For Heaven's Sake

A plan to pick on gays goes horribly wrong and other tales from the AZ Legislature

Last week's passage of SB 1062—dubbed the "No Cakes For Gays Act," by Jon Stewart—set off a swift and powerful international firestorm against Arizona.

Suddenly, the legislative session—which had started off with a focus on better protecting kids by reforming CPS—was all about whether the state would enshrine into law discrimination against gays, lesbians and other sinners under the guise of religious conscience.

And in what can only be read as a heartening sign in today's politics, the legislation was widely denounced not only by Democrats and the LGBT community, but by people across the political spectrum.

Crowds of protestors swarmed the Capitol lawn. Chambers of commerce and other business groups issued statements opposing the SB 1062. Tourism agencies, seeing the very real possibilities of convention boycotts, urged the governor to reject it. Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake tweeted their hopes that the bill would be vetoed.

GOP gubernatorial candidates said they didn't like the bill (although some of them, including Doug Ducey and Christine Jones, said there were legitimate legal issues to be worked out regarding protecting religious business owners from being forced to provide services to gays and lesbians or others who violate their religious sensibilities). Even three of the Republican senators who voted for the bill last week—including Mesa's Bob Worsley, who co-sponsored the bill in the first place—asked the governor to veto the bill.

Supporters of the bill—including Cathi Herrod of the religious-right Center for Arizona Policy, which pushed the bill as part of a nationwide effort to enact such "religious conscience" bills as gays and lesbians win the right to be married and not be discriminated against as a class of citizens—said the media and protestors were distorting the bill's intent.

As of press time, it was still unknown whether Brewer would veto SB 1062. Asked for a comment at the National Governors Association meeting, she told CNN the bill was "controversial" and she needed to "get my hands around it."

Brewer would be wise to listen to the words of actor George Takei, who weighed in on his website: "If your Governor Jan Brewer signs this repugnant bill into law, make no mistake. We will not come. We will not spend. And we will urge everyone we know—from large corporations to small families on vacation—to boycott. Because you don't deserve our dollars. Not one red cent."

While the attention was focused on the "No Cake for Gays Act," plenty of other bills worth following are on the move around the Legislature. A quick roundup:

• The Legislature has repealed a controversial election law that was passed in the closing hours of the 2013 legislation session. The 2013 law, which was on hold after activists gathered enough signatures to give the voters a chance to knock it down on the November ballot, would have criminalized the collection of early ballots by political activists; made it easier to clear names from the Permanent Early Voter List; increased the bar for third-party candidates seeking to get on the ballot; and created new hurdles for anyone seeking to collect signatures to put an initiative on the ballot.

Republican lawmakers, concerned about defending their support for the bill in their fall campaigns, instead rushed to repeal the legislation. The House version of the bill, HB 2196, passed the House on Thursday, Feb. 13, and the Senate version, SB 1270, passed the Senate on Thursday, Feb. 20, on a 17-12 vote. As of press time, it was awaiting the governor's signature.

• SB 1310, which prohibits the state from implementing the nationwide Common Core education standards, passed the Senate Education Committee on a 6-3 vote last Thursday, Feb. 20. State Sen. Al Melvin (R-SaddleBrooke), who sponsored the bill, said in committee last week that an effort to develop solid educational standards by state governors and the private sector has been "hijacked by Washington" and "some of the reading material is borderline pornographic ... and in the math department, there is fuzzy math, the substitution of letters over numbers. It's hard to say this stuff with a straight face." Yes, indeed.

• HB 2547, which would allow cities to get a subsidy of up to $2 million from the state if they host major events such as the Super Bowl, passed the Public Safety, Military and Regulatory Affairs Committee on a 6-1 vote on Wednesday, Feb. 19. Sponsored by Rep. David Gowan (R-Sierra Vista), the bill is basically designed to help bail out Glendale city leaders who won the bid to host the 2015 Super Bowl but now are concerned that the city cannot afford the accompanying expenses.

•HB 2284, which would allow surprise inspections of abortion clinics, passed the House Rules Committee on Monday, Feb. 24, setting up a vote of the full House of Representatives.

• Rep. David Stevens (R-Sierra Vista) unveiled a brand-new bit of legislation with HB 2419, a strike-all amendment that replaced another bill. HB 2419 would require anyone requesting public records to pay for the $20 an hour for the staff time required for public-record requests that take more than eight hours to fulfill. Stevens announced plans to have a stakeholder meeting on the legislation on Tuesday, Feb. 25.

• SB 1151 would prohibit cities and towns from establishing ordinances that prohibit anyone from raising chickens in their backyards. (Roosters could still be regulated unless they were unable to crow.) The No Chickens Left Behind Act passed the state Senate on a 29-1 vote on Thursday, Feb. 13.

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