Brewer to decide on set of controversial bills

PHOENIX - Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer now has on her desk a series of bills, some so contentious the state Legislature turned a normal workday into a 16-hour affair on Wednesday.

The Legislature adjourned for the session around 1:45 a.m. Thursday, although legislators are likely to come back soon.

Brewer says she will call a special session to address the new child welfare agency that is being created. Brewer pulled the Child Protective Services agency from the Department of Economic Security in January after authorities discovered 6,600 child abuse and neglect cases that were not investigated between late 2009 and last November. The Legislature must still create and fund the agency through legislation.

But before all that happens, Brewer will have to take action on several bills approved in both chambers. She already has taken action on several contentious bills, including vetoes for two gun bills that would have allowed guns in government buildings and that would have punished cities and towns that enact gun ordinances stricter than the state's own laws. The top five bills awaiting action include:

-- House Bill 2262 exempts Uber and other rideshare companies from the same regulations that traditional taxi and limo companies have. The bill exempts rideshare companies from the commercial insurance requirement that affects traditional taxi, limo and livery companies by not requiring that drivers be insured at all times on the job. It also would not require that rideshare drivers take drug tests. It would require that Uber insure its drivers with $1 million policies, although Uber currently insures drivers with $1 million policies. But that is only from the time the driver accepts a pickup to the time the driver drops off the passenger.

That means a driver who is working on the road but has not yet received a request for a ride is not insured by the company unless the driver's personal insurance denies the claim, in which case Uber provides its contingent policy.

The bill is opposed by traditional taxi and limo companies and the insurance and banking industry, who say not requiring drivers be insured at all times poses a public safety risk. Brewer has also expressed concern over the bill.

--House Bill 2380 was the final bill approved by the Legislature in the early morning hours on Thursday. The bill would allow optometrists to prescribe some drugs.

Opponents of the bill called it dangerous at a news conference on Wednesday. Republicans Rep. Heather Carter of Cave Creek and Sen. Kelli Ward of Lake Havasu City said the bill allowing the non-physicians who examine patients for eye problems and glasses was rammed through the Legislature.

Supporters say optometrists are skilled medical professionals who need the authority to treat their patients.

Carter and Ward say they believe letting optometrists prescribe certain medications puts patients at risk because they don't have the training to properly monitor for adverse reactions.

--House bills 2624 and 2693 deal with the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who died in the Yarnell Hill Fire last year. The first bill, by Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, creates a memorial site honoring the firefighters. An allocation of $500,000 to pay for the memorial was included in the state budget. The bill also gives the firefighters' survivors the chance to buy the site themselves, and it creates a committee to oversee the memorial and administer the fund and any donations for the purchase. The committee would include relatives of the firefighters, state representatives and state parks board officials.

HB 2693 by House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, protects cities and towns from large insurance liabilities in the case of a disaster that results in the death or serious injury of a public safety employee.

Tobin said the bill would help cities like Prescott following the Yarnell Hill Fire deaths by distributing the cost of death and serious injury benefits among all members of the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System instead of keeping it within the city or town for which those killed in the line of duty work.

Tobin said it would protect Prescott from the approximate $5 million cost in death benefits to the families of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. All but one of the 20 Hotshots on the Prescott-based crew perished in the fire on June 30.

--Senate Bill 1344 had a rocky tenure in the Legislature, getting rejected by both chambers before being approved on reconsideration -- twice. The bill prevents the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission from investigating possible campaign contribution violations by candidates who don't participate in the program. Proponents say the commission doesn't have authority to investigate candidates who don't take public campaign funding.

The commissioners said they do have authority and announced last year they planned to begin doing so. The Citizens Clean Elections Act provides funding to candidates if they forgo private donations. The House added language changing independent

expenditure rules.

--House Bill 2313 would make human smugglers who are convicted of murder eligible for the death penalty by designating human smuggling as a serious offense. It adds to the list of aggravating circumstances whether it is likely that a defendant would commit another crime and that he or she is a threat to society. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Justin Pierce, R-Mesa.

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