PHOENIX -- Students, faculty, staff and visitors are a step closer to being able to carry some kinds of weapons on the campuses of public colleges and universities.
HB 2172, approved by the House Thursday on a 35-23 vote, is designed to provide new options for self-defense. It specifically would overrule existing policies at the state's three universities that now make over-the-counter pepper spray the only type of weapon permitted.
The legislation, which now goes to the Senate, also would trump no-weapons policies at community colleges.
What would now be allowed is not spelled out in HB 2172. Instead, the measure would permit "non-lethal weapons,'' defined as those "explicitly designed and developed to incapacitate or repel a person with a low probability of fatality or permanent injury.''
Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, said that lack of definition -- and of limits -- is dangerous. He told colleagues the Department of Defense defines "non-lethal weapons'' to include flash grenades "which you can buy online for about $50'' and 40 mm blunt force munitions, "all of which are designed to be used by trained personnel, and at a distance.''
Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, said he deliberately kept it vague to allow for forms of self-defense that may not currently exist, like devices designed to incapacitate through light or sound.
What definitely would be allowed are electronic stun guns that can fire a dart into someone else and deliver a jolt of electricity. In fact, the lobbyist for Taser International testified in favor of the measure when it was approved last month by the House Education Committee.
Grantham also wants to allow people on campuses to carry more powerful defense sprays than university policies now permit. He said those policies specifically exclude devices that contain what he believes is a sufficient quantity of chili pepper oils to disable an attacker.
Clark also pointed out that final version of HB 2172 exempts "private postsecondary institution that receives any type of public monies for any purpose.'' Grantham that exemption.
"This isn't the kind of legislation that we call tell private property or landowners what they're going to do with their private institution,'' he said, any more than the state can tell owners of bars or restaurants that they have to permit patrons to have the same devices.
Last November's fight over a ballot measure to increase building height limits in the town of Tusayan was funded exclusively by two predictable players, according to a roundup of campaign finance records.
Spending in support of the measure can be traced back to Stilo Development Group USA, the Italian real estate developer that has attempted for decades to build major commercial and housing projects in town. Opposition to higher building heights was bankrolled by hotel owner and property manager Clarinda Vail, a longtime critic of Stilo’s projects.
When the results came in, the measure was defeated by 11 votes. If approved, the tallest buildings in town would have been able to reach 65 feet instead of the current 35-to-40-foot limit.
The Stilo-backed group is focused on building in town after being blocked from putting up buildings just outside Tusayan by a Forest Service easement denial.
In all, the two sides spent about $17,000 on the election itself. The pro-height increase group, Tusayan's Future, spent $12,000, all of which came from LoganLuca, a business partnership between Stilo and Elling Halvorson, another major landowner and businessman in Tusayan. The two co-own a RV park in the middle of town and wanted to build a mixed-use project with some structures that would reach 65 feet, Stilo spokesman Andy Jacobs said at the time.
On the other side of the issue, Grand Canyon Not Grand Highrises spent about $5,000 on mailings and payments to a public relations firm, all of which came from Vail's pocketbook, she said.
Campaign spending reports, however, weren’t available because Tusayan’s town clerk said he wasn’t able to find them. That’s despite a two-week old Daily Sun request for the reports that should have been filed by Jan. 15.
Though not directly related to the campaign, Vail's biggest dollar expenditure related to the ballot measure was $22,000 to cover attorneys fees. Those were associated with attempts to reinstate two petition signatures that elections officials initially deemed invalid. Vail had to collect at least 18 signatures to refer the building height issue to the ballot after the Tusayan Town Council voted to approve the increase.
However, the spending in November’s election was relatively minor compared with the money that poured into the community in 2010, when voters decided to incorporate. In that race, United for Tusayan, the pro-incorporation group, spent $642,000, much of it to defend legal challenges filed by opponents. Those fighting incorporation officially spent $85,000.
Incorporation has transferred jurisdiction over development from Coconino County, whose voters overturned a previous Stilo-backed project, to a pro-development town council.
This time around, both sides found it easy enough to reach out to Tusayan’s 262 registered voters without spending a lot of money, so they didn’t ask for more from others, Jacobs and Vail said. Much of the advocacy for and against the measure came in the form of people talking to friends and sending out emails, Jacobs said.
He said November’s election was “probably the most engaged I’ve seen the community in at least the last few years on any particular issue.”
It caught supporters of the building height increase by surprise that the topic became so controversial, he said.
“I would say the campaign was important in understanding how the residents of Tusayan feel about particular issues, building height limit being one,” Jacobs said. “From that perspective it was money well spent.”