Arizona state law now prohibits government properties from requiring masks, with the exception of areas with workplace safety and infection control measures unrelated to COVID-19.
Governor Doug Ducey signed the bill, HB2453, last Friday. Its sponsor, State Representative Neal Carter (R-Queen Creek) declared in a subsequent press release that mask-wearing shouldn’t be a prerequisite for accessing the government.
“Citizens should not be required to wear a mask to access government services,” said Carter. “This law prevents policy setting by unelected bureaucrats which, in my own experience, led to the public being denied entry to some county buildings that continued to impose mask requirements long after such mandates had been widely dispensed with or prohibited around the state.”
Opponents of the bill, like the Arizona House Democratic Caucus, insisted that an outright ban on mask mandates contradicted scientific knowledge.
Proponents of the bill argued that masks were a choice derived from personal liberty.
The Senate didn’t have any discussion over the bill during their final vote last Tuesday. It passed along party lines, 16-12.
Residents living in unincorporated communities across Arizona have a streamlined process for seeking to become a city or town, now that Gov. Doug Ducey has signed House Bill 2455 into law.
Under HB2455, the process will require those seeking incorporation to provide public notice at least six months prior to formally publishing a Petition to Incorporate. The requirements for making that notice are also detailed in the new legislation which Ducey signed April 6.
Another important change related to HB2455 is the ability to include “large areas of uninhabited, rural or farm land” into the incorporation plan under certain circumstances. But the biggest change is that those directly impacted by an incorporation plan can still object and be removed from the boundaries, but it is harder for them to outright kill the effort.
The change is intended to allow affected local qualified electors to vote on the proposed incorporation without having their interests overshadowed by others.
HB2455 was introduced by Rep. Neal Carter who represents parts of Gila and Pinal counties. He lives in San Tan Valley, where residents have tried three times in the last 12 years to incorporate the area which is home to nearly 97,000 people in northern Pinal County.
“Each time, the effort has failed without ever going to a ballot because of objections from outside interests,” Carter said after his bill was signed into law. “I believe people who live within a community should have a chance for their voices to be heard on matters of local governance. Any decision of whether a community becomes a town or city should be made by its residents, not by out of area interests.”
Carter was appointed last fall by the Pinal County Board of Supervisors to fill the remainder of Rep. Frank Pratt’s term following Pratt’s death. HB2455 was the first bill Carter introduced which the governor has signed into law.
HB2455 takes effect 90 days after the end of this legislative session.
The House Transportation Committee approved SB1356, legislation to give Maricopa County residents a vote for or against a transportation tax and excise tax plan. The committee passed with bipartisan support, with the exception of three: State Representatives Neal Carter (R-Queen Creek), Kevin Payne (R-Peoria), and Leo Biasucci (R-Lake Havasu City).Two didn’t vote either way: State Representatives Brenda Barton (R-Payson) and David Cook (R-Globe).
Arizona Free Enterprise Club Vice President Aimee Yentes expressed opposition to the bill, noting that 40 percent of the money was allocated for public transit. Yentes explained that the 1985 transportation tax plan was successful because it built freeways, but that over the decades the plan shifted from essential infrastructure like roads and freeways to “transit,” despite a steep, increasing decline in its use. That number sits at half a percent currently.
“As we’ve seen post-COVID, that ridership number has fallen off a cliff. There are actually more people who don’t own a vehicle that take a car to work than actually use public transit. That’s kind of astonishing,” said Yentes.
Yentes also noted that the bill sets aside funding for something already covered by statute: “regional programs.” She said the definition of that term was problematic because it doesn’t distinguish street intersection improvements but, rather, “arterial roads and regional programs.”
“It really is a catch-all that can be used to siphon off local city slush funds for whatever: complete streets, air quality,” said Yentes.
The bill sponsor, State Senator Tyler Pace (R-Mesa) said that the bill’s rejection, either by the legislature or by Maricopa County voters, would necessitate the Arizona legislature to find the funds for transportation projects themselves. Pace insisted that the committee members shouldn’t nitpick at the provisions of the bill because the greater good concerned Arizona’s legacy of quiet, fast roads superior to those of other states.
State Representative Richard Andrade (D-Glendale) compared SB1356 to previous efforts to expand and extend the state’s two major highways: Loop 101 and the I-17. Andrade argued that creating more public transit like light rails would increase their use.
Those in opposition explained that they weren’t confident this bill would actually meet transportation needs. Carter said that he supported infrastructure, but said that the legislation had room for improvement. Carter said his reservations included provisions for expenditures related to air quality, and the expansion beyond a 20-year authorization.
Payne expressed displeasure that legislators impacted by the bill weren’t included in stakeholder meetings. He explained that his constituents were requesting another bus route down Bell Road, for example, and that he couldn’t vote for the bill in good conscience because of that.
Echoing Carter and Payne’s statements in his “no” vote was Biasucci. Biasucci argued that the legislature should utilize its $4 billion in surplus instead of passing the costs on to taxpayers.
“I think this is, really, how it needs to be done: the money should come from the general fund to be spent on major projects, I’m talking billions of dollars’ worth, in my opinion. For me, when we’re sitting on this huge surplus, it’s hard for me to say, ‘Yes, I agree with a tax increase or an extension,’” said Biasucci.
A newly-proposed bill would prevent discrimination against a person’s vaccination status when it comes to employment, housing, or public accommodations. The legislation, HB2452, would elevate vaccination status to other protected classes like race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, familial status, or national origin.
State Representative Neal Carter (R-Queen Creek) proposed the legislation. In a press release, Carter stated that punishing employees based on their vaccination status wasn’t just bad economic sense — he asserted that doing so violated an individual’s freedom to choose what was right by his conscience and best for his health.
“At this time when our nation is facing a critical hiring and employee shortage, it doesn’t make sense to further restrict the labor market through imposition of mandatory medical procedures as a condition of employment,” said Carter. “Moreover, the idea that a mandatory medical procedure should be a requirement of continued employment is offensive to freedom of conscience, economic security, and medical integrity. No person should be forced to choose between putting food on the table and the integrity of his or her body.”
The bill received a number of cosponsors: Majority Whip Leo Biasiucci (R-Lake Havasu City), Representatives Walt Blackman (R-Snowflake), Shawnna Bolick (R-Phoenix), Joseph Chaplik (R-Scottsdale), Lupe Diaz (R-Hereford), Tim Dunn (R-Yuma), John Fillmore (R-Apache Junction), Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley), John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills), Teresa Martinez (R-Oro Valley), Quang Nguyen (R-Prescott), Jacqueline Parker (R-Mesa), and Justin Wilmeth (R-Phoenix).