By Daniel Stefanski |
A bill that was widely supported by Arizona law enforcement and passed out of committee with broad bipartisan approval met a partisan crowd when it arrived for a vote in the full State House of Representatives.
HB 2485, sponsored by Representative Kevin Payne, would enhance sentencing for convicted criminals who ambush police officers in the line of duty. According to the overview of the legislation provided by the Arizona House, this bill “increases the penalties for aggravated assault on a peace officer if the defendant is found to have lain in wait for or ambushed the peace officer while committing the assault.” The bill requires that “a person who is convicted of aggravated assault on a peace officer, and found to have lain in wait for or ambushed the peace officer in committing the assault, be sentenced to two years more than what would otherwise be imposed for the assault.”
This piece of legislation seemed like a slam dunk for passage out of the Arizona Legislature, but the final clearance from the House of Representatives was anything but. All but one Democrat voted against HB 2485, with Representative Amish Shah not voting. All Republicans voted to send the bill to the Senate.
Freshman lawmaker Cory McGarr noted the shocking vote against a bill designed to protect members of Arizona’s law enforcement community, writing, “All of the Dems voted against protecting police from AMBUSH. Might want to call your Democrat representative and ask why only Republicans voted to protect police.”
The result of the vote on the House floor was unlike the actions out of House committees earlier in the legislative process. When the bill was heard before the Committee on Military Affairs and Public Safety (MAPS) – chaired by the sponsor, Representative Kevin Payne, it passed with an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote; 13 members voted yes, one Democrat voted no, and another Democrat was recorded as present. Representative Sun, who voted no on the bill in committee explained that she had pause on supporting the bill because the “definition of ambush is very vague,” and she was concerned about “further criminalizing our constituents and adding to our privatized prison system.” HB 2485 cleared the House Rules Committee with a unanimous 8-0 vote.
Several representatives of the Arizona law enforcement community testified in support of the bill before the MAPS Committee. Don Isaacson, on behalf of the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police (Arizona State Lodge), relayed the endorsement of HB 2485 from the 10,000 police officers who comprise his organization. The key for Mr. Isaacson and his police officers was the change from “optional” enhancement for convictions of ambushing a police officer to “mandatory.” Rebecca Baker, the Legislative Liaison for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office also testified in favor of the bill; as did Joe Clure, the Director of the Arizona Police Association, who made clear that it’s important to send a clear message to those who ambush police officers will be dealt with “harshly and firmly.”
But the most convincing testimony in front of the House MAPS Committee came from the President of the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police, Paul Sheldon, who has served for more than 23 years as a police officer. He expressed regret that this legislation was even necessary – especially since there was a time in his career, where these types of crimes against police officers were extremely rare. However, he noted that last year was the deadliest year for law enforcement in more than twenty years. He told the committee that 21 Arizona police officers were shot in the line of duty in 2022, and 16 of those were ambush attacks. Two of those ambushed officers died in the line of duty.
HB 2485 now heads to the Arizona Senate for its consideration.
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.