Ariz. legislative wrap: Biggest fights of season centered on morality - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

Ariz. legislative wrap: Biggest fights of season centered on morality

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Posted: Sunday, May 6, 2012 7:09 am | Updated: 1:54 pm, Tue Sep 30, 2014.

The biggest fights of the just completed legislative session did not take place over money or even guns.

Instead, they surrounded issues best put in the category of morality and religion.

Consider: Lawmakers agreed to one of the strictest restrictions in the country on abortion, banning the procedure after 20 weeks. While a few other states have similar limits, the Arizona law does the counting from the woman’s last menstrual cycle, something that foes of the measure said could effectively be an 18-week limit.

A law that allows churches to refuse to include contraceptive coverage in insurance policies for workers was expanded to provide a similar right to any “religious affiliated employer.”

That is defined as any company whose articles of incorporation say it is a religiously motivated organization whose beliefs are central to its operating principles. And while the goal is to cover things like Catholic hospitals, others worry it opens the door to any firm making a similar declaration.

Another bill is crafted in a way to block federal family planning funds that go through the state to be paid to Planned Parenthood.

Proponents said any money that organization gets for some of its services frees up other funds for abortions. But that measure may have legal problems: A federal judge in Texas on Friday enjoined a similar measure enacted there.

A related measure revamps laws providing state income tax credits for those who donate to certain organizations that help the poor. It says donations to any organization which provides abortions are ineligible for those credits.

Legislators agreed to adopt a law which bans the state from denying a license to anyone based on religious beliefs. There also is a new statute that protects university faculty from discrimination.

Another bill expands “empowerment scholarship” accounts, giving state money to certain students to instead attend private or parochial schools.

There also will be a ban on “wrongful life” lawsuits where parents charge that they would have aborted a child had they been told there were fetal abnormalities.

And Arizona students in the public school system will be allowed to study the Old and New Testaments in class — though it has to be about the influence of the texts and not for religious instruction.

The same groups involved in pushing those bills — especially the Center for Arizona Policy — also flexed their muscles to kill measures they found offensive.

For example, CAP led the fight against expanding existing laws that require schools to crack down on bullying to also include those who are victimized because of their sexual orientation. Cathi Herrod managed to bury the bill by calling the whole issue of bullying “agenda-driven propaganda.”

Legal counsel Deborah Sheasby said what made this legislative session so successful from CAP’s standpoint was the results of the 2010 election.

Her organization does not endorse candidates. But it does put out 500,000 copies of its “voter education guide” which contains answers by candidates to questions ranging from abortion and obscenity to gay marriage.

And Sheasby said CAP does maintain an active voter registration effort. Those results, she said, paid off.

“A lot of people that share those values of life and marriage and religious freedom are saying, ‘Hey, I need to make sure I’m registered to vote and that I vote my values,’” she said. That paid off at the polls.

“There were larger majorities of pro-life, pro-family legislators this version of the Legislature than the one before,” Sheasby said.

Even foes have acknowledged CAP’s increasing strength and influence at the Capitol. Senate Minority Leader David Schapira, D-Tempe, decrying Herrod’s successful effort to kill the changes in the bullying law, dubbed her a “legislative terrorist.”

There were, of course, the perennial efforts by gun-rights groups to expand when and where Arizonans can carry their weapons. In fact, it had been anticipated that this would be the year guns could be carried into public buildings.

Existing laws do allow weapons now. But there is an easy escape clause: Post a “no guns” sign and provide lockers for those entering the building to store their weapons.

Legislation last year which would have added an additional requirement for guards and metal detectors was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer. But the governor insisted she remains a strong Second Amendment supporter and said she would sign a clearer version of the law.

She got such a bill this year — and vetoed it again, this time with some new reasons including the costs to local governments of having to install equipment and staff all the doors.

A broader measure to allow guns into college and university buildings unless lockers were erected did not even get to Brewer’s desk amid similar financial concerns by lawmakers.

Still, there were some victories for gun-rights advocates, including allowing hunters to use silencers.

Some of what lawmakers approved may yet be headed to court.

One measure adds a new restriction to the 2010 voter-approved medical marijuana law, saying even those who have a doctor’s recommendation and the required state-issued ID card cannot possess or use the drugs on college and university campuses. Supporters of the law said lawmakers cannot make that change without voter approval.

And a housing advocacy group is threatening to sue over the decision by lawmakers to take half of the money Arizona got for mortgage education funds from a nationwide settlement with major lenders and instead use that to balance the budget.

Arizona’s perennial fights with the federal government and the broader issue of state sovereignty had mixed results.

Lawmakers agreed to send a measure to the ballot amending the state Constitution to spell out that Arizona has dominion over the land, water, air and natural resources in the state. While that change, by itself, is likely to be meaningless, it paves the way for a future lawsuit over federal powers, similar to the current litigation about federal health care.

But legislation to ban state and local governments from cooperating in anything stemming from United Nations goals for sustainability faltered amid questions of whether that would undermine otherwise legitimate programs.

Legislators also showed little interest in making another bid to require candidates for public office to prove they are eligible, a measure clearly focused on questions of whether Barack Obama can prove he is a “natural born citizen” of the United States. Brewer vetoed a similar measure last year.

And a proposal to create a “special missions unit” to patrol the border with Mexico faltered in the House after gaining Senate approval.

Foes of photo enforcement also did not gain any traction this year in their bids to bar cities from using photo enforcement to either catch speeders or red light runners.

But lawmakers did approve legislation expanding the definition of what constitutes the “intersection.” That move will give motorists more leeway to make their way through or complete their turn without being cited for running a red light.

Other vehicle safety issues also fell by the wayside, including one to ban texting while driving, another to prohibit new teen drivers from using cell phones, though lawmakers did approve a measure to require that youngsters who outgrew special child seats be put on booster seats before being strapped into a seat belt.

Business interests did well during the session, with lawmakers approving various new tax breaks. They also agreed to send a measure to the November ballot that, if approved, would exempt many small and medium-sized businesses from owing any property taxes at all.

There also is separate legislation to protect manufacturers from being sued for punitive damages if their products are designed and marketed in accordance with applicable federal or state standards at the time.

And companies that discover and agree to clean up environmental spills will be allowed to shield their reports from outsiders who might otherwise use the documents to sue for damages.

But lawmakers were unwilling to restore a special tax credit designed to lure TV, movie and advertising producers to Arizona. Opponents questioned whether the gains to the state in additional taxes would be more than the give-aways.

They also refused to support a business-backed measure to ask voters to repeal the 2006 initiative creating a state minimum wage.

Also failing were bills to require drug testing of those seeking unemployment insurance and another bill to allow people to continue to collect jobless benefits while getting on-the-job training.

But they did agree to a compromise between the state’s astronomy and billboard industries to make large portions of the state off-limits to new electronic billboards with changing messages.

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