The Arizona Legislature, which in recent years has replaced patriotism as the last refuge for scoundrels, is off to a relatively moderate start this year (although I must stress the use of the term relatively). In recent years, lawmakers have carried out a full-scale assault on public education and teachers, they've knelt before the gun fetishists and they've generally made Arizona the laughingstock of the country. But this year—so far!—they're just kinda crazy instead of all-out insane.
(It certainly could be worse. In Missouri, Republican state Rep. Mike Leara introduced a bill that would make it a felony for any of his fellow lawmakers to even introduce a gun-control bill. It's unlikely that it would pass constitutional muster, but as long as Antonin Scalia is alive, anything is possible.)
This session, a total of 1,145 bills were introduced in the Arizona Legislature. With 30 people in the Senate and 60 in the House, that's an average of almost 13 bills per legislator. That seems like a lot to me. Despite modest gains by Democrats in the 2012 election, Republicans still have a stranglehold on both houses of the Legislature and the GOP sword is both swift and terrible. Nearly half of the bills introduced did not receive a hearing and a committee vote, the two steps necessary for a bill to even have a chance of being voted upon by the entire Legislature and, if passed, sent to the governor.
Among those not even given cursory consideration was a bill that would have made it illegal to text while driving. Yes, it is still legal in Arizona for both hands and both eyes to be on a cellular phone device when all four body parts should be focused on the potentially deadly task of operating a moving motor vehicle. Thus far, 39 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws banning texting while driving and five other states have partial bans. Thanks to a couple of Republicans with power they neither appreciate nor deserve, Arizona is holding out for the right to be stupid, selfish and deadly.
Their claim is that Arizona already has laws against "distracted" driving. This is stupid on several levels. For one, I think that civil libertarians would probably join me in wanting the law to be specific, rather than granting the police broad discretionary powers. Some redneck cop might think that my listening to Earth, Wind & Fire with the windows rolled down is distracting me. Another cop, not wanting to be a hypocrite, might let texting slide because he does it when he's in his own car.
Or how about this: The generally irrational animosity toward cyclists reaches a new level and some people start a fad that involves dressing up as football players and jumping out into bike lanes, causing the cyclists to swerve out into traffic and/or wipe out. According to our Legislature, you can't do anything about that because there's already a law against jaywalking.
Now, you might think that the heel-dragging politicians are ensconced in the back pockets of the cellphone and insurance-industry lobbies, but such is not the case. Both the cellphone and insurance industries favor the texting-while-driving ban, no doubt because they see the bajillion-dollar lawsuit against them that's floating out there, just looking for the right jury upon which to nestle.
There's only one way to deal with these legislators, who are obviously incapable of thinking in the abstract. I want them to be crashed into really hard by people who are texting while driving. I don't want the legislators to get hurt. I just want them to soil their underwear and have to pay a large deductible to get their cars fixed. Maybe then they'll understand. Or probably not.
In all fairness, not all of the bills that were DOA were deserving of full legislative consideration. For example:
• House Bill 2434 would have made it illegal for illegal immigrants to use any public resource, including driving on a public road, attending a public school or drinking out of a water fountain at a public park.
• Senate Bill 1213 would have allowed the teaching of creationism in public schools. ("...and then God created state legislators who cut teacher pay, gave state money to rich people to help them send their kids to private schools, let charter schools run wild with public money, and then demanded that test scores go up even though teachers were being forced to waste time by teaching religious stuff that should have been taught at home or in church. Amen.")
• House Bill 2467 would have required students to swear to uphold the U.S. Constitution in order to graduate from high school. (I'm constantly amazed by how much unconstitutional stuff is done in the name of the Constitution.)
Some of the bills were head-scratchers. HB 2072 would have made it a crime to give away live animals as prizes (although goldfish were exempt, probably thanks to the carnival lobby). Others were downright weird. HB 2363 would have made it illegal for homeowner associations to prohibit homeowners from growing vegetables on their own property.
One bill was doomed to failure from the very beginning. House Bill 2256 would have made it illegal for lobbyists to give gifts to legislators. Yeah, like that's gonna happen.