Culling the herd: A majority of bills already have failed

Hank Stephenson//February 20, 2017

Culling the herd: A majority of bills already have failed

Hank Stephenson//February 20, 2017

Rolled newspaper with the headline Changes in legislation

Of the more than 1,000 bills, resolutions and memorials that have been introduced in the Arizona Legislature thus far in 2017, the majority are already being declared “dead” after having failed to clear the first hurdle: the legislative committee.

February 18 was the deadline for legislative committees, with the exception of the powerful Appropriations committees, to hear bills in their chambers of origin. That means any bill that has not been approved by the committee or committees it was assigned to cannot proceed on the track to becoming law.

Some of those pieces of legislation went out in a blaze of glory, killed by sometimes-unanimous committee votes. Others had a brief life, receiving a committee hearing to raise awareness of the issue, but not an actual vote. Committee chairmen choose which bills to hear or let languish, and the majority of the bills died a quiet death stuffed in some chairman’s drawer.

But there are many ways to bring a bill back to life. Lawmakers can add a “strike everything” amendment onto unrelated legislation. They can ask the House speaker or Senate president to release the bill from its committee assignments, and send it to Appropriations Committee instead.

As any longtime politico will tell you, no bill is truly dead until the Legislature adjourns sine die.

Political beliefs

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, smiles as he addresses the legislature in the Arizona House of Representatives at the Arizona Capitol Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, in Phoenix. The Republican lawmaker wants the state constitution amended to allow cuts to public employee pensions and increases in employee contributions if the systems are badly underfunded. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, smiles as he addresses the legislature in the Arizona House of Representatives at the Arizona Capitol Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Republican Sen. John Kavanagh introduced SB1022 to add to the list of hate crimes any criminal offenses that manifest evidence of prejudice based on political affiliation, beliefs or opinions. That bill would have also required police to do additional reporting and training on offenses motivated by political beliefs. That bill was double-assigned to the Commerce and Public Safety Committee and the Judiciary Committee, neither of which held a hearing on the bill.

Criminal justice reform

On the final day to hear bills, the Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to take up a pair of bills aimed at reducing recidivism, but the chairwoman, Republican Sen. Judy Burges, decided at the last moment not to hear her own the bills. Burges’ criminal justice reform bills had found an unlikely opponent in prisoner advocate Donna Hamm, who runs Middle Ground Prison Reform. Hamm opposed Burges’ SB1068, which proposed to reduce the amount of time a well-behaved, non-violent prisoner has to serve from 85 percent to almost 60 percent. She also opposed Burges’ SB1067, which would require the Department of Corrections to develop a graduated sanctions policy for prisoners who commit technical violations of parole. Rather than push the bills through committee, Burges decided to drop the ideas for the time being.

Salt River horses

Horses2-620After an outpouring of support for the wild Salt River Horses last year following a federal plan to round up the Salt River Horses and auction them off, lawmakers last year made it a crime to harass, shoot, kill or slaughter a horse that is part of the herd. This year, Republican Rep. Jay Lawrence attempted to up that penalty from a class 1 misdemeanor to a class 6 felony. The bill, however, never got off the ground after stalling in the House Land, Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.

College restrictions

Republican Rep. Bob Thorpe created a nationwide uproar with his bill to prohibit Arizona schools and colleges from teaching about “social justice.” When the bill was assigned to the House Education Committee, it was immediately declared dead on arrival. But that wasn’t his only college-related bill to die without a committee hearing. Thorpe sponsored a bill to ban students from using their dorm addresses to register to vote. That bill was declared likely unconstitutional by attorneys, and died without ever receiving a committee hearing. He also sponsored legislation that would require colleges and universities to provide with each program or class employment statistics, a warning that taking the class “may not result in the student’s employability.” That bill also died without ever receiving a committee hearing.  

Vote by mail

Republican Sen. Bob Worsley’s SB1271, which would have let county boards of supervisors opt into a vote-by-mail system, never got any traction, and stalled out without ever receiving a hearing in either of the committees to which it was assigned, the Senate Government and Judiciary committees.  


Judy Burges (file photo)
Judy Burges (file photo)

Burges’ attempt to prohibit the state or political subdivisions from using personnel or financial resources to cooperate with the Federal Refugee Resettlement Program fell flat after Senate President Steve Yarbrough never assigned her SB1468 to a committee. The same thing happened with Burges’ SCM1007, which would have urged law enforcement and government agencies to “avoid and suspend all contacts and outreach activities with the Council on American-Islamic Relations.”

Marijuana legislation

Democratic Rep. Mark Cardenas’ bills to legalize and decriminalize marijuana in Arizona never really stood a chance in the Republican-dominated Legislature. But it came as a surprise to some when Republican Rep. Travis Grantham joined with Democrats in the House Military, Veterans and Regulatory Affairs Committee to kill Republican Rep. Vince Leach’s HB2018, which would have required medical marijuana growing facilities to be not only “enclosed and locked” but have roofs as well.