A Southern Arizona lawmaker is unilaterally blocking efforts to get some state dollars to help with building a memorial in Tucson to victims of the 2011 shooting that killed six and wounded former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
HB2436, which sets aside $2.5 million, cleared the House two months ago on a bipartisan 49-11 margin. Senate President Steve Yarbrough then assigned it to the Appropriations Committee, as well as the Committee on Natural Resources, Energy and Water.
Sen. Debbie Lesko, who chairs the Appropriations panel, said she would hear it only after it cleared the other committee.
But Rep. Todd Clodfelter, R-Tucson, said Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, who is in charge of the Natural Resources committee, refused to even schedule the bill, which he sponsored and shepherded through the House, for a Senate hearing. And he said efforts to get an answer from Griffin about her reasoning have proven fruitless, leaving Clodfelter with little basis to question the action other than speculation.
“I don’t know if it’s a partisan thing,” he said.
There may be something else.
Giffords and husband Mark Kelley are spearheading efforts to get Arizona and other states to require background checks any time a weapon is sold. That would apply to person-to-person sales, including those at gun shows, which are not regulated under federal firearms laws.
And both have vowed to work to defeat legislators who are opposed to such checks.
By contrast, Griffin is sponsoring SB1122, which specifically bars state and local governments from requiring background checks for the sale of any personal property, including guns. That measure was approved by the Senate on a 16-14 margin and now awaits House floor action.
Griffin did not immediately return repeated messages seeking comment.
Clodfelter acknowledged that anything with a price tag gets a lot of scrutiny, especially for a
project that has nothing directly to do with state government. But he said the legislation was crafted to have minimal impact.
“It’s not asking for $2.5 million all at once,” he said, but instead would divide up the funding over five years. “It’s a half million here, a half million there.”
The legislation also required a dollar-for-dollar match of private donations.
“It puts the monkey on the back of the community to raise the extra funding,” Clodfelter said.
There was another hurdle: The state would be on the financial hook only if Congress approves legislation designating the site in El Presidio Park in downtown Tucson as a national memorial.
HR362 is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, a Republican who represents the same district as did Giffords. That measure has been assigned to the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands.
Clodfelter said he has no idea whether his legislation would have been more acceptable to Griffin had it been a Republican member of Congress who had been attacked.
But McSally, in crafting the companion federal legislation, made it clear the nature of the event makes memorializing it important.
“This was the first time in the history of the United States that an assassination attempt was made upon a congressional member while she was meeting with constituents,” her measure reads.
It is within the power of those who chair a committee to decide what measures to consider. But Clodfelter said this legislation did not get a fair chance.
“If it failed in the hearings or failed on the floor, that’s one thing,” he said. But Griffin’s action denied the bill even those opportunities.
There are no future hearings scheduled for Griffin’s committee. But there still is a chance the funding could be inserted into the nearly $9.8 billion spending plan being negotiated between Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Doug Ducey, a move that would bypass the entire committee process.
Clodfelter said there have been calls made to the governor’s office from some members of the community interested in the memorial in a bid to have him make the dollars a priority.
Ducey was noncommittal.
Press aide Daniel Scarpinato said the governor “cares deeply about remembering and memorializing the tragic events of January 8.” But as to actual funds, Scarpinato would say only that his boss is negotiating with legislative leadership but has “an open mind to ideas that can work.”
Crystal Kasnoff, executive director of the memorial foundation, said last fall the group had raised about $1.7 million, including $500,000 from selling the naming rights to a garden pathway outside the memorial to a yet-to-be-disclosed private company.
Plans include carved symbols to represent the victims, as well as incorporating items left as makeshift memorial at the shooting site.
Clodfelter, in lobbying for his measure, said state lawmakers should see the financing as an investment.
He said there are people who travel the country to visit national monuments, spending money in the local communities they visit.
And Clodfelter said that’s not just speculation. He said a memorial set up in the southwest Pennsylvania field, where Flight 93 crashed on Sept. 11, 2001 when passengers overcame the hijackers who were planning to fly the plane into the U.S. Capitol, has generated about $300 million for the economy.
McSally’s federal legislation, awaiting its own hearing, has no direct financial commitment, appropriating no funds for construction, operation or maintenance. But it does authorize the National Parks Service to use funds to promote the site.
Among those killed in the 2011 incident were U.S. District Court Judge John Roll, Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman and 9-year-old Christina Taylor-Green.
Jared Loughner pleaded guilty in federal court to multiple charges to escape the death penalty. But that deal provides he will never be released from prison.