PHOENIX — Got one of those plastic covers on your license plate to thwart photo radar?
Get out your screwdriver. As of Wednesday, Aug. 9, they’re going to be illegal.
It’s one of several hundred new laws that kick in that day, the fruits of this year’s 122-day legislative session.
Others range from expanding who can teach in Arizona classrooms, to when police need warrants to track cell phones, to exactly how much of someone’s foot a podiatrist can amputate. For the record, it’s a toe — not the whole foot.
There also are some odd new statutes including one that specifically allows counties to put up signs that say “Enter or proceed with caution. Use at your own risk. This surface is not maintained by the county.”
The new laws, in general, fall into several areas.
Law and order
The measure on license plate covers culminates years of efforts by Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson.
Farley did not present it as a method of helping police catch more speeding motorists with photo radar, a technology that has proven unpopular with many lawmakers. Instead, he sold it as a law-and-order measure, saying that bad guys get away because police and witnesses to crimes can’t read the license plates of all vehicles.
Legislators also voted to curb the ability of police and prosecutors to seize property, requiring they prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that the items they want to confiscate were involved in criminal activity.
That’s not as stringent as required to gain a criminal conviction where a judge or jury must find someone is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
But it is more than required now, when a prosecutor can prove by a “preponderance of evidence” there’s a link between the property and a crime. That is basically a balancing test, meaning all a judge need find is that the evidence show it’s more likely than not there is a link.
The change is important because police and prosecutors can seize property without ever charging the owner with a crime, much less getting a conviction.
Other new laws include:
- Requiring police to get warrants when tracking the location of cellphones.
- Expanding the definition of “terrorism” to include acts intended to coerce civilians and “further the goals, desires, aims, public pronouncements, manifestos or political objectives of any terrorist organization.”
- Allowing for an enhanced sentence if the defendant acted because the victim was a peace officer, whether or not that officer was on duty.
- Requiring the Department of Corrections to provide notice to area residents when locating a correctional facility nearby.
- Allowing community notification of registered sex offenders to be done electronically.
It wouldn’t be a legislative session if lawmakers did not enact some measure under the banner of protecting Second Amendment rights.
The 2017 measure with the broadest implications doesn’t even mention firearms. Instead, it bars state and local governments from mandating that anyone who sells any property must get a background check on the buyer.
The effect, though, would be to preclude Arizona or local governments from closing what’s been called the “gun-show loophole” in federal law, which says background checks are not required for sales by individuals, including at gun shows, no matter how many weapons they sell.
Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, derided contentions the measure is not about guns.
“No one is talking about background checks for refrigerator sales or microwave sales or dining room furniture sales,” he said during floor debate. “Let’s just be serious.”
Other bills include:
- Prohibiting local governments from telling employees or independent contractors they cannot have a weapon that is on their own property or in their own vehicle.
- Barring any laws saying the only guns that can be sold are those thart are “smart” and can fire only if held by an authorized person.
- Carving out an an exception from laws that require $600,000 in reserves for insurers who offer prepaid legal services: It is now $50,000 — but only for those who specialize in lawful use of firearms.
Lawmakers adopted several measures that could have sweeping impact.
One of the biggest would expand eligibility for who can get a voucher of public funds to attend private or parochial schools.
Started in 2011, what are formally known as “education scholarship accounts” were designed for students with special needs. But proponents have incrementally expanded it to where it now also includes foster children, reservation residents and children attending schools rated D and F.
The new law removes all those conditions. But backers had to agree on a cap of enrollment of 30,000 by 2023.
Whether it becomes law, however, is another question.
Foes have until close of business Tuesday to submit at least 75,321 valid signatures on referendum petitions. If they’re successful, the law would remain on “hold” until November 2018, when voters would get the last word on whether to ratify or veto the change.
Other education bills include:
- Easing requirements for people from other states to be able to teach in Arizona and allowing local school districts to decide whom to certify as teachers through a “classroom-based preparation program.”
- Imposing new requirements on school districts to make new high school textbooks available for public review for at least 60 days.
- Allowing children at public schools and children’s camps to use sunscreen with a note or prescription from a doctor.
- Requiring schools to report on suspensions and expulsions involving illegal substances.
Health and welfare
Arizona now will have what may be the most comprehensive requirements in the country on what doctors have to do if a baby is born alive during an abortion.
Until now the law has said if there is a live birth, it is the duty of doctors in attendance to see that “all available means and medical skills are used to preserve and maintain the life of such fetus or embryo.”
The new law provides the first-ever definition in Arizona of “delivered alive.” That covers any fetus or embryo, no matter how premature, who shows breathing, a heartbeat, umbilical cord pulsation or “definite movement of voluntary muscles.”
At that point, medical professionals must do everything possible to keep the baby alive. A separate provision says any clinic that does abortions on women beyond the 20th week of pregnancy must have someone available with neonatal skills to care for the child if born alive.
Separately, lawmakers agreed to restore the two-year lifetime limit on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families the state had previously cut in half. But they added some new restrictions that will prevent everyone from being eligible for that second year.
Lawmakers also approved:
- Expanding existing laws designed to protect health-care providers and institutions against discrimination for refusing to facilitate in someone ending his or her own life.
- Repealing a requirement for fingerprints for welfare and food stamp recipients after it was determined the cost to administer it exceeded any fraud that was prevented.
- Requiring the Department of Economic Security to post information online about those who have not made child support payments in at least 12 months.
- Permitting judges to create exemptions from laws that suspend the driver’s license of those who are in arrears on child support, a move designed to ensure they keep their jobs and can start making payments.
Lawmakers moved on two fronts to impose new hurdles on the ability of individuals to propose and enact their own laws through initiatives.
Until now judges have said that initiatives can be on the ballot if they are in “substantial compliance” with election laws. HB 2244 says there has to be “strict compliance,” disqualifying petition drives for what could be minor violations.
A judge is set to decide Monday whether the change is unconstitutional. But that is unlikely to be the last word, as an appeal is expected.
Another new restriction eliminates the ability of groups hoping to put measures on the ballot to pay circulators based on the number of signatures they gather.
But this measure is subject to a referendum campaign, with opponents hoping to get enough signatures by the end of the day Tuesday to give voters the last word.
Other ways election laws are being changed:
- Stipulating that envelopes used for early ballots have to be designed so no one can see through them.
- Making it illegal to vote in more than one state in elections featuring federal offices that are held on the same day.
- Allowing voters to opt to get the legally required publicity pamphlet about issues on the election ballot by email rather than snail mail.
- Imposing new requirements for meetings and voting by homeowners’ associations.
Odds and ends
- Exempting those who break into a locked vehicle to rescue a child or pet in imminent danger from civil liability.
- Putting new limits on who can file lawsuits over issues of disability access.
- Barring people from calling themselves “art therapists” unless they are registered with the Art Therapy Credentials Board.
- Repealing limits on how much landlords can pay in “finder fees” to those who locate prospective tenants.
- Enacting new regulations on intrastate movers, including prohibition against refusing to deliver goods, while asking for a higher fee, if the customer pays the price agreed upon before the move.
- Imposing new limits on the ability of counties to regulate home-based businesses regarding things like traffic, parking and delivery.
- Increasing the number of licenses to sell beer and wine.