The Arizona Legislature has spent the last three weeks battling over next year’s $9 billion-plus budget and before that was immersed in a heated national debate over religious freedoms and gay rights. But many other issues remain on the Legislature’s plate. Here are some of the most pertinent issues facing the state Legislature:
SCHOOL VOUCHERS: Republican legislators are eager to expand a state program that allows students to use public funds for a private education. The controversial voucher program, which began in 2011 and was designed for students with learning disabilities, is facing yet another expansion. A bill by Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, would expand the program to students in schools that have a large low-income population and qualify for extra federal aid. Opponents say House Bill 2291 would allow about 73 percent of Arizona students to enroll in the program and siphon money from public schools. Debate on that bill has been stalled numerous times.
IMMIGRATION: In past years, immigration has dominated the debate the Arizona Legislature. It has been much quieter this year, but some Republicans are pushing a bill that targets people living in the state illegally by expanding Arizona’s criminal-trespassing law. Democrats say the proposal harkens back to the original SB1070 bill crafted by former Sen. Russell Pearce. Republican Sen. Gail Griffin of Hereford is sponsoring the bill, which allows arrests for trespassing if a person is violating any other state or federal law. Griffin’s original bill never made it to the Senate floor and missed a deadline for a House hearing, rendering it dead. But she has added the same language to House Bill 2411, and it could reach the Senate floor soon.
RIDESHARING REGULATIONS: A topic that’s hot all over the country, ridesharing restrictions have become a source of contention in the Arizona Legislature. Lawmakers are trying to figure out how to regulate services such as Uber and Lyft, which use mobile apps to connect customers with drivers. House Bill 2262 would require such companies to provide a $1 million insurance coverage for drivers, but it would not require them to provide it at all times that the driver is on the job. Uber already insures drivers from the time they accept a ride request to the time they drop a person off. Traditional cab and limo companies say ridesharing groups should be held to the same standards they face.
SUPER BOWL: The Senate will soon take up House Bill 2547, requiring Arizona to cover half the public-safety costs Glendale incurs for the 2015 Super Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. The House approved the bill last month. Officials say previous threats at other events such as the Boston Marathon bombings have increased security costs. Glendale officials estimate the city will spend $3.2 million on public safety for the game. It spent $2.3 million for that purpose for the 2008 Super Bowl.
ABORTION: The state’s pursuit of the most stringent abortion regulations in the country continues with a bill that would allow the state Department of Health to conduct surprise inspections at abortion clinics. Proponents say the bill is an attempt to keep women safe. Opponents say the bill puts women’s safety and privacy at risk. House Bill 2289 has been approved by the House and two Senate committees and will next be heard by the full Senate.