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Ninth woman speaks out against Yuma rep.

PHOENIX -- Another woman has come forward to the Arizona Capitol Times with details of being harassed by Rep. Don Shooter.

Tara Zika, director of business development at Ashton Tiffany LLC, a Phoenix-based insurance risk management firm, told the newspaper that the 65-year-old Yuma Republican made sexual comments and obscene gestures at her during the August meeting of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns. That brings the tally to nine individuals who have come forward with stories about Shooter.

According to the newspaper, Zika said she was standing with some other men when they waved her over to their table. She said she left after Shooter blew her a kiss and made a sexually suggestive comment about her legs.

Later at the conference, she alleges Shooter made a comment about wanting to have sex with her.

Zika told the paper she rolled her eyes and kept walking. But then, turning around to ensure Shooter was not following her to her hotel room, Zika said she saw him make a gesture to mimic oral sex on a woman.

At that point, she told the Capitol Times, she confronted him. Zika said he apologized but mocked her whenever he saw her, for the rest of the conference.

The newspaper quotes her as saying that the whole thing was "undermining and humiliating.''

According to the Capitol Times, Zika's boyfriend and another friend, neither of whom were identified, confirmed she told them about the incident shortly afterwards.

Shooter declined to comment about the latest allegations.

Matt Specht, spokesman for House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, said the investigative team his boss named last week to look into prior allegations against Shooter was unaware of the latest complaint until the newspaper publication.

"Given her public allegations, investigators will be reaching out to her soon,'' he said.

On Friday, Mesnard suspended Shooter from his position as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee as well as from any involvement in preparation of the estimated $10 billion spending plan for the coming budget year.

Since the first allegations, Shooter has hired new legal help. He told Capitol Media Services that Daniel Pasternak has a "more specialized'' practice than prior attorney Melissa Ho.

Pasternak said his sole role is to represent Shooter in the House proceedings.

"We've had some communications with people at the Legislature about how that investigation is going to be conducted and making sure that it's fair for all participants, both accuser and accused,'' he said. 

"But beyond that, we're not really going to comment,'' Pasternak said. "We're going to let the process play itself out.''

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has supported Shooter in prior campaigns, called last week for him to resign, calling the allegations "deeply disturbing.''

At last count the list of women who had made complaints about Shooter, either to the House or to reporters, included three current lawmakers, three lobbyists, an intern at the Capitol Times, and the publisher of the Arizona Republic.


Local
Marijuana permit fees criticized, ‘too high’

PHOENIX -- Calling the fees illegally high, an attorney for a nurses group is asking the Court of Appeals to force state health officials to slash what they charge medical marijuana users for the state-issued permit needed to buy the drug.

Sean Berberian said Monday that patients must pay $150 annually, which is far more than the state Department of Health Services needs to administer the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act--which allows people with certain medical conditions to use the drug. Berberian said that the 2010 voter-approved law makes it clear that the agency cannot simply bank the proceeds.

Berberian said this is more than an administrative bottleneck. He told Capitol Media Services that all the evidence suggests that both Gov. Doug Ducey and predecessor Jan Brewer have directed the agency to keep the fees as high as possible to deter patients from getting the drug.

The attorney also pointed out that the fees are a significant hardship for the people he represents.

The new legal filing comes six months after Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry rejected similar arguments.

She did not dispute the allegations that the state is collecting far more than it needs. But Gentry said it's not up to her to force the state to lower its costs.

Berberian said he hopes to prove to the Court of Appeals that her ruling is not legally sound.

What appears to be clear however, are the numbers.

Figures obtained by Capitol Media Services show the health department collected $24.9 million in fees from patients, caregivers, dispensary owners, and growers in the last fiscal year. The expenses in that same period were $11.2 million.

So far this budget year the data show revenues of $6.0 million against $2.8 million in expenses.

And as of Monday, health officials said the balance in the account is nearly $38.1 million, more than three times as much as needed to administer the program on an annual basis.

That, said Berberian, is illegal.

The 2010 law allows medical marijuana patients to purchase up to 2 1/2 ounces of the drug every two weeks from state-regulated dispensaries.

But sales can be made only to those with a state-issued medical marijuana ID card. And that card, which has to be renewed annually, costs $150.

Berberian said Lisa Becker, one of his clients, has suffered for years from a series of ailments. He said doctors gave her four different anti-nausea drugs and opiates to manage her pain.

What medical marijuana has done, he said, is calm her nausea, allowing her to eat solid food without vomiting. But he said that Becker, living on $1,100 a month, has had to either borrow money to pay the $150 annual fee or spend less on medications.

The other plaintiff is Yolanda Daniels who is caregiver for her granddaughter, Mercedes, who has epilepsy.

According to Berberian, the marijuana has reduced the child's seizures. But to get the drug she has to pay $350 a year -- $150 for her granddaughter's card and another $200 to be a state-licensed caregiver.

The voter-approved law says that the total amount of all fees "shall generate revenues sufficient to implement and administer this chapter,'' meaning the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.

"Instead, what the Department of Health Services has done is set a fee structure and refused to reexamine or revisit that fee structure when it's quite obvious that the fees they set are far beyond what is sufficient to implement and administer that chapter,'' he said.

Berberian is not alone in reaching that conclusion.

Will Humble, who was health director when the 2010 measure was approved, told Capitol Media Services he set the $150 fee based on anticipated start-up costs and an assumption that only about 25,000 people would qualify.

As it turned out, that estimate was far too low. The latest report shows more than 143,000 people are currently certified by the state to use the drug.

Berberian has his own theory.

"This is part and parcel of the state's ongoing effort to try to limit Arizonans from getting access to legal medical marijuana,'' he said. "At every turn, the state and our governor has tried to prevent Arizonans from getting access.''

There was no immediate response from the governor's office.


Local
Body recovered at Grand Canyon; May be missing Utah man

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. (AP) — Authorities say they've recovered a body within the Grand Canyon National Park and it's believed to be that of a Utah man missing since late last month.

Park Service officials announced Monday that a man's body was recovered below the South Rim between Pipe Creek and Mather Point.

Identification of the body will be handled by the Coconino County Medical Examiner's Office, which is also conducting an investigation into the death along with the National Park Service.

Park officials say 39-year-old Michael Legus, of Tooele, was reported missing by a friend on Oct. 31.

Legus reportedly was last seen at Mather Point.