Lawmakers Ok higher liability standards for motorists

Motorists would have to buy more liability insurance than now required to drive on Arizona roads under the terms of legislation approved Thursday by the state Senate.

The current minimum coverage is $15,000 for injuries to any one person, $30,000 for all injuries in any incident, and $10,000 to cover property damage, usually to someone else's vehicle. SB 1111 would raise the figures to $25,000 and $50,000 for injuries and $25,000 for property damage.

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, pointed out the current limits have been in place since 1972. She said the minimum coverage fails to account for the fact that medical costs have risen and cars are more expensive to replace.

The 18-12 vote came over the objections of Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, who said the higher premiums will result in people dropping their insurance and driving without coverage, which is illegal.

"People will end up in jail because of this bill,'' he said. "I don't think that's a good idea.''

SB 1111 now goes to the House.

Industrial hemp

With no real debate the Senate voted Thursday to legalize the growing, processing and sale of the non-psychoactive form of marijuana.

SB 1337 is based on arguments by Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, that industrial hemp would be a good cash crop for Arizona. He said its fibers and seeds have multiple uses, from rope to lotions.

The measure is crafted so that while marijuana remains illegal, the laws would not apply to plants that have a concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol of no more than three-tenths of a percent, an amount Borrelli said is so low that someone could smoke it all day and the only result would be a headache.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said she understands concerns that the law might be used by those seeking to grow the more psychoactive version, something now limited to people licensed and regulated by the state to grow medical marijuana. But Allen said she's convinced the state Department of Agriculture will be able to oversee the practice to prevent abuse.

The 26-4 vote sends the measure to the House.

Forfeiture limits

Without dissent the House agreed Thursday to place new restrictions on the ability of police and prosecutors to seize property they contend was used in a crime.

HB 2477 spells out that homes, cars, cash, computers and other items only if a court concludes there is "clear and convincing evidence'' that it is linked to a crime. That is a higher burden than existing law which requires a showing only that it is more likely than not the property was involved in a crime.

Potentially more significant, it removes the risk that someone who challenges the seizure of property but loses could be forced to pay the government's legal fees. And it allows a property owner to argue to a judge that certain evidence prosecutors are using to try to take the property was illegally obtained.

Electronic filing

State employees will not be subject to dismissal if they don't file their taxes on time.

Without dissent, the House on Thursday approved a far-reaching measure designed to convince individuals and businesses to file their tax returns online.

Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, said his goal is to reduce the number of paper filings. And officials from the Department of Revenue said it is easier to catch fraud on electronically filed returns.

But Shooter ran into opposition with a provision in HB 2280 which mandated that state employees use e-filing as well as the possible disciple, including loss of their jobs, for failing to get their returns in on time. Foes said having revenue officials effectively tattling on state workers amounted to what Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, called "spying.''

Attorney regulation

Lawyers would be free to refuse to pay all the fees charged by the State Bar of Arizona under the terms of legislation approved 31-29 Thursday by the House.

The proposal by Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, would still allow the Supreme Court, which has ultimate constitutional authority to control who practices law, to delegate disciplinary authority to the private organization. But HB 2295 would spell out that attorneys need pay only that portion of Bar fees directly related to that and refuse to support other Bar functions ranging from its magazine to its convention.

"I look at the State Bar as a monopoly,'' Kern said, saying he would abolish it. But he went this route after being unable to get support for HB 2300 which would have done that.

Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, agreed that she and other attorneys should have to pay only to maintain the discipline system and not the $555 a year she now pays.

"What profession requires you to pay a private entity as a prerequisite to practicing your chosen occupation?'' she asked.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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