Dog Days at the Capitol

The Arizona Legislature has been widely criticized for not getting much done this session on important issues. Lawmakers have been meeting since January, seemingly with little positive result. What, people ask, are they doing down there?

The best way to follow the action at the state house is by reading the Arizona Capitol Times, a droll weekly tabloid that circulates among what passes for the state's cognoscenti. Among its other functions, the Capitol Times tracks each of the more than 1,200 bills introduced this session on two big pages of agate type. The potential laws are listed by bill number, of course, and a sometimes-cute descriptive title accompanies each one. Check marks to the side show each bill's progress. Everybody knows how legislators are doing on bills carrying titles like "Martin Luther King," "Corrections," and "Transportation." Not everyone knows how they're doing on bills called "Golf Car Smog Exemption," "Legislator License Plate," "Dog in Vehicle," and "State Poet Laureate."

BASED ON A SHALLOW, unscientific skimming of small type in the Capitol Times, it seems that one of the more important topics this session has been golf. Several bills address aspects of the sport. Two bills seek to clarify laws that govern the game's most pleasurable elements, golf carts and beer. House Bill 2004 ("Golf Cart Smog Exemption") apparently is necessary because of an inconsistency between state and federal laws that govern emissions-equipment requirements on imported vehicles, according to Rick Griffeth, legislative liaison for the Motor Vehicle Division of the Department of Transportation. The bill seeks to exempt foreign-made golf carts from emissions-control requirements. Or something like that. Apparently even golf carts need to have titles if they're used on city streets, and foreign-made golf carts--even electric golf carts--currently need to comply with strict Environmental Protection Agency equipment rules.

Co-sponsor Patti Noland, a Republican from Tucson, says the bill was introduced at the request of constituents in Green Valley, a retirement community south of Tucson where "people use golf carts to go to the grocery store." Nobody in Green Valley or anywhere else has been stopped from getting a title for their golf carts, Noland says, but it could happen. The bill has passed in the House and awaits action in the Senate, and though it sounds goofy, Noland says the bill hasn't been a difficult sell with her colleagues. "Once you kind of explain what's happening, they pretty much go along and vote for it," she says.

Senate Bill 1141, another links-linked potential law, hasn't fared so well. Senator Tony Gabaldon, a Flagstaff Democrat, got behind the "Golf Course Restaurant Liquor" bill for constituents who whack the little ball around at the Village of Oak Creek Golf Club in the Sedona area. Most golf courses have a No. 6 liquor license, which allows the sale of booze for on-site consumption plus carry-out. Some have a 12 and a 7, a combination which provides for both on-site sales plus six-packs to go. The Oak Creek club just has a No. 12, which restricts sales and consumption of liquor to within the four walls of the restaurant/clubhouse. Cans of cold beer are dispensed on most every golf layout in the world, even in communist countries. Technically, it is illegal for golfers to carry their beers out of the Oak Creek clubhouse or to buy it from roving carts out on course. This technicality makes for hot, dry and sometimes angry swingers.

"When it's 110 degrees, we get a lot of complaints about it," says Rusty Byrne, Oak Creek's head pro. Gabaldon's bill, which he says also was introduced last session and which immediately was buried in a committee this session, inserts a golf course exemption into the wording of the restaurant license law. The bill would make it technically okay for swingers in Oak Creek to swig chilly brew from tee to green. State liquor department officials opposed the bill because it clouded an area of law that the department will eventually seek to simplify. Someday in the indefinite future, golf courses may have a special kind of liquor license of their very own. Until then, the Oak Creek duffers apparently will stay dry.

(Important footnotes: 1) Enforcement of liquor law on golf courses is not much of a priority, says Hal Pershall, assistant superintendent of the state department of liquor control. "We haven't really taken any action that I know of," he says. 2) In Maricopa County, a No. 6 license--which is hard to come by, anyway--can cost as much as $25,000. The cost of a No. 12 is about $2,000.)

The most visible golf-related bill has the sponsorship support of a huge number (44) of prominent lawmakers, including House honcho Jane Hull and Senate solon Robert Usdane. HB 2124 ("Golf Tourney Tax Exemption") makes professional golf tournaments exempt from some taxes. The affected tournaments are the Phoenix and Tucson Opens (for men), and the Standard Register Turquoise Classic (a Phoenix tournament for women). Until recently, these tournaments, which are run by nonprofit civic-booster groups or charitable foundations, were considered exempt. But a change in leadership at the state Department of Revenue (DOR), which roughly coincided with additional funding for more auditors, changed all that.

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Dave Walker

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