PHOENIX — The Legislature is on track to finish its business early this year with this week being the final one for most committee meetings. The goal for legislators is to wrap up the session in the next couple of weeks, but the House and Senate still saw new legislation introduced.
Keeping with a promise from his State of the State address in January, Gov. Doug Ducey may be getting an independent inspector -eneral who would report on waste and corruption in state agencies. The Senate Government Committee heard HB 2420, which now creates the Inspector General position “to serve at the pleasure of the Governor and report directly to the Governor,” according to the bill summary.
The deadline for introducing new bills passed weeks ago, but, of course, there’s a way around that. New legislation can sneak in through strike-everything amendments — also called strikers — to bills already in the pipeline and allows it to circumvent normal hearings and reviews in both houses.
Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, argued the creation of the inspector general position is necessary. He said government is rife with “fraud, waste and abuse.”
Democrats on the committee criticized the move for not allowing the bill enough time to be properly vetted. The bill passed down on party lines and moves on to the full Senate.
The committee approved another piece of legislation introduced late this way. HB 2480 got a striker that would dismantle the Department of Weights and Measures and move its duties to different agencies. Its newly appointed director is former Speaker of the House Andy Tobin, who favors the proposal — which would leave him out of a job, again.
There could be an opening as inspector general.
On Wednesday, the House voted to protect the identity of any would-be-Wyatt Earp after a shootout. SB 1445, sponsored by Smith would prevent police from releasing the name of a law enforcement officer involved in a deadly force incident under public records law for a “cooling off” period after the incident.
The House amended the period of post-shootout immunity to be 60 days, down from Smith’s original 90 days, so the bill moves back to Senate for approval as amended.
The bill is meant to protect police officers and their families from any potential reprisals, said Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City.
Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix, said withholding the names raises transparency and accountability issues with the police and public trust in law enforcement.
This legislation comes of the heels of national scrutiny on law enforcement following police shootings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y. Phoenix joined the fray with its own shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer in December. The House passed the bill 44-13 with 11 Democrats joining Republicans in support.
Gun bills held
Following Wednesday’s shooting spree in Mesa, which left one person dead, Republican legislators pulled a few gun bills from the agenda for that afternoon. Kavanagh held two bills in the Senate Government Committee, one of which would allow guns in public buildings. Another GOP-backed bill that would prohibit cities and counties from placing restrictions on gun sales was pulled from the Senate floor. The House and Senate also took time on the floor to hold moments of silence for the victims of the shooting.
On Monday, the Arizona Supreme Court Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee issued a ruling stating judges could not perform only opposite-sex marriages, regardless of their personal or religious beliefs. A judicial ruling legalized same-sex marriage in the state in October.
“Because performing a marriage is a discretionary function, a judge may, consistent with the Code, decline to perform any marriages whatsoever,” the ruling read. “But because performing a marriage is a judicial duty … a judge cannot refuse to perform same-sex marriages if the judge is willing to perform opposite-sex marriages.”
This comes just a little more than a year after the Arizona Legislature passed the controversial SB 1062, a “religious freedom” bill that critics called discriminatory against the LGBT community. It’s unclear now how, or if, the Legislature will react to this ruling and it’s likely too late for a striker to sneak in this session, at least.
Powdered Prohibition averted
A House panel killed SB 1062 this year, which is a far cry from the subject of last year’s bill of the same number. This bill would have prohibited the sale, consumption, purchase or manufacturing of powdered alcohol in the state.
The House Government and Higher Education Committee heard the legislation on Thursday, which was also introduced as a striker from Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff. Powdered alcohol, marketed as Palcohol, is exactly what it sounds like: a powdered form of alcohol that comes in a package that can be poured into liquid — or sprinkled onto anything, really. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau last week approved Palcohol for use.
The committee shot down the bill by a wide margin. The wet — or powdered — legislators overwhelmed their dry colleagues 7-2 in dousing the bill.
Powdered prohibition is currently in effect in five states: Alaska, Louisiana, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia, according the bill summary.
Claws were out on the House floor Tuesday when members debated a bill allowing for cats to be sprung from the pound early, which deteriorated into a proxy fight between cats and birds.
SB 1198 would help animal welfare groups take the cats, neuter or spay them and return them to where they were captured. As one representative brought up, releasing the cats could have an effect on bird populations.
Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, cited a National Geographic article pinning the decline in songbirds on cats in his opposition. “Rather than put down cats we would rather have them destroy … songbirds, which are in rapid decline,” he said.
Borrelli isn’t a fan of those birds Bowers would like to protect. “Because the songbirds like to make messes on my car after I wash it, with that I vote ‘aye,’” he said.
The birds prevailed when the House put down the bill during a preliminary vote, 28-28.
Ethan McSweeney is the Bolles Fellow covering the Legislature for Arizona Sonora News, a service provided by the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org