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Battered State 

How Republicans clobbered Arizona in the Legislature this year.

If you ask Republican lawmakers, they'll tell you the legislative session was a big success. They'll boast that they balanced the budget in record time, brought spending in line with revenues, cut taxes, reduced the size of government and wrapped everything up in 100 days, just as Arizona's Founding Fathers intended.

But if you ask critics, they'll say that lawmakers abused the legislative process, ignored public input, cut giant holes in the social safety net, gutted environmental protections, restricted access to abortion and repealed restrictions on guns.

Many headlines focused on sideshows, such as the free trips that lawmakers took on the dime of the Fiesta Bowl. Most lawmakers rushed to amend their financial statements with the Arizona Secretary of State's Office and pay back the Fiesta Bowl for tickets and other perks, but Senate President Russell Pearce waited until he was humiliated on a Phoenix TV news broadcast before cutting a check for the tickets he received.

Pearce—who sponsored legislation in 2010 to help the Fiesta Bowl get a big financial break from the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, sparking an investigation by The Arizona Republic that led to the investigation by the Fiesta Bowl Board of Directors—continued to insist that he paid for the tickets, but he's had tremendous difficulty tracking down his cancelled checks.

As senate president, Pearce was protective of then-Senate Majority Leader Scott Bundgaard, who got into a fight with his (now ex-)girlfriend on the side of a Phoenix highway following a local "Dancing With the Stars" event. Bundgaard avoided arrest by claiming "legislative immunity," while his gal-pal was hauled off to jail.

Bundgaard managed to hold on to his position as majority leader for a few weeks by coming up with a story: His girlfriend, who was jealous of his dancing performance with another woman, pulled out his gun and threatened him with it—an account that was denied by the girlfriend and unsupported by police accounts. Eventually, even GOP lawmakers recognized they had a serious liability on their hands and deposed Bundgaard.

Away from the sideshows, lawmakers passed 386 bills, and Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed just 29 of them.

Here's our summary of the most interesting bills, in an easy-to-read Q&A format. If you have any more questions, check in at The Range at daily.tucsonweekly.com, and we'll do our best to answer 'em.

How'd the environment fare?

Sandy Bahr, the longtime lobbyist for the Sierra Club, says that lawmakers considered a number of "absolutely ridiculous" bills.

"You could say it could've been a lot worse," says Bahr, "but that really lets them off the hook for a bunch of terrible bills that they couldn't get through that they'll come back with next session."

Bahr released a report card last week that failed 60 of the 61 Republican lawmakers at the Capitol based on their votes on key bills.

Many of the worst environmental bills—including legislation that would have made it a crime to enforce federal regulations of greenhouse gases or even pollution—passed the Senate, but failed to get out of the House.

Among the bills that ended up becoming law:

• A bill allowing mining on state trust land that is set to become part of the Petrified Forest National Park—an expansion that had some bipartisan support, including the backing of Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl.

• A bill limiting the collection of impact fees from developers.

"It's ludicrous to argue that impact fees are why they can't sell houses," Bahr says. "They were selling houses like crazy before the collapse, which, I would argue, they helped bring about with their overbuilding."

• A postcard to Washington, D.C., urging the federal government to remove endangered-species protection from the Mexican gray wolf.

Bahr points out that lawmakers also snatched gate fees and State Lake Improvement Fund dollars from the State Parks Department, which is now scrambling to find internal funding to keep parks open.

Bahr says the session was marked by a rush of legislation and contempt for public input. She points to bills that were amended in the final hours of the session—such as the expansion of mining in the Petrified Forest—and the way in which the budget was pushed through in the middle of the night with almost no chance for testimony.

"In the Senate, you had people being banned from the building," Bahr says. "You had people being banned from news conferences. You had the media being restricted from access on the floor. You had more suspension of the rules than I ever remember."

Bahr says she's seen a significant shift in the attitude of Republican lawmakers in recent years.

"For a long time, there's been a little bit of a mean streak here," Bahr says, "but now they just seem to go out of their way to do mean things, and not just to the environment."

How's Arizona's war with the federal government going?

The bill to make federal investigators check in with county sheriffs failed, but lawmakers did pass a bill that allows the state to seize federal property via eminent domain. Tribal lands or lands acquired by the feds with the consent of the Arizona Legislature are off-limits, but most of the rest is up for grabs.

We'll see what happens when the state tries to grab federal land near the Grand Canyon for uranium-mining.

Is abortion still legal in Arizona?

Yes, but it's going to get a lot harder to terminate a pregnancy, especially if you don't live in Phoenix or Tucson.

The Center for Arizona Policy, a Christian-right lobbying organization, had a very good session, primarily by limiting access to RU-486, the pill that terminates a pregnancy if it's taken between five weeks and nine weeks after conception.

"What (the legislation) does from a practical perspective is restrict access to abortion care to only Tucson and Phoenix," says Michelle Steinberg of Planned Parenthood of Arizona. "People who live in Yuma and Flagstaff and Prescott will not have access to abortion care of any kind."

One bill redefined taking RU-486 as being the same as a surgical abortion, so any clinic that gives women the medication must now be set up to provide surgical abortions. Another bill stripped the Arizona State Board of Nursing of the authority to allow highly trained nurses to perform surgical abortions or even provide patients with RU-486.

That new law is connected to a statute that was passed in a previous session that stripped nurses of the authority to perform abortions. Planned Parenthood sued over that legislation, which is now on hold while the case works its way through the courts.

Steinberg says Planned Parenthood might file suit over the new law as well.

CAP also managed to push through legislation that prevents any organization that performs abortions, or even refers women to places where they can obtain an abortion, from accepting contributions under the state's tax-credit program for nonprofits that provide services to low-income Arizonans. That means that if you give $200 to Planned Parenthood, you can no longer get a $200 tax credit. And if another nonprofit—such as a domestic-violence shelter—directs a woman to Planned Parenthood should she want to terminate her pregnancy, your contributions to the organization are no longer eligible for the tax credit, either.

In fact, the law goes even further than that: If a nonprofit organization such as a food bank provides health insurance to employees that includes coverage for abortion services, then that nonprofit is no longer eligible to accept tax credits under the nonprofit umbrella.

Lawmakers also passed a law requiring women to sign forms declaring that they didn't seek an abortion over the race or sex of the fetus.

CAP's efforts to impose their values on people's personal lives surely didn't end there. What else did they manage to do?

CAP scored another victory with the passage of SB 1187, which allows a spouse who doesn't want to end a marriage to delay the finalization of the divorce from two months to four months, and creates guidelines for court-ordered counseling for divorcing couples.

Another new law, SB 1188, will favor married couples in adoption proceedings. The legislation is primarily aimed at reducing opportunities for gay couples to adopt children.

Also, if you think that your kids are being taught something that you don't approve of in those godless schools, you are now protected by the Parents' Bill of Rights. That means you get to review all learning materials, and if you object to any of them—such as, say, parts that teach evolution—you get to pull your kids out of class. Schools also need to get written permission before showing "video, audio or electronic materials that may be inappropriate for the age of the students," according to a legislative summary.

Arizona has led the way in stigmatizing illegal immigrants. Did we manage to top SB 1070 this year?

No, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. Pearce introduced a bunch bills that would have further cracked down on illegal immigrants, including seizing their vehicles and kicking them out of public housing. But after the business community called on lawmakers to back down, a number of GOP lawmakers voted against the bills.

One of the session's gut-bucket lows came during debate on a bill that would have required school districts to track the number of students who were in the country illegally.

Sen. Lori Klein, a freshman Republican from Anthem, read a letter that she'd been forwarded by Senate President Russell Pearce from a substitute school teacher. The substitute, Tony Hill, complained that when he taught the class, students were disruptive, refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance and tore up their Mark Twain books rather than complete an assignment.

Quoting Hill, Klein read a passage that included this blanket condemnation of Hispanic children based on their race: "I have found that substitute teaching in these areas most of the Hispanic students do not want to be educated but rather be gang members and gangsters. They hate America and are determined to reclaim this area for Mexico."

After some resistance, Senate officials turned over the name of the substitute teacher to the press, which tracked down the school district where Hill had filled in. Glendale Elementary School District officials said that their interviews with the kids in classes he taught did not jibe with Hill's description.

The Phoenix New Times later uncovered court records that showed Hill had been in family court after reportedly choking his wife, verbally abusing his children and beating the family dog in front of his kids. He also had a temper problem that had cost him his job, which is why he was substitute-teaching in the first place.

Through it all, Klein stood by Hill, as did Pearce, who insisted that the press was ruining the reputation of a good man. Sen. Al Melvin, who represents the Catalina foothills and Oro Valley, praised Klein's courage in reading the racist letter on the Senate floor.

In other border news: Lawmakers did succeed in creating a new Border Security Trust Fund, which can be funded by private or public contributions that are designated for the construction of a border fence on private and state lands.

Lawmakers also created a new Arizona State Guard that the governor can call to action "for any reason considered to be necessary," according to a legislative summary.

How did the gun guys do?

Second Amendment enthusiasts managed to get an official state gun—the Colt Single-Action Army Revolver—and Gov. Jan Brewer signed a law allowing them to take firearms onto game refuges.

But they failed regarding two major gun bills, thanks to Brewer's veto stamp: She rejected one, which would have allowed guns on college campuses, because she said the language was so imprecise that it could have allowed guns on kindergarten campuses as well. She vetoed the other, which would have required public buildings—that is, city halls, rec centers, pools, etc.—to allow firearms unless they installed metal detectors and gun safes, as well as armed guards. Brewer said the bill had "too many loopholes and flaws for me to sign."

A state gun sounds great! What about a state nickname?

Lawmakers took care of that, too. We're now officially the Grand Canyon State.

What was with Sen. Frank Antenori's war against Tucson and Pima County?

None of the Southern Arizona Republicans seemed to be sympathetic toward the city of Tucson or Pima County, but no one was as vocal as Sen. Frank Antenori, who engaged in a running feud with fellow Republican Steve Kozachik, who represents midtown Tucson on the City Council.

Antenori sponsored a bundle of bills meant to hamstring the city of Tucson, including legislation that would have limited the number of employees the city could hire.

One of Antenori's anti-city bills passed through the House and the Senate: SB 1322, which would have forced any city with more than 500,000 residents—we're looking your way, Tucson and Phoenix—to seek bids anytime they spent more than $500,000 to do anything for citizens outside of law enforcement, fire protection and courts.

But Brewer vetoed the bill, saying that she was "becoming increasingly concerned that many bills introduced this session micromanage decisions best made at the local level. What happened to the conservative belief that the most effective, responsible and responsive government is government closest to the people?"

Antenori had more success with SB 1171, which allowed the town of Marana to take a sewer plant from Pima County, as long as the town agrees to take over the remaining debt.

The new law involves a long legal fight between Marana and Pima County over the sewer plant. Marana has complained that Pima County denied sewer permits to potential developments; Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry says that the new developments balked over the fees associated with sewer service and suggests that Marana is more interested in the water credits the municipality can get for recharging the treated wastewater.

Huckelberry says he'll ask the Board of Supervisors to let him file suit over the new law, arguing that Pima County citizens have already paid $6 million of the $30 million that the plant cost to build, so Marana shouldn't be able to get it just for the $24 million remaining on the mortgage. In the meantime, Marana's effort to seize the sewage plant has been stalled by the Pima Association of Governments.

The city of Tucson suffered a few losses, including a new law which prevents the council from imposing a tax on residential rental payments without voter approval. The City Council had considered a rental tax—which is charged in every major municipality in Arizona except for Tucson and Flagstaff—three times in recent years, but declined to impose one. Now it's lost the ability to do so.

We can't let Wisconsin get all the glory in crushing public-sector unions. Tell me Republicans did something to screw with state workers.

Antenori teamed up with Melvin and Rep. David Gowan to successfully sponsor SB 1365, which bans public or private employers from taking money from workers' paychecks without annual written authorization.

This "Protect Arizona Employees' Paycheck From Politics Act" has a glaring loophole, though: Antenori and Melvin must not think that cops and firefighters deserve the same kind of protection, because they were exempted from the bill. Could it be that law-enforcement and firefighter unions are more likely to support GOP candidates? We're sure that lawmakers who operate only on their deep convictions would never stoop to such petty political considerations.

Antenori's seatmate, Rep. David Gowan, also pushed through a bill stripping all county workers outside of Maricopa County of their civil-service protections if they are new hires or accept a promotion, but Brewer vetoed the legislation.

More efforts against state workers are in the works. Gov. Jan Brewer has already declared that she's interested in a special session to strip many protections from them.

How did cops benefit in the session otherwise?

Lawmakers added a $13 fee to every criminal and civil fine, from the forfeiture of property to traffic tickets. Some of the dollars will go into a fund that benefits Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, who gets special love from state lawmakers; the rest of it will go to the state's anti-gang task force.

I'm among the poor and sick. Am I screwed?

Probably. As we detailed a few weeks back (see "The State Budget: Winners and Losers," April 21), lawmakers cut $510 million from health care, which will include not allowing childless adults and parents of kids who earn more than 75 percent of the federal poverty line to enroll in AHCCCS going forward. The state will also levy a variety of new fees on people who use their state-subsidized health insurance.

Some of those proposals will require permission from the federal government, while others will be challenged in court.

On a more positive note for sick people: The Legislature did restore funding for hospice care, thanks to a bill sponsored by Rep. Matt Heinz of Tucson. Lawmakers also reversed a restriction passed last year that blocked funding for life-saving transplants.

I'm a soldier who's been serving overseas, and I'd like to bring back more than one liter of alcohol when I return to Arizona. What did the Legislature do for me?

You're in luck! You can now bring back more than one liter, though you may have some tax liability. Check with your attorney for details.

Why can't I find Spice in head shops anymore?

Lawmakers outlawed Spice and other faux-weed products. If you want to get legally high, it looks like you're just going to have to figure out how to score a prescription for medical marijuana.

Speaking of medical marijuana: Lawmakers also passed a law to iron out a wrinkle regarding the drug-testing of employees who have a recommendation for medical marijuana.

Is there a chance the state will get rid of Clean Elections?

Voters in 2012 will be asked to approve a constitutional amendment to block any public funds for political campaigns. This constitutional amendment would override the Clean Elections program, which provides campaign dollars for candidates for statewide and legislative office. It would also eliminate the city of Tucson's public-financing program, which has given council and mayoral candidates money for campaigns since the late 1980s.

Expect both sides to spend big bucks on the 2012 campaign, if there is one; opponents of the proposition filed a lawsuit last week over the constitutionality of the "Stop Public Money for Political Candidates' Campaigns Act," as it will appear on the ballot.

They had to move fast to file their legal challenge. SB 1167, which included an emergency clause that made it law immediately, limits the amount of time that citizens have to challenge any referendum that lawmakers put on the ballot. In an odd-numbered year, opponents have 20 days after the referendum is filed with the Arizona Secretary of State to file their court challenge; in an even-numbered year, that drops to just 10 days.

More by Jim Nintzel

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