Topics facing Legislature include campaign finances, photo radar, vouchers - East Valley Tribune: Capitol Media Services

Topics facing Legislature include campaign finances, photo radar, vouchers

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Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2014 9:45 am

Not everything lawmakers will face this session revolves around how to divide up the limited dollars available. They also will be taking up some matters of policy.

One of the biggest issue is likely to be a rewrite some of the state's campaign finance statutes.

Arizona law already requires groups that get involved in trying to influence an election to disclose the source of their funds. That's easy when their mailings and commercials use what courts have called “magic words” like “vote for” or “support.”

But the law is worded to also include any communications “that in context can have no reasonable meaning other than to advocate the election or defeat of the candidate.” Factors include putting the candidate in an unfavorable light and the timing of the communication.

A judge last year concluded that is far too vague to let state officials designate them as election-oriented ads.

Instead, he said they could fall into the category ads those designed to educate the public about specific issues — communications which are exempt from the reporting requirements, and he declared the entire reporting statute unenforceable.

In a separate case, a federal judge ruled that state laws defining what is a “campaign committee” that has to report its expenses are unconstitutionally vague and unenforceable.

At the same time, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have vowed to do something about so-called “dark money” campaigns. This involves independent groups who spend money supporting or opposing candidates but hide their donors.

But any effort to force greater disclosure will run into opposition from the very same special interests who want any evidence of their fingerprints on election materials eradicated.

On a related election front, foes of the state's optional system of public financing of campaigns are going to try to convince voters to repeal the 1998 measure.

The Yarnell Hill Fire that claimed the lives of 19 “hotshots” may force forced lawmakers to revisit the question of whether restrictions are needed on building homes in the middle of the forest.

An outright ban is unlikely, but there already is discussion of some new mandates, ranging from a requirement for metal roofs to having a “defensible space” around buildings.

Foes of allowing motorists to drive while texting will try — again — to get a consensus.

Here, too, there are probably not the votes to make the practice totally illegal. But a proposal that bans texting by teens and other novice drivers might be able to gather enough votes.

Other issues that could gain legislative attention include:

- New restrictions on use of photo radar;

- Preference in government projects for local firms;

- Whether to delay a requirement that youngsters read at third-grade level before being promoted;

- An expanded voucher-like program that provides public dollars for parents to send children to private and parochial schools;

- Deciding what to do with the relative few dollars of donations to have the state build a border fence on private land;

- Revamping the state income tax to reduce the number of tax brackets;

- New tax breaks and incentives for businesses that agree to relocate or expand here;

Two perennial issues — gun rights and abortion restrictions — may take a back burner this year.

On the former, proponents have had years of victories to the point where any adult can carry a concealed weapon without training, and various efforts to restrict gun sales or require background checks have repeatedly proven to be non-starters.

In the case of abortion, the efforts by foes to put new curbs on the procedure may have reached their constitutional limit, with federal courts rejecting a ban at 20 weeks and cutting off family planning funds to Planned Parenthood.

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