Grandstanding and pontificating are standard fare in the Arizona Legislature. Multiple hot topics — mask mandates, voter suppression, abortion, the border, child abuse, and others — have sparked lengthy debates.
This video is a follow-up to the one I made after my “no” vote on Rep. Leo Biasiucci’s mandatory sentencing bill for multiple levels of child abuse, HB2889, and the subsequent social media splash.
If we really want to help child sexual abuse victims, we should bring back Senator Paul Boyer’s bill from 2019 which lengthens the time period to report past abuse. Arizona is not soft on sentencing pedophiles, but it is soft on reporting child sexual abuse. Boyer educated us by telling us that Arizona had the most lenient laws in the country￼ for pedophiles. He said Arizona law “protected predators, not victims.” Adults who had been abused in the past had only 2 years after age 18 to report abuse as a child and identify abusers. Boyer’s original raised the age limit for past complaints from 20 to 30 and added a 1-2 year window for older people to report past abusers. After a long battle, a watered down version of Boyer’s bill passed in 2019. Let’s lengthen that window and go after the long-term pedophiles who are lurking in our churches, schools, youth organizations, sports teams and work. Former victims deserve their day in court.
Prison and sentencing reform have been major bipartisan issues in the Arizona House for the past few years. Although there has been much bipartisan effort and many bills proposed, pretty much everything was stopped at the committee level by former Legislators and Judiciary Chairs John Allen and Eddie Farnsworth.
Those two are both gone. Rep. Walt Blackman’s Criminal Justice Committee has passed several good bills on prison reform, sentencing reform, and prison oversight.￼ Several of them have passed the full house.
Unfortunately, the House is passing mandatory sentencing bills at the same time as we are advancing reform.￼ I was the only person who voted against HB2889.
Rep. Leo Biasiucci’s HB2889 is all about punishment. It ignores the fact that most people in prison were abused children. Focusing on punishment — while ignoring prevention, rehabilitation, and expansion of victims’ rights to report past abuse — won’t solve this problem. In fact, Senator Paul Boyer’s child abuse reporting bill from 2019 — which Republicans fought vehemently against — would do a lot more to catch chronic abusers who roam amongst us. Even after passing a watered down version of Boyer’s bill, Arizona law still severely restricts reporting past abuse and protects pedophiles, not victims. I fully support adoption of Boyer’s original bill which gave past abused children to age 30 to report past abuse.
The minimum wage in Arizona is $12 per hour. Arizona prisoners do a variety of jobs from manual labor to answering phones for the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), for which they are paid anywhere between 10 cents to $3 per hour. The ADOT Service Arizona call center workers are the highest paid prisoners, but $3 per hour is far less than minimum wage.
Why should prisoners be paid more? 1) Because many of the prisoners have families “on the outside” who depended upon support from that person “on the inside”. 2) Because the prison industrial complex and the state of Arizona not only pay substandard wages to prisoners, they nickel and dime them and their families with fees. Yes, people “on the inside” and people “on the outside” pay fees to Corporate America and to government(s). The problem is that most prisoners lived in poverty before they went to prison, and their families likely don’t have the financial float to sustain them without a wage-earner and pay fees to stay in contact with their loved one.
The State of Arizona eliminated the Parole Board back in 1993, when “tough on crime” and “truth in sentencing” were vogue. Add this to the fact that the Republican-controlled Legislature jumped enthusiastically into private prisons during the Tea Party Reign of Terror.
The Arizona House is moving at a snail’s pace this session. In fact, Senator David Bradley has quipped that the Senate should take a one-month vacation so the House can catch up.
According to the Chief Clerk, as of Friday, the end of the fifth week of session, 744 House bills were dropped. Forth-seven percent of the bills (349)– including the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)– have not been first read (the first step in the process). Only 50 bills (7%) have been third read (the final vote). We voted on about half of those 50 on Thursday afternoon. The coming week will be NUTS because it is the final week for the House to hear House bills and for the Senate to hear Senate bills. At this point, there are a lot of bipartisan bills on the cutting room floor in the Speaker’s office.
With a 29-31 (D-R) split in the House, Speaker Rusty Bowers has been extremely cautious about what bills get to the floor for debate and a vote. Except for tax conformity, nothing controversial has made it to a “third read” vote. The vast majority of the bills we have voted on thus far passed through committee unanimously and passed the floor unanimously (or with just a few dissenters from one side or the other). We have had lively debates on ideological bills in my committees– Regulatory Affairs, Ways and Means, and Health and Human Services– but those bills haven’t made it to the floor yet. For example, Republicans on the Regulatory Affairs Committee passed a sub-minimum wage for workers under 22 who are also full-time students. Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee passed two different an income tax breaks to the wealthiest Arizonans. Republicans on the Health and Human Services Committee passed a bill labeling pornography as a public health crisis. (What about gun violence as a public health crisis?)
What has been left unheard in committee or on the floor? Plenty.
Today, I met with two representatives from Americans for Prosperity about prison reform. We discussed HB2270, HB2245 and HB2363. The first two would reduce jail time for lower level, non-violent crimes. The third would offer a process of expungement of sentence for lower level offenses. HB2363 would not provide restoration of rights, but Americans for Prosperity said that they were in favor of restoration of rights. They said worked on the Florida bill which passed recently. We were on such a roll of agreement that I told them about my ideas for preemie prevention and improved maternal and child health.