STATE PARKS

Without dissent the Senate voted Wednesday to let the state Parks Department seek offers to operate some facilities without going through the normal bidding process.

SB 1349 is designed to expedite the process of seeing if some private group or local or tribal government would be willing to use its own funds to keep the parks open. Cuts in funding made by legislators already have resulted in the closure of two parks, with five more set to close March 29 and six others set to be shut June 3.

The bill now needs House approval.

ABORTION COVERAGE

Local governments would be precluded from including coverage for elective abortions in the insurance they provide their workers under the terms of legislation approved by the Senate on Wednesday on at 16-12 vote.

Backers of SB 1305 said it is simply an extension of existing laws which preclude public funds from being used to pay for a procedure that some people find objectionable. Sen. Linda Gray, R-Glendale, said nothing in the measure precludes a woman from terminating a pregnancy if she uses her own money.

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, called the legislation an "unnecessary intrusion into local government's autonomy to determine the kind of insurance coverage they should offer their employees."

The bill now goes to the House.

HUMAN EGG DONATIONS

The Senate voted 16-12 Wednesday to ban the sale of human eggs for anything other than in vitro fertilization.

SB 1306 also would require that doctors spell out certain risks associated with the drugs used to stimulate a woman's egg production as well as the surgical procedure to harvest them.

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, said the new requirements in the bill, which now needs House approval, are unnecessary and will reduce the availability of eggs to help infertile couples.

LAWMAKERS AS LOBBYISTS

A measure to let lawmakers become instant lobbyists on leaving the Legislature suffered at least a temporary setback on Wednesday.

On a 16-12 vote the Senate rejected the proposal by Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, to repeal a nearly two decade old law which forbids legislators from lobbying their former colleagues for at least a year after leaving office. Harper said it was a matter of "economic liberty."

But Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson, said it's "really important that this Legislature be able to show integrity in making decisions without the potential of going to work for anybody that's coming to ask for our vote."

Harper said he may use a procedural move to resurrect the measure.

YELLOW LIGHTS

For those of you who believe the yellow light means "floor it," the question of whether you can beat the red may soon come down to counting to three.

That's the number of seconds state lawmakers want to mandate that the light has to remain yellow before it turns red -- and before you can get an expensive ticket. Rep. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, said it will end what he believes is the practice in some communities of having a short cycle.

"It's to make money," Antenori said.

The objections from foes dealt less with the question of what's a proper length than the whole question of why legislators are making such laws. Rep. Tom Chabin, D-Flagstaff, said there are bigger issues to be resolved, including balancing a state budget.

"I am amazed that we have a $3.4 billion deficit and we are entertaining a bill because someone in Tucson got a ticket," he said.

LIGHT BULBS

So, how many lawmakers does it take to invite a lawsuit by the federal government over what kind of light bulbs are legal?

In this case, 33 -- the number of state representatives who voted Wednesday to ignore a congressional mandate to phase out the sale of incandescent bulbs.

That 33-27 vote gave final House approval to the proposal by Rep. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, to let Arizonans continue to manufacture and purchase the familiar bulbs with tungsten filaments after a ban that starts to take effect in four years. Antenori said it's none of the federal government's business to tell Arizonans what kind of bulbs they can purchase and use.

Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Tucson, suggested that the move makes no sense.

"We cannot preempt federal law," he said.

Benjamin Grumbles, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, already has poked fun at the measure. In a letter to the editor of The Arizona Republic, he cited the energy savings of the compact fluorescents that are likely to replace the incandescent bulbs as well as the reduction in greenhouse gases.

"Now's the time to be putting and keeping affordable and practical tools on the table rather than taking them off," Grumbles wrote. And he said that tilting at windmills -- and CFLs -- "can cost the Legislature and the citizens of the state a lot over the long run."

Technically speaking, the federal law does not ban incandescent bulbs. Instead, it requires all light bulbs to be 25 to 30 percent more efficient by 2014 than they are today; that rises to 70 percent by 2020.

But there is nothing commercially available today in an incandescent bulb that meets those standards.

CHURCH ZONING

Churches would get some special protections against local regulations under the terms of legislation approved Wednesday by the House.

HB 2596 is designed to stop cities from blocking churches from locating in certain neighborhoods. That's what happened in Yuma when officials denied a permit for a church that wanted to locate in an area the city wants to develop into an entertainment district.

A church would automatically preclude any restaurants or bars within 300 feet. Other cities looking at downtown redevelopment are facing similar issues.

Rep. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said all the bill does is ensure that churches get the same treatment as any other landowner. But Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, said the wording of the measure actually would give churches more power over where they want to be located than anyone else, regardless of the legitimate government interests involved.

Both Yuma legislators, Republican Russ Jones and Democrat Lynne Pancrazi, voted against the bill. Jones said the language of the legislation, which now goes to the Senate, is "vague and overreaching."

TEEN 'SEXTING'

Teens who send naked pictures of themselves by cell phones or e-mails could soon wind up in legal hot water.

On a 23-5 margin the Senate voted Wednesday to make it a crime for anyone younger than 18 to send images of nudity or sexual activity by a cell phone or computer. Violators would end up in juvenile court.

Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall said the practice of "sexting' already is illegal. In fact, she said, it's considered sexual exploitation of a minor, a felony, with violators required to register as sex offenders.

LaWall said SB 1266, which now goes to the Senate, gives prosecutors the opportunity to file less-serious charges.

The other alternative, she said, is to do nothing. And that, LaWall said, is not an option for what she said is becoming nearly epidemic among the young teen set, especially middle schoolers.

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, said she understands the legislation is designed to protect youngsters from more serious charges.

"But it does not do that,' she said. Nor does Lopez believe it discourages teens from sexting in the first place.

"It actually pushes more children into the juvenile justice system because of the punitive nature of it," Lopez said. She said a better alternative is educating teens about the practice.

LaWall said education is fine. But she said that the only way prosecutors can ensure that teens change their behavior is to file charges -- and file charges that are appropriate to the activity rather than seeking a felony conviction.

She said that doesn't necessarily mean a juvenile record. LaWall said that those accused of this kind of offense can be put into diversion programs where both teens and their parents learn that this kind of behavior is not acceptable.

WASTE TIRES

The House voted 34-26 Wednesday for a three-year experiment to fill three abandoned mine shafts with waste tires.

Rep. Nancy McLain, R-Bullhead City, said it makes sense to use scrap tires to make the thousands of unmarked mine shafts safe. She said there is no shortage of tires.

But Rep. Nancy Young Wright, D-Tucson, said using tires is a bad idea, as they decay over time and the chemicals can leach into the ground water. She also said there is a danger of the tires catching fire.

Rep. Bill Konopnicki, R-Safford, countered that limiting this experiment to three sites will give lawmakers a chance to see if the idea makes sense. And Rep. Ray Barnes, R-Phoenix, said the tires will be no more hazardous than they are now piled up at some sites where they can catch fire.

HB 2290 now goes to the Senate.

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