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House committee passes border militia funding bill

After nearly two hours of contentious debate, the House Military and Public Safety Committee passed a bill that would provide money for a volunteer militia charged with helping to secure the Arizona-Mexico border.

If passed and signed into law, the bill would allow Gov. Jan Brewer to appoint a commander to the militia, who would then be in charge of determining all of the qualifying requirements for volunteers, equipment needs, training protocols and operating procedures, as well as to make spending decisions.

It would also sweep money already allocated for gang and immigration enforcement, in order to begin purchasing equipment and paying for training for the yet-to-be-constituted border militia.

The bill’s author, Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, has said the bill, like many of Arizona’s laws aimed at stopping illegal immigration, is a response to federal inaction on the Mexican border.

“Why do we sit around and we just complain about these problems we have, but we don’t start going down a path to try to solve them?” Allen questioned during today’s committee meeting. “This state has chosen to have an open-border attitude. People are pushing to keep our borders open for a variety of political reasons. We can’t. We have to secure our border. We have to get a fence built. We have to get people on the ground to respond to what’s happening in our state before it turns into a Mexico.”

Previously, Allen had said Middle Eastern terrorist groups like Hezbollah have been coordinating with Mexican drug cartels to infiltrate the United States through the Arizona-Mexico border, which has been largely discredited. But Allen did not mention that alleged threat during today’s committee hearing.

Allen acknowledged that she has consulted with military-style tacticians to draft possible plans for equipment, training and standards, which would still have to be made official after funding is secured.

Democrats on the committee who opposed the bill harped on that point, saying that because Allen has led the research done into what a border militia would need, its standards and protocols may essentially have been crafted and overseen by Allen only.

Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, equated the amount of influence Allen might ultimately have to a personally dictated militia, and said the volunteer militia is not a solution to the illegal immigration problem.

“I think we’d all like to have our own volunteer paramilitary force,” Farley said. “If we’re actually going to affect the public safety of our people in this state, then we should stop doing these things, say we did it, hope the volunteers come pouring in, and then not actually fix the problem.”

Even though they voted to move the bill along, some Republicans on the committee said they have problems with how the bill gives procurement and rulemaking exemption to the militia’s commander.

Rep. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, said that without normal procurement and rulemaking applied to the militia, he doubts Brewer will sign the bill into law, even if it passes.

“This is the point in the process where you have to negotiate with the Governor’s Office to get a signature,” Harper said. “You have to follow the procurement code in the end process.”

The bill passed with only Republican support, and will next move through the House Appropriations Committee.

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