100s of bills die after first legislative deadline

Hank Stephenson and Ben Giles//February 28, 2014

100s of bills die after first legislative deadline

Hank Stephenson and Ben Giles//February 28, 2014

DEAD-billsHundreds of bills were left for dead in the House and Senate in February as some lawmakers failed to meet a crucial deadline to advance their legislative priorities in a timely manner.

More than 500 bills, not including technical corrections and resolutions, were not approved by committees in the chamber in which they were introduced.

A Feb. 21 deadline for House committees to hear House bills and Senate committees to hear Senate bills has come and gone, leaving the legislation in limbo unless some action is taken to revive it. A strike-everything amendment or a change of committee assignment could give bills new life in the opposite chamber or in an Appropriations Committee, which is exempt from the deadline.

One dead bill, which never received a vote in the Senate Government and Environment Committee, would have made public employees personally liable for discretionary decisions they make as a part of their jobs. Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Peoria, the sponsor of SB1405, told the committee on Feb. 17 he didn’t think public employees took a fair share of blame when their actions are negligent or malicious.

Citizens can always sue the agency an employee works for, but Murphy said he wants citizens to be able to sue an employee directly for damages.

“I don’t believe there’s a correct balance when it comes to accountability for people who should be public servants,” Murphy said. “That rogue public servant isn’t held accountable for their actions. They’re not accountable for their actions, the taxpayer is held accountable for their actions.”

Law enforcement officials and the League of Arizona Cities and Towns decried the legislation, saying it would lead to a bevy of new lawsuits filed against public employees.

“All you have to do is have someone believe they’ve been harmed, and you have a lawsuit,” said Ken Strobeck, the league’s executive director. “And it’s not until the end of the process that you have a decision about whether there was or was not harm.”

Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, hinted at her concern in committee when she pressed Murphy to provide an example of a public employee who deserves to be sued, but only later said she thinks Murphy sponsored the bill to allow himself to sue individual Child Protective Service employees.

“I don’t have any doubt. It was really hard for me not to ask which CPS caseworkers he wants to sue,” Hobbs said, later adding that “there wasn’t anyone in the room who didn’t think that’s what Murphy’s bill was about.”

Murphy’s legal troubles with CPS have led to an ongoing juvenile court battle to determine the custody of his children, who were removed from his home last summer following a police investigation into separate claims that Murphy had sexually abused boys in his home.

Murphy was coy in his response to Hobbs’ claims, and said he has to be cautious about what he says given his legal dispute with CPS.

But the senator did point to a statement he made in July 2013.  Following the police investigation of sexual abuse allegations, Murphy blasted CPS, alleging caseworkers removed his daughters from his home without proper explanation and were perhaps acting out of malice in retaliation for Murphy’s criticisms of the agency.

Murphy said the statement spoke for itself, but did imply that he’d likely be in a good position to sue in the event his bill was approved.

“If I was not, sometime in the future, able to prove what I said, this bill wouldn’t help me at all,” he said.

Bathroom bill dies

Rep. Carl Seel, R-Phoenix, sponsored a controversial measure that died a quiet death. His HB2192 would have criminalized using any public resource, such as a road or public bathroom, while in the country illegally.

The bill was one of 16 that weren’t even assigned to a committee in the House.

The bill was the subject of a publicity stunt in February by the pro-immigrant-rights Citizens for a Better Arizona, which gave Seel a toilet to dramatize the group’s opposition to his proposal.

The group tried to deliver the brand new toilet to Seel’s office, but the lawmaker’s assistant refused to accept it.

CBA field director Beto Soto said Seel deserved the toilet, which he said is an “award” for Seel’s emulation of Russell Pearce, the former Senate president and opponent of illegal immigration.

“The [Russell Pearce Extremist] Award… is reserved for people who want to bring shame to Arizona,” Soto said in the House lobby.

CBA claimed that Seel’s bill would have made it a crime to use a public restroom without proof of citizenship, as the bill defines the use of public resource to include “driving on a public road or highway, accepting any public benefit, attending a public school or using the services of any public entity in this state.”

Violating the bill’s provisions is a Class 1 misdemeanor, but a second offense could lead to a felony charge.

Soto noted that CBA spearheaded the successful effort to recall and later oust Pearce in 2011. “The citizens of Arizona spoke about what happens to politicians that are too extreme [and] want to divide our state,” he said.

 10 Bills that died

Sen. Ed Ableser, D-Tempe: SB1188 (bullying; sexual orientation; gender)

Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber: SB1231 (countywide fire districts)

Sen. John McComish, R-Phoenix: SB1265 (sale of entertainment event tickets; offense)

Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix: SB1438 (schools; prohibited courses; repeal)

Sen. Adam Driggs, R-Phoenix: SB1473 (attorney license; public law school)

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills: HB2020 (live animal prizes prohibited)

Rep. John Kavanagh: HB2022 (animal abuse; prohibited animal; ownership)

Rep. Phil Lovas, R-Peoria: HB2030 (unemployment benefits; drug test)

Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix: HB2244 (universities; fixed tuition rates)

Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale: HB2634 (ambulance services; certificates of necessity)