Wave of Far-Right Legislation From Arizona Lawmakers Alarms Civil Rights Groups | Phoenix New Times

Arizona's Far-Right Lawmakers Push 'Culture War' Bills, Alarming Civil Rights Advocates

Republican lawmakers in Arizona want to make "Donald Trump Day" a state holiday, charge doctors with felonies for providing healthcare to trans youth, and spend hundreds of millions on border wall construction.
Arizona Sen. Wendy Rogers has already filed dozens of provocative bills.
Arizona Sen. Wendy Rogers has already filed dozens of provocative bills. Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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Felony charges for providing healthcare for transgender youth, a statewide “Donald J. Trump Day” holiday, hundreds of millions in funding for the U.S.-Mexico border wall — these are just a few bills that the Arizona legislature will be considering in the coming months.

And it’s only the first day of the legislative session.

The new session kicked off on Monday — but over the past few weeks, some emboldened GOP lawmakers have pre-filed a flurry of eye-popping legislation.

Some have proved prolific: Republican Senator Wendy Rogers has introduced more than two dozen bills for the legislative session, with “many more on the way,” she promised on Twitter recently. Rogers didn’t reply to Phoenix New Times' inquiries for this article.

Whether such legislation will successfully wind its way through House and Senate committees is more of an unknown.

Although Republicans hold a trifecta in Arizona — control of both chambers and the governor’s office — their majorities in both the House and the Senate are relatively slim. Furthermore, several fresh faces to the state legislature from both parties, after multiple departures since the last election cycle, adds another layer of uncertainty. In 2021, about 23% of bills introduced became law.

Regardless of their ultimate viability, some of the legislation has already begun to stoke concern.

“We’re seeing a lot of ‘culture war’ bills, a lot of bills that would impact the civil rights of Arizonans,” said Darrell Hill, the policy director with the Arizona branch of the ACLU. “And we’re worried.”

Many of these bills are preying on vulnerable groups — using them as “political fodder to bolster the chances of certain politicians,” Hill said.

In a statement to New Times, state senator and former House minority leader Rebecca Rios wrote that the last legislative session was "one of the most divisive and radical I have ever seen," due in large part to the tumult over the election audit.

"The current Arizona GOP have turned into extremists who care more about attacking democracy, attacking our teachers and schools, and working on bills like “Donald Trump Day," she said of some of the pre-filed legislation.

Of the more than 200 bills that were pre-filed for the 2022 legislative session by Arizona lawmakers, here are the most outlandish that New Times read:

SB 1033: Says that if an individual commits any crime during a protest, that crime must be charged more harshly.

Several bills authored by Senator Rogers, who represents the large swaths of Coconino, Gila, and Yavapai counties that make up Arizona's 6th legislative district, appear on this list, but SB 1033 is perhaps the one that takes the cake. It suggests several amendments to Arizona’s criminal code, most of which appeared to be inspired by the right-wing furor over the months of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

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Arizona Sen. Wendy Rogers has already filed dozens of provocative bills.
Gage Skidmore via Flickr

The bill directs that any crime “committed in furtherance of a riot or unlawful assembly” be charged, without exception, as a more serious offense by one grade — i.e., a class 6 felony must be charged as a class 5 felony.

Furthermore, any theft — or, in fact, breaking and entering with supposed intent to commit theft — that takes place during a protest would be classified as burglary in the first degree. That’s the most serious burglary charge in Arizona, which is currently reserved only for burglary charges with a deadly weapon or explosive. It carries a minimum seven-year prison sentence — and allows for up to 21 years.

“You can see how this will get really ridiculous,” Hill said, noting that according to the proposal, a conviction for a class 2 drug felony — possession with intent to sell, for instance — could result in a life prison sentence, which is typically reserved only for first- or second-degree murder charges. This, Hill said, he believed violated the First Amendment.

“It's a poorly drafted law and it's a poorly thought-out scheme,” he said. “It's really meant to chill people from participating in protest.”

HB 2011: Mandates written parental consent in order for students to join clubs related to gender or sexuality, such as Gay-Straight Alliance groups.

John Kavanaugh, State Senate President Pro Tem who represents Scottsdale and Fountain Hills, dreamed up a bill that would ban all public school students from participating in any club at all related to “sexuality, gender, or gender identity,” unless their parents or guardians provide the school with written permission.
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John Kavanaugh State Senate President Pro Tem, and represents Scottsdale and Fountain Hills
Courtesy Photo

The bill is clearly targeting GSAs (which typically stands for gay-straight alliance or gender-sexuality alliance) and similar student groups, which have long been important support networks for LGBTQ youth. A wealth of research has shown that these clubs, which are student-run and have existed in public schools for decades, have a positive impact on participants’ well-being and may even improve the overall school climate.

The bill also mandates that schools, upon request, provide the “formational documents” of the club to parents and notify parents that they have the ability to view such documents.

SB 1032: Diverts $700 million of public funds to border wall construction.

Another of Rogers’ bills would divert a towering $700 million from Arizona’s 2022 general fund to the state’s border security fund. The purpose? “To administer and manage the construction of a border fence.”

This would amount to more than 5 percent of the state’s entire general fund. It’s also about 13 times the amount that Governor Doug Ducey has already allocated to border security operations for the fiscal year.

HB 2032: Makes defacing any monument, memorial, or statue a felony.

Last year, amid controversy over civil rights protesters tearing down confederate statues, Kavanagh introduced a bill that would require felony charges for damage to statues or monuments. At the time, Kavanagh denied that his motives for the bill were connected to those high-profile cases, although many of his colleagues were unconvinced.

Kavanagh's original legislation stalled in the Senate. But it seems that Kavanagh is trying, once again, to preserve the fast-disappearing Confederate monuments in Arizona. His new bill is virtually identical to last year’s bill, HB 2552. It remains to be seen whether this attempt will prove more successful.

SB 1047: Schools could face thousands in civil penalties if they do not display American flags in every classroom and recite the pledge of allegiance.

It’s already law in Arizona that public schools must display a large American flag in each classroom and display, next to it, a copy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Schools must also set aside time to recite the National Anthem each day.

But SB 1047, again courtesy of Rogers, would cause schools to face thousands of dollars in fines for violations of any of those requirements. The Arizona Attorney General would be directed to collect up to $1,000 in civil penalties from schools — for every violation identified. Liberty and justice for all?

SB 1016: Prohibits pharmacies from using discretion in issuing prescriptions for off-label drugs.

Seemingly inspired by the craze over ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine — two drugs that, once hyped as possible treatments for COVID-19, are not authorized or proven to treat the disease — notorious anti-vax conspiracist Senator Kelly Townsend, representing Mesa, Apache Junction, and some towns in Pinal County, has introduced a bill that would prevent pharmacies from refusing to prescribe drugs for off-label use.

There are some vague limitations within the bill. The law would only take effect during a “public health state of emergency” and only apply to drugs that are “potentially life-saving,” with no clear way to define that quality.
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Republican State Senator Kelly Townsend
Arizona Legislature

But still, the intention does seem to be to prevent pharmacies from complying with basic health provisions. Just like how pharmacies have done in refusing to prescribe hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, given that it has some serious risks. And, as gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake recently proved, people have still found ways to get their hands on it.

SB 1045: Any health professional that provides gender-affirming care to trans youth could be charged with a felony.

This piece of legislation by Rogers has gained national attention — part of a wave of anti-trans legislation nationwide that advocates say they are tracking closely.

The bill would enact a blanket ban on gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth, including any use of puberty blockers, hormones, or surgeries, contrary to recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatricians, the American Psychiatric Association, and others. Under this ban, any medical professional who provided such treatment could be charged with a class four felony, which in Arizona can result in a prison sentence of up to four years.

The bill would also force school nurses, counselors, or teachers to disclose to parents if their child expresses that they were experiencing gender dysphoria, or were transgender.

On Monday, the advocacy group Equality Arizona, which advocates for LGBTQ rights, wrote in its preview of the legislative session that SB 1045 was a major concern. While it appeared unlikely that the “clumsy” legislation would make it to Ducey’s desk, the group noted, it was a potential omen of what’s to come.

“Simply by being introduced it contributes to a hostile climate for trans youth,” the group concluded, warning that it could inspire more “polished” versions.

SB 1042: “Donald J Trump Day”

Last, but not least, is Rogers’ play to make “President Donald J. Trump Day” an Arizona holiday, taking place each year on June 14. This appears to be inspired by a similar effort by Republican state lawmakers in Ohio last year, also on June 14 — which is the former president’s birthday.

“Why waste people’s time with that?” was Hill’s only comment on the matter.

Remember, next Monday when you get to put your feet up, that Arizona was only the 47th state to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and that only happened after the state lost a Super Bowl and millions of dollars from it.

Of course, Rogers has a Trump endorsement to preserve. It’s hard to view this — as well as most of these bills far-right lawmakers have introduced — as much more than political grandstanding as the primaries' fast approach.
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