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Bill would restrict political activity of government employees

Teachers who gathered at the Arizona Capitol last year to protest budget cuts wouldn’t be able to do so again unless they took a vacation day under a bill approved by a House committee Feb. 23.

The House Public Employees, Retirement and Entitlement Reform Committee approved a measure Feb. 23 that would prevent government employees from lobbying lawmakers, participating in protests and rallies and conducting political activity during work hours. The bill would apply to all levels of government in Arizona, including school districts.

The bill, H2344, mirrors a similar federal law known as the Hatch Act, said its sponsor, Rep. Frank Antenori.

“It does not prohibit free speech,” the Tucson Republican said. “What I’m talking about is someone who comes up here (to the Capitol) on government time for their own, personal political purposes.”

However, David Mendoza, a lobbyist for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, said the law isn’t needed. State government employees are already prohibited from engaging in political activity while on the clock, he said.

Plus, Mendoza said, the measure would silence government employees who want to have their voice heard, while government lobbyists would be exempted.

“If the intent is to save taxpayer dollars…then why should we have lobbyists representing agencies on the taxpayer dime? Make it even,” he said.

Antenori said legislative staff was unable to find a similar provision already in law, though they didn’t examine rules adopted by the Arizona Department of Administration.

Rep. Phil Lopes, a Tucson Democrat, said he didn’t think the new law was needed. Employees who are conducting political activity while being paid by the government need to be reported and disciplined, he said, but this proposed law aimed to solve a problem he isn’t sure exists.

“I don’t think we need this kind of hammer to kill an ant,” he said.

The bill approved the bill by a 6-3 vote, with the panel’s three Democrats opposing it. It now heads to the House floor via the Rules Committee.

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