Arizona Legislative Update

City elections

A bill approved Monday by the state House could radically revamp how cities and towns conduct their elections.

Under current law, the first vote among all candidates is designed to winnow down the field. The top two vote-getters then advance to what amounts to a runoff.

Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, said problems arise when there are perhaps eight candidates with a conservative point of view and just two who are considered liberals. With voters entitled to cast ballots for only one, Olson said that creates a "spoiler effect,' where the conservatives split the vote and the runoff in what might be a conservative community ending up between the two liberals.

HB 2518 would permit cities to alter their system so individuals could vote for as many -- or as few -- candidates as they want. Olson argued that would create a better chance for candidates whose views more realistically reflect that of the community.

Olson said that system would not work in Tucson which has partisan primaries.

Monday's 31-26 vote sends the measure to the Senate.

Veteran hiring

Business could get state tax credits for hiring unemployed veterans under the terms of legislation approved Monday by the House.

HB 2484 would give companies an income tax credit equal to 10 percent of the worker's annual salary or $2,000 per employee -- $4,000 for someone who has a service-connected disability -- whichever is less.

The veteran has to be honorably discharged for the employer to get the credit. And the salary would have to be equal to at least the median wage in the state.

The credit would be available to employers for hires made until the end of 2015.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, complained the legislation is too broad, saying it should instead focus only on those veterans who are disabled or recently separated. He said the state has only a limited amount of money it can forego to an employer who hires someone who may have been out of the service for decades.

The measure sponsored by Rep. Mark Cardenas, D-Phoenix, passed anyway on a 47-11 vote and now goes to the Senate.

University student fees

The state House voted Monday to make it illegal for universities to collect fees from students on behalf of any outside group.

HB 2169 is specifically aimed at the Arizona Students Association. The group, until recently, got $2 a semester from each student, an assessment that could be refunded on a written request.

The Board of Regents last month voted to require students to specifically opt in to have the funds collected. The association has since filed suit claiming that move was in retaliation for its financial support of the unsuccessful ballot measure last year for a permanent one-cent hike in state sales taxes.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said his legislation would statutorily block the universities from collecting these fees regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit. Kavanagh said universities should not be in the business of helping any organization which uses some of its funds for political purposes.

Lawmakers rejected a proposal by House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Tucson, to permit the association to get its fees through the university if it reimbursed the schools for any costs.

The measure, approved on a 35-24 margin, now goes to the Senate.

Text messages

The House on Monday unanimously approved legislation to make it illegal for anyone to send an unsolicited text message if the purpose is to try to get someone to buy something.

Existing law already bars the use of automated dialers to make voice calls for solicitations. HB 2312 extends that language to texts.

Lawmakers did agree to create exceptions when the intended recipient has given "prior express invitation or permission' or where that person has a prior existing business relationship with the sender.

The measure now moves to the Senate.

Parks fees

On a 50-8 margin the House approved legislation to allow individuals to make voluntary donations to operate state parks when they renew their vehicle registrations.

The parks system has been looking for a steady source of cash after state lawmakers, looking for cash in prior years to balance the budget, raided the Parks Department funding.

As originally crafted, HB 2621 would have given those who paid the voluntary fee -- no amount was specified in the legislation -- free daytime access to the parks. That was scrapped in favor of simply allowing the Parks Department to offer an unspecified "promotional gift.'

The measure, which now requires Senate approval, spells out that 85 percent of anything donated would go to the Parks Department, with the balance kept by the Department of Transportation to cover its administrative costs.

Clean Elections

The state House voted Thursday to ask voters whether they still want the Clean Elections system they approved in 1998 -- but in a way that some lawmakers say is sneaky and misleading.

That 1998 law allows candidates for statewide and legislative office to get public financing if they agree not to take private dollars. It is funded largely by a surcharge on civil, criminal and traffic fines.

HCR 2026 would put a measure on the 2014 ballot asking voters to instead give that money to education.

"All I'm asking is for the voters to decide if they prefer public money for politicians or if they prefer education funding, said Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix.

But Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, said if lawmakers want to scrap the system they should put that specific question to voters and not force them to choose. She called the wording of the measure a page "out of the dirty playbook of sleazy political tricks.'

The 31-27 vote sends the measure to the Senate.

Recall elections

Future recall elections would be conducted with both a primary and general election under the terms of legislation approved Thursday by the House.

Under current law a successful petition drive results in a single election where all voters can go to the polls. Supporters of Senate President Russell Pearce, who was ousted in a 2011 recall, said that was unfair in his heavily Republican Mesa district because he was pitted against another Republican but Democrats and independents could vote.

Supporters of HB 2282, which now goes to the Senate, said this will have recalls mimic the dual system that now exists, where Republicans run against Republicans in the primary and Democrats run against Democrats and then the winners face off in the general election.

The measure was tweaked at the last minute to make it retroactive to the beginning of the year. That would benefit Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio who is currently the target of a recall.

Early ballots

The House Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to make it a crime for volunteer workers to pick up early ballots from voters.

Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne said she has received reports that some people are going door to door and offering to pick up early ballots -- but only if the person voted a certain way. She also said there are people "masquerading' as county election workers.

But Tucsonan Sami Hamed testified he is legally blind, gets an early ballot and depends on others to drop it off at a polling place. He said his ability to put it in the mail is insufficient.

"I want to make sure it gets there in somebody's hands,' he told lawmakers.

And Barbara Klein, president of the League of Women Voters of Arizona, said SB 1003 would have a "chilling effect' on efforts by volunteer groups like her own and Latino organizations to get more people to vote.

The measure, which already has been approved by the Senate, now goes to the full House.

Police and polygamy

State lawmakers voted Thursday to allow a county Board of Supervisors appoint a special administrator to oversee police departments that have been found by a state agency to have "systemic misconduct or mismanagement.'

The original version of HB 2648 would have dissolved police departments where half of employees lost their state certification as law enforcement officers. It was aimed largely at the polygamous community of Colorado City where officers have been decertified for misconduct with minors or putting their religious beliefs ahead of their oath to uphold state law.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said that was too onerous, coming up with the oversight plan instead. He also made the legislation prospective, meaning prior problems and decertificatons in Colorado City would not matter.

But Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, who represents the area, said there is nothing to fix.

"I would really challenge anyone to present to me documentation, absolute fact, anything that's in writing that suggests Colorado City is a rogue department and that we have to create an entire system of police oversight,' she said. "It's all built on hearsay, it's all built on conjecture by the Attorney General's Office.'

The 52-7 vote sends the measure to the Senate.

-- Capitol Media Services

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