The Week at the Arizona Capitol: March 23-26

This story appeared on Arizona Sonora News on March 26, 2015.

PHOENIX — The Legislature is well into the homestretch with the goal to wrap up the session before Easter still in its sights. This led to busy days and long nights at the Capitol this week.

Last call for bills

The House and Senate Appropriations committees were the only committees to hold regular meetings this week. This opened many of the bills being heard to strike everything amendments to revive legislation previously killed in the Legislature.

This included legislation to bar most from collecting early ballots for elections, which lost a vote last week in the House Elections Committee. The House Appropriations Committee, however, approved this bill and others in a meeting that started at 9 a.m. and continued after the floor session into the early morning hours.

Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, and other Republicans argue that prohibiting most people from collecting early ballots to take them to polling centers prevents “ballot harvesting” and potential voter fraud. Democrats disagreed, saying the problem of voter fraud is virtually nonexistent and called the bill an attempt at voter suppression.

House Appropriations also managed to squeeze through a bill making Arizona IDs compliant with federal Real ID standards. Arizonans may find themselves turned away from airports and federal buildings by next year when the standards are set to go into effect.

The cats also came back for another life with legislation removing the minimum period pounds are mandated to hold stray cats. The bill died on the House floor last week when some members argued that it would harm bird populations by proliferating feral cats.

Abortion reversals approved

Following lengthy floor debate and a lengthier delay in taking up the bill, the House voted to approve an abortion regulation bill which mandates doctors inform women seeking abortions that they can be “reversed.” SB 1318 prohibits any health exchange operating in the state from providing coverage for abortions, as well.

Republican Representative Regina Cobb of Kingman led the charge during floor debate Monday against the abortion reversal information, which she called “non-evidence based medicine.” Others have also raised concerns that the abortion reversals lack medical evidence, which involves giving a woman progesterone to stop a medication abortion after RU-486 is taken.

“It’s only been out for a short period of time and the studies are not yet out on this,” Cobb said. “What we don’t know is what we don’t know.”

Cobb then faced off with Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Gilbert, who added the amendment with the abortion reversal provision, and other Republican colleagues, who argued that there is the potential to save life, so women should be informed of it.

“I believe the disclosure certainly falls with the scope of ethical practice,” said Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert.

Rep. Kate Brophy-McGee, R-Phoenix, said forcing doctors to inform women of the abortion reversals could open them up to medical malpractice litigation. She, however, supported the bill when it came to a vote. Cobb, too, ended up voting in favor of the bill.

The bill went back to the Senate, which approved it with the abortion reversal provision on Wednesday. SB 1318 now awaits approval from Gov. Doug Ducey.

Board of Education address

Ducey addressed the state Board of Education on Monday morning to lay out his education agenda. He reiterated his opposition to Common Core but did not call for a full repeal of the standards.

Instead, Ducey asked the board to consider reviewing the English and math standards to ensure they will serve students well. “And in any instance during your review, you find situations where Arizona standards can outperform or improve our current standards, I ask you to recommend replacement immediately,” Ducey said.

At the end of last week, Ducey appointed five new members to the board including Arizona State University President Michael Crow to fill the public university president position on the board.

A bill repealing Common Core standards in the state cleared the Senate Education Committee last week. The Senate delayed hearing it on the floor this week.

Take me to church

Should we all be required to go to church on Sundays? Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, seemed to say as much during the Senate Appropriations meeting late Tuesday night.

While explaining her vote on a bill allowing guns in public buildings, Allen said the gun violence could be blamed on moral decline in the country related to religion being taken out of society. “Probably we should be debating a bill requiring every American to attend a church of their choice on Sunday to see if we can get back to having a moral rebirth,” she said.

On Wednesday, Allen rose on the Senate floor to explain the comments, saying she was tired when she made them. Allen reminisced of the ‘50s and ‘60s when she said she and her friend could take a bus and go to the soda fountain and still feel safe.

“It was a different time,” she said. “I think it wouldn’t hurt if we went to church on Sundays to try to bring back this moral rebirth to our country.”

Bill update

The Legislature moved dozens of bills this week in its push to finish the session well ahead of its 100-day limit. Among them:

— On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill shielding the names of law enforcement officers involved in deadly force incidents for 60 days, which now moves to Ducey’s desk. Opponents staged a protest outside the Executive Tower that afternoon, urging the governor to veto the bill.

— A bill designed to resolve a constitutional dispute between Ducey and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas failed in the House on Tuesday with a 17-38 vote. HB 2184 would clarify authority over members of the Board of Education and it will come back up for another vote on April 1.

— Ducey signed into law HB 2128, backed by the conservative Center for Arizona Policy, on Monday, which would give a property tax exemption to properties leased to religious institutions. Former Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a similar bill last year.

— While SB 1120, which would exempt out-of-state sales on fine art, died in the final House Appropriations Committee meeting, the exemption made it into SB 1133 and now goes back to the Senate. Scottsdale art gallery owners are pushing to eliminate the sales tax, which they say is driving away business.

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