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.
Over the past two years, Arizonans have experienced higher inflation than other parts of the country, and their state legislators are working on a solution to combat these higher prices.
This week, Republican legislators held a press conference at the Arizona State Capitol Rose Garden in Phoenix, promoting their efforts to eliminate the rental tax to help constituents struggling with high inflation.
Representative Neal Carter introduced HB 2067 in the House, and Senator Steve Kaiser introduced SB 1184 in the Senate. The bills would prohibit “municipalities from levying municipal tax on the business of renting or leasing real property for residential purposes effective January 1, 2024,” according to the overview provided by the Arizona House of Representatives.
SB 1184 was co-sponsored by six Senators (Ken Bennett, Jake Hoffman, Warren Petersen, Wendy Rogers, Janae Shamp, and Justine Wadsack). HB 2067 was co-sponsored by twenty Representatives (Leo Biasiucci, Selina Bliss, Joseph Chaplik, John Gillette, Travis Grantham, Gail Griffin, Liz Harris, Justin Heap, Rachel Jones, David Livingston, David Marshall, Cory McGarr, Quang Nquyen, Barbara Parker, Jacqueline Parker, Michele Peña, Beverly Pingerelli, Austin Smith, Ben Toma, and Justin Wilmeth.
In an exclusive interview with AZ Free News, House bill sponsor Neal Carter shared his thoughts on why he led this legislation in his chamber: “A tax on a citizen’s rent is terrible tax policy because it’s unfair. It’s anti-progressive, it inordinately affects lower-income Arizonans, and at a time of unprecedented rising inflation, taxing rents further exacerbates the affordability crisis that we are facing. Consider the neighborhood that I live in: about one-third of the houses are rentals, so about one-third of the people I see at the community center, or pass on the sidewalk walking our dogs are paying a tax that I don’t pay to live there, just because they pay rent but I pay a mortgage? It’s unfair.”
Legislative Republicans are serious about sending these bills to Governor Hobbs’ desk without delay. SB 1184 passed the Arizona Senate on February 9 with a party-line 16-14 vote. On Wednesday, February 14, the House passed SB 1184 with a 32-28 vote.
After the House vote on Wednesday, Representative Matt Gress tweeted, “NEW: I just voted to eliminate rental taxes in the state of Arizona #CommonSense”
Following the conclusion of the press conference, the Arizona Senate Republicans released a statement on Twitter, writing, “Your Senate and House Republicans are calling on @GovernorHobbs to support inflation relief for the hard-working citizens of our state, who are struggling to make ends meet in the face of historic inflation. SB1184 would eliminate the rental tax tenants are paying. This tax ranges from $20 to a couple-hundred bucks each month. That extra cash could help with a medical bill, gas, groceries, or other necessities. Governments are FLUSH with cash. It’s time to give back to families that are hurting right now. We are urging the Governor to sign SB1184.”
According to analysis from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC), it is estimated that “municipalities will collect a total of $200.9 million in sales tax revenue from residential leases in FY 2023,” and “the municipal revenue loss is an estimated $(230.2) million” in FY 2025 – the first full-year impact of the legislation if signed into law.
When asked by AZ Free News about his support for this historic bill, House Speaker Pro Tempore Travis Grantham replied, “There is nothing more evil than taxing people’s food or the roof over their head. It’s time to get rid of this immoral residential lease tax and bring some needed relief to renters in our state.”
Democrats are not supporting their Republican colleagues’ attempt to give Arizonans a break from the rental tax. All committee action in both the House and Senate – as well as the vote from the entire Senate and House – has featured party-line votes, which may give a strong indication on what the Ninth Floor will do with the bill after it clears both chambers. Governor Hobbs has already set her sights on eliminating another tax, though – the state sales tax on feminine hygiene products.
Instead, Democrats have introduced other policies aimed at combatting the massive increase Arizonans have experienced in housing costs – specifically those in the rental market. On Thursday, House Democrats held their own press conference in the Rose Garden to push strategies to make the state’s housing more affordable. One of the Democrats’ solutions was HB 2161, a bill introduced by Representative Judy Schwiebert, dealing with caps on rental increases. That bill has been assigned to both the House Regulatory Affairs Committee and the Commerce Committee, and it has not been heard in committee.
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.
On a 31 to 29 party line vote, the State House passed The Unbiased Teaching Act, also known as SB1532, following a derisive debate during Wednesday’s floor session.
An amendment introduced this week by Rep. Michelle Udall (R-LD25) to a school operations bill bars racist, sexist, and one-sided politicized instruction in Arizona schools, including concepts related to Critical Race Theory. It also allows for civil litigation against teachers, administrators, and other school employees who violate the Act.
Under SB1532, a school district, charter school, or state agency is prohibited from requiring a teacher, employee, or visitor to discuss controversial issues of public policy or social affairs unless the subject is essential to course learning objectives. If a teacher presents a controversial issue, it must be conducted with “diverse and contending perspectives” without deference to any one perspective.
“Political advocacy, propaganda, and biased, one-sided viewpoints taught as fact have no place in a classroom,” Udall said after the vote. “If dealing with a divisive controversial topic, educators should present the subjects in a responsible, balanced way that encourages students to think for themselves and draw their own conclusions.”
SB1532 as amended was transmitted Wednesday to the Senate for a vote. The Republican Senate Caucus only holds a 16 to 14 majority, so getting the bill to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk will require full Republican support unless some Democrats unexpectedly cross the aisle.
Passage in the Senate, however, is not a sure bet due to statements by Sen. Kelly Townsend (R-LD16) that she will not vote for any further legislation this session until the Senate’s ongoing audit of the Maricopa County 2020 general election is finished.
The Unbiased Teaching Act allows the Arizona Attorney General or the appropriate county attorney to initiate legal action in superior court for an alleged violation of the controversial issues prohibition. If further prohibits requiring a teacher, administrator, or other school employee to engage in training, orientation, or therapy that presents any form of blame or judgement on the basis of race, ethnicity, or sex.
Examples of prohibited “blame or judgement” concepts are those which teach one race, ethnicity, or sex is inherently morally or intellectually superior to another; that one person, by virtue of his or her race, ethnicity or sex, is consciously or unconsciously inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive; that an individual should be invidiously discriminated against or receive adverse treatment based solely or partly on his or her race, ethnicity, or sex; or that a person’s moral character is determined by his or her race, ethnicity, or sex.
A judge could impose a civil penalty of not more than $5,000 against a person who knowingly violates the Act or aids in a violation. The bill also permits the Attorney General or a county attorney to bring legal action against any school district or charter schoolteacher, administrator, or other employee, as well as state employee who uses public funds to violate the prohibitions.
Another provision ensures students cannot be required to affiliate with or engage in service learning that involves the student participating in lobbying for legislation at the local, state, or federal level or in social or public policy advocacy.
Also on Wednesday, a party line vote led to House passage of SB1074, which started out as a routine public entity auditing bill before being amended by Rep. Jake Hoffman (R-LD12) with language similar to Udall’s SB1532 amendment.
SB1074 as amended bans the state, state agencies, and political subdivisions such as counties, cities and towns, and community colleges from requiring employees to engage in the same type of training, orientation, or therapy prohibited in SB1532 if it involves presents any form of blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity, or sex.
Training related to sexual harassment is specifically excluded from the mandates in SB1074.
On Tuesday, the Democrats in the Arizona House of Representatives attempted to prevent a vote on an election integrity bill, and then when that failed, Rep. Athena Salman called for a boycott of the state if the bill passed.
Earlier in the day, Democrat lawmakers refused to show up to work in order to prevent a quorum as part of their effort to block a vote on SB1485.
Later, in a vote along party lines, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita’s bill passed and is now headed back to the Senate.
SB1485 would remove people from the Early Voting List (EV), who don’t return their mail ballot for two consecutive election cycles from the permanent list, which allows voters to automatically receive a ballot before each election.
Not everyone shared Salman’s view. Sen. TJ Shope, a moderate Republican, tweeted his support for the bill:
I look forward to supporting SB1485 in the Senate. It’s NOT unreasonable to send a notice to a PEVL voter after NOT voting in FOUR consecutive elections and confirming their intent to remain on PEVL. The hyperbole surrounding this bill is disgusting & offensive to POC like myself https://t.co/tLTfGLYtyM
Sen. Salman and the Arizona House Democrats continue to make discredited statements about SB1485, including allegations that the bill would “purge” the early voting list and “infringe” on voting rights.
The reason the bill heads back to the Senate is that it was amended to win the support of more Republican lawmakers in the House.
The amendment softened the bill, according to experts.
Before the amendments, a person could be removed from EVL after not using an early ballot in two consecutive primaries and general elections. Under the amendments, a person would have to miss all elections within a two-year period including city or other minor elections, to be dropped from the EVL.
In all cases, voters remain registered to vote. They are simply dropped from the list of mail-in ballot recipients.