Arizona lawmakers introduced 1,289 bills this session, but a slew has already been left behind.
Proposed bills that never received hearings died silently in the Arizona Legislature this week, the last week for committees to hear bills in their chamber of origin.
Among them is the push to repeal legislative immunity, which made headlines when it deliberately stalled in the House because Speaker Rusty Bowers declined to move the measure forward.
But other notable legislation, including Arizona’s attempt to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, several criminal justice reform measures, also hit a wall.
Red for Ed supporters, however, can rejoice because a series of controversial bills targeting educators had not been assigned to committees yet, spelling their apparent doom.
Ideas contained in dead bills could still be revived via amendments later in the legislative process, but their likelihood of success is just as grim.
Equal Rights Amendment
Perhaps the most high profile legislation that failed to get committee hearings before the deadline carried national implications for women.
Arizona Democrats failed in their third attempt to push the Legislature to vote on ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, which seeks to amend the U.S. Constitution to bar discrimination on account of sex.
The Democrats’ fight is part of a decades-old battle that began in 1972, when Congress passed the ERA. In order to be adopted, 38 of the 50 states needed to ratify the measure by 1982 — the deadline set by Congress.
Decades later, 37 states, with Nevada and Illinois signing on in recent years, ratified the amendment. Arizona could have been the final state to adopt the amendment.
Democrats lost a key ally when freshman Sen. Tyler Pace withdrew his support on January 31. Three other Republicans in the chamber had expressed support for the measure, and, along with Tyler’s backing, Democrats would have had the votes to pass ERA in the Senate.
In the end, the number of floor votes didn’t matter because the ERA bills never got a hearing in Senate Judiciary, which is chaired by Sen. Eddie Farnsworth. In the House, Bowers never assigned the legislation to a committee.
Even if the ERA measure passed the Legislature, the amendment would not automatically be added to the U.S. Constitution because of the 1982 deadline. But Congress or the courts could sort out what happens next.
Red for Ed
Tensions were running high in the education community weeks before the legislative session kicked off – thanks to a handful of bills viewed as retaliation for last year’s Red for Ed movement.
But four of five controversial bills introduced by Republican Reps. Mark Finchem of Oro Valley and Kelly Townsend of Mesa were never even assigned to committees.
Their unsuccessful proposals included Finchem’s HB2002 to require an educator code of ethics explicitly prohibiting politicking in school and Townsend’s HB2016, which bars employees from harassing, intimidating or harming parents, students and colleagues; HB2017 to prohibit public schools from closing except during pre-approved breaks or emergencies; and, HB2018 to require the attorney general to investigate school districts or employees that lawmakers allege to have violated state law.
Their failure was not enough to end talk of a potential Red for Ed resurgence. One of Townsend’s bills, HB 2015, which seeks to prohibit school district employees from using school resources to espouse a political or religious ideology, was heard and adopted in the House Education Committee, prompting warnings of an aggressive response from K-12 advocates.
Criminal justice reform
At least three criminal justice measures will go down without a committee hearing despite bipartisan support.
Bills from Republican Reps. Walt Blackman, Tony Rivero and Ben Toma may have been cheered by members of both parties, but they failed to win favor with what Toma described as a “strategic minority.” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. John Allen and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Eddie Farnsworth do not support the bills.
Blackman’s HB2270 sought to address Arizona’s so-called truth in sentencing requirements. Rivero’s HB2245 would have provided greater discretion to judges to reduce mandatory minimum sentences. And Toma’s HB2362 proposed to give judges discretion to seal defendants’ criminal records. All three were assigned to the House Judiciary Committee but were not granted a hearing; Blackman’s bill was additionally assigned the House Public Safety Committee, which also did not hear it.
Toma said Allen did not want to hear his bill, a decision that he said came down to Farnsworth’s view of the proposal. Blackman, too, had been told Farnsworth had an unfavorable view of his bill, but received no clear explanation as to why Allen would not entertain it.
A proposal to make feminine hygiene products and diapers tax-free did not receive a vote on the House floor for the third legislative session in a row.
But unlike in previous sessions, the bill sponsored this time around by Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, was not even assigned to a committee.
Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, enlisted Shope to run the bill this year in the hopes of giving it a fighting chance. Hernandez sought the exemption himself in 2017 and 2018. The proposal was heard and approved by the House Ways and Means Committee but did not receive hearings in House Health in 2017 and 2018.
While the Senate and House debated legislation that has been criticized for putting up barriers to vaccinating children, two bills left for dead sought to provide parents easier access to information about the vaccination rate at Arizona schools.
Rep. Kelli Butler’s HB2352 and Sen. Juan Mendez’s SB1201 strove for the same common goal: Require schools to post the vaccination rate for their student body on the school’s website.
The information is already reported to the Department of Health Services, which has a database of immunization coverage rates broken down by county and by individual schools. The sponsors saw the bills as a way to raise awareness about vaccination, which could be a deciding factor when parents choose which school to send their children to.
Perhaps, Butler offered, parents don’t want to send their kids to schools with vaccination rates below 95 percent, the standard for ensuring the effectiveness of “immunity” to prevent the spread of diseases to those who can’t be vaccinated.
“We have a robust school choice environment. We should just make sure that we’re giving parents all of the information they need to make the right choice,” she said.
Neither bill got committee hearings before deadline.
In God We Trust
Public outrage – local and national – was not enough to sustain Mendez’s bill that sought to repeal the statute authorizing “In God We Trust” specialty license plates.
Almost a year before session began, the Secular Coalition of Arizona enlisted the Democratic senator’s help in revealing that the license plates help fund an organization that the atheist group says attacks the LGBT community.
Mendez, D-Tempe found out from the Arizona Department of Transportation that the “In God We Trust” specialty plates are funding the Alliance Defending Freedom, which The New York Times described as the largest legal force of the religious right.
But Mendez’s SB1463 never got a committee hearing.
CORRECTION: Three, not two other Senate Republicans besides Sen. Tyler Pace expressed support for legislation ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.