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Updated Mar 25, 2014 - 4:17 pm

Senate committee approves virtual border fence

PHOENIX -- A bill that would allow Arizona to create a ``virtual fence'' along the Arizona-Mexico border received bipartisan support Tuesday when a Senate committee approved it.

An amendment to House Bill 2462 would allow the state to place high-technology radar and video sensors on 300 towers along 375 miles of the border to monitor human and drug-smuggling activity. The sensors would send signals to a publicly accessible site and could also be monitored by law enforcement agencies.

The federal government tried to construct a ``virtual fence'' along the border in 2006, but it abandoned the project in 2011 after spending more than $1 billion on a faulty system.

The fence is estimated to cost about $30 million, but the bill approved Tuesday with an 8-1 vote does not appropriate any funds. Instead, it would simply allow for the process to begin and would require the state Legislature to appropriate money next year, said Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa.

Worsely sponsored a similar bill that died in part because of its $30 million price tag.

The amendment that essentially revives that bill was offered by Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma.

Both Democratic and Republican members of the committee approved the amended bill 8-1, with one Republican dissenting.

Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, said he didn't feel it was Arizona's role to ensure the border is safe. He has also argued that the state's Congressional delegates should push the federal government to better address border issues.

``My question is, what benefit is the state going to get out of this by spending this kind of money and simply looking at the border and seeing who's coming across and who's not coming across because the federal government does not work with us?'' he asked.

But others said the federal government is not doing enough to secure the border and that Arizona has a responsibility to ensure security.

``I'm really disappointed when I hear people say this is strictly a federal issue. We are a border state. The border leaks like a sieve,'' said Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson.

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