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5 bills attempting to modify Arizona's criminal justice system this session

Arizona's lawmakers have been busy this last week filing bills dealing with sex crimes, panhandling, and restoring gun rights.

PHOENIX — This year's legislative session is well underway and Arizona's lawmakers have begun making proposals for adjusting the state's criminal justice system. 

Lots of bills get introduced at the start of each legislative session and many end up going nowhere near the governor's desk.

But here are some pieces of legislation that are worth keeping an eye on as the session unfolds:

1. Prohibiting panhandling

The City of Glendale passed an ordinance last year prohibiting panhandling on medians and now a lawmaker has introduced a bill to introduce the ban on a statewide level. 

Senate Bill 1022 would prohibit a pedestrian from soliciting or begging while standing on a traffic median. Someone who violates this law at least three times could be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.

State Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, is sponsoring the legislation. This bill has been scheduled for a review on Jan. 18 before the Senate Committee on Public Safety and Border Security.

2. Gun rights for juvenile offenders

Anyone who's been convicted of a felony in Arizona can have their right to own a gun taken away. 

House Bill 2399 modifies the timeline for when juvenile offenders are eligible to have their rights restored. The legislation states that someone who was convicted of a dangerous felony as a delinquent can petition to have their gun rights restored after they turn 25 instead of waiting until they're 30.

The existing law states that juvenile offenders convicted of a non-dangerous felony must wait two years from the time they're discharged to file a petition for their gun rights. HB 2399 modifies the law's language by stating that offenders must wait to file a petition until they're discharged from a correctional facility, complete their probation, and complete any other court-ordered conditions.

Four Democrats and eight Republicans from both chambers are listed as sponsors of this bill. 

3. Police interference

Former Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill last year that prohibited bystanders from filming police officers up close. The law was later halted by the courts after the ACLU argued that it violated the constitutional rights of Arizonans.

But another bill has been introduced that attempts to set limitations on how citizens can interact with officers.

Senate Bill 1047 prohibits someone from getting within 20 feet of a "dangerous incident" if an officer has verbally told them to stay away. The bill defines dangerous as an incident involving an attempted act of violence or an interaction with an "agitated person."

Violating these rules could result in getting charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor, according to the bill.

SB 1047 clarifies that bystanders can still peacefully observe a dangerous incident as long as they don't interfere with an officer's actions.

State Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, is sponsoring this bill. 

4. Obligating priests to report confessions

Multiple types of professions in Arizona are legally obligated to report suspicions of child abuse to law enforcement or the Department of Child Safety.

House Bill 2454 would change when members of the clergy, Christian Science practitioners, and priests are required to report confessions of criminal behavior.

The existing law states that if a person confesses to abusing someone to a clergyman, then the clergyman doesn't have to report it unless they "determine that it is reasonable and necessary within the concepts of the religion."

The bill modifies the law by obligating clergymen to report an incriminating confession if they believe the confessor was still abusing someone or was going to commit abuse in the future. 

The Church of Latter-Day Saints has recently been subjected to litigation in Arizona after a victim of sexual abuse accused two Arizona bishops of not reporting abuse that was confessed to them by a church member.

Five Democrats in the House of Representatives are sponsoring this bill.

5. Compensation for sex assault victims

The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission already administers a fund that compensates victims of violent crimes. 

House Bill 2500 amends the fund to have it compensate women who become pregnant after they were sexually assaulted. The fund would pay for health care and economic expenses during the woman's pregnancy and for up to 12 months after the child is born. 

Republican Matt Gress is sponsoring the legislation.

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