By Terri Jo Neff |
Republicans have touted making changes to Arizona’s election laws since long before the current legislative session began Jan. 11. But only one major election-related bill has been signed by Gov. Doug Ducey so far, and on Wednesday another bill died and a third was put on hold.
In an unexpected move Wednesday, Republican Reps. Joel John and Michelle Udall cast their votes with all 29 House Democrats against SB1713, the Sen. J.D. Mesnard-sponsored bill which would have required voters to provide one bit of personal identification information on their early ballot affidavit before mailing it in.
SB1713 was introduced by Mesnard (R-LD17) in February to address concerns that a signature on the affidavit without some other identifying information was not sufficient to ensure ballot integrity. The bill later sat in the House for nearly two months before being amended Wednesday to require an early ballot voter’s date of birth to be included on the voter’s affidavit long with their Arizona driver’s license (or non-operating state ID) number or voter registration number.
The amendment passed but a short time later the newly worded bill failed 29 to 31 when John (R-LD4) and Udall (R-LD25) voted no, effectively killing the bill for the session.
Meanwhile, another election-related bill is on life support despite efforts by Sen. Kelly Townsend (R-LD16) and Rep. John Kavanagh (R-LD23) to push through more than 20 changes to how Arizona’s elections are conducted, changes Townsend says are needed to ensure “election integrity, election reform, and election security.”
Among the varied topics covered in SB1241 are the handling of data storage devices used during elections, affidavits for persons who process or count ballots, chain of custody requirements for election equipment, and what to do if there is a conflict between the state’s Election Procedures Manual and state law (hint: the law wins).
SB1241 also makes it easier to cancel a voter’s registration in another state upon their move to Arizona, allows voters who cast ballots at a voting location to request a receipt, prohibits any tabulation equipment from being connected to the internet, and requires all tabulation results to remain in the United States.
Some violations of the bill could be prosecuted as a Class 2 misdemeanor. In addition, it would force county elections officials to report to the Arizona Attorney General or the local county attorney any “inconsistent” signatures on early ballot affidavits.
A scheduled Third Read of SB1241 on Wednesday did not happen due to budget negotiations which led to the House recessing for the next week or so. Assuming it passed the House at some point, it would still need to go back to Senate to vote on the current amended version of the bill.
The Arizona Attorney General’s Office has joined 19 other state attorneys general in calling on the U.S. Senate to reject David Chipman’s confirmation as director of the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), citing concerns over his approach to public safety and Americans’ right to keep and bear arms.
In a letter sent to U.S. Senate Republican and Democratic leadership, the coalition of attorneys general outlined the threat President Joe Biden’s ATF nominee would pose to law-abiding gun owners if confirmed to lead the agency responsible for regulating firearms.
The attorneys general cite Chipman’s long history of anti-gun rights lobbying and activism.
The attorneys general ATF agents play an important role in upholding the public safety of communities around the country and will be disserved by an agency director with a political agenda.
“Its agents deserve a director who will inspire confidence from the people they serve. Given Mr. Chipman’s history of anti-gun lobbying and political activism, Americans cannot be reasonably expected to believe he will be an unbiased enforcer of current laws,” the attorneys general wrote. “As the chief legal and law enforcement officers in our respective states, we are concerned that Mr. Chipman will make Americans less safe by diverting ATF resources to attack the rights of law-abiding gun owners instead of cracking down on violent criminals and criminal organizations.”
The effort is led by Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen. In addition to Attorney General Brnovich and Knudsen, attorneys general from Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri,
By Terri Jo Neff |
In its longest workday of the session, some legislators debated various budget bills late into the evening after 11 bills cleared the Appropriation Committee in each chamber earlier in the day.
At stake is how to divvy up Arizona’s forecasted budget surplus of $1.5 to $2 billion while transitioning the state to a flat rate income tax and fine-tuning a $12.8 billion budget spending plan released Monday without tweaking it too much.
Many House Representatives believe the budget will be voted on no later than Friday afternoon, allowing lawmakers to leave for the long Memorial Day weekend. But as of Tuesday night, the 16 Republican Senators appeared nowhere near being on the same page, which is critical as all their votes are needed to pass the budget unless a few Democrats can be enticed to cross the aisle.
Masks in public schools turned out to be a divisive issue for many legislators after it was revealed that wording in the Education budget bill would allow schools to have the final say on wearing of masks. That led to a pushback from Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita as well as a sharply worded rebuke from Rep. Joseph Chaplik on Twitter.
“This is completely unacceptable and will not get my vote. In fact, I will not agree to any budget that doesn’t strip the power for mask mandates from school districts. Enough is enough,” Chaplik tweeted.
After much debate it appears as of press time that the mask language will be dropped.
Another highly debated issue involved what role the legislature should have in regulating vaccine passports, which some lawmakers refer to as “show me your medical records.” There has been a split among legislators on where, when, and why the vaccine passports could be allowed.
Currently Gov. Doug Ducey has an executive order in place which prohibits proof of COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition to enter state and local government buildings or to receive public benefits. His order also bans private businesses which conduct services on behalf of state and local governments from implementing a vaccine passport policy.
However, the question of whether universities, retail businesses, transportation companies, and large social venues can set some threshold of vaccination documentation remains unsettled. As is whether the legislature should weigh in on private employers demanding employees to be vaccinated to keep their jobs.
Other debated spending in the budget bill includes unemployment tax payments, low-income housing credits, and an increase in impounded vehicle fees, all of which would impact lower- and middle-income Arizonans the most.
Meanwhile, other legislators are concerned about the state’s long-term fiscal health and want to see Arizona’s debt addressed with some of the existing budget surplus, along with increasing the Rainy Day Fund and upping funding for the state’s universities. And rural lawmakers continue to push for increases in legislative per diems, which have not been adjusted in years.
One large ticket item already in the bill is $50 million toward the cost of widening a dangerous section of Interstate 10 between Casa Grande and Chandler. That funding was necessary to ensure an “aye” vote from Sen. TJ Shope.
Rep. Jake Hoffman said Tuesday he supports the budget’s flat tax proposal, but was still a no vote until much “unnecessary” spending was dumped. And while the idea of a flat tax is popular with Republicans, there still is not much consensus on the details.
There were also talk of Sen. Kelly Townsend seeing her long-sought election bills accounted for in some manner within the budget, in order to guarantee her vote. Instead, a multi-item amendment has been introduced to Townsend’s SB1241, meaning the bill will be address separate of the budget.
Republicans have only a two-vote majority in each chamber, giving each of the caucus’s 16 Senators and 31 Representatives an above average amount of leverage in budget negotiations. It is unclear whether sufficient Democrat-friendly priorities have been included in the budget bills to attract a few votes from the blue side in the event Republicans like Hoffman and Chaplik don’t come onboard.
On Tuesday, while hammering out the budget, members of both the Senate and House Appropriations Committees stripped Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of her ability to defend election lawsuits. Hobbs’ responsibility for the oversight of the Capitol Museum was also taken away.
The provision, which bars Hobbs from hiring outside counsel, would lapse on June 30, 2023.
Katie Conners, the Attorney General’s Public Information Officer, told the Yellow Sheet that the language is necessary because it would clear up confusion “created by the Secretary of State about who speaks for Arizona in court.”
The actions come in part from Hobbs’ failure to to pursue the defense of Arizona including in the case of its ballot harvesting law currently being challenged in federal court. The responsibility would go to the Attorney General’s Office.
Attorney General Mark Brnovich has defended the ballot harvesting law in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Almost two years ago, Hobbs, in what was seen as a clearly political stunt, snuck a gay pride flag into the museum and hung it from the balcony of the Capitol. No one objected to the flag itself, but to the manner in which she disregarded the Senate President and Speaker of the House who should have been consulted on the subject prior to taking any action.
Under the provisions of the new bill, care of the Capitol museum would be turned over to the Legislative Oversight Council.
By Jeffrey A. Singer |
Arizona’s Governor and lawmakers are displaying an enlightened shift in strategy addressing the overdose crisis. After the state experienced an estimated 48 percent jump in overdose deaths during the first eight months of 2020 (a 32 percent increase in most populous Maricopa County in all of 2020), they decided to embrace harm reduction.
On May 14 the Arizona House voted 48–11 to pass SB 1486, which removed fentanyl test strips from the list of legally prohibited drug paraphernalia, after the Arizona Senate voted unanimously in favor of the bill. On May 19, Governor Ducey (R) signed it into law.
Fentanyl test strips, made by a Canadian biotechnology company, were designed for urine drug screening. The tests strips are not approved for sale in U.S. drugstores or other outlets by the Food and Drug Administration, but harm reduction organizations—including “needle exchange” programs— have been buying them and handing them out to IV drug users who use them “off‐label” to test heroin, cocaine, and other drugs for the presence of fentanyl. Researchers claim the tests strips are highly accurate and can detect up to 10 analogs of fentanyl. They also find they save lives by causing drug users to use smaller amounts and/or take a drug more slowly when they detect it contains fentanyl.
When signing the bill into law, Governor Ducey said:
We want everyone who is using drugs to seek professional treatment. But until someone is ready to get help, we need to make sure they have the tools necessary to prevent a lethal overdose.
Speaking of “needle exchange” programs, syringe services programs (SSPs), the term public health professionals use for “needle exchange” programs, are endorsed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, and the American Medical Association. In January 2020, then‐Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams and Professor Ricky D. Bluthenthal of the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine spoke at the Cato Institute on the benefits of syringe services programs. They are proven to reduce the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, and other infectious diseases. They also serve to reduce overdose deaths because one of their services is to distribute the overdose antidote naloxone as well as fentanyl test strips and other drug‐testing materials. Dr. Adams pointed out SSPs offer the added benefits of screening IV drug users for hepatitis and HIV so they can get treatment, and bringing many of them into rehab programs.
Although federal law permits syringe services programs, many states prohibit or make the operation of SSPs very difficult. Researchers at Temple University’s Center for Public Health Law research reported in the July/August 2020 Public Health Reports:
Thirty‐nine states (including the District of Columbia) had laws in effect on August 1, 2019, that removed legal impediments to, explicitly authorized, and/or regulated SSPs. Thirty‐three states had 1 or more laws consistent with legal possession of syringes by SSP participants under at least some circumstances. Changes from 2014 to 2019 included an increase of 14 states explicitly authorizing SSPs by law and an increase of 12 states with at least 1 provision reducing legal barriers to SSPs. Since 2014, the number of states explicitly authorizing SSPs nearly doubled, and the new states included many rural, southern, or midwestern states that had been identified as having poor access to SSPs, as well as states at high risk for HIV and hepatitis C virus outbreaks. Substantial legal barriers to SSP operation and participant syringe possession remained in >20% of US states.
Until now, Arizona was among the states where paraphernalia laws prevented SSPs from operating out in the open. At least four such programs, all privately funded, have been operating in the state but constantly fear police interdiction—as do their clients. If they were explicitly legal, they could establish permanent locations and raise funds.
After an unsuccessful attempt to legalize syringe services in 2018, then‐Representative Tony Rivero (R‐Peoria) tried again in 2020. I testified on the benefits of SSPs before the House Health Committee in February of that year. A bill to legalize syringe services passed the House 50–10 but died in the Senate. This year Senator Nancy Barto (R‐Phoenix) introduced SB 1250, legalizing SSPs. The Arizona Senate passed the bill unanimously in mid‐April, and it passed the House 56–2 with 2 abstentions on May 18.
On May 24, Governor Ducey signed SB 1250 into law.
The bill requires operators of SSPs to “offer disposal of used needles and syringes,” but unlike laws in some states, it does not require one‐for‐one exchanges with people who access the programs. One‐for‐one requirements pose an undue burden on syringe services programs. The priority should be getting clean paraphernalia out to users in order to reduce the spread of disease. The Arizona law gets the priority right.
After multiple unsuccessful attempts, it is gratifying that Arizona lawmaker’s views evolved from initial reluctance to a now near‐unanimous embrace of harm reduction as a rational, evidence‐based, and compassionate approach to the drug overdose crisis. Add the enactment of these two harm reduction measures to the recent enactment of HB 2454, which allows Arizonans to access telehealth services from health care practitioners who hold out‐of‐state licenses, and 2021 is proving to be a year in which the rest of the country can look to Arizona for leadership in health care reform.