Senate panel votes
to ban photo radar

PHOENIX — A Senate panel voted Wednesday to put cities out of the business of photo radar.

But the outright ban may not survive.

SB 1167 repeals laws that allow communities to use automated devices to catch speeders and those who run red lights.

Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, said she believes cities are using the devices to balance their budgets, creating a “perverse incentive” to issue more citations.

Ward said it’s even worse, with motorists who think they have enough time to make the light getting cited based on how long a city has set the yellow light to last.

The 5-1 vote by the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Military and Technology came despite testimony from city officials and police officers who said photo enforcement makes for safer roads.

Only Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, voted against the measure.

“I see both sides,” Contreras said. “But at the end of the day I put the safety of my public first.”

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said a compromise may be appropriate when the measure goes to the full Senate.

He said it probably makes sense to have cameras that catch people who run red lights, and speed cameras also should be allowed in school crossing zones where there is an absolute speed limit of 15 miles per hour.

But he said they should be banned elsewhere.

A compromise may be the only way of getting final legislative approval, as similar outright bans have failed in prior years.

Later school year start advances in House

Rejecting claims it’s none of their business, a House panel voted Wednesday to block public and charter schools from starting classes each year before Labor Day.

The 5-2 vote by the Education Committee for HB 2303 came after arguments by Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, that starting the year in August or before is good for neither children nor taxpayers.

He said the heat at that time of year is a safety and utility cost concern.

“I respect local control,” Farnsworth said. “I’m not trying to take that away in any sense other than in those very specific issues to deal with those very specific problems that we have.”

Amendment doubles terms to four years

The Senate Government Committee voted Wednesday to ask voters to double their terms in office, from two years to four, saying it will lead to better government.

SCR 1009, amending the Arizona Constitution, now goes to the full Senate. But the final word would rest with voters in 2016.

Supporters said not having to worry about running for office so often will let lawmakers focus more on the work that needs to be done.

Bill extends tax relief

to church-leased units

The state House gave preliminary approval Wednesday to giving churches that rent their meeting places the same tax breaks as congregations that own their buildings.

State law exempts churches from property taxes. But proponents of HB 2128 said many small or new congregations have to rent commercial space because they lack the resources to construct their own buildings.

Those buildings are assessed and taxed as commercial property.

This legislation extends the exemption to property, buildings and fixtures leased by a nonprofit church, religious assembly or religious institution if the property is “primarily used for religious worship.”

The bill includes a provision requiring the tax break is be passed on to the church in the form of lower rent, and not retained by the property owner.

Foes objected to the loss of tax revenues.

A final roll-call vote will send the measure to the Senate.

Bill would accept gold,

silver as legal tender

Calling it a “constitutionally protected right,” a House panel voted Wednesday to allow, but not require, the state and businesses here to accept gold and silver coins as legal tender.

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, said the problem with a system based solely on federal reserve notes is it is subject to inflation, decreasing the buying power of each dollar over time.

He said HB 2173 protects against that.

“When we have a fiat currency that is continually bouncing up and down relative to the price of oil and other market conditions, we are at risk,” he said.

The bill would also shield those who invest in the coins from taxes.

Right now gold and silver is treated like any other commodity or stock, so if someone buys at $500 and sells at $1,500, they have a capital gain of $1,000 which is taxable.

Federal taxes would not be affected, but SB 2173 specifies buying and selling such coins is not an investment under Arizona law, and therefore not subject to state capital gains taxes.

Rep. Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson, who pointed out that no one knows what the state might lose in tax revenues. But the measure was approved on a 5-2 vote by the House Committee on Federalism and States’ Rights.

A similar measure was approved by the Legislature in 2013, but vetoed.

Compiled by Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Service. Follow Fischer on Twitter at @azcapmedia.