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House committee OKs bill to make charities liable for refugee crimes

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PHOENIX — Unable to block the Obama administration from sending refugees here, state lawmakers are now erecting a new roadblock.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 4-2 to make any charity that helps resettle refugees from certain countries financially liable for any crimes they commit within the first five years they are here. And to back that up, the charities would have to obtain $25 million in liability insurance or face civil fines of up to $1,000 a day for each of the refugees it has resettled in the past five years.

SB 1452, crafted by state Sen. Judy Burges, R-Sun City West, is very specific, targeting only refugees who are from “high-risk” countries. And that is defined in a way to include many countries from the Middle East that have been a source of new Arizona residents.

Ron Johnson, who lobbies for Arizona Catholic Charities, said this would be the first such law like this in the country. He questioned both its necessity and its legality.

The move comes several months after Gov. Doug Ducey asked the federal government to halt refugee resettlement into Arizona. Ducey cited a provision of a federal law that entitles him to “immediate consultation by federal authorities” of plans to resettle any refugees in the state. And he demanded the federal government “take into account the concerns and recommendations of the state of Arizona as they are required to under federal law, in our efforts to keep our homeland safe.”

But what Ducey got was a conference call between federal officials and various governors detailing their screening efforts.

Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, has separate legislation to preclude state local officials and agencies from cooperating with the federal government to place refugees here unless that person has undergone a “thorough criminal history, terrorism and health background check and has been approved for placement by this state.”

Burges, like Thorpe, acknowledged the state cannot block refugees. But she said her legislation would at least ensure that taxpayers are protected if any of them commit crimes.

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said the measure makes sense.

“People who come through here on a regular path legally take years,” he said. “When you talk about refugees, there is a different path,” Farnsworth continued. “They are not fully vetted.”

Johnson disagreed.

“It takes years,” he said of the process. And Johnson said it is wrong to hold charities, which may help a family for six months, financially responsible for five years.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia


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