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Voter Protection Act blocking bipartisan bill

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Rep. Leo Biasiucci was waiting his turn to fight a parking ticket in court when the idea came to him.

As the Lake Havasu City Republican watched people ahead of him tell the judge they couldn’t afford to pay their tickets, he wondered why there wasn’t a way to lift the financial burden. Payment plans weren’t an option; an additional fee is required to start one, he said.

Biasiucci’s HB2110, first introduced as HB2055 in 2020, proposes that judges could order people to do community service, valued at $12 an hour, as payment for their tickets rather than money.

Lawmakers like the idea — it’s criminal justice reform that both helps those in need and serves the community — but stakeholders raised the prospect that voter protection laws and the 13th Amendment, which bans involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime, could stop the bill in its tracks.

Opponents of the bill said that the Voter Protection Act applies to the bill because it could cut funding to the voter-approved Clean Elections Commission.

If the bill were subject to the VPA, the Legislature would be required to show the bill furthers the purpose of the Clean Elections Commission and have a three-fourths vote to approve it. 

Leo Biasiucci

Leo Biasiucci

Biasiucci said while he recognizes the Clean Elections Commission is funded by traffic tickets, there are 17 or 18 other agencies also funded by those tickets, and he didn’t want to pick just one agency to be exempt from the bill. 

“I don’t like the fact that you have organizations that are being funded solely from tickets,” he said. “That, to me, is ridiculous that we’re banking on speeding tickets to fund certain groups, whether it’s approved by the voters or not.”

However, Joel Edman, executive director of Arizona Advocacy Network, said there is no need for Biasiucci to choose which agencies could receive funds from tickets because the VPA should already exempt the Clean Elections Commission from funding cuts by the bill.

“The Clean Elections program is voter-protected, right, and a lot of the other agencies that receive those funds … are not,” Edman said. “You don’t have to do any picking and choosing – the Arizona Constitution does that for you.”

Out of the almost $7 million the state collects yearly from speeding tickets, Biasiucci said $70,000 was a reasonable estimate of how much money the Clean Elections Committee could lose as a result of the bill, assuming judges ordered around 10% of people with speeding tickets to do community service instead of pay a fine.

Rep. Amish Shah, D-Phoenix, said while Biasiucci’s estimates for the bill’s cost were reassuring, he was unsure whether the 10% of revenue from tickets allocated to the Clean Elections Commission would still apply to community service because the bill values it at $12 an hour.

Tom Collins, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, also has greater concerns than the bill’s potential financial impact. 

“The damage caused by the potential legal problem is not the question,” Collins said. “The question is whether or not this is presented in a proper format, and it’s not.” 

Lobbyists said the bill was a slippery slope in both directions — that without the option for community service, people accrue even larger fines, and that taking money from Clean Elections could strip the state of crucial voter education resources.

Michael Infanzon, a motorcycle rights lobbyist, said a motorcyclist he supports got a ticket for not signaling and was fined because he couldn’t take time off of work to fight the ticket. When he was late on a payment for the fine, his license was suspended.

“The next time he got pulled over for the suspended license, because he was the owner of a motorcycle club, he got a gang enhancement charge on it, which was three years in prison for not being able to pay a traffic ticket,” Infanzon said.

Although he agrees with the intent of the bill, Edman said in a time rife with misinformation and disinformation about voting, it is critical to protect funding for voter education.  

“I wish that there were other funding sources for Clean Elections,” Edman said. “There used to be, but the Legislature has chipped away at them until leaving this as essentially the main funding source left for Clean Elections work.” 

Lobbyist Marilyn Rodriguez, on behalf of LUCHA, said when Biasiucci introduced the bill last year, her group offered to work with him to amend it so it wouldn’t be struck down in court, and hoped he would take them up on the offer this time.

“It’s a really good idea that will really help people if we get it right,” she said.

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