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House: Force only even-year elections on cities

PHOENIX -- Claiming it will increase turnout, the Republican-controlled House voted Wednesday to set up a system that could force cities to move their local elections to even-numbered years.

HB 2604, crafted by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, does not automatically void the practice in several Arizona communities of having elections on their own schedule. Lawmakers tried that before, only to have that swatted down by the state Court of Appeals as unconstitutional.

Instead, the proposal by the Chandler Republican allows cities to keep their off-year elections -- but only if the difference in turnout is within 25 percent of what it was during either of the two most recent comparable statewide elections. If local turnout drops below that trigger, then local elections are declared illegal.

The 34-22 vote came over objections of Democrats, who argued the move is not only unnecessary but an infringement by state lawmakers on the rights of cities and their residents to decide what works best for them.

"People in cities want the freedom to have their own preferences,'' complained Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe. "I see no reason to hammer down on cities and refuse them their local control.''

Mesnard disputed that premise.

"I don't see how changing the timing of election to a time where more people are going to be showing up is the equivalent of strangling cities or placing a hammer on the cities,'' he said.

Anyway, Mesnard said, a city's loss of the right to set election dates will happen only if there is significant dropoff from turnout in even-numbered years.

Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, said he sees the issue in even simpler terms.

"Why wouldn't they want this?'' he asked. Weninger said when local elections in his home community were consolidated with other races "the amount of people showing up to vote skyrocketed.''

But Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, suggested that the claims of Republicans of wanting to boost voter turnout ring hollow. She said the Republican leadership refuses to even consider Democrat bills to make it easier for people to participate in elections.

One proposal that did not get a hearing would have allowed people to register to vote right up through election day.

Now, Salman said, the cutoff is 29 days before the election. She said that ended up locking out people in the 2016 presidential race who became energized during the last weeks of the campaign.

That change alone, she said, would mean higher voter participation for not just local races but also legislative, statewide and federal races.

One argument in favor of allowing cities to have their own, separate elections is that it helps ensure that local races and local ballot measures get the attention they deserve. In a consolidated election, those local issues end up near the bottom of the ballot, opening the possibility that some voters may just quit before getting that far.

But Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said that wasn't his experience when he was a member of a local school board, an election that already occurs at the same time as other state and federal races. He predicted the same would happen if city elections are consolidated into the same ballot.

"If you're worried about your trash, if you're worried about your streets getting swept, if you're worried about community events I have to believe that you're going to make your way and just have the strength to get to the bottom of the ballot and vote for city council members,'' Shope said.

Wednesday's vote sends the measure to the Senate.

But even if it is approved there and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, that does not necessarily end the matter. It still leaves the question of whether this version is any more constitutional than the one the Court of Appeals voided in 2014.

In that ruling, the judges decided that, at least when it comes to the state's 19 charter cities, they have a right to decide matters of strictly local concern. And the judges said that when and how cities run their elections fits within that category.


Local
CAMPAIGN 2018
Campaign 2018: Marijuana, dark money look to make ballot

 

Vying for attention with crowded state and local candidate ballots this November will be several ballot measures not related to education.

Marijuana

Five different marijuana and hemp-related measures are vying to get on the Arizona ballot in 2018, all of which would roll back current regulations on the cannabis plant.

The Safer Arizona Cannabis Legalization Act would legalize the possession, consumption, cultivation and sales of cannabis for adults 21 and up, decriminalize cannabis offenses and replace them with fines and misdemeanors, establish a sales tax on retail cannabis sales with revenues allocated to education and prevent the state from “conspiring with other governments to enforce cannabis prohibition laws.”

Another pair of initiatives call for the “100% complete legalization of all drugs” and the “100% complete legalization of marijuana.”

The Marijuana Dispensary Act includes provisions to establish a $10 fee for a medical marijuana card, add more medical conditions that would allow a person to get a medical marijuana card and make it possible for out-of-state cardholders to obtain medical marijuana from a licensed Arizona dispensary.

Lastly, the Hemp Freedom Act seeks to make it legal to plant, grow, harvest, possess, process, sell or buy industrial hemp in Arizona.

Dark money

The Stop Political Dirty Money Constitutional Amendment, chaired by former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, requires increased financial disclosures by people making major campaign expenditures in the state’s elections. The proposal states that any person who makes more than $10,000 in campaign expenditures during a two-year election cycle must disclose the original source of any major contributions that went toward that expenditure. A “major contribution” is defined as any chunk of money more than $2,500. The amendment states that it would “stop the practice of laundering political contributions through multiple intermediaries to hide the original source.” Rules to implement the amendment would be written and enforced by a non¬partisan commission.


Local
Panel backs road tax vote in all counties

PHOENIX -- With gas tax revenues lagging, state lawmakers are moving to allowing all 15 counties to levy their own sales taxes to fund critical road and transit needs.

SB 1147, approved by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, would specifically allow those counties that already have such a tax to seek voter approval for an extension. That is designed to help not only build or repair existing roads but build out the mass transit system that didn't get funded when the recession cut into existing tax revenues.

Potentially more significant, it would provide for the first time ever that same option to rural counties, which until now have been totally dependent on the money they get from the state to pave new roads, repair existing ones and, to the extent they want it, some form of mass transit.

Those funds are not keeping pace with needs, with the gasoline tax having remained at 18 cents a gallon since 1991. And state lawmakers, looking for cash during the recession, have diverted some of those dollars to fund the Highway Patrol.

Coconino County voters approved a 0.3 percent sales tax for road maintenance and repairs in 2014 that raises about $6 million to $7 million a year through 2024.

Wednesday's unanimous vote came over the objection of Aimee Rigler, lobbyist for the Arizona Free Enterprise Club.

She said it made no sense to allow counties to levy a tax for the next 20 years when no one knows how changes in technology will affect transportation needs. Rigler said it could result in tax dollars being spent on what could be "obsolete technology.''

But Rigler's larger objection was over the ability of supervisors in each county to come up with their own transit plan. She said the final decision on how to spend these dollars should remain with state lawmakers.

That suggestion annoyed Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, who chairs the committee.

"The oversight is in the counties,'' he said. "It's with the county supervisors and the people who live within that county.''

And Campbell said that when the issue goes to the ballot, the voters will get to see how the dollars would be spent and decide if they're willing to tax themselves for those programs.

"The plan is transparent,'' he told Rigler. "I don't understand your opposition.''

The legislation is being pushed by Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa.

He told lawmakers that the current half-cent levy imposed by Maricopa County voters on themselves in 2004 has resulted in "beautiful highways'' and a much improved transit system. Worsley said there have been similar benefits in Pima County, with Pinal County just getting started with its own regional transportation district.

"The rest of the state, the rural areas of the state, have been left out from this,'' he said. "And the roads show that.''

Worsley said that should be a concern not only to rural residents. He said there are many urban dwellers who spend their weekends at second homes and depend on decent roads to get them there.

Wednesday's unanimous committee approval does not mean there are no concerns.

Rep. Kevin Payne, R-Peoria, said he wants some assurance that when sales taxes are collected from throughout an entire county there is "equitable distribution'' of the dollars. Payne said he will oppose the measure when it goes next to the House Ways and Means Committee if that issue is not addressed.

For Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, the issue was more practical.

He pointed out that voters are likely to be asked in the next few years to extend the 0.6-cent sales tax that now funds education, a levy that will disappear in 2021 unless renewed. There also are suggestions to actually increase the tax going forward.

Cook worried that having two separate sales tax measures on the same ballot could result in one -- if not both -- of them being defeated.


Local
Families with firearms can take steps to keep their kids safe

SCOTTSDALE – Parents and their children sat in a classroom at the Scottsdale Gun Club, just past rows of rifles, ammo and novelty T-shirts, including one with a picture of a T-rex and the caption “Small Arms Dealer.”

Elementary school-age children fidgeted in their seats, next to mothers and fathers, listening to the instructor.

In a country where studies show an average of 19 children are killed or injured by a gun every day, these firearm-owning parents are intent on keeping family members safe.

On this recent Saturday, instructor Ryan Arnold provided tips and advice on how to introduce their children to shooting when they’re ready.

“A large percentage of the American family, American homes, do have firearms in them,” Arnold said. “Respecting the firearm, treating it safely, just like you do anything else in your house that could potentially be dangerous, that’s very important.”

Firearm deaths of Arizona children increased by 29 percent from 2015 to 2016, and 100 percent of those deaths are preventable, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Part of prevention is taking children to a professional to learn to shoot, Arnold said, no matter the parents’ experience level.

Elizabeth and Hagop Harutiunian took their 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter to the safety class in part, Hagop Harutiunian said, because he believes strongly in Second Amendment rights.

“People need to know a gun sitting on a table is not going to kill anybody,” Harutiunian said. “The person that picks it up and pulls the trigger, that’s the person that’s going to kill somebody. Not the gun.”

Still, Harutiunian said, the age limit for owning a gun should be raised to 21 from 18, and gun buyers should undergo more thorough background checks.

He also wants his children to stay away from the guns he keeps in the house.

“I want him to learn more about safety so he doesn’t touch my guns,” Harutiunian said of his son. “I want him to be calm, collected and be able to tell me, ‘Hey Dad, your gun’s laying in the middle of the coffee table’ or something.

“I want him to know what to do, and I think as much as I’m teaching him, I want him to learn more from the instructors because they know more than I do.”


Local
top story
Sex offender notification

Detectives with the Flagstaff Police Department would like to make the following sex offender notification:

— David Dwayne Dale, 61, is living at 4185 E. Huntington Dr. in Flagstaff. Dale was convicted in 2013 of sexual abuse. He also goes by the name Dizzle. He is not wanted by police at this time.

— Julian Earl Tohe, 45, is living at 4185 E. Huntington Dr. in Flagstaff. Dale was convicted in 2002 of indecent exposure and in 2013 of sexual abuse and attempted sexual assault. He is not wanted by police at this time.

Notification that Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders are living in the community is required by Arizona law. Resident abuse of this information to threaten, intimidate or harass sex offenders will not be tolerated by the police department.

If residents have information about current criminal activity by any offender, contact the police department at 774-1414.

For more information on sex offenders in the Flagstaff area, visit the Arizona Department of Public Safety sex offender Web site at www.azsexoffender.com.


Correction
Corrections

-The name of one of the candidates for Arizona Corporation Commission is Bill Mundell, not Bob Mundell. 

--Kevin Gibbons, a candidate for Secretary of State, is a Republican.