Citing death threats, lawmakers passed a bill May 3 meant to seal their home addresses from the public if a judge agrees, but it’s not clear how the new legislation will work in practice or if anyone will still be able to check that lawmakers live in the districts they represent.
Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, sponsored the bill, and said he hopes the Secretary of State’s Office will handle verification of a legislator’s residency.
The Senate rules attorney also said that it will be up to the secretary of state to decide how to implement the bill.
George Diaz, the Secretary of State’s Government Relations director, said he doesn’t know that the office will review candidate’s addresses. Going forward, Diaz said their general counsel is “reviewing” how they could go about checking addresses.
Secretary of State spokesperson Paul Smith-Leonard said that redacting the addresses of elections officials is important to their office and repeated that they are “reviewing the language in the bill to determine the process by which our office will comply with the law.”
It’s also not clear whether Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs will sign the bill or veto it. Hobbs’ press secretary did not respond to requests for comment.
Members of the Legislature are required to live in the districts they represent, but no entity is required to verify their residency. The Secretary of State’s Office has those addresses but doesn’t investigate residency. Reporters often do, but there’s no provision in the bill for them either.
Shope previously discussed adding a provision that would allow the secretary of state to verify a candidate’s address, but that amendment never materialized.
Increased threats of violence against public officials led to the creation of the bill. Shope, Senate Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, and Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, are just a few who say they’ve received death threats.
“I’ve had to install over $10,000 worth of security equipment cameras and what not on our house due to the level of threats that I’ve received, and I know that’s the same for members on both sides of the aisle,” Hoffman said.
Former senators Michelle Ugenti-Rita and Paul Boyer received death threats during the Senate’s audit of the 2020 election.
Shope’s bill adds elections officials, who have also faced increased hostility in recent years, to the list of individuals who can ask a judge to seal their records.
“It’s crazy to me with all of the angst that has existed especially in the last five years … that we would not afford those people a modicum of protection,” Arizona Association of Counties Executive Director Jen Marson said. She reiterated this bill won’t automatically seal all public official’s addresses. If signed, public officials would have to individually make those requests to the court.
Cochise County’s former elections director Lisa Marra quit her job last year, citing a threatening work environment as the reason. Overall, top elections officials in 10 Arizona counties have left their posts recently, a factor that led Secretary of State Adrian Fontes to support the bill.
“Key to our support is language that allows us to redact addresses of elections officials,” Smith-Leonard said.
Fontes recently asked Hobbs’ office to give him security after a threatening phone call when he took office, and he eventually hired his own security.
Last week, a man pled guilty to making death threats against Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer and his family.
Protecting family members is a big reason lawmakers cited when supporting the bill. Although lawmakers asked for this job, they said their loved ones did not.
“This is one of the few things my wife has ever asked me to run a bill on,” Shope said.
The legislation does not include a mechanism to ensure lawmakers with sealed records do live in their districts.
Typically, other candidates or political opponents have filed residency challenges in court against lawmakers who win elections to represent one district, but are accused of, and sometimes confirmed to be, living in another area.
These residency challenges are already exceedingly difficult to prove and courts have long interpreted the law to allow lawmakers to claim residency somewhere they “intend” to return.
Democratic consultant Tony Cani said, “There is certainly value in the public knowing where their public officials actually live, especially when there’s been so many questions in Arizona about people living outside of the district they represent, but at the same time the rhetoric, especially from the election denial crowd, has been so heated that all the legitimate death threats that elected officials have had makes me understand why this is being approved.”
The bill passed in the Senate 26-3 with one vacancy. Only Senators Hoffman, Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, and David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, voted ‘no.’
Hoffman said the bill was too broad and applies to too many people.
Epstein said after the vote that she’d support a change to the bill allowing someone to check lawmaker’s residency, but it was too late. “We needed you a few weeks ago to bring that up,” she joked.
“That seems like a really good idea, but it’s passed now. There is always next session, and I will make a note right now.”
Another question is whether the legislation will fully remove addresses from public view. Public officials’ addresses are on file in many places, but the bill only mentions some of those offices.
Shope’s bill specifically directs county assessors, treasurers and recorders to block the public from viewing the addresses of properties “held in trust,” if a judge has agreed to that official’s request to do so, but it doesn’t refer to the Secretary of State’s Office.
The secretary of state has lawmakers’ addresses posted on its campaign finance portal and candidate filing papers. Those things are required by separate statutes that Shope’s bill doesn’t address.
Arizona law requires the secretary of state to post addresses in campaign finance reports, but not if the address is “protected from public disclosure pursuant to section 16-153,” which is addressed in Shope’s bill, yet Shope said he is “almost 100% sure” that future candidates’ addresses will still be viewable on their campaign finance paperwork.
Section 13-2401 of the bill makes it a crime to post a public official or election officer’s address on the internet. A violation of that is a felony, and there is no clarifying language saying whether that penalty would apply to existing portals online like the campaign finance portal the secretary of state manages.
A government employee, like the secretary of state, who knowingly posts one of these addresses, is guilty of another class of felony under the bill.
“The public should be able to verify and know and verify where their elected representatives live,” Republican consultant Barrett Marson said.
He added that he is sympathetic to the argument about protecting lawmakers but said that addresses need to be available somewhere. “No one forces you to become a public official,” Barrett Marson said.
Yellow Sheet editor Wayne Schutsky contributed to this report.