PHOENIX — The Arizona Legislature is in session, and there are plenty of proposed laws that have caught our attention.
Here are some important and interesting bills you may want to keep track of.
Anti-distracted driving bill
Arizona has no statewide law against distracted driving, but that could change if SB 1165 passes.
The bill, proposed by state Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, would make the use of any handheld device behind the wheel illegal.
First-time violators could be fined up to $149, and any subsequent violation would earn a fine of up to $250.
Certain cities in Arizona have already passed their own bans on distracted driving, but the calls for a statewide law increased after Salt River Police Officer Clayton Townsend was hit and killed during a traffic stop by a driver accused of texting while driving.
The officer’s family has joined several state legislators in promoting the bill.
Republican state Sen. Paul Boyer is sponsoring a bill he says expands required vaccine information for parents.
SB 1115 (or HB 2471 in the House) would require health professionals who administer vaccines to provide the benefits and risks of each vaccine, the vaccine manufacturer's product insert and a list of ingredients in the vaccine from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Former director of the Arizona Department of Health Services Will Humble said parents already get two pages of information from pediatricians supplied by the CDC, so he isn't sure what problem this bill would solve.
But Arizona law already allows parents to opt out of vaccinating a child based on their personal beliefs.
In fact, public health officials are concerned this existing opt-out option has already put people at risk. Maricopa County vaccination rates for kindergartners have declined to a level below “herd immunity,” allowing diseases to spread more easily.
Gas tax increase?
Arizona drivers could pay a little more to fill up their gas tanks if HB 2536 passes.
The Arizona Department of Transportation collects the gasoline and diesel tax among other fees for highway construction and improvements.
Under the proposed law, the gas tax would increase in three increments from 18 cents to 28 cents per gallon in the first year, up to 38 cents in the second year and up to 43 cents per gallon by 2022.
There would also be fees that would increase over three years for car owners who would not normally be paying for gas.
Electric car owners would have to pay an annual fee of $130, which would increase to $175 in the second year and $198 in the third year.
Owners of hybrid vehicles would pay an annual fee of $52 the first year, then $70, then $80.
“Death with Dignity Act”
There are three bills in the Arizona Legislature that aim to allow terminally ill patients to choose to end their life with the aid of a physician.
SB 1193 (or HB 2408 in the House) and competing bill HB 2512 would allow terminally ill patients in Arizona who are able to make and communicate healthcare decisions on their own to make a request for a prescription for medication to end their lives.
Under the bills, a person qualifies as terminally ill if an incurable disease has been medically confirmed and will result in death within six months.
The process for obtaining life-ending medication would require both an oral and a written request.
The physician must wait at least 15 days after the initial oral request to write the prescription and at least 48 hours after the patient’s written request. The patient would need to reiterate the oral request after the 15-day waiting period.
At least two individuals in the presence of the patient must then sign and date the written request for a prescription, saying that the patient is capable of making such a decision and is acting voluntarily.
One of the witnesses must be unrelated to the patient, not entitled to any portion of the patient’s estate and unaffiliated with the healthcare facility where the patient is receiving treatment.
The patient would be able to rescind a request at any time. If the patient decides not to use the medication to end their life, any unused medication must be disposed using a collector authorized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Making diapers and feminine hygiene produces sales-tax free
A bill introduced by Republican state Sen. T.J. Shope proposes that the sales tax be waived for diapers and feminine hygiene products.
If HB 2153 passes, there would be no sales tax for diapers, tampons, sanitary napkins, menstrual cups and similar items through 2027.
Potential change to the helmet law
Currently in Arizona, it is legal to ride on a motorcycle or an ATV without a helmet if you are 18 or older.
But state Rep. Randall Friese introduced a bill that would require those who skip the helmet to pay a fee while registering their motorcycle or ATV.
A police officer would not be able to stop anyone who is at least 18 and not wearing a helmet unless the officer has reasonable cause to believe the rider violated another motor vehicle law, however.
The bill proposes a $500 fine for those who don’t wear a helmet without paying the fee. $200 of the fine would go to toward highway construction and improvements. The other $300 would go to the state trust fund created to help financially struggling families recover from head and spinal injuries from a motor vehicle accident and efforts to prevent such injuries.
Bill would allow state tribes to operate sports betting
State Sen. Sonny Borrelli introduced a bill that could bring Arizona one step closer to legalizing sports betting.
SB 1158 proposes that federally recognized tribes with tribal-state gaming compacts be allowed to operate sports betting in Arizona.
The bill would allow sports betting at casinos or through “kiosks or similar machines” at places with a bar license, a beer and wine bar license or a private club license.
Early voters wouldn’t be able to drop off their mail-in ballots
After Arizona’s messy midterm elections last November, Republican state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita has some measures in mind she says will streamline the process.
SB 1046 proposes that those on the permanent early voter list no longer be allowed to drop off their mail-in ballot at their polling place.
If the bill passes, early voters who forget to mail in their ballots would vote on a regular ballot at their polling location, not a provisional one.
In November’s midterm election, 200,000 Arizona voters dropped off their mail-in ballot at their polling place, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.
Ugenti-Rita said the dropped off ballots caused extreme delays in getting election results.
On the other hand, opponents to the bill like Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes said the move would negatively impact thousands of Arizona voters.
Aiding youth employment by lowering student wages
After Arizona voters approved a minimum wage increase, a bill introduced in the Arizona house would, in effect, lower the minimum wage for full-time college students.
HB 2523 would allow employers to pay the federal minimum wage to full-time students under 22 who work under 20 hours per week.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, while the minimum wage in Arizona is $11.
The bill aims “to prevent the curtailment of opportunities for youth employment.”
A peculiar proposal to fund a US-Mexico border wall
State Rep. Gail Griffin is proposing a unique source of funding for a southern border wall: a porn tax.
HB 2444 proposes that internet providers install software that would block access to websites that display sexually explicit material by default. The software would not, however, be required to block a website that's "primarily considered a social media and interactive website."
Anyone able to prove they are at least 18 would be able to deactivate the blocking software with a one-time fee of at least $20, which would go to the Arizona Commerce Authority.
The bill outlines 10 things the money collected from the deactivation fee could be used for, with “build a border wall between Mexico and this state or fund border security” listed as No. 1.