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Senate tackles Clean Elections during busy floor session

From gutting Clean Elections to creating a lieutenant governor, Arizona senators made a big push March 1 to complete work on bills that had yet to be transmitted to the House.

The Senate passed about two-dozen bills even as the chamber began to shift focus to tackling the state’s budget deficit. All committee work for this week has been suspended to give room to budget discussions. But floor debates continue, and senators are hoping to pass all their non-budget measures by the end of this week.

SCR1009, sponsored by former senator Jonathan Paton, would ask voters in November to prohibit taxpayer funding for politicians running for a statewide office. The measure doesn’t call for the elimination of Arizona’s Clean Elections system, but prohibiting state money for campaigns would unravel the system.

The measure passed by a 16-12 vote, with Republicans in support and Democrats in opposition.

“I believe that it has increased the pool of candidates,” Senate Assistant Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, a supporter of Clean Elections, said after the measure passed. “I believe that it has brought more women and minority candidates into the fold of running for office.”

While it is a less-than-perfect system, it enables more people to run for office, Rios said, adding it shouldn’t be a system where only those who are politically connected and financially resourceful are able to participate.

But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Gray said the Clean Elections system pays for the campaigns of people who can’t sell their ideas on the “open market.”

“I think once the public are informed as to exactly what the current funding method does, they’ll realize that they really don’t want their public dollars going to fund political campaigns,” he said. “Let the politicians raise their own money and quit coming to the public for funding.”

During the last two years, Paton has doggedly pursued the elimination of the Clean Elections system. Last year, he sponsored a similar measure that passed in the Senate but never got out of the House.

Other measures that were approved by the Senate on March 1 included:

*S1288, sponsored by Litchfield Park Republican Sen. John Nelson, would prohibit mortgage loans for which the monthly payments are scheduled to double within the first five years of the loan. Additionally, it prohibits high-cost home loans for which the payment schedule causes the principal of the loan to increase, with specific exemptions. It passed by a vote of 22-to-7.

*S1189, sponsored by Paradise Valley Republican Sen. Barbara Leff, changes the standard in civil suits in determining whether to admit expert testimony to the Daubert standard from the Frye standard. This will be a significant change for lawyers, victims and defendants. Under Frye, a court admits expert testimony regarding novel scientific evidence based on whether it has “gained general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs.”

Under the Daubert standard, there are several factors a judge must consider when determining whether an expert opinion or its methodological basis is valid and can be applied to the facts. Among these factors is whether the methodology has been subjected to peer review and publication.

The measure was approved by a vote of 20-to-8.

*SCR1013, introduced by former Sen. Jonathan Paton of Tucson, will ask voters in November to create a lieutenant governor position. The lieutenant governor would replace the secretary of state and would run on the same ticket as the governor. The measure received a unanimous vote.

*S1018, sponsored by Mesa Republican Sen. Russell Pearce, tweaks the current photo enforcement law by prohibiting, for example, photo cameras within 600 feet of a sign reflecting a change in the speed limit. It also allows photo enforcement citations to be included in judicial productivity credit calculations. The bill, which was amended to also prohibit the covering of a license plate with plastic, received a 25-to-4 vote.

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