Legislature opens with plenty on its plate

Guns, budget are top issues; limits on gifts, texting ban also on agenda
2013-01-14T00:00:00Z Legislature opens with plenty on its plateHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
January 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - While guns and the budget are expected to be the main course for the state legislative session starting today, lawmakers have an extensive menu of side dishes likely to provoke debate.

One that has drawn much controversy, but not much action, in the past is whether Arizona motorists should be able to text while driving.

AAA Arizona has been at the forefront of pushing for changes, its lobbyists citing data showing someone who is texting is 23 times more likely to get into a crash than someone who is not similarly distracted.

But prior versions have fallen short amid arguments that lots of other things distract drivers, including eating breakfast on the way to work, putting on makeup and turning around to yell at the kids in the back seat. And since driving recklessly is already a violation of the law, they question the need for a special statute.

One possible area of compromise could be to make the texting ban apply only to new drivers, although a proposal to ban all cellphone use by teens failed to get out of the Legislature last year.

There also is likely to be a new push to further regulate what lawmakers can accept from lobbyists.

Arizona law generally precludes lawmakers from taking gifts from special interests. But there are many exceptions, including food, entertainment, travel and speaking fees.

And they can go to sporting events if every member of a clearly identified group is also invited. That could be the full Legislature or even just the members of the House Commerce Committee.

On top of that, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who investigated lawmakers who got free tickets to the Fiesta Bowl and other events, said reporting requirements are lax, and it's almost impossible to prosecute violators because it has to be shown they knowingly broke the law.

This isn't the first time the topic has come up, but lawmakers have thus far fended off calls to crack down on their own freebies.

Legislators also will consider whether to revamp the state sales tax system.

One issue involves the fact that each city can pretty much decide what is and is not taxable. And each can decide when to audit a business.

That has created heartburn for companies that may not be big enough to have enough staff to sift through all the various tax laws. The proposal from a gubernatorial task force would restrict some of what cities can do.

That same task force also wants to revamp the current law that has contractors paying no sales taxes when they buy materials, instead paying a percentage of the total price of a project, both parts and labor, when the job is finished. Instead, the task force recommends having the tax paid on materials at the time of purchase.

Other issues:

• Making permanent the temporary 5 percent pay boost given to state employees who are not covered by merit protection rules.

• Prohibiting motorists from installing special license plate covers designed to thwart photo enforcement of red lights and speeding.

• Imposing new signature hurdles or earlier filing deadlines for citizen initiatives.

• Requiring parents to promptly report missing children.

• Altering the way insurance companies pay their equivalent of income taxes.

• Providing more funds for the Independent Redistricting Commission for legal fees and a possible court order to redraw lines.

• Asking voters to repeal 2010 medical marijuana law.

• Easing the law that says elected officials cannot announce they are running for another office before the last year of their term.

• Deciding whether to place new restrictions on rules that can be enacted by homeowner associations.

On StarNet

To read more about local and state government and political news, go to to azstarnet.com/politics

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