February 6 - 17, 2011 Legislative Update
Jaime Farrant, Policy Director
I. Introduction: Our Legislature attacks our Constitution and the Constitution wins Round 1; Governor files “jobs bill”; Over 250,000 Arizonans are closer to losing their health care services
Notwithstanding the many economic, educational and health services challenges facing our state, our Legislature launched the most blatant attacks on the Constitution and minorities in recent history. The Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings last February 7 on Senate Bills 1308 and 1309, which seek to create an Arizona citizenship, and thus trigger lawsuits that seek to redefine our country’s historic definition of who is a US citizen by birth. The February 7 hearing lasted almost 3 hours, and at the end, it was clear to those present there that with every minute passed, this bill became more objectionable. After the Senate committee members, particularly Kyrsten Sinema, D-15, and Adam Driggs, R-11, raised a significant number of questions and concerns with what is clearly an unconstitutional bill, Committee Chairman and bill sponsor Ron Gould, R-3, decided to hold the measures and not call then to vote, as everyone saw that the bills’ constitutional problems are too many to overcome. The bills were transferred the next day to the Senate Appropriations Committee and were scheduled for a hearing on February 15. However, they were held in that Committee as well and are now scheduled for a hearing next February 22.
In other important news, Governor Brewer filed her “jobs bill” (SB 1001) on Monday. This bill is filled with corporate tax breaks and incentives. Legislative budget officers estimate that this bill would make the state lose $538 million dollars in tax revenues. However, it was even more concerning that the Governor’s advisors admitted that there is no guarantee that these corporate tax cuts, which will cause significant losses of revenues to the state at a time when it desperately needs them, will actually generate new investments or jobs. The legislature passed the bill on February 16 in spite of concerns raised by several legislators. Sen. Ron Gould, R-3, expressed that this measure was passed too quickly and without being given the opportunity to provide input. Democrat Representative Daniel Patterson, D-29, also expressed significant concerns, stating, “we can’t afford it. We are asking the taxpayers of this state to further subsidize big corporations at the time when we already have a big deficit and a huge structural fiscal problem in the state”.
Finally, Kathleen Sebelius, our nation’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, sent a letter to Governor Brewer on February 15 stating that Arizona does not have to obtain approval from the federal government in order to cut health care services to approximately 250,000 poor Arizonans. The letter states that the Governor can choose to terminate its current services on September 30, 2011 and that would not be in violation of federal law. Governor Brewer called this letter “an encouraging development for Arizona”, and thus continue her plan to balance the budget on the backs of a quarter of a million Arizonans who will now be unable to obtain the healthcare they need.
II. Summary of legislative bills
A. Measures Impacting Civil and Constitutional Rights and Public Justice
1. SB 1308/HB 2562: Interstate Compact; Birth Certificates and SB 1309/HB 2561: Arizona Citizenship. First Sponsor, Sen. Ron Gould, R-3. These unconstitutional bills that aim to overturn our country’s historic interpretation of who is a US citizen by birth were heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, February 7. The Senate hearing room was packed with people concerned about this blatant attack on one of our Constitution’s cornerstones, the Fourteenth Amendment. The first person called to speak on behalf of the bill was John Eastman, an attorney who works for the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence. During the hearing, Eastman stated that he wrote both bills. He defended the measures saying that the subject of “jurisdiction”, as established in our Constitution, is “ambiguous”, and that “it’s incumbent upon us to find what the drafters of the amendment meant by it”. He contended that the Supreme Court has never directly resolved this topic and that these bills would create the conditions for the Supreme Court to address it. However, when asked by several senators whether the Supreme Court would be required to take this case and solve on this precise issue, he responded that the court could not accept the case or possibly solve it on other grounds.
While being questioned by the Senators, Eastman showed how damaging and wide-reaching this bill is. He shared that, for example, children born of dual-citizenship parents and children born overseas to US citizens serving in the military would not be considered Arizona Citizens. To this regard, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema stated, “it seems that the more we talk, the more exclusionary this law seems to be.” All those present in the hearing probably reached that same conclusion.
Subsequently, a significant amount of children, non-governmental organizations and chambers of commerce lined up to speak against the bill. Among them, BAN Executive Director Jennifer Allen stated, “we are better than looking at ways to marginalize families. We are better than looking at ways of establishing a permanent underclass”. She also warned that these bills will tarnish our image, result in boycotts and have people not coming to Arizona, which will damage our economy. Dana Neimark from the Children’s Action Alliance pointed that the bills “would create multiple generations of children without a homeland, without a state, living on the margins, not being able to fully participate in our community, not be able to get a job or get a chance to give back. This is a violation of American values and Arizona family values”. Finally, Glenn Hammer from the AZ Chamber of Commerce stated that he did not believe that any court would take seriously this law, and that it is not a good way to approach the immigration issue.
Given the widespread opposition and the significant concerns voiced by several senators, Chairman Gould decided to pull the bills and not call a vote on them. The bills were then reassigned the next day to the Senate Appropriations Committee. They were scheduled to be heard on February 15 in this new committee, but were pulled the day before. They have been rescheduled for February 22.
2. SB 1222: Public Benefits; Eligibility; Required Proof. Sen. Andy Biggs, R-12. This bill requires public housing authorities to evict people that have undocumented persons living with them in public housing. The measure, which we believe is probably unconstitutional and in violation of several Federal laws and regulations, was held in the Senate’s Committee Of The Whole last February 10.
3. HB 2624: Public Benefits; Reporting Fraud. Rep. Vic Williams, R-26. This bill allows any person who has knowledge of someone that may be fraudulently receiving state or federal benefits to submit a written report or call the public programs’ fraud hotline established by the State Attorney General’s office. The director of the state agency would be required to review the report and conduct a preliminary investigation. If the findings of the preliminary investigation give the Director reason to believe fraud occurred, the Director shall refer the matter to the Attorney General, where the person that commits the fraud could be held liable for up to three times the amount of the fraud proved.
4. SB 1433: Federal Legislation; State Nullification. First Sponsor, Sen. Lori Klein, R-6. This bill will be heard in the Senate Border Security committee next February 17.
5. SB 1469: Justification; Use of Force. First Sponsor, Sen. Gould, R-3. This measure, which seeks to make it easier to use force in self-defense situations by establishing that a person who is justified in the use of force cannot be prosecuted, was passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 14, 2011 by a 7-0-1 vote.
B. Measures Impacting a Secure and Productive Border and Immigration
1. SB 1490: Illegal Alien; Food Service Workers - Senator Ron Gould, R-3. This bill would require counties to not issue food service worker cards until the person requesting it provides documentation of citizenship or documents that indicate the individual’s lawful presence in the country. This bill only serves to add bureaucracy, red tape and make it harder for people to work in restaurants or volunteer in non-profit or public kitchens. Furthermore, it does not provide any solutions to our broken immigration system. In spite of this added bureaucracy and that the Arizona Restaurant Association spoke against it last February 14 in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the bill passed the Committee’s muster.
2. SB 1406: Interstate Compact; Border Fence. First sponsor, Sen. Steve Smith, R-23. The Senate’s Border Security, Federalism & States’ Sovereignty Committee gave a do pass recommendation to this regrettable bill last February 10. During the hearing, Senator Al Melvin, R-26, informed that he has spoken to staff in the Tucson and Douglas prisons to inquire about inmates who can build this wall. He reported that 4,500 inmates could be used for this purpose, at what he claimed would be a “minimal” cost to Arizona. He estimated that the inmates would only have to be paid 50 cents per hour. Using that estimate, 1-year payments to inmates to build the border wall would total $6,570,000 (4,500 inmates working 8 hour days for 365 days a year at .50 cents). However, this amount would not include payments to private landowners for expropriating parts of their property to build the wall, equipment and material costs, border wall maintenance costs or law enforcement costs for transporting the inmates and watch over them while working. Sen. Steve Smith, R-23, stated that a website will be launched where people from across the country could donate money to build the Arizona border fence. In response, Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-14, asked if the bill could be amended to require that only private funds be used. Senators Melvin and Shooter rejected this argument, stating that their constituents would not be opposed to have their tax dollars go to this project. Finally, Sen. Silvia Allen declared that many countries in the world, including Saudi Arabia and Yemen, are building border walls to protect their citizens. She concluded that the world is doing this and Arizona should do the same.
3. HB 2191: Actions by Illegal Aliens Prohibited. Rep. Jim Weiers, R-10. On February 14, Rep. Weiers filed a striker amendment to create this new bill. This measure would make the effects of the 2006 passed Proposition 102, which barred undocumented persons from obtaining punitive damages in civil lawsuits filed in Arizona, retroactive to January 1, 2004. This bill was filed in an attempt to help vigilante Roger Barnett and directly impact the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ recently confirmed verdict against him for assaulting 4 undocumented persons in March 2004. This bill attempts to reduce by $60,000 the verdict rendered by the late Judge John Roll (tragically murdered in the Tucson tragedy) against Barnett in 2009. Border Action Network was the sole organization that spoke out against this bill that seeks to undermine the rule of law, protect a man that had his day in court and lost and communicate that our state protects vigilantes over human rights. In response to Border Action’s arguments, Rep. Weiers declared that 2006’s Proposition 102 was launched with the specific intent to help Barnett and that this bill’s purpose is to correct “sloppy” legislative writing from that Proposition and thus help that Barnett avoid liability. We believe that this sends the wrong message to our state and country, as it shows that in Arizona, vigilantes are above the rule of law and that our state will put vigilantes before human rights and dignity. The Committee passed the measure by a 5-3 vote.
4. HB 2718: Public Safety Equipment Fund; Approp. First Sponsor, Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-12. This bill seeks to give $5 million dollars remaining in the State Photo Enforcement Fund to counties that have a population between 250,000 and 800,000 persons to purchase equipment and supplies for deputies engaged in border security. This measure was heard in the House Military Affairs and Public Safety (“MAPS”) committee on February 16. Here, Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-16 and Richard Miranda, D-13, questioned the purpose of this bill as it does not help any of Arizona’s border counties, who would not qualify for the funds because of the population restrictions written in the bill. They expressed concern that border counties are excluded when they are the ones that disproportionately bear the costs of border enforcement work. Although it was mentioned in the committee hearing that no county in Arizona has a population in this size, Pinal County would meet the population requirement. Consequently, the bill appears to be a measure that purports to give $5 million dollars to Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu for border security work. In his presentation, Rep. Montenegro continued spreading the politically motivated concept of Arizona’s “dangerous border”. He stated, “we have a problem on our border. One of them is the drugs and drug smuggling we have. The cartels are in our streets. This bill goes to get some funds to the counties that have border security units to fight these cartels, to be able to buy equipment and fight it”. However, it appears that the bill is only meant to help Pinal County, which is not located in the border. Rep. Montenegro did note this, but said “the bill is written so that counties apply under these circumstances. For example, the cartels crossing into Pinal County are taking hold of certain regions where crime is prevalent. Cartels are coming armed into our land, and we want to make sure that authorities have the money to fight this”. Unfortunately, this politically motivated “border security bill” that does not provide any funding to border enforcement agencies was passed by the Committee.
5. SB 1465: Valid Identification; Consular Cards; Prohibition. Sen. Ron Gould, R-3. The Senate Judiciary passed this measure by a 5-1-2 vote last February 7. If passed, this would prohibit the state of Arizona or any of its political entities from accepting any consular identification card issued by a foreign government as a form of ID. Measures such as this one show disregard for other country’s valid forms of identification and make it more challenging for law enforcement officers and other authorities to adequately identify individuals.
6. HB 2677: International Money Wire Transfer Assessment. First Sponsor, Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-8. This measure establishes that the Department of Revenue can impose a tax on all international wire transfers. These revenues would be deposited in a newly established border security fund, to be used for the construction of a fence along the Arizona-Mexico border. It also establishes an income tax credit for the amount paid. The bill was assigned to the House MAPS and scheduled for February 16, but said Committee held it.
7. HB 2070/SB 1495: AZ State Guard; Establishment. First Sponsor, Sen. Silvia Allen, R-5 (pictured left). This bill authorizes the Governor to establish a new state armed force known as the Arizona State Guard, for any purpose s/he considers necessary. Rep. Jack Harper, R-4, introduced in the House a strike all amendment to HB 2070 to fully mimic SB 1495. The House version was heard in the MAPS committee on Wednesday, February 16. Several concerns were raised by Border Action in this hearing, including, that this force could be used by the Governor without any checks or balances, that it could be costly to the state, and that it could be an entity that could allow some extremist individuals to carry out anti-immigrant acts under state authority. However, the measure passed by a 5-3 vote. The Senate version was heard on February 17 and the same concerns were raised there. Sen. Antenori agreed that SB 1495, as currently written, could be interpreted very broadly and used inappropriately. He agreed that there should not be a blanket authority to call a military force for any reason. Unfortunately, the bill passed the Border Security Committee by a 4-2-1 vote.
8. SCR 1006: Border Security Plan. First Sponsor, Sen. Silvia Allen, R-5 (pictured left). This measure, which expresses support for the Cattle Ranchers’ border security plan, which among other things, calls our border a dangerous and lawless place and requests further militarization of our border and felony prosecutions for all immigration law violations, passed the Senate by a 21-7-2 vote last February 8. It now goes to the House of Representatives, where it was assigned on February 15 to the House MAPS Committee.
9. HB 2405: Human Smuggling Organization; Offense; Penalty. First Sponsor, Rep. Ted Vogt, R-30. This measure creates the crime of participating in a human smuggling organization, which it defines as a class 2 felony. It also establishes a class 3 felony crime of assisting a human smuggling organization. This bill received a do pass recommendation in House Judiciary Committee by 9-0 vote on 2/10/11.
10. SB 1368: Human Smuggling Organization; Offense; Penalty. Sen. Frank Antenori, R-30. This bill strengthens penalties for individuals that engage in human smuggling organizations. It also creates a class 3 felony for “assisting a human smuggling organization” for any person that commits any felony for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with any human smuggling organization. This measure received a do pass recommendation from the Senate Judiciary Committee last February 14 by a 7-1 vote.
11. HCR 2038: Immigration Discussions; Principles. First Sponsor, Rep. Ken Ableser, D-17. This concurrent resolution declares that immigration discussions should be guided by the following five principles: (1) immigration is a matter of federal policy; (2) local law enforcement should center on criminal activities and not civil violations of federal law; (3) policies that unnecessarily separate families should be opposed; (4) the economic role that immigrants play as workers and taxpayers should be acknowledged; and (5) we must adopt a humane approach to immigrants that reflects our unique culture, history and spirit of inclusion. It states that the way we treat immigrants says more about us as a free society and less about our immigrant neighbors.
C. Measures Impacting Health Care
1. SB 1405: Immigration Status; Hospital Admissions. First Sponsor, Sen. Steve Smith, R-23. This dangerous bill, which could put Arizona on the verge of a public health crisis, seeks to require hospital admissions officers confirm the immigration status of all persons coming to a hospital for either non-emergency or emergency care. If status cannot be determined, the hospital workers would be required to report these persons to immigration authorities. SB 1405 was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee and scheduled for a hearing on February 14. Prior to this meeting, several health professionals gave a press conference in the Capitol voicing their concerns with this bill, as it could jeopardize the trust health professionals have with local communities and how it could increase health care costs, bureaucracy and will lead to people getting gravely ill and needlessly dying from preventable diseases. The Judiciary Committee filled up with dozens of people opposed to this inhumane bill. However, after the Committee had met for over 3 and a half hours, Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Gould announced that he was holding the bill and would not call it for a hearing or vote. The bill was moved to the Senate Appropriations Committee, where it will be heard next Tuesday, February 22.
D. Measures Impacting Education
1. SB 1467: Educational Institution; Concealed Weapons. First sponsor, Sen. Ron Gould, R-3. This measure would prohibit the governing boards of educational institutions to adopt or enforce any policy or rule that prohibits the possession of a concealed weapon by a person who possesses a valid permit or the transportation or storage of a firearm. This bill was heard on the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 14. Unfortunately, even with representatives from the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police and several law enforcement officers warning the Committee about the detrimental effects this bill could pose on public safety, the bill received a do pass recommendation with a 5-3 vote.
2. HB 2630: Schools; Ethnic Studies; Repeal. First Sponsor, Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-27. This bill seeks to repeal last year’s HB 2281, more commonly known as the Ethnic Studies law.
E. Measures Impacting Integration and Civic Participation
1. SB 1526: Presidential Candidates; Affidavit. First Sponsor, Sen. Ron Gould, R-3. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard this “birther” bill last February 14. There was much debate on this bill, which sought to establish more requirements for Presidential candidates to be placed in the Arizona ballot than those required by the US Constitution. The Committee recognized this constitutional deficiency and, by a 5-3 vote, did not pass the measure.