Updated Feb 28, 2013 - 8:15 pm
Arizona Legislature pushing out dozens of bills
PHOENIX — Arizona lawmakers on Thursday approved a series of election law changes and passed a bill eliminating pensions for new judges as they voted a long list of bills out of the House and Senate in a furious conclusion to the initial six weeks of the session.
Among the contentious bills given final Senate approval were a series of election law revisions that would require more disclosure of some campaign spending, force signatures to be gathered in all 15 counties to get an initiative on the ballot, and require paid signature collectors to register with the secretary of state.
Democrats failed in an effort to derail one of the four bills and amend another to require disclosure of the source of campaign funding.
A bill targeting spending on recall elections would require disclosure of any spending designed to advance the recall and would treat such elections as separate from others.
Democratic Sen. Steve Gallardo called the bill a thinly disguised effort to make it harder for voters to throw lawmakers out of office. Former Senate President Russell Pearce became the first Arizona legislator recalled in 2011, and there have been Republican-led efforts to revamp the process ever since.
Other campaign law changes that passed the Senate included a prohibition on the secretary of state or other election officers from serving on candidate campaign committees.
Meanwhile, the House passed a bill increasing the amount of money individuals and political committees may give to a candidate.
The bill would allow statewide, legislative or other candidates to accept $2,500 from individual donors and $5,000 from some political committees, and would allow candidates to collect the maximum contribution twice — during the primary and the general election. Arizona currently caps individual contributions at $1,010 per statewide candidate and $488 per legislative candidate through the primary and general elections. That amount is reduced by 20 percent under the Citizens Clean Election Act.
The House also passed a bill ending the Elected Officials Retirement Plan, which covers judges, legislators and other elected officials, including the governor. The smallest of the state's four public employee retirement plans has assets to cover only about 58 percent of its liabilities, and the state must make up the estimated $254 million shortfall in the coming years. There were 992 retired members and their survivors drawing benefits last year, slightly more than the number of active members.
If the bill becomes law, current lawmakers and judges would remain in the plan, but newly elected or appointed officials would be able to sign on only to a 401(k)-style retirement plan.
Rep. Jonathan Larkin said fewer benefits would make it difficult to attract middle-class or low-income people to public service.
"The easiest way to put it is you get what you pay for," said Larkin, D-Glendale.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said judges and elected officials opposed to the overhaul are motivated by personal interests.
"The greed is absolutely unbelievable," he said.
Other bills approved by the Senate included one requiring clear labeling on medical marijuana in foods or candies, and a bill requiring schools to stock injectable epinephrine for emergency use if a student has a severe allergic reaction.
The marijuana bill passed after its sponsor, Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, showed photos of marijuana in chocolate bars and suckers that looked just like regular store-bought candy.
Among the measures passing the House was one creating a border intelligence center and another requiring police to be trained on how to deal with people who are mentally ill.
Among the dozens of Senate proposals given initial or final approval Thursday was a resolution that will ask voters if they want to vote to reject unconstitutional federal actions.
Majority Republicans called Thursday's party-line vote an important message to send to Washington.
If given final Senate approval and also adopted by the House, voters would see the referendum on the next general election ballot.
Democrats called Thursday's effort clearly unconstitutional and said adopting such a resolution will ensure Arizona's reputation as a state seen by many as a laughingstock.
Republicans argue that voters deserve the right to tell the federal government they reject unconstitutional efforts.
Democratic Sen. Steve Gallardo noted that Arizona voters rejected an effort to take over federal lands by a wide margin in November.
"We're putting language that is totally unconstitutional on our state ballot in the next election," Gallardo said on the Senate floor. "Come on folks."
But Senate President Andy Biggs said the people have a right to send that message.
"The reality is I think there's a legitimate concern among people and the public, not just this state but other states, about the relationship between the federal government and the state," Biggs said. "I think this is an assertion essentially of independence."
The Senate rejected a bill that would have required police to be trained on the prohibition of profiling motorcyclists. That measure was pushed by a lawmaker after motorcycle club members complained about being repeatedly stopped by police and held at gunpoint.
In other action the House voted 35-22 to send a request for an annual balanced budget to Congress and President Barack Obama. An effort to have Arizona joined a compact of states seeking a constitutional convention to add a balanced budget amendment died in committee last week.
Another House-approved bill would cut the time teachers have to save their jobs when they get bad performance reviews.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.