The Week at the Arizona Capitol: Feb. 2-5

This story appeared on Arizona Sonora News on Feb. 5, 2015.

PHOENIX — The Super Bowl and its more than 114 million viewers have put Arizona behind them but the good economic news didn’t stop when the fans left.

Apple announced Monday it would add a $2 billion global command center in Mesa at a facility that used to house a glass supplier for the company. Gov. Doug Ducey called a press conference with legislative leaders and other officials to tout the news.

Warning label for initiatives

The House Committee on Elections on Monday passed a bill that would put a disclosure on the ballot reminding Arizonans that should they approve propositions, those measures will be difficult to undo.

The proposed warning label, HB 2072, would remind voters that no changes can be made to a voter-approved ballot measure except by a three-fourths vote of the Legislature in accordance with Proposition 105 — another voter-approved measure.

“It’s deceptive to not fully inform the electorate about the ramifications of their votes,” said Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale, the House Elections committee chair and the bill’s sponsor. She said she has brought similar legislation before.

Jen Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, said the 48-word disclosure could force some counties to adopt longer ballots than they usually print and carries cost concerns. She suggested that the disclosure be put up at polling places, which Ugenti quickly shot down.

The committee approved the bill down party lines with its four Republicans voting in favor and its two Democrats opposed.

Put the phone away

A Senate committee wants you to put that phone down and pay attention to the road while you’re driving. The Senate Committee on Government voted to move forward SB 1102, which would proscribe Arizona drivers from sending text messages while behind the wheel.

Members debated amendments which delineated which specific actions on a cell phone would be banned by the bill. While there is time for the bill to be amended again, the committee voted to change the bill so it would prohibit sending messages but not reading them.

Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said when he first brought the bill forward in 2007, it was one of the first of its kind to be proposed in any state. Now, Arizona is one of two states not to have any laws prohibiting texting while driving.

Farley also brought the family of Arizona Department of Safety Officer Tim Huffman to testify to the committee. Huffman was killed in 2013 on Interstate 8 near Yuma by a driver who was looking at Facebook on his phone at the time of the crash.

The bill would ban texting but not reading on the phone while driving. Forty-four states ban texting while driving, while 13 ban use of hand-held devices.

The bill still has to clear three more committees — Transportation, Rules and Public Safety, Military and Technology — before it could be heard on the Senate floor.

Prison proposal

Two of the biggest chunks of the state budget — schools and prisons — were presented to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday and senators questioned whether the state needs another private prison.

Charles Ryan, director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, presented a proposal to add a new 3,000-bed private prison, which Ducey supports, as the state’s inmate population is expected to grow. Prisons would see an increase in funding under Ducey’s budget proposal.

Democrats have taken to social media to urge fellow legislators to prioritize schools rather than prisons after Ducey’s proposal. Republican Sen. Kelli Ward of Lake Havasu City echoed those concerns.

“My constituents would like to see us prioritize teachers and kids over criminals,” she told Ryan. Ward said the department needed to find places to cut.

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, came to the defense of Ryan and the proposal saying the vast majority of prisoners in Arizona are violent, repeat felons or sex offenders — people who shouldn’t be released.

Some Democratic senators suggested that the projected surge in inmates could be housed in county jails, which was recently suggested by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Red light camera ban

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Military and Technology voted to move forward a bill that would prohibit law enforcement agencies from using a photo enforcement system to ticket red light runners and speeders.

Law enforcement representatives testified to the committee against the bill, SB 1167, saying red light cameras decrease accidents and speeding at the intersections where they are placed, especially in school zones. Opponents to the bill testified just the opposite – that red light cameras cause more rear-end collisions.

Ward, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the crux of the issue is that drivers’ privacies are being violated when the cameras record their actions.

“It’s unconstitutional to invade the privacy of people who are not breaking the law,” she said.

Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Cashion, the only member of the committee to vote against the bill, argued that cameras are recording everywhere, even during legislative committee meetings. “Where do we draw the line?” he said.

Kavanagh, who is a former law enforcement officer from New York and another sponsor of the bill, said photo enforcement takes the discretion out of the hands of officers.

Measles and the border

Prior to the lengthy photo enforcement debate in the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Military and Technology, Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles offered another possible cause for the recent measles outbreak affecting Arizona and California.

While national debate swirls around the consequences of the anti-vaccination movement, Voyles testified before the committee that our “open border” to the south could be the culprit behind the diseases’ resurgence.

“No one has even brought up the point that we have opened the border,” he said. “For years we had had measles completely contained here in the U.S.”

A calendar from the Legislature

While legislators continue to work four days a week for about three months out of the year at the Capitol, a few of them want to set aside some dates this upcoming year for a variety of reasons. Here’s a calendar of the days and months of awareness and appreciation from legislative proposals:

Feb. 22 week – National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

May – Brain Tumor Awareness Month

Aug. 20 – Concussion Awareness Day

September – General Aviation Appreciation Month

Sept. 27 – Arizona First Responders’ Day

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