The 54th Arizona legislature adjourned in the early hours of May 28, 2019 – let’s recap some of the most important bills that the ACLU of Arizona supported and spoke out against.
Our Smart Justice campaign has ambitious goals for criminal justice reform in Arizona and this year we made real progress towards comprehensive reform at the Legislature. Our main efforts this session were centered around HB 2270, a bill with bi-partisan support sponsored by Republican Walt Blackman. Arizona has the fourth highest incarceration rate in the country and spends over $1 billion a year on prisons. This money would be better spent on education and housing, not funding a poorly-run and inhumane prison system.
HB 2270 would have reduced Arizona’s incarceration rate and the amount of money Arizona spends on prisons by allowing nearly every person in prison to earn time off their sentence for working and exhibiting good behavior, like most other states. Unfortunately, despite hundreds of calls and emails from Arizonans expressing support and a coordinated lobbying effort that allowed formerly incarcerated people to share their stories directly with legislators, HB 2270 never received a hearing. Pressure from prosecutors and other reform opponents stalled major improvements to our criminal system.
Instead, a far less comprehensive bill, SB 1310, is headed to the Governor’s desk. SB 1310 only applies to people convicted only of certain drug possession offenses and requires them to go through a drug treatment program to obtain earned release credits. Because it is extraordinarily difficult to get into those programs, and most offenders convicted of these drug possession offenses have also been convicted of other crimes, this bill will help far fewer people than HB 2270.
However, we remain optimistic that the bipartisan coalition we formed this session with legislators, community groups, formerly incarcerated people, family members of people in prison, and the public, will achieve significant reforms to Arizona’s justice system in the years to come. Together, we will reduce the prison population and the amount of money Arizona wastes on its bloated prison system.
There was some good news. Thanks to our work and our partners’ efforts, SB 1334 is headed to the Governor’s desk. SB 1334 will stop prosecutors from using what’s known as the “repetitive offender” law to give longer criminal sentences to people who’ve never been convicted of a crime before.
On the education front, the ACLU of Arizona’s Demand to Learn campaign was successful in combatting two bills that would have had severe and long-standing consequences for students.
In this era of “school choice,” many Arizona schools are choosing which students they want in their classrooms. SB 1149 would have intensified this trend by allowing schools to deny enrollment to any student serving a suspension or in the process of being suspended.
The overreliance on out-of-school suspensions already keeps far too many students out of the classroom. SB 1149 would have resulted more missed instruction time and increased the likelihood of students dropping out, which leads to a greater chance of interacting with the criminal justice system.
We asked our supporters to contact their legislators and urge them to reject this terrible bill and it worked! Over 540 people contacted their representatives over two days and SB 1149 never made it out of the House Judiciary Committee.
School safety is an issue that many lawmakers across the country are trying to tackle. But SB 1148 was not the solution to keeping our children safe in the classroom. SB 1148 proposed the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center (ACTIC) implement and manage a school hotline program. Under SB 1148, a person could call and anonymously report any suspected crime committed on a school campus. We know that around the country, most calls to school safety hotlines concern harassment, bullying, and suicide. ACTIC is not equipped to handle the issues that schools face, which are often sensitive and do not require a law enforcement response. By allowing ACTIC to lead the hotline program, SB 1148 would have bypassed the expertise of people and organizations better versed in dealing with adolescent behavior.
We talked to legislators and stakeholders to highlight that a positive school climate is more effective at keeping schools safe than the presence of law enforcement. SB 1148 never had a hearing.
This session also saw continued attacks on our voting rights. HB 2616 would have criminalized efforts aimed at registering citizens to vote by imposing fines and making it a misdemeanor for a volunteer to turn in a voter registration form 10 days after the form was received. HB 2616 would have discouraged volunteers from helping others register to vote and decreased overall voter participation.
SB 1046 would’ve prohibited voters on the Permanent Early Voter List from returning their ballot via any method other than mail. If PEVL voters did not mail in their ballots, they would have to cast a provisional ballot on Election Day – greatly increasing wait times and burdening the right to vote.
Lastly, SB 1188 would have made the Permanent Early Voter List much less permanent by kicking off PEVL any voter who failed to vote using an early ballot in two consecutive primary or general elections for any legislative, statewide or federal race. By our estimates, over 200,000 voters would have been at risk of being immediately removed from PEVL if SB 1188 became law. This bill was so egregious that several county recorder officials spoke out against it.
We joined other organizations, like Indivisible, Arizona Advocacy Network, LUCHA, and the League of Women Voters, to fight back against these egregious attacks on our voting rights. All three of these bills were eventually defeated.
Arizona was one of the few states left in the nation that still had a “No Promo Homo” law on the books. This law prevented people who teach sex education from talking about same-sex intimacy. “No Promo Homo” was designed to make lesbian, gay and bisexual students feel ashamed and it inhibited complete and fact-based HIV/AIDS instruction. The House of Representatives voted to repeal this discriminatory law. The repeal then earned bipartisan support in the Senate and was signed by Gov. Ducey.
Finally, in the eleventh hour, members of Legislature tried to give over $7 million of taxpayer money to “crisis pregnancy centers.” These fake clinics are often run by anti-choice groups and provide false and misleading information to dissuade pregnant women from abortion. This was an attack on women’s reproductive freedom, so we sprang into action. Over 600 people contacted their senator urging them to reject this bill and SB 1547 did not make it past the Senate floor.
The ACLU of Arizona wants to give a huge thank you to all the volunteers, donors, community groups, impacted people and legislators who worked with us to fight for civil rights and civil liberties in Arizona. Together, we can make Arizona a more equitable and just place for every person.
See you next session!