Arizona Catholic Conference 2013 Legislative Wrap-Up

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The following was authored by Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference.

Governor Brewer Signs Significant Bills Helping the Poor

On June 14, the Arizona Legislature adjourned sine die at 12:59 a.m. after spending 151 days in session. While there were fewer bills introduced this year than usual, the legislative session still went long because of an emotionally charged debate focused on Governor Brewer’s Medicaid expansion proposal.

Ron Johnson is pictured at the Feb. 3, 2011, Catholic Schools Week rally at the Arizona State Capitol.
Ron Johnson is pictured at the Feb. 3, 2011, Catholic Schools Week rally at the Arizona State Capitol.

Ultimately, the Medicaid expansion legislation was approved but only after an unusual special session was called in an attempt to bring the matter to a close. The Arizona Catholic Conference (ACC) was a supporter of Governor Brewer’s plan from the beginning because it was deemed the most reasonable proposal to not only help vulnerable people with health care needs, but also because it saved the state money.

Additionally, the ACC strongly supported important pro-life legislation to further curtail public money to abortion providers. Unfortunately, this legislation was caught up in the raucous debate surrounding Medicaid expansion and did not pass.

The ACC remains grateful to Governor Brewer both for her leadership on Medicaid expansion and for all of her efforts throughout the years to deny public funding to abortion providers.

We are also deeply appreciative that she signed into law legislation initiated by the ACC and sponsored by Senator Steve Yarbrough to expand the charitable tax credit by including people who do not itemize their taxes.

The charitable tax credit is a substantial resource for crisis pregnancy centers and faith based organizations like St. Vincent de Paul and Catholic Charities who primarily serve the poor. This law will greatly benefit these organizations and the vulnerable clients they serve by allowing all individuals and married couples donating to them to respectively receive up to a $200 or $400 tax credit as an incentive for their contributions.

Pro Life Gains Preserved

In recent years, Arizona has become a national leader in passing pro-life legislation. Unsurprisingly, there were a number of bills introduced this year to repeal these laws which are proving to save the lives of unborn children.

The ACC worked hard to defeat all of these hostile bills and is most appreciative of the cooperation exhibited by House Speaker Andy Tobin and Senate President Andy Biggs to make sure these bills did not pass.

Among the problematic bills introduced this year were several to force health care professionals and pharmacies to violate their conscience, especially with regard to emergency contraception. Similarly, legislation targeted at the freedom of speech of crisis pregnancy centers was also defeated, along with another attempt aimed at legalizing assisting suicide.

Marriage and Family Defended

Similar to the attacks on Arizona’s pro-life laws, legislation was introduced this year to repeal laws limiting marriage to one man and one woman. Thanks again to legislative leadership, these measures, along with an attempt to repeal the simple preference for married couples in public adoptions, never received a hearing.

School Choice Victory

The ACC’s legislative agenda has long focused on promoting school choice. Thankfully, all of the usual efforts to eliminate or suspend the tuition tax credit program never received a hearing.

Meanwhile, legislation to significantly increase the amount of money students can receive in a scholarship under the relatively new Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program was passed and signed into law. The ESA scholarships act much like vouchers and enable students who come from failing public schools, are disabled, or have parents in the military to be recipients and switch to private schools if they so choose.

Unfortunately, an effort to expand eligible donors under the corporate tuition tax credit ultimately was vetoed out of logistical concerns. The ACC is encouraged, however, that Governor Brewer has stated her opinion that these mechanical issues can be favorably resolved and we look forward to working with her office in this regard in the coming months.

Problematic Immigration Bills Defeated

While immigration is finally receiving some of the attention it deserves in Congress, the rhetoric at the Arizona Legislature on this topic has recently toned down to some degree.

This year, legislation was again introduced to require hospitals and school districts to inquire about the citizenship status of those they serve. Fortunately, however, none of these measures gained any traction and failed to pass.

Conclusion

The ACC is grateful to all of the elected officials and groups we worked with this past legislative session to make Arizona a better place for all people to live. We were fortunate to get some good legislation passed while making sure that none of the many problematic bills were passed into law.

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