Legislature continues work on bills that could impact campaign finance, library records, schools - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Legislature continues work on bills that could impact campaign finance, library records, schools

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Posted: Friday, April 12, 2013 8:30 am | Updated: 10:24 am, Tue Apr 16, 2013.

Lottery confidentiality

A bid to let lottery winners shield their identity from the public suffered a serious -- and potentially fatal -- setback Thursday.

The state Senate voted 16-11 to kill a House-passed proposal to exempt the list of winners from the state's public records laws. Instead, the only information that would be released is the winner's home town.

Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, argued that HB 2082 makes good public policy sense.

"This is an effort to protect individual citizens who might be fortunate enough to win the lottery'' but then find themselves at persona risk once people realize they have come into a fortune. "It just seems to be the right thing to do to keep an individual citizen from having their life go through a nightmare because they win the lottery.''

The measure is opposed by the Arizona Newspapers Association.

Thursday's vote may not be the last word.

Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, made a procedural motion after the defeat that allows the legislation to be reconsidered one more time at an unspecified date. But proponents have a big hurdle to overcome, as it takes 16 affirmative votes in the Senate for final approval of any legislation.

Church property taxes

The Senate gave preliminary approval Thursday to legislation to expand the exemption that churches and religious organizations have from state and local property taxes.

Current law says there is no tax on land or buildings used for worship. HB 2446 would expand that to any vacant land owned by the church provided it is not being used to generate a profit.

Churches wanting that exemption would have to certify that they plan to use the land for some religious purpose "within a reasonable time.'' But the legislation spells out that holding the land to sell at a profit at some later date is not considered "religious use,'' even if the proceeds from the same will be used to further the organization's religious mission.

The measure drew a skeptical response during legislative hearings from Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson. He complained that the measure contains no provision for the government to recoup lost tax revenues if a church subsequently turns around and sells off its land at a profit.

Farley said there is precedent for that worry.

He noted that vacant land held for development is assessed for taxes at a higher rate than land used for agriculture. Farley said this has resulted in "rent-a-cow'' scams, where home builders put some cattle onto the property they are holding for development to reduce their tax bills.

The measure already has been approved by the House and now needs a final roll-call vote before going to the governor.

Campaign finance

Politicians are now free to take as much money as they can from political action committees.

Gov. Jan Brewer on Thursday signed legislation eliminating all current caps. The same legislation also scraps the limit on how much any individual or PAC can donate to all candidate in any year.

The measure passed with all Democrats and a handful of Republicans in opposition.

As approved, the legislation also sharply increases how much any candidate can accept from any one PAC or individual donor.

Proponents said the low existing limits unconstitutionally infringe on the First Amendment rights of donors. Foes said if lawmakers are going to let privately financed candidates take more from donors, they should also boost the amount available to publicly funded candidates, something this bill does not do.

Library records

Borrowers of electronic books need not fear their reading habits will become public.

Current law already bars public libraries from disclosing information about what materials or services are used by any individual. This new law, which takes effect this summer, expands that to electronic books, something not specifically included in the statutes.

Anyone who improperly gives out information can be jailed for 30 days and have to pay a $500 fine.

The law still contains exceptions necessary for operation of the library, to comply with a court order or on the user's written consent.

Charter schools

Saying she is concerned about the cost, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed legislation Thursday to allow charter schools to offer preschool programs to disabled youngsters.

Charter schools are technically public schools and get certain state funds, though they can be operated by nonprofit and for-profit companies and school districts. Under normal circumstances, schools get extra aid for the disabled.

Brewer said she is not dismissing the idea outright. But she said the additional cost, which was not disclosed, must be considered as part of the overall state budget for the coming year.

State militia

There is currently no official "unorganized'' state militia. But state lawmakers voted Thursday to say if it ever is put together you can't be too old to join.

Existing law says the militia consists of Arizonans, both citizens and those who have declared the intent to be citizens, between the ages of 18 and 45. That includes the National Guard, inactive guard members and the "unorganized militia'' which consists of everyone else.

HB 2433 strikes the top age limit, substituting language that they be "capable of bearing arms.'' But it says that service by those older than 45 would be strictly voluntary.

Rep. Carl Seel, R-Phoenix, said he wants the change in law should the unorganized militia ever need to be activated. The 34-24 House vote sends the measure to the governor.

The legislation leaves intact existing restrictions, including elected officials, ministers of the gospel, judges, the blind, persons convicted of certain crimes and those considered mentally ill.

School funding

Gov. Jan Brewer penned her approval Thursday to legislation aimed at setting up a performance-funding system for schools but said it does not go far enough.

Brewer is pushing a plan where schools get extra cash for performing above average. There also would be cash bonuses for schools that show marked improvement, whether or not they actually had yet reached average performance.

The idea, though, has drawn concern from some lawmakers who pointed out it would be funded in part by taking money away from other schools. They said that would only complicate efforts by those schools to boost student achievement.

The measure Brewer signed sets up a four-year simulation. There would be no actual change in school funding, generally based on a fixed amount of money per student, but it would give lawmakers a chance to see how the system might work.

Brewer said what she wants is a real performance funding plan. The governor said her plan "takes a conservative, cautious approach,'' phasing in the change over five years and representing only a fraction of overall school funding.

Other new laws

Other bills signed Thursday by Gov. Jan Brewer that take effect this summer include:

  • Making it illegal for businesses to send unsolicited texts to individuals in hopes of selling a product or service;
  • Allowing veterans to use their military experience to substitute for certain training for professional licenses for commercial truck drivers and nurses;
  • Closing what some lawmakers say is a loophole in the law which allows schools and other government entities to use public resources to promote bond elections;
  • Removing the words "idiot'' and "lunatic'' from state statutes;
  • Forbidding homeowner associations formed in the future from exercising any control over the use public roadways within their subdivisions.

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