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Passes and fails: A recap of the Arizona Legislature’s 101-day session

PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer acted swiftly on one of the most
contentious bills of this year’s legislative session, vetoing a bill Thursday
that would have exempted Uber and other ride-sharing services from insurance
regulations that affect traditional taxi and livery companies.

Brewer also vetoed her fourth gun bill this week, one that would have changed
the definition of a firearm. But she signed into law a bill that will strip the
Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission from authority to investigate
possible campaign contribution violations by candidates who don’t participate in
the program.

The actions Thursday evening came hours after the state Legislature wrapped up
its 2014 session around 1:45 a.m., after hours of debates that began Wednesday
and a last-minute threat by House legislators over a bill that extends the life
of several state boards.

Among the hotly debated bills was House Bill 2262, also known as the Uber bill.
The bill would regulate Uber and others in some ways, but it would exempt them
in many others.

To the chagrin of traditional taxi and limo companies and banking and insurance
lobbyists, the companies would not be forced to insure their drivers during the
entire duration that they are on the job. Uber drivers are only insured from the
time they accept a ride request to the time they drop off a passenger. That
means a driver who is working on the road but has not yet received a request for
a ride is not insured by the company unless the driver’s personal insurance
denies the claim, in which case Uber provides its contingent policy.

Other actions taken by the Republican-controlled Legislature during its 101-day
session included House Bill 1062, which would have allowed businesses to
discriminate against gays and others based on religious beliefs. The legislation
thrust the Arizona Legislature once again into the national spotlight.

After a week of protests, calls for vetoes by the business community and
appearances by legislators on national talk shows, the Republican governor axed
the bill on Feb. 26.

There was much more to come.

Both chambers approved a series of pro-gun bills that would have allowed guns
into government buildings and would have punished cities, towns and their
lawmakers who enact ordinances stricter than the state’s own gun laws. Brewer
vetoed those gun bills this week, and on Thursday axed a firearms definition
bill that she said could allow disassembled dangerous weapons into public
buildings.

Legislators also spent the session battling over proposed expansions of the
state’s school voucher program, which allows students to use public funds for
private school and other educational needs.

The Arizona Empowerment Scholarships Account program was created in 2011 for
students with disabilities, but it was expanded last year to students from
low-performing schools.

Nearly 700 students are currently enrolled. But proposed legislation by Rep.
Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, would have made an additional 100,000 to 120,000
low-income students eligible for the program. The bill was voted down after
hours of debate, although other smaller expansions were successful.

For example, Brewer signed into law on Wednesday two bills that expand
eligibility to siblings of students already enrolled in the program and to
students with a military parent killed in action. Yet another bill, Senate Bill
1237, would have allowed all students in the program to get extra funding that
is meant only for students who leave charter schools to join the program. But
that provision of the bill was stripped out by an amendment late Wednesday
evening.

The bill, still approved, allows parents of special-needs children enrolled in
the program to get verification from an independent contractor that would allow
them to receive extra funding, instead of going through the school district the
child previously attended. That means school districts save money on labor
associated with the approval process. The Senate gave final approval to SB1237
with a 25-3 vote. The bill is now on the governor’s desk.

In the last days of the session, the Senate failed to pass a bill that would
have helped the city of Glendale cover public safety costs during next year’s
Super Bowl. Senate President Andy Biggs criticized Glendale for “fiscal
mismanagement” as the bill that had earlier passed the House went down on a
16-10 vote. Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers said the city cannot afford to cover
those costs on its own, and it might not be able to host in the future without
assistance.

Lawmakers also passed legislation that could make human smugglers convicted of
murder eligible for the death penalty. But Brewer vetoed that measure as well on
Thursday, saying it could put the state’s entire death penalty law at risk of
being tossed out by the courts.

A last-minute standoff between the House and the Senate led to an hours-long
delay in what is referred to as “sine die,” which is the Latin way of saying
the session has adjourned.

The impasse was over Senate Bill 1314 by Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, which
originally would have continued the existence of the Board of Barbers, which
regulates the profession. But the House tacked on continuations of several other
agencies at the last minute that had been in separate Senate bills the House
never moved. Another provision changed the intent of a law overseeing the
state’s underground storage tank cleanup fund.

That angered many in the Senate who called the actions a travesty, in part
because some of the agencies had been given only short extensions by the Senate
because of past problems. In the end, the Senate approved the bill 17-11 to
avoid delaying adjournment even longer.

Although the session has ended, legislators will come back soon for a special
session to address the new child welfare agency that is being created. Brewer
pulled Children’s Protective Services from the Department of Economic Security
in January after authorities discovered 6,600 child-abuse and neglect cases that
were not investigated between late 2009 and last November. Brewer appointed
Charles Flanagan, then the director of the state juvenile corrections
department, to lead the new agency. But the Legislature must still create and
fund the agency through legislation.

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