Vaccine passports, abortion bans and an oft-thwarted plan to get more money in lawmakers’ pockets were among the bills that made a late introduction as strike-everything amendments this week.
In the House, supporters of a less harsh criminal justice system used the striker process to potentially find a way around a Senate chairman who blocked their bills from making it to the full Senate. If the full House again approves a pitch for earned-release credits, the measure can now return to the full Senate for a final vote.
The Senate had a more adventurous final committee hearing. During a long and frequently intense hearing on March 31, Appropriations Chairman David Gowan entertained bills to ban vaccine passports, send doctors to jail for providing abortions and put more money in lawmakers’ pockets.
Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, and Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, got help from Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state and architect of controversial Arizona immigration law SB1070 in drafting a last-minute amendment to prohibit companies from declining service to unvaccinated customers and prevent employers from making vaccines a condition of employment. The bill would also prevent Arizona from allowing any version of a “vaccine passport” President Biden expressed interest in rolling out and that is being considered in European nations. The passports would allow fully vaccinated people to begin returning to something resembling pre-Covid life, such as showing proof of vaccination to attend a concert.
Townsend described that as creating a caste system, and Roberts compared refusing to let an unvaccinated person attend an event to racist store owners refusing service to Black Americans in the 1960s.
“If we can’t do it for skin color, we shouldn’t be able to do it for whether somebody took an experimental vaccine or not,” he said.
HB2190 passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 6-4 party-line vote on March 31.
Republican Sens. Wendy Rogers, Sine Kerr and Kelly Townsend collaborated on the most far-reaching abortion legislation Arizona has seen in years — a bill that would ban all abortions after physicians can detect a fetal heartbeat. Doctors who performed abortions after that point could be charged with a Class 3 felony, and the bill also gave the would-be father of an aborted fetus the ability to sue the doctor.
Senators who voted for the bill March 31 acknowledged they intend for it to reach the Supreme Court and lead to a reversal of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision — confirmed in multiple additional cases — that ensure a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion before the point of viability.
“I believe a 6-4 vote of this committee is good, but I believe a 6-3 vote by the United States Supreme Court is even better,” said Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria.
The bill’s fate in the full Senate remains unclear, though this year’s Senate Republican caucus takes a significantly harder stance against abortion than prior ones. Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, said she needed to see significant changes to the language before she would be ready to vote for it on the floor.
“Every single word is going to matter,” Ugenti-Rita said. “When you take out a word like ‘knowingly,’ that matters. When you insert a word, that matters.”
A Gowan plan to give lawmakers more cash passed Senate Appropriations with only Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, opposed. The bill, which Gowan and Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, have tried versions of for three years running, would hike per diem payments for all lawmakers.
Under the bill, lawmakers who live in Maricopa County would get $56 daily, more than double the $25 they currently receive. Out-of-county lawmakers would receive closer to $200, the average annual federal per diem rate. They now get $60.
Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed a version of this bill in 2019, saying he didn’t want an increase for local lawmakers and that any higher rate should kick in after the following election, as happens with pay raises for elected officials. Gowan, who put an emergency clause on his bill to enable lawmakers to begin collecting higher allowances this year, countered that the election Ducey wanted to wait for already happened.
Among the few strikers in House Appropriations on March 30 was an amendment that supporters say is the last best chance to pass an expansion of prison earned release credits this year. SB1064, which the committee advanced on an 11-2 vote, would let drug offenders cut their sentences almost in half by taking part in drug treatment or work programs and let other nonviolent offenders cut their sentences by about one-third the same way.
“At the end of the day, this is about making sure we’re keeping violent people off the streets, we’re acknowledging victims in any sort of injurious situation, but also making sure we have a system that’s smart,” said sponsor Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler.
Another bill that would have let inmates earn credits more quickly than Mesnard’s, HB2713, passed the House 47-11 in February but has languished without a hearing in the Senate. Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, who sponsored the House version, spoke in favor of Mesnard’s proposal, as did Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel.
“I feel strongly those who want to do better and be better should have the opportunity to do so,” Adel said.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who voted “no,” said he fears going back to the days of less consistent sentences that preceded the ‘80s and ‘90s, when most states enacted the tougher sentencing laws that are largely still in force today.
“I don’t think that this is really close to what I could support,” Kavanagh said. “I have real concerns about any bill that would allow a sentence to be cut pretty much in half.”