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Right-Wing Rule 

One of the most conservative sessions in the Arizona Legislature's history is in the books

When the Arizona Legislature wrapped up its work on Thursday, May 3, it concluded one of the most conservative sessions in the state's history.

GOP lawmakers—who held a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives—created new barriers to abortion services, including a push to deny funding to Planned Parenthood, even for non-abortion-related health services for low-income women. They pushed through new tax cuts for Arizona's wealthiest residents. They created a new shield of secrecy for companies that pollute. They eliminated job protections for state employees. They agreed to spend more on private prisons. And they approved the use of automatic weapons and armor-piercing ammo for hunters.

Here are some of the highlights (or lowlights, depending on your point of view) of the session. The majority of the new laws will take effect in August.

Women's Health

It was another rough session for Planned Parenthood, which has already been forced to stop offering abortion services outside of Pima and Maricopa counties because of recently passed laws that restrict the use of medication-induced abortions.

• This year, Republican lawmakers pushed through legislation that further restricted access to abortion in Arizona. One law blocked abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy—and redefined pregnancy as occurring at the start of a woman's last menstrual period, effectively defining life as beginning before conception.

Critics of the legislation argue that it will give the mother little time to consider abortion if prenatal testing shows potential birth defects.

• A new law will relieve doctors of any civil liability for withholding information about potential birth defects during a pregnancy.

• Last week, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill that bans Planned Parenthood and any other health-care organizations that provide abortions from receiving any federal funds that pass through the state, including Medicaid funding for low-income Arizonans, and money from family-planning programs.

If the law survives an anticipated legal challenge, it will mean that Planned Parenthood can no longer provide low-cost cancer screenings, pap smears, STD treatments, contraceptive options and other health-care services to low-income women who are on the state's AHCCCS program.

"The impact will be felt hardest by women who choose Planned Parenthood for their care," says Michelle Steinberg, a spokeswoman for the organization. "They will not be able to choose their health-care provider."

• Brewer signed into law a bill that prevents Planned Parenthood from qualifying as an eligible nonprofit under a state law that allows taxpayers to receive up to $200 in tax credits if they give money to organizations that help the working poor.

Lawmakers passed similar legislation last year, but a federal court blocked its implementation because the law said that no organization that even referred women to abortion providers could qualify as an eligible nonprofit. Federal Judge Roslyn Silver ruled that the provision restricts the free speech of workers at domestic-violence shelters and other nonprofits.

This year's version was stripped of the provision.

• Finally, lawmakers also passed a bill that would allow "religiously affiliated employers" to refuse to provide health-care coverage for contraceptives. Brewer signed the bill on Friday, May 11.

Critics of the proposed law say it doesn't include a definition of a "religiously affiliated employer," so any company that gives a percentage of its profits to a church could consider itself "religiously affiliated."

The law also eliminates language in state law that prohibits employers from firing women for using contraception, even if the women pay for the birth control themselves. And the new law doesn't require employers to disclose to new hires that they don't offer contraceptives coverage.

"The people who are making it as difficult as possible to access abortion services—who want to stop abortions, period—are the same people who want to restrict access to family planning," Steinberg says. "If you reduce access to family planning, you're going to have more abortions. And more STDs, for that matter."

Education

Schools got a slight boost in the state's $8.57 billion budget, with lawmakers adding $40 million as part of an initiative to help third-graders meet reading requirements. (See "Penny-Pinchers, Currents, May 10.) They also boosted spending on "soft capital"—books, computers, desks and the like—by $15 million, and agreed to set aside $12 million for emergency school repairs, although there is no money in the budget for new school construction.

• Schools will be able to offer electives in Bible study, thanks to Rep. Terri Proud's bill to allow students to learn about the "history and literature" of the Old and New Testaments.

• Two other bills aimed at schools did not make it through the Legislature. One would have banned teachers from using any language in the classroom that has been deemed unsuitable for broadcast by the Federal Communications Commission, and the other would have banned teachers from using "partisan" speech in their lessons.

• On the higher-education front, the university system will receive a $21 million spending boost, but the UA will lose its current advantage over Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University under a new funding formula.

• The UA Medical School's Phoenix campus will get a boost of $6 million.

• University students will be protected from the dreaded threat of medical marijuana. A new law makes it illegal to possess weed on campus, even if a person has a prescription for it.

Guns and Ammo

It was not the best session for Second Amendment enthusiasts. A bill to allow guns on college campuses failed in the Legislature, and Brewer vetoed a bill to allow guns in public buildings unless gun safes were provided.

But lawmakers were able to remove restrictions on the types of weapons and ammo that can be used for hunting, so hunters will now be able to use automatic weapons and armor-piercing ammo against wildlife. Hunters will also be allowed to use silencers.

Tax Breaks

In the final hours of the session, lawmakers pushed through an income-tax break on investment income. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimates the tax cut will cost $62 million in fiscal year 2014 and rise to as much as $387 million in fiscal year 2020.

• State lawmakers gave a tax break to algae farms under the state's agricultural property-tax program.

The Border

The Legislature did remarkably little to help secure Arizona's border with Mexico this year. A proposal to create an armed, volunteer militia to patrol the border passed in the Senate, but died in the House. Another bill, to allow the Arizona Department of Homeland Security to announce that Southern Arizona was unsafe if conditions warranted it, died after the sponsor got a negative reaction from Southern Arizona business leaders. They feared that periodically declaring the border region unsafe would be damaging to their profits.

Law and Order

Private prisons were a winner in the legislative session, with lawmakers agreeing to provide them with enough funding for another 1,000 beds. Lawmakers also included enough money to build a 500-unit maximum-security prison that would be run by the state.

• Lawmakers passed several reforms to the state's Child Protective Services division, including streamlined processes for dealing with complaints, and a new office that will work with law enforcement when cases involve potential criminal conduct.

• A new law will prohibit the shackling of pregnant prisoners while they give birth, unless security conditions require it.

• Defendants facing DUI charges will once again have the right to a trial by jury. Lawmakers took that right away last year, but restored it because of potential legal problems.

• Minors will no longer be allowed to possess hookahs or water pipes.

• Passive resistance to arrest has been reclassified as a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and up to $2,500 in fines.

• You may want to be careful about what you write on Facebook in the future. Legislators expanded the current laws against stalking to include unwanted digital contact.

• State Sen. Frank Antenori, who has had several high-profile run-ins with photo-radar enforcement, pushed a bill through the Legislature that would redefine the boundaries of an intersection to make it more difficult for motorists to get ticketed for running red lights. But Brewer vetoed the bill, citing concerns from law enforcement.

Environment

The Sierra Club was a big loser this session.

• GOP lawmakers pushed through an environmental audit bill—dubbed the "Polluter Protection Act" by Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr—that will allow corporations that violate environmental regulations to avoid penalties if they report the violations to the state and promise to clean up their messes. Any reports regarding pollution can be kept secret, even in civil lawsuits that involve damages resulting from the pollution.

• Brewer also signed into law a bill that allows Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold to pump groundwater from the Tucson Active Management Area without penalty, as long as it accumulates credits for Central Arizona Project water.

• You'll soon be seeing more electronic billboards with changing messages along Arizona highways. After vetoing a broader measure earlier this year because of concerns that the billboards could damage the astronomy industry, Brewer signed a bill last week that amends state law to allow them in Phoenix and southwestern Arizona, although they are not allowed within 75 miles of observatories. (The law allows any existing electronic billboards within the prohibited areas to remain.)

• State Sen. Al Melvin tried to continue his revolt against the U.S. government with a bill that demanded that the federal government hand over all of the land it owns in Arizona to the state, with the exception of military bases and national parks. (National monuments and other federal holdings would have become the property of the state.) Melvin's plan included a provision that if the state sells any of the land, 95 percent of the proceeds go to the federal government, with 5 percent going to Arizona schools.

However, Brewer vetoed the bill, saying that Melvin's proposal violated the U.S. Constitution.

• An effort to roll back renewable-energy standards that promote the solar-energy industry in Arizona did not pass.

You Make the Call

Lawmakers have proposed several constitutional amendments that voters will decide on the November ballot.

• HCR 2004 is a companion piece to Melvin's aforementioned bill. It would ask voters to amend the Arizona Constitution to assert state sovereignty over federal lands in order to buttress Melvin's hoped-for lawsuit to force the feds to hand over their land in the state.

• HCR 2056 would increase the amount of money paid out of the state trusts to Arizona schools.

• SCR 1001 would allow the state to swap state-trust land to preserve military installations.

• SCR 1012 would increase the amount of a tax exemption available to businesses for their equipment.

• SCR 1025 would limit how much a property could increase in value for taxing purposes.

• Two controversial proposals did not make the ballot. One would have required that any proposed tax increases on the ballot get at least 60 percent of the vote, creating the possibility of minority rule in Arizona. Another would have required that successful initiatives involving spending and taxes be reapproved by voters every decade.

Odds and Ends

At Brewer's request, GOP lawmakers approved legislation stripping most future state workers of civil-service rights that protect them from being fired for political or other reasons. Current workers will have to surrender those protections if they accept a one-time 5 percent pay bonus or a promotion that includes a raise in salary.

• Dogs on ranches were exempted from city, town and county statutes related to animal cruelty if the dogs are being used to herd livestock.

• Pima County will face a special audit of its bond program.

• Public libraries will have to deploy software to prevent adults from viewing obscene material on computers accessible to the public.

• Arizona will have a poet laureate, thanks to legislation from Sen. Al Melvin that created the position.

• State lawmakers agreed to reauthorize the Arizona Commission for the Arts for another decade.

• A last-minute effort to create a special fund to reimburse elected officials for their campaign expenses if they were subject to a recall election did not pass. The legislation was aimed at providing a way to reimburse former state lawmaker Russell Pearce for the $260,000 in campaign contributions that he spent unsuccessfully trying to prevent voters from booting him from office last year.

• Don't look for more Hollywood stars around Tucson—a push to create tax incentives for movie and TV productions died in the Legislature.

• You'll now be able to celebrate the founding of the Girl Scouts as an official state holiday, albeit one that does not include a day off for state employees. Henceforth, March 12 is Girl Scouts of the United States of America Day.

More by Jim Nintzel

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