponsored by SaddleBrooke's Al Melvin. The legislation directs that $30 million be spent on a computer-based system to help kids learn, but the requirements for bidding on the program are so specific that they appear to be tailored toward ensuring the bid goes to one of Republican Sen. Melvin's favorite companies: Imagine Learning of Utah. (Kudos to local blogger David Safier for uncovering the rigged legislation.) SB 1239 passed the Senate Education Committee on a 6-2 vote earlier this month.

In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting, various proposals are being offered to protect schoolchildren. Legislation to design threat assessments and safety plans at schools didn't get a hearing this session, but last week, Attorney General Tom Horne and Republican Rep. David Stevens of Sierra Vista teamed up to back HB 2656, which would allow one principal, teacher or janitor to be armed at each school.

And that brings us to ...


GUNS

A lot of gun bills are dead for the session. A package of legislation introduced by Democratic Sen. Linda Lopez of Tucson that included universal background checks and limited ammunition magazines didn't get a hearing. A bill along the same lines from Democratic Rep. Chad Campbell of Phoenix went nowhere.

But SB 1112, which would make it a felony for federal officials to try to enforce any new federal laws or regulations regarding guns in Arizona is alive and well. It's a reaction to various proposals in Washington to ban assault-style weapons and ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 bullets. Violators—such as agents of the FBI or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives—would be subject to arrest and imprisonment. The bill passed out of the Senate Public Safety Committee on a 5-2 vote last week.

Firearms enthusiasts have been pushing for years for the right to carry guns into public buildings such as city halls or community centers. HB 2554 would allow them to do that if the government did not provide (at taxpayer expense) gun safes where they could store their handguns. The bill passed the House Public Safety, Military and Regulatory Affairs Committee on a 5-3 vote on Feb. 13 and awaits a hearing in the Rules Committee.

Earlier this year, Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik sponsored a gun buyback with the assistance of the Tucson Police Department and private donors. People could trade firearms they no longer wanted for $50 Safeway gift cards. In response, Republican lawmakers sponsored HB 2455, which requires counties, cities and towns to auction any gun turned in during a buyback or other voluntary surrender. HB 2455 passed the House Public Safety, Military and Regulatory Affairs Committee on a 5-3 vote on Feb. 13.


THE ENVIRONMENT

In 2010, GOP lawmakers diverted a stream of lottery dollars away from the voter-approved Heritage Fund, which was set up to help state parks and historic preservation. Instead, the money was dedicated to paying off a big loan to help the state balance its books.

HB 2594, sponsored by Republican Rep. Ethan Orr of Tucson, is designed to restore $10 million in annual funding to the Heritage Fund as well as $9 million to local transit services. The bill passed out of the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on an 8-0 vote, but has stalled in the House Appropriations Committee. Appropriations Chairman John Kavanagh, a Republican from Fountain Hills, has told supporters of the legislation that he does not want to hear the bill.

Last year, the Legislature passed an "environmental audit" bill that allows companies that report violations of environmental laws to the government to escape liability. The reports are sealed away from the public and, in most cases, cannot be used in court in civil lawsuits.

This year's HB 2485 would extend the environmental audit privilege to companies that discover violations of health and safety laws. It lays out an extensive list of material that would be shielded in the case of any lawsuits. HB 2485 passed the House Public Safety, Military and Regulatory Affairs Committee earlier this month on a party-line vote but later stalled in the Rules Committee.

A wide-ranging group of Republicans—including National Republican Committeeman Bruce Ash of Tucson—is concerned about U.N. Agenda 21, an innocuous-sounding 1991 resolution supported by former President George W. Bush. Agenda 21 calls for sustainable development, conservation and women's rights. This has been translated by right-leaning analysts as an attack on private-property rights and another step in the U.N.'s plan to take over the United States.

In response, Republican Sen. Judy Burges of Skull Valley has sponsored SB 1403, which would forbid state agencies from participating in anything that could advance the cause of U.N. Agenda 21. This creates a number of problem for state agencies involved with water and energy conservation, since such programs now may be considered in line with the goals of Agenda 21.

Despite those concerns, Burges—citing the "seductive evils" of energy conservation and sustainable development—has pushed ahead with the bill, which passed out of the Government and Environment Committee last week on a 4-3 party-line vote.


ELECTION REFORM

After a whole lot of early and provisional ballots slowed the vote count last November, lawmakers promised to reform the system to ensure a faster count. Sen. Michelle Reagan, a Republican who represents Scottsdale, is taking the lead with several of the election bills.

Reagan's SB 1003 would make it a felony to deliver early ballots to polling places on Election Day on behalf of anyone who isn't a close relative or housemate. Reagan's bill is designed to stop organizations that gather early ballots and drop them off by the bushel on Election Day. Since the signatures on all those ballots have to be individually checked, it took days to process them in 2012.

SB 1261 would require county recorders to clear voters from the permanent early voter list if they skip voting in primary and general elections and also requires a new statement on early-ballot-request forms. And SB 1264 would make it easier to toss out initiative, referendum and recall efforts on technical grounds related to signature collection.

After all three bills survived an initial vote of the state Senate last week, the Arizona Democratic Party's acting executive director, DJ Quinlan, told the press the proposals "do little to address the problems experienced in the 2012 election and add unnecessary hurdles to citizens who are merely seeking to participate in the democratic process."

In response to the outcry of citizens that not enough money is involved in campaigns, lawmakers are pushing a bill that would raise the current limit on contributions ($440 for legislative candidates and $912 for statewide candidates) to $4,000. HB 2593 passed the House Judiciary Committee last week on a 5-3 vote.

Three bits of election reform would need approval from the voters.

• Reagan has sponsored SCR 1019, which would require that signatures for initiative and referendum efforts come from at least five counties and that 40 percent of the signatures come from counties other than Maricopa and Pima. While it would ensure rural participation in the signature-gathering process, critics say it would also make it far more difficult to put a measure on the ballot. SCR 1019 passed out of the Elections Committee last week.

• Reagan is also behind SCR 1006, which would move the deadline for turning in initiative petitions to May 1 of the election year. While that would make it easier for election officials to review the petitions to ensure that they are legit, it also reduces the amount of time to collect signatures by two months. SCR 1006 passed the Senate last week on a 18-12 vote.

• The state's Clean Elections program has suffered a number of blows in recent years. The worst came when the federal courts declared the matching-funds provision, which helped participating candidates keep pace with well-funded opponents, was unconstitutional. Now Rep. Paul Boyer, a Republican from Phoenix, has sponsored HCR 2026, which would ask voters to simply move all the funding from Clean Elections over to the schools. HRC 2026 passed the House Judiciary Committee on a 5-3 vote last week and awaits a vote from the full House.


LAW AND ORDER

Motorcyclists who are upset about being hassled by The Man just because they look like bikers are hoping for relief with SB 1086, which doesn't allow cops to pull them over just because they're a little rough around the edges. The bill passed out of the Senate Public Safety Committee with a large contingent of bikers in the audience, but it later stalled on the Senate floor.

Anxiety over robotic law enforcement remains high. HB2477 forbids cities and towns from putting photo radar on state highways unless they jump through various hoops to justify it. The bill passed the House Transportation Committee with bipartisan support last month and awaits a hearing in the Rules Committee.


ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND REGULATION

One of Brewer's big agenda items is reform of the state's overly complex sales-tax code. Earlier this month, a slew of lawmakers introduced HB 2657 on her behalf. There are a bunch of technical details that we don't have space to get into, but the bill simplifies sales-tax collections for businesses. However, a Grand Canyon Institute analysis warns that while the aim of simplification is laudable, the bill poses problems for growing communities because of the way that it reconfigures taxes on new construction. While HB 2657 has been amended to try to deal with those concerns, Dave Wells of the Grand Canyon Institute told us last week that even with the changes, cities and towns will still take a budget hit. The bill passed the House Ways and Means Committee on a unanimous vote last week.

HB 2147 would require out-of-work Arizonans to prove that they were laid off before they could collect unemployment benefits and makes it easier for employers to block the benefits. The bill passed the House of Representatives on a 36-23 vote last week and is headed for the state Senate.

Sen. Melvin temporarily suspended his conservative principles to sponsor SB 1242, which provides tax incentives to movie, TV or commercial productions that do work in Arizona. The bill passed out of the Senate Commerce, Energy and Military Committee earlier this month.

Those who like the idea of minting their own coins from silver and gold would be in luck with the passage of SB 1439, which established coins with silver or gold content to be legal tender in the state. SB 1439 passed the Senate Finance Committee last week.

The Arizona Restaurant Association is behind HB 2401, which would limit service animals allowed in eateries to dogs and miniature horses. It's a relatively minor tweak to the law to stop people from taking all manner of creatures out with them under the guise of service animals and highlights the new trend of using miniature horses as service animals. (See "Assistance Arrangements," Feb. 21.) The bill passed the House Health Committee on a unanimous vote earlier this month and is awaiting a vote from the full House.

HCR 2021 would impose a new formula to limit state spending based on population growth and inflation. This kind of Taxpayer Bill of Rights was implemented in Colorado in 1992 and created such fiscal disaster that the voters eventually had to loosen its restrictions. HCR 2021 passed out of the Federalism and Fiscal Responsibility Committee on a 5-3 vote earlier this month.

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