PHOENIX - State senators on Tuesday voted to give police new power to use against those who trespass on private property.
As approved 25-5, SB 1372 permits individuals to call law enforcement when someone is on their property. If the person does not leave, he or she can be arrested. The bill originally applied only to areas within 100 miles of the border, but that provision was removed in the face of questions about whether the geographic limit was legal and suggestions it was motivated by an anti-immigrant agenda.
"It is not an immigration bill," argued Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, its author. Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said the final language in the measure is simple "and ought not to be mischaracterized."
But Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, noted the original version permitted the arrest of anyone who did not have actual written permission to be on private property and the 100-mile provision.
"We kind of have an idea of the intent," Gallardo said, contending the only reason Griffin changed the measure is a Senate staff attorney concluded it would be illegal to enact a law that applied only in one geographic area of the state.
Griffin, in the floor debate, made it clear she thinks there's a particular problem in Southern Arizona, citing examples of problems in Bowie and Hereford, both near the border.
The legislation comes a year after the U.S. Supreme Court voided several provisions of a 2010 law aimed at giving police more power to deal with illegal immigrants.
Gallardo said he sees this as another attempt along the same lines as SB 1070.
"This is a common-sense public-safety measure designed to protect the public," Griffin argued.
There already are laws against trespassing on private property. But Griffin said these can be enforced by police only if an owner posts "no trespassing" signs or personally tells someone to leave.
SB 1372 allows the property owner to simply call police, who would then be the ones asking the person to leave or face arrest.
"This protects senior citizens, single mothers, other vulnerable people who would be putting themselves at risk if they have to ask potentially dangerous criminals to leave their property," Griffin said.
Gallardo acknowledged the latest version of the legislation no longer mentions the border. But he said the genesis of the measure makes its intent clear.
After the vote, Griffin said the original measure, approved by the Senate Committee on Government and Environment, had the 100-mile provision because she was "under a deadline" to draw up some language. She chairs that panel.
Anyway, Griffin said she is focused on the area close to the border because her legislative district, as well as her own property, is within that zone.
"I have had people on my property that I would not go out at night, either," she said. Asked if she believes those on her property had crossed the border illegally, Griffin said, "I don't know who they were."
Gallardo said even with statewide application, the measure is flawed. He said it could result in police being called simply because someone comes to a door to ask help or directions.