Last edited: November 15, 2003

Arizona Legislative Dramatics

Mark R. Kerr, Tucson Weekly Observer & PlanetOut News Staff

February 9, 2000

SUMMARY: Right-wing bills stumble over progressive amendments and efforts to block local domestic partner benefits and repeal archaic "blue laws" stall in committee.

Openly gay Arizona state Representative Steve May (R-Phoenix) was going to offer an amendment to HB 2585 when it came before the House Committee of the Whole (COW), February 8; the bill sponsored by state Representative Karen Johnson (R-Mesa) would have required the teaching of "creationism" alongside the teaching of "evolution" in the science classes across Arizona. May's amendment was the same language found in HB 2665, a bill which would allow teachers and educators to discuss AIDS and its causes with students, without any limits on what they could say; it would repeal the current state policy of censoring what can be discussed in the classroom about HIV.

"if Karen Johnson wants accuracy in the teaching of evolution in the classroom," May commented, "there should be accuracy in the teaching about HIV education in the classroom as well." On the floor of the House, May waited for the right moment to "drop" his amendment on Johnson's bill. He waited, and waited, but HB 2585 never came up for consideration. It was held by the House Speaker, Representative Jeff Groscost (R-Mesa).

May wasn't through for the day, however. Another of Johnson's bills, HB 2587 dealing with sexual conduct, was on the COW calendar February 8 as well. The Phoenix representative was going to attach an amendment, repealing the state's ignored, but still valid "archaic laws," including the ban on sodomy. His amendment was the same language as its Senate version, SB 1471. Again May waited to "drop" this amendment, but the bill was never heard. The House Speaker had struck again.

But killing bad legislation by the radical right by threat of progressive amendments was just part of a busy time in the Arizona egislature for gays and lesbians. The Senate Government and Environmental Stewardship (GES) Committee, on February 7, heard SB 1438. Sponsored by state Senator David Petersen (R-Mesa), SB 1438 would have made the extension of medical benefits to the domestic partners of government employees a thing of the past by:

Defining who can receive medical benefits. SB 1438 states that only the "spouses of" and legal dependents of employees could get benefits without question. Under Arizona statutes, a spouse is defined an individual in a marriage recognized by the state -- a heterosexual marriage.

Requiring a vote by the respective governmental body. In Petersen's bill, "provisions of insurance coverage to persons other than employees shall be authorized only on a majority vote of the governing body of the city or town." With the flurry of legislation being considered, this provision could have been easily amended to require a vote of the people. (Representative Johnson attempted this last year, with her two bills aimed at dismantling the City of Tucson and the Pima County Board of Supervisors decisions to extend medical benefits. Both bills were defeated.)

Prohibiting the "Department of Administration (state government) from providing benefits to persons other than the officers and employees and their spouses and their legal dependents."

During the committee hearing, state Senator Elaine Richardson (D-Tucson) confronted Petersen on his bill. Richardson asked the Mesa Republican where the bill came from. Petersen replied "himself only." She then commented that Petersen "was trying to punish those government entities," such as the cities of Tucson and Tempe, and the Pima County government, because "he didn't like the fact that domestic partners were getting benefits."

Richardson called Peterson's action "a total preemption of Pima County and Tucson's ability to run their governments." Under the Arizona constitution, cities and towns that have a charter, as do Tucson and Tempe, can enact laws. In 1998, the courts ruled that the Pima County Board of Supervisors was within their legal authority to extend benefits to the domestic partners of their employees.

Peterson's bill failed in the Senate GES Committee by a 4-4 vote. Senator Marc Spitzer (R-Phoenix) left the meeting before the vote.

Kathie Gummerie, co-chair of the Arizona Human Rights Fund (AHRF), said her organization "is glad that SB 1438 did not get to the Senate floor. ... It's a discriminatory action that would have had the state running the affairs of the cities and towns in Arizona."

SB 1438 was also assigned to the Senate Financial Institutions and Retirement Committee, but wasn't on the schedule to be heard this week. With the deadline for Senate bills to be heard before committees passing this week, this measure is dead in its current form, but could come back as an amendment on another bill. Sources stated that is very likely for this contentious issue.

Meanwhile, SB 1471, the Senate version of the measure to repeal the state's archaic "blue laws" that Representative May planned to add as an amendment to a House sexual conduct bill, was heard before the Senate Judiciary Committee February 8. In a packed hearing room, Senators heard testimony from proponents of repealing the archaic laws, including gays, lesbians and a large contingent of senior citizens. After the testimony, the Judiciary Committee approved SB 1471 by a 6-2 vote.

May was pleased that the bill was approved and heard before the Senate Judiciary Committee, since previous attempts had to be moved through the legislature through amending other legislation. However the future of the legislation is questionable. SB 1471 was also assigned to the Senate Family Services Committee, chaired by the aforementioned state Senator Petersen, who refused to hear the bill. Proponents lobbied the Senate leadership to get the bill pulled from the Family Services Committee so it could proceed to the Senate Rules Committee, the next step for any legislation in the upper chamber. The Republican leadership refused to budge on this, however, and SB 1471 was dead in this form for the session.

"We're very disappointed and hope this issue can be revived during the remainder of this legislative session," AHRF's Gummerie said.

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