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House approves money aimed at stopping smugglers

The House has approved a measure that will give $5 million to Pinal County to fight drug smugglers, despite opposition from Democrats who said the money would be better spent paying for a transplant program that was cut last year.

“The most troubling thing about this is that I have heard, time and time again since last year, from the governor of the state, that there is no money available to fund transplants… If she says it again, we need to call her out, because there is money available,” said House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D- Phoenix, who voted against the bill.

Despite that opposition, HB2718 was approved 41-18. The bill would have passed with only 31 votes, but it needed 40 votes to retain an emergency clause, that will allow the money to be shifted from the state’s photo radar fund to Pinal County immediately after being signed into law. The legislation now heads to the Senate.

John Filmore, R-Apache Junction, called the $5 million a “pittance” and questioned the sincerity of the Democrats’ concerns in bringing up the transplant patients.

“I appreciate the sentiments of some with regards to the unfunded transplants,” he said. “But sometimes I question the validity of the argument.”

But Rep. Ed Ableser, D-Tempe, shot back that if $5 million was such a pittance, surely the $1.2 million would be even easier to spare. He likened the bill to a father buying a motorcycle while claiming to be unable to afford medical treatment to his daughter.

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu last month told the Appropriations Committee he would use the money to purchase armored vehicles, aircraft with ground radar systems and other equipment that could be used to fend off the Mexican drug cartels that travel through his county. Although Pinal County isn’t on the border, it is seen as the state’s most prominent corridor for drug traffic.

Though the bill was unanimously approved by that panel, when it came to the House floor for a vote, some of those Democrats voted against it.

House Speaker Kirk Adams spoke out against the bill’s opponents, angrily denouncing the “knee-jerk reaction” from the Democrats against most bills dealing with border security. This bill, he argued, should be passed unanimously, since it was specifically about targeting drug cartels rather than all illegal immigrants.

“This is about the baddest of the bad guys,” said Adams, who also was a co-sponsor of the bill. “The ones that kill people, that shoot our police officers, our sheriff’s deputies, and our border control agents.”

All 39 Republicans present voted for the bill, as did two Democrats: Minority Whip Matt Heinz of Tucson and Lynne Pancrazi of Yuma.

 

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