The 2017 legislative session in Arizona has come and gone, but has left many wondering: What just happened? ACLU of Arizona Policy Director Will Gaona breaks down the good, the bad, and the ugly. The First Regular Session of Arizona’s 53rd Legislature opened on Monday, January 9 and adjourned sine die on Wednesday, May 10. In total, the Legislature passed 353 bills, 11 of which were vetoed by Gov. Ducey.

The Good

The Arizona State Legislature made a number of positive changes this session, especially in the area of criminal justice. Back in 2015, the ACLU filed a challenge to Arizona’s civil asset forfeiture laws, alleging that they violate Arizonans’ constitutional rights. Legislators took a meaningful step forward by passing HB 2477, which addresses some of the issues raised in the ACLU lawsuit. HB 2477 will require increased reporting from law enforcement, raise the burden of proof required for forfeitures, and eliminate attorney fee provisions of the current law that prevent people from challenging forfeitures. The bill was supported by a broad, bipartisan coalition, and received only a single “no” vote throughout the legislative process. In signing the bill, Gov. Ducey said it “strikes an appropriate balance between enabling law enforcement to do their jobs while upholding civil liberties.”

The Legislature also prioritized recidivism reduction, hoping to help people living with a criminal record as they re-enter society. Access to meaningful employment is important in reducing recidivism, so the Legislature passed HB 2290 to make sure that government-created licensing boards do not prevent people with a criminal record from finding good jobs. HB 2290 will allow people with criminal convictions, who under current law may be barred from receiving an occupational license necessary for employment, to receive an occupational license on a provisional basis, which will give them more opportunity to work. In addition, SB 1071 requires the Department of Corrections to maintain a system of graduated sanctions for people on community supervision. This system will make sure that people on community supervision aren’t sent back to prison for small violations. Both HB 2290 and SB 1071 were put forward by the ACLU and our allies.

The Bad

Unfortunately, the Legislature also passed a number of new laws that move Arizona in the wrong direction.

  • HB 2404 and HB 2244, backed by businesses upset about the increased minimum wage recently approved by voters, threaten Arizonans’ right to legislate through the initiative process. This right is enshrined in Arizona’s constitution, and there is an effort underway to refer these new laws to Arizona voters in the hope that the voting public will denounce them.
  • SB 1431 expands Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (voucher) program, which allows taxpayer money to be diverted from the public school system and spent at private, religious schools.
  • SB 1406 will make it more difficult for people with disabilities to enforce their civil rights and will disincentive businesses from complying with the Arizonans with Disabilities Act. Advocates for the rights of people with disabilities put forward better solutions to protect businesses from serial litigators without threatening civil rights, but the Legislature rejected these suggestions.
  • SB 1367 created new regulations and requirements for a fetus that is “born alive” after an attempted abortion. Abortions specified in the bill take place almost exclusively when there is a lethal fetal condition or abnormality, and the bill will make it more difficult for doctors to provide this type of care.

The Ugly

There were a number of bills proposed that were too extreme for the Legislature.

  • SB 1142 would have expanded the definition of “riot” and classified it as a racketeering offense. Similar bills, aimed at chilling protest, have popped up around the country.  
  • SB 1279 would have required undocumented immigrants, when convicted of a crime, to serve longer prison sentences than U.S. citizens. The bill has been introduced three years in a row, and we have successfully defeated it every time.
  • HB 2121 doubled down on the failed policy of SB 1070, and would have required local law enforcement to engage in more immigration enforcement. Though the bill did not gain any traction early on, there was an attempt to revive it in light of Sheriff Penzone’s refusal to comply with ICE holds. The bill ultimately failed.
  • SB 1051 would have made it a crime to solicit money at a stoplight, further criminalizing panhandling, and free speech. This was perhaps the only bill this session to fail unanimously in committee. 

The chart below lists some of the more significant bills that the ACLU of Arizona tracked this session, and includes a brief description and the final status of each bill. Unless otherwise specified in the legislation, enactments this session will become effective on August 9, 2017.

Bill Description Result
Immigrants' Rights  
SB 1021  Restricts cities' ability to issue an identification card Failed
SB 1279 Requires undocumented immigrants convicted of a crime to serve their full sentence, which is not required of citizens and prohibits immigrants' participation in alternatives to incarceration Failed
HB 2086 Prevents cities from issuing an identification card Failed
HB 2121 Requires local law enforcement to engage in additional immigration enforcement Failed
Reproductive Rights  
SB 1367 Creates new regulation and requirements for when a fetus or embryo is "born alive," removing discretion from doctors Signed into law
Privacy and Technology  
SB 1162 Requres continuous monitoring of all electronic activity of registered sex offenders Failed
SB 1342 Defines warrant requirements for the use of Stingray cellphone tracking devices Signed into law
Disability Rights  
SB 1198 Makes it more difficult to file an Arizona Disability Act claim against a business of public accomodation Failed
SB 1406 Makes it more difficult to file an Arizona Disability Act claim against a business of public accomodation Signed into law
HB 2504 Makes it more difficult to file an Arizona Disability Act claim against a business of public accomodation Failed
Criminal Justice  
SB 1067  Reduces the number of people sent back to prisons on technical violations Failed
SB 1069 Allows a person to remove low-level felonies from their record Failed
SB 1071 Reduces the number of people sent back to prison on technical violations Signed into law
SB 1157 Simplifies the process for competency hearings in limited jurisdiction courts Signed into law
SB 1158 Gives judges discretion to mitigate fines and fees Failed
SB 1160 Allows judges to place restrictions on drivers' licenses instead of suspending them outright Failed
SB 1163 Allows courts to determine if a defendant presents too great a risk to public safety to be released on bail Failed
SB 1171 Reduces the percentage of a felony sentence that must be served Failed
SB 1187 Increases penalties for crimes committed due to the victim’s political beliefs  Failed
HB 2290 Allows a person with a criminal record to receive an occupational license on a provisional basis Signed into law
Free Speech  
SB 1051 Further criminalizes panhandling Failed
SB 1142 Expands the definition of "riot" and makes it a racketeering crime Failed
HB 2120 Restricts colleges and universities from teaching on social justice Failed
HB 2404 Makes it more difficult for citizens to gather signatures for ballot initiatives  Signed into law
HB 2244 Makes it easier to prevent an initiative from reaching the ballot Signed into law
LGBTQ Rights  
SB 1199 Makes it more difficult for a person to legally change their name Failed
HB 2294 Excludes gender confirmation surgery from AHCCCS coverage Failed
Church and State  
SB 1431 Expands Arizona’s ESA program, allowing taxpayer funds to support private, religious schools Signed into law