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Gun safety advocates push lawmakers, Ducey on bills

PHOENIX -- Saying students are trying to save their own lives, a Mountain View High School junior said Monday he is helping organize a walkout Wednesday to get the attention of recalcitrant legislators who to date have yet to approve any meaningful limits on access to guns.

Jordan Harb said the walkout -- and Capitol rally for students already on break -- will feature 17 minutes of silence, one for each of the students killed at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Fla. But Harb, speaking at a press conference Monday, said the other purpose is "to tell our legislators that we want our lives taken into account.''

Harb's comments came as others at the Monday event on the Capitol lawn made their own proposals for the kinds of changes in law that they believe would reduce gun violence. These include universal background checks on buyers, prohibiting those charged with domestic violence from having weapons, and allowing a judge to issue a "mental health injunction'' to remove firearms from those who are found to pose "a significant danger of personal injury to himself or another.''

But Harb said while he supports those moves, there's an even simpler way of helping to deal with the problem, one that doesn't get into the controversial area of who gets to have guns: more counselors.

"I know people who are going through terrible things and have thought about killing themselves,'' he said.

"And they can't get help at our school because our psychologist has 4,000 students to deal with,'' Harb said. "And it's not OK.''

Much of the frustration expressed at Monday's press conference centers on the fact that only one measure dealing with weapons got a hearing this year. And that was a bill to override rules by the Department of Child Safety that spell out that foster families cannot have loaded weapons in their homes.

That measure seems to have stalled in the wake of the latest outcry over gun violence. But other bills introduced by Democrats in the Republican-controlled Legislature have been unable to get even an airing.

Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, touted HB 2024 to require true universal background checks.

Under current law, a federally licensed firearm dealer can sell a weapon only after running that person's name through a federal database to see if there is a legal reason he or she cannot have a gun. But none of that applies in person-to-person sales, even if the seller is disposing of multiple weapons at a gun show.

In fact, Gov. Doug Ducey actually signed legislation just last year to prohibit any sort of background check on individual sales, including precluding cities from having their own requirements for checks when the gun show is being operated on city property.

Speaking with reporters later Monday, the governor said his administration is "taking a look at background checks,'' including how information about local violations end up in the national database.

"Our focus is on school safety and how we make our schools safer,'' Ducey said when meeting with reporters later in the day. "I'm looking to keep all the guns out of the hands of the individuals that should not have them.''

But Ducey gave no indication he is interested in closing what some call the "gun show loophole.''

"There are also federally registered gun dealers at gun shows that perform background checks,'' he said when asked about the issue.

That is true. And licensed dealers do have to perform background checks on their own sales.

But none of that affects the ability of anyone else to transfer a weapon without a check. In fact, the law Ducey signed specifically overruled a Tucson ordinance that said a licensed dealer had to perform a background check for those person-to-person sales.

The governor, however, said he sees background checks through a different lens.

"When a grandfather wants to pass a shotgun down to a grandson, we're not going to have ... private exchange background checks,'' Ducey said.

During the press conference, deputy Pima County Attorney Kathleen Mayer put in a word for HB 2140. It would permit a family member or law enforcement to go to court and get an injunction to take away weapons, at least temporarily, from someone who she said is suffering an "acute mental health crisis.'' Mayer said that had such a law been in effect in 2011, Jared Loughner might not have had access to a weapon he used to kill six people and seriously injure 13 others including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

"It is up to us to make sure that this bill does get a hearing,'' Mayer said. "We have to flood the phone lines, the emails of our legislators to actually stand up and do something.''

Daniel Hernandez, now a state legislator, recalled that he was just 20 at the time, "only two years older than many of the students at Parkland,” when he was working as an intern for Giffords and "had to hold the head of his boss as she was shot in the head.''

"I come as a school board member who served in the Sunnyside Unified School District when the Newtown (Conn.) shooting happened and we were told, 'This is it, this is the moment, this is when things will change,'' he said, recalling the 2012 incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 children and six educators were killed.

"And now I stand here today as a state representative saying enough is enough,'' Hernandez said. "We deserve better. Our kids deserve better.''

Ducey said he is listening to the concerns of various parties and is crafting some sort of package he believes will be acceptable. But the governor's record on the issue -- and his repeated claim to be a strong supporter of the Second Amendment -- leaves questions.

Aside from banning background checks on person-to-person sales, the governor also penned his approval to a measure that allows lawsuits against cities that enact their own gun laws beyond what the Legislature permits. Ducey also signed a law allowing gun owners to carry their weapons on public streets and sidewalks near and through college and university campuses.

Mayer said her boss, County Attorney Barbara LaWall, is "gratified'' the governor is finally reaching out to look for solutions.

"We should take heart in that, but don't ever give up,'' Mayer said, saying LaWall is "waiting to see'' what Ducey actually agrees to support.

Lawrence Robinson, the president-elect of the Arizona School Boards Association, said the failure of lawmakers to act, even in the wake of the Parkland shooting, has left students unprotected. He said in the two weeks following that incident there were 17 incidents in Arizona alone where a student was found bringing a gun onto a school campus, things he said could have led to "a copy-cat incident.''

"We're playing Russian roulette with our kids,'' Robinson said.

Testing for medical marijuana contaminants advances

PHOENIX -- State lawmakers are moving to ensure medical marijuana patients know what they are getting -- and getting what they paid for.

On a 7-1 vote the House Committee on Military, Veterans and Regulatory Affairs approved legislation Monday to require the Department of Agriculture to test what is being sold at state-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries. What the agency is looking for includes mold, disease-causing bacteria and "other harmful adulterants.''

SB 1420 also would require testing for other chemicals used in the growing of the plants or in the processing, whether into a product to be smoked or as a liquid, edible, vapor or tincture. In that case, however, the drug could still be sold as long as consumers are made aware.

And the legislation would require that whatever is sold be properly labeled, a requirement that would include the amount of both THC, the psychoactive element in the drug, as well as other beneficial chemicals like CBD oil.

Separately Monday, the full House voted 52-5 to make it illegal to sell medical marijuana or products that are in packages that are "attractive to minors.'' That includes the use of a cartoon, images of minors, or symbols or celebrities that are commonly marketed to minors.

That vote on HB 2064 came over the objections of Rep. Pamela Powers Hanley, D-Tucson, who said the language is "way too vague'' and would put a burden on small businesses that produce edibles and other marijuana products. And she said there are other solutions to the problem.

"If you don't want a child to get a THC-infused gummy bear, you keep it locked up,'' she said. That bill now goes to the Senate.

In testifying on the testing bill, Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, told colleagues that the state is long overdue in coming up with some safeguards.

Voters approved a measure in 2010 to allow those with certain medical conditions to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks from a dispensary. But Borrelli pointed out that no one is protecting consumers.

"It's pretty much the Wild West out there,'' he said. "To do nothing is not the answer.''

Borrelli specifically cited Eagle 20, designed to prevent fungus on plants which he said cannot legally be used on tobacco.

"Why? Because it's a heavy carcinogen,'' he said. "Well, there's nothing in federal statutes or federal regulations on marijuana to prohibit that type of product.''

All that, Borrelli said, leaves the state unable to restrict its use.

"But I think the patient has a right to know that what they're taking might be making them sicker,'' he said.

Kevin DeMenna, lobbying for the Arizona Dispensaries Association, said he agrees with what the bill does -- up to a point.

"It's a consumable product and it needs to be labeled,'' he told lawmakers. But DeMenna said it isn't that simple.

"There's mold in everything,'' he said, suggesting the unanswered question is what levels are acceptable -- and what levels are harmful. "I don't know what those are.''

Then there's the question of potency testing.

Hope Jones, chief scientific officer for C4, a Mesa cannabis testing firm who would be able to do the kind of testing for the Department of Agriculture, said patients need that information.

Jones said her lab gets called on by parents of children who are allowed to use medical marijuana but question why their youngsters are no longer responding to their medicine.

Normally, she said, it's in the form of a tincture that can be put beneath a child's tongue. And she said it's sold with a label that claims its concentration of CBD, a non-psychoactive compound derived from the marijuana plant.

In one case, Jones explained, she tested six bottles brought in.

"All but one we're completely negative,'' she said. "This parent paid nearly $1,000 for this medicine and it was a fraud.''

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, said he's never been a fan of legalized marijuana. And he said he believes that the medical program is being abused by those who simply want the drug for recreational purposes.

But Campbell also said that what's being sold today is "so much stronger'' than what was available in the 1960s. He said that's precisely why someone needs to be checking marijuana and marijuana products for the concentration of THC.

Jones, however, said anyone who needs marijuana for true medical purposes should probably not be smoking it.

"The purpose of having the concentrates and various concentrations is for proper dosing,'' she said. "It is very, very hard to dose accurately when you're consuming as a smoke.''

Borrelli said he expects the legislation, which already has been approved by the Senate, to be amended when it now goes to the full House.

Realtors want to block tax on services -- forever

PHOENIX -- The Arizona Association of Realtors is trying to forever block state lawmakers from expanding the state sales tax.

An initiative launched Friday proposes to constitutionally prohibit a sales tax from being imposed on services. Backers need at least 225,963 signatures by July 5 to put the issue on the November ballot.

With few minor exceptions, there is no such levy now. Instead, this would take that issue off the table even as lawmakers may have to look to expand the sales tax base, particularly as consumers move from purchasing tangible items to buying services online.

The campaign is being run under the banner of Protect Arizona Taxpayers. Wes Gullett, a campaign consultant, said the initiative will be "supported by small businesses that are concerned about a potential huge tax burden.''

But Gullett said that group is getting all its cash from Citizens for Fair Tax Policy. And reports filed with the Secretary of State's Office show the entire $1.1 million in that account comes from the Realtors Issues Mobilization Fund, an arm of the organization.

The Realtors are no strangers to this type of preemptive strike. A decade ago the group convinced voters to ban imposition of a real estate transfer tax.

Arizona did not have one at the time. But the group said the move was necessary to keep lawmakers, potentially looking for new sources of revenue, from deciding a transfer tax was appropriate.

That same logic is reflected in publicity materials already being released by the group.

Its web site says there was a measure introduced this legislative session to tax services, though that measure went nowhere. But it also mentions that North Carolina and Washington have imposed taxes on some sales.

"The threat is real because politicians share bad ideas, and sales tax on services is a bad idea for all Arizonans,'' the web site claims.

The group would provide only prepared statements.

"We pay plenty of taxes without adding new taxes on buying a home, cutting your hair, getting your car fixed or even taking your pet to the veterinarian'' said real estate agent Holly Mabery who chairs the effort. And James Emch, chief executive of Valley Child Care and Learning Centers, said that a service tax "would increase the cost of childcare adding an unfair burden on working families.''

The initiative came as a surprise to House Speaker J.D. Mesnard.

"I've not been looking at taxing services in any reform I've been working on this session,'' the Chandler Republican said. "I don't know of other efforts to go down that road, either.''

But Mesnard said that doesn't mean he will support constitutionally barring lawmakers from ever considering it, particularly as the economy changes.

"I certainly don't like having our hands tied,'' he said.

And the speaker said there is a political risk for the Realtors going forward now with a preemptive strike.

"I suppose there's a possibility that it fails,'' Mesnard said, essentially a message that voters have no problem with taxing services. "It could backfire a bit.''

Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, who has urged colleagues for years to review sales tax exemptions, said no one, including him, has ever urged taxes on things like child care and veterinary services. And he said if anyone wants a carve-out for specific items like this they should be considered and debated at the Capitol one at a time.

"Then the public gets to weigh in and lawmakers get to weigh in and we make a decision the way we do in a representative democracy in our Legislature,'' Farley said.

But he also lashed out at the Realtors for seeking to forever take a potential source of revenues off the table.

"Do they not need good roads, good fire and police protection, good schools to sell their houses?'' he asked.

"They're cutting off any ability of people to fund that stuff in the future as the economy changes,'' Farley continued. "Realtors used to support efforts to try to improve our communities instead of just try to take away any tools we have.''

There's a lot out there that's untapped if lawmakers find that people are buying fewer actual goods in favor of services. The Department of Revenue estimates that if all services were taxed it would bring in another $5 billion a year -- more than the current sales tax on products now provides for the $10.1 billion state budget.

Some is driven by technology.

For example, at one time someone who wanted a word processing program would go to a store and buy it on disks. Now there is an option to simply lease the service, with the actual program on a "cloud.''

Farley said it doesn't stop here, speculating that revenues from car sales could plummet as people instead choose to subscribe to a service that provides a vehicle on demand.

But other untapped -- and untaxed -- services range from doctor visits at $454 million and legal services at $185 million to travel agents at $70 million, beauty salons at $18 million and $2 million paid to diet and weight loss centers.

Former NAU student dies after being struck by car

A former NAU student was killed Sunday night while walking home from a downtown business, according to Flagstaff Police.

According to FPD, officers responded to call of a pedestrian struck by a vehicle around 10 p.m. Sunday near Cedar Avenue and Linda Vista Drive. The man was immediately transported to Flagstaff Medical Center where he later died of his injuries.

The man was apparently walking home from a downtown business. He was walking in one of the eastbound lanes of Cedar Avenue when he was struck. Officers talked with the driver of the vehicle who was not impaired. Officers are investigating the situation.

The pedestrian was identified as Christoper Larson, 21, a former Northern Arizona University student who was living in Flagstaff.