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Updated Apr 28, 2014 - 9:42 pm

Arizona lawmakers sidestepped some divisive bills

PHOENIX — Lost in the flurry of activity in the final days of the
Legislature last week is the fact that lawmakers killed a number of bills in the
2014 session that would have generated controversy had they reached Gov. Jan
Brewer’s desk.

They included legislation on federal education standards and
animal rights, and a bill reminiscent of the national outrage over a measure
that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against gays based on
religious beliefs.

Here is a look of some of the bills:

Gay weddings

The Arizona Legislature received national attention in February when it passed
Senate Bill 1062, allowing businesses to discriminate against gays based on
religious beliefs. Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill, saying it “could divide
Arizona in ways we could not even imagine and no one would ever want.”

A separate bill was introduced around the same time that would have given legal
cover to ministers who refuse to officiate over gay marriages. It was opposed by
the Anti-Defamation League because it also would allow justices of the peace,
judges or other civil servants to refuse to oversee a marriage. House Bill 2481
never made it out of the House.

Common Core

Senate Bill 1310 would have banned Arizona school districts from continuing to
adopt Common Core standards. The federal standards aim to focus learning on
comprehension and real-life examples and were designed by a national, bipartisan
group of governors and education leaders to better prepare students for college
and the job market. Conservative Republicans say the federal government should
not dictate education standards in Arizona. The bill was defeated in the Senate
when moderate Republicans banded with Democrats to vote it down. Brewer also has
vetoed a House bill that would have prevented the state from adopting any
federally mandated school standards or teaching approaches.

Grand Canyon University

Senate Bill 1303 drew ire from both parties because it would have granted a
large property tax break specifically for Grand Canyon University, a for-profit
Christian school in Phoenix. Grand Canyon University wants its property
reclassified into a much lower rate that would save it about $750,000 a year on
its Phoenix campus. The bill passed in the Senate but died in the House when a
committee found the bill could run afoul of the state constitution. The bill’s
sponsor, Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, tried to revive the bill, but it
failed to pass.

Teen cellphone use

The topic of Senate Bill 1168 was not the hot-button political issue as some of
the other debates, but it didn’t make it far in the Legislature. It would have
banned cellphone use by teen drivers for the first six months they hold a
license. The bill by Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, was one of several
unsuccessful attempts at banning cellphone use on the road. Although the House
of Representatives passed the bill on April 15, Senate President Andy Biggs,
R-Gilbert, refused to hear it in the Senate.

The proposal would all use of electronic communications devices for teen
drivers, including texting. The only exception in an emergency situation where
stopping to make a call would be impossible or unsafe. However, police wouldn’t
have been allowed to make a traffic stop just because of cellphone use.

Animal rights

House Bill 2587 was one of those rare bills that brought together law
enforcement and animal-rights activists. The bill by Rep. Brenda Barton,
R-Payson, aimed to separate livestock animals from domestic ones. The bill would
have reduced first-offense felony charges to a misdemeanor for farmers and
others accused of abusing livestock. The bill was championed by livestock
producers but criticized by animal-rights activists and law enforcement agencies
for provisions that they said would hamper investigations of abuse.

The bill originally would have forced anyone to notify law enforcement of
animal cruelty within five days of obtaining evidence. Animal-rights activists
say that was a veiled attempt to eliminate undercover investigations at animal
processing plants and farms.


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