Senators Sinema, Kelly Announce Gun Control Effort Alongside 10 Republicans

Senators Sinema, Kelly Announce Gun Control Effort Alongside 10 Republicans

By Corinne Murdock |

On Sunday, Arizona’s two Democratic senators announced a sweeping gun control proposal to curb gun ownership of the mentally ill and domestic abusers, as well as expand mental health and school safety programs. 

The proposal hasn’t been introduced as formal legislation, let alone a formal, standalone document. It proposes to prevent court-ruled dangers to the public from obtaining firearms; expand community behavioral health centers, mental health and suicide prevention programs in communities, schools, and telehealth networks, and other similar community support services; add convicted domestic violence abusers and those with domestic violence restraining orders to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS); increase funding for K-12 school safety programs and training; increase punishment for evading firearm dealer licensing requirements and for illegal straw purchasing and trafficking; and require juvenile and mental health background checks for firearm buyers under 21 years old. 

The legislation is a bipartisan effort, with 10 senators from each party issuing support. Republican senators who signed on were Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Richard Burr (R-NC), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Rob Portman (R-OH), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Mitt Romney (R-UT). 

Democrats who signed onto the proposal were Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Joe Manchin (D-WV).

One independent, Senator Angus King (I-ME), agreed to the proposal. 

This latest gun control proposal comes less than three weeks after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. 

In a statement, President Joe Biden commended Sinema for the legislation specifically, along with Cornyn and Tillis.

“Obviously, it does not do everything I think is needed, but it reflects important steps in the right direction, and would be the most significant gun safety legislation to pass Congress in decades,” stated Biden. “Each day that passes, more children are killed in this country: the sooner it comes to my desk, the sooner I can sign it, and the sooner we can use these measures to save lives.”

According to the CDC’s Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) latest data, there were over 45,200 total firearm deaths in 2020. Nearly 24,300 of those deaths were suicides, nearly 19,400 were homicides, just over 600 were legal intervention, and 535 were unintentional. 400 firearm deaths had an undetermined intent. 

A vast majority of the firearm deaths occurred in males: nearly 39,000 versus just over 6,200 females. As for race, about twice the number of white men were killed by firearms in 2020 over black men. 21,000 of the men who died were white, non-Hispanic males; over 12,500 were Black, non-Hispanic males; and just under 4,200 were white Hispanic males. 

Just under 3,900 of the women who died were white, non-Hispanic females; nearly 1,600 were Black, non-Hispanic females; and over 500 were white Hispanic females.

Blue counties accounted for the top ten highest firearm death rates of all counties in the country. They’ve been ranked below from the greatest to least number of homicides.

  • Cook County, Illinois: 82 percent were homicides, or 862 out of 1040 deaths; Biden won with over 74 percent of the vote in the 2020 presidential election.
  • Los Angeles County, California: over 62 percent, or 524 of 837 deaths; Biden won with 71 percent of the vote.
  • Harris County, Texas: over 61 percent were homicides, or 475 of 773 deaths; Biden won with over 56 percent of the vote. 
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: over 84 percent were homicides, or 453 of 538 deaths; Biden won with over 81 percent of the vote. 
  • Wayne County, Michigan: over 75 percent were homicides, or 344 of 458 deaths; Biden won with over 68 percent of the vote.
  • Dallas County, Texas: nearly 61 percent were homicides, or 251 of 412 deaths; Biden won with over 65 percent of the vote.
  • Maricopa County, Arizona: over 35 percent were homicides, or 249 of 702 deaths; Biden won with over 50 percent of the vote.
  • Marion County, Indiana: 69 percent were homicides, or 219 of 317 deaths; Biden won with nearly 64 percent of the vote.
  • Miami-Dade County, Florida: 64 percent were homicides, or 208 of 325 deaths; Biden won with over 53 percent of the vote.
  • Tarrant County, Texas: over 45 percent were homicides, or 140 of 309 deaths; Biden won with over 49 percent of the vote. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Religious Protections For Foster, Adoptive Parents and Providers Passes Senate

Religious Protections For Foster, Adoptive Parents and Providers Passes Senate

By Corinne Murdock |

In a quicker turnaround than anticipated, a bill to prohibit the state from discriminating against the religious or personal beliefs of potential adoptive or foster parents or individuals who advertise, provide, or facilitate adoption or foster services, SB1399, passed the Senate 16-11 along party lines on Wednesday. The bill now advances to the House for consideration. The vote on SB1399 occurred quickly; the Senate announced Monday that it would do the third reading of the bill sometime the following week.

Only two Democrats spoke out on the floor in opposition to the bill during final voting. They claimed that the bill would not only fix a nonexistent problem, but would create a slew of problems down the road.

State Senator Stephanie Stahl Hamilton (D-Tucson) argued there wasn’t a need for the bill because no state agencies discriminate against individuals hoping to adopt or foster based on their religious beliefs. Stahl Hamilton added that the Department of Child Services (DCS) already has a system in place considering religious preferences when matching families with foster children. On another note, Stahl Hamilton said that this legislation allowed the government to meddle with religious beliefs. 

Likewise, State Senator Rosanna Gabaldon (D-Sahuarita) emphasized that while the freedom of religion is important and already protected by the U.S. Constitution, this bill would go against what it aimed to achieve. She claimed it would deny children homes based on someone’s political and religious views.

During the Committee of the Whole (COW) reading of the bill on Monday, State Senator Raquel Terán (D-Phoenix) called the legislation “alarming” and a form of discrimination.

Secular and LGBTQ activists opposed the bill because it would enable Christian agencies to turn away non-Christian and LGBTQ foster or adoptive applicants.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Arizona Policy Director Darrell Hill claimed that the bill would enable antisemitism.

Acts of religious discrimination were classified as altering the tax treatment of a person, including assessing penalties and refusing tax exemptions; disallowing or denying a tax deduction for charitable donations; withholding, reducing, excluding, terminating, or materially altering the terms or conditions of a state grant, contract, subcontract, cooperative agreement, guarantee, loan, scholarship or other similar benefit from or to a person; withholding, reducing, excluding, terminating or adversely altering the terms or conditions of or denying any entitlement or benefit under a state benefit program from or to a person; imposing, levying or assessing a monetary fine, fee, penalty, damages or an injunction; withholding, reducing, excluding, terminating, materially altering the terms or conditions of or denying license, certification, accreditation, custody award or agreement, diploma, grade, recognition or other similar benefit, position or status from or to a person; and refusing to hire or promote, forcing to resign, fire, demote, sanction, discipline, adversely alter the terms or conditions of employment, retaliate or take other adverse employment action against a person employed or commissioned by the state government.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Arizonans Kept From Loved Ones Deathbeds Testify In Favor of Senate Bill For That Right

Arizonans Kept From Loved Ones Deathbeds Testify In Favor of Senate Bill For That Right

By Corinne Murdock |

Of all that elected officials and bureaucrats took away these last two years of the pandemic, a loved one’s final “goodbyes” and “I love you’s” should’ve remained untouched. That much was made clear by Arizonans who came to testify in favor of SB1514, a bill to guarantee that patients have the right to visitation from a clergy member as well as two visitors at all times or their entire immediate family if health care providers determine that the patient will either die or lose consciousness within the next 24 hours. The bill would also prohibit health care institutions from preventing the patient from operating or possessing any communication device, and require them to pay damages of $20,000 and attorney’s fees and lawsuit costs per violation per patient.

Even with their testimonies, two senators voted against the bill in committee: State Senators Sally Ann Gonzales (D-Tucson) and Raquel Teran (D-Phoenix). The bill passed without their votes.

One man testifying in favor of the bill described how his 76-year-old father was hospitalized for mild flu-like symptoms out of caution. During his 17-day stay, the hospital prevented Kaiser or any other family members from visiting their father. Even after a doctor informed Kaiser that his father no longer had COVID-19, the hospital refused to allow visitation. Then, Kaiser recounted how his family received news suddenly that they would be permitted to see their father if they agreed to “comfort care” — when life support machines are turned off and drugs are administered to assist in a patient’s death. Kaiser noted that his father’s requests for certain treatments were denied, even the amount of vitamin C he was given: 500 milligrams, compared to the usual 1,000 when healthy and 2,000 to 3,000 when ill. The nurses told Kaiser that vitamin C wasn’t “protocol” and even health care administrators refused, rejecting Kaiser’s citations of medical studies with their own preferred studies. Kaiser noted that remdesivir, the protocol treatment, caused 60 percent of patients to experience adverse side effects like water in the lungs and organ damage. Only when they agreed to comfort care were they able to see their father. Kaiser said that the hospital’s treatment rendered his father’s physical condition “unrecognizable.”

“We learned that the same immutable adherence to protocol permeated all aspects of my father’s care. He had no effective agency [….] We were clearly beginning to see that each request was friction in a well-oiled assembly line. All requests were denied with similar responses, often followed by, ‘My hands are tied.’ While we were frequently in the care of very attentive and caring nurses, articulate and professional doctors, we quickly understood with each passing interaction that we as a family and my father as a patient had no agency in these walls. Gary had been relegated to a pre-defined and immutable protocol and felt very much like he was on a conveyor belt that, in the end, he was actually strapped to with physical restraints,” said the son. “I pray that my father won’t die in vain: that we will give patients and hospitals freedom of treatment and the ability to be with family and to die with dignity.”

One woman described how she and her husband promised each other to not take themselves or their children to the hospital because of what they’d heard — that people weren’t getting proper treatment and weren’t allowed visitors, even if they were dying. Their fears came true when her husband suffered severe pains that required an emergency room visit several weeks after having COVID-19. Nurses ignored the woman’s pleas to help her husband during his stay at the hospital, dismissing his complaints of pain — staff later determined after attempting a heart surgery that he suffered a heart attack three days earlier under their care. No staff noticed because nobody bothered to check his file. Yet, the woman recalled how staff jumped at the chance to ensure hospital policy was followed when it came to how many of their family could visit her husband shortly after his death.

“My husband was dead, my girls’ father just died, and I’m negotiating with these nurses over policies even they could not make sense of,” said the woman. “Who is being protected by these policies, by these protocols? Not my husband, not me. […] The doctors and nurses knew the medicine, but I knew the patient — better than they would. I knew his pain tolerance. I could’ve helped them. I could’ve alleviated some of their load while advocating for my husband, and he could still be here today.” 

The woman’s daughter also testified. She explained that the denial of visitation wasn’t just inhumane — it was contrary to the known medical impact of human touch, which can induce recovery and instill a will to live. 

“Why now are we taking away these important factors when people’s lives are on the line? When they, too, need an advocate and need loving touch and human connection to send messages to their brain that they’re safe, loved, and strong?” asked the daughter. 

Another woman described how her husband of 39 years was admitted last month for COVID-19. Within weeks, her husband’s condition declined rapidly and she was denied visitation. At one point, she explained that her husband recovered — however, within a few days, something went awry with her husband’s treatment and he declined again. She wasn’t able to intervene with what went awry because visitation policy kept her away. The doctors finally allowed the woman and her family to come say goodbye during her husband’s final moments, but would only admit two of their group to go into her husband’s room.

“If we could have only seen him, would he still be here with us today?” asked the woman. “This is heartbreaking and it’s got to stop after two years of this. Please. Please pass this.”

Another woman described how her husband has been hospitalized since mid-October, but hospitals won’t allow her children to see him. She lamented that another of her family hospitalized for COVID-19, her mother, likely would’ve survived her hospital stay had the health care administrators allowed them to choose their own treatments.

State Senator Kelly Townsend lamented what society sacrificed to feel “safe” from COVID-19. Townsend expressed hope that God would have mercy on the many who were merciless. 

“I have a hard time understanding the attitude of the hospitals who have seemingly abandoned all sense of ‘humankindness’ in the wake of COVID fear,” said Townsend. “They have violated ARS 36-1301 that says a person has a legal right to refuse service or choose the mode of health care by denying families and the patient any say in the management of care while in the hospital and at the end of life. Many are questioning the type of treatment received in the hospital, and have expressed fear to ever go back and trust their medical care to these hospitals. I must say, I do not blame them. We need a reassessment of who we are as Arizonans, as human beings. God forgive us.”

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Senator Kelly Remains Indecisive on Filibuster Abolition

Senator Kelly Remains Indecisive on Filibuster Abolition

By Corinne Murdock |

Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ) has kept up a consistent front of indecisiveness concerning whether he supports or rejects abolishing the filibuster rule. The latest from the senator came from remarks to Politico on Monday, in which he alluded that he would take abolition into serious consideration if a “real proposal” were introduced. According to Kelly, fellow Democrats haven’t made decisiveness possible because the proposals discussed change “almost weekly.”

Even in the event a real enough proposal comes to fruition, Kelly shied away from any insinuation of partiality to one solution or another, promising to take into account the country’s “best interests.” If Kelly explained what those “best interests” were, Politico didn’t report them. 

All throughout the pandemic, Kelly hasn’t been able to give a solid answer to reporters on the filibuster. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) compiled a comprehensive record of Kelly’s remarks to the press on the subject from June 2020 to present. Some of the senator’s closest indicators to a stance on abolishing the filibuster came about in September 2020. Kelly didn’t treat it as a serious solution but rather a political talking point. 

“I mean, [the filibuster] really shouldn’t be part of the discussion. It’s also very hypothetical and it’s kind of more of the same stuff from a broken Washington,” said Kelly at the time. 

Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Adam Green responded to the Politico coverage with an insinuation that Kelly was feigning indecisiveness. Green, a progressive activist powerhouse, had replied to a disgruntled Democrat supporter vowing to stop funding Kelly over his indecisiveness.

“He is fine. Don’t believe this stuff,” wrote Green. 

Prior to Kelly’s election, Green expressed doubt that Kelly was a solid choice for the Senate. Green told The Intercept in 2019 that Congressman Ruben Gallego (D-AZ-07) was a better fit. 

During a Tuesday speech at Atlanta University Center, a historically black college in Georgia, President Joe Biden characterized the filibuster as a threat to democracy. The president claimed that he’s an “institutionalist,” which is why he wants to destroy the institution. Institutionalists prioritize traditional organizations at any expense. 

“Sadly, the United States Senate — designed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body — has been rendered a shell of its former self.  It gives me no satisfaction in saying that, as an institutionalist, as a man who was honored to serve in the Senate,” said Biden. “But as an institutionalist, I believe that the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills, debate them, vote.”

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Letters Outline Objections To DOJ Comments About Senate Audit

Letters Outline Objections To DOJ Comments About Senate Audit

By Terri Jo Neff |

Four members of the U.S. Congress -including two from Arizona- sent a letter this week to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) criticizing one of its deputies for “unnecessarily” weighing in on the Arizona State Senate’s ongoing audit of Maricopa County’s election process.

Representatives Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar, both Republicans from Arizona, and Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) call a May 5 letter from DOJ attorney Pamela Karlan to Senate President Karen Fann “an attempt at intimidation, with the goal of convoluting this important audit.”

Fann is one of two state senators who signed a subpoena in January which led to Maricopa County officials being required to turn over election department records, hundreds of voting machines, and the nearly 2.1 million ballots cast by Maricopa County voters in the 2020 General Election. Karlan’s letter suggested either the Senate or the auditors may be in noncompliance with federal law, and that the elections records and the ballots “are at risk of damage or loss.”

According to Biggs, Gaetz, Gosar, and Taylor Greene, many of Karlan’s comments were previously expressed by what the four representatives call “three left-leaning organizations,” suggesting the DOJ is “more concerns with your political fellow-travelers than election integrity.”  The May 17 letter signed by the four representatives also told Karlan they are “confident in the integrity” of the ongoing audit which is set to run through the end of June.

“In a constitutional republic, the most important thing you can do is make sure the integrity of our election system is protected, free, transparent, and open,” their letter states.

That letter to Fann is not the first received by the senate president in connection to Karlan’s concerns about the audit. On May 7, the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) sent a letter to Fann urging her to push back on Karlan’s concerns, which PILF President J. Christian Adams and PILF Litigation Counsel Maureen Riordan characterize as threats.

Adams and Riordan told Fann that Karlan “is doing the bidding of, and acting as a surrogate for, the Democratic Party, not as an objective law enforcement official and representative of the U.S. Department of Justice.”  They added that Karlan “is engaging in a partisan abuse of power well outside the traditions of the Department as well as the delegation of power under federal statutes and the controlling legal authority governing those statutes.”

PIFL, a 501(c)(3) public interest law firm, urged the Senate President to resist responding to Karlan’s “inappropriate and unjustified letter” and offered to share additional insights into the DOJ’s alleged politically motivated effort if Fann is interested. As of press time Fann had not replied to the PIFL letter, according to the group’s spokesperson.