Arizona Catholic Conference 2016 Legislative Wrap-Up

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Arizona Catholic Conference has a very successful legislative session

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Ron Johnson
Ron Johnson is Executive Director of the Arizona Catholic Conference.

Editor’s Note: This commentary originally appeared on the Arizona Catholic Conference website and is written by Ron Johnson, the conference’s executive director.

By Ron Johnson
Arizona Catholic Conference

On May 7, the Arizona Legislature adjourned sine die at 5:45 a.m. after spending 117 days in session. In total, almost 1,400 pieces of legislation were introduced with just over 400 of them becoming law.

While the session exceeded last year’s length by over a month, it was still shorter than many others in recent years. Of particular note, however, is the fact that some very good bills supported by the Arizona Catholic Conference (ACC) were passed into law, while all of the most problematic bills again failed.

Faith-based and charitable organizations score huge wins

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Arizona Catholic Conference

The Arizona Catholic Conference is the public policy agency for the Diocese of Gallup, the Diocese of Phoenix, the Diocese of Tucson and the Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Phoenix. Bishops from each of these dioceses comprise the Board of Directors of the ACC. Through its executive director, Ron Johnson, the ACC represents the Church on a variety of public policy and legislative matters.

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Among the largest successes of the recent legislative session was the passage of legislation that will tremendously benefit faith based organizations, crisis pregnancy centers, and many other charitable groups serving the working poor and foster children.

In particular, SB 1216 will double the current charitable organization tax credit to $400 for individuals and $800 for married couples and increase the tax credit for foster care agencies to $500 and $1,000. Another provision of this new law separates these credits so that people can now receive a tax credit for contributions to BOTH types of organizations.

As if this substantial increase were not enough, SB 1217 extends the contribution date for these tax credit donations to April 15 of the following year. Similar legislation has greatly benefited schools under the education tax credit laws and is expected to do the same with these charities.

The ACC is grateful to Governor Doug Ducey for signing these bills into law and Senator Steve Yarbrough for once again sponsoring this legislation.

Pro-life and conscience victories

Arizona has had a string of major pro-life laws passed in recent times, but people often do not realize that attempts to undo these laws never cease. Once again, this session saw numerous harmful bills proposed to undo almost every pro-life and rights of conscience law already on the books.

Multiple measures to eliminate parental consent and informed consent for abortions were just some of the extreme bills introduced. Efforts were also made to repeal the existing protections in state law for employers who do not want to be forced to pay for abortifacients and contraceptives that are against their religious beliefs. Additionally, it must be noted that futile efforts continue to be made every year to legalize assisted suicide in Arizona.

Fortunately, legislative leadership has helped make sure that none of these bills receive a committee hearing and that they all once again failed.

While all of the bad bills failed, there were also pro-life gains this legislative session. Specifically, SB 1474 makes sure that aborted babies and their body parts are not allowed to be sold in Arizona. Meanwhile, SB 1485 forbids facilitation by the state government in collecting employee donations to abortion providers. The ACC is grateful that both of these bills were passed and have been signed into law.

Vulnerable populations protected

One of the most problematic pieces of legislation introduced this session was a late strike-everything amendment (SB 1452) that was targeted at those providing aid to refugees.

Catholic Charities in Arizona have long had significant programs helping refugees find a place to live, learn English, obtain employment, and become self-sufficient. Under this bill, however, these Good Samaritans would have unjustly become civilly liable if refugees they helped committed any type of crime within five years of providing them assistance. The measure had many Constitutional and practical problems, and through the work of the ACC was ultimately defeated.

The ACC was also glad that legislation to create high interest “flex loans” (SB 1316) failed once again in the Senate this year. More often than not, these types of high interest loans lead to negative consequences because they are targeted at poor and vulnerable populations who become worse off after being trapped in substantial debt.

It is also important to note that at the very end of the session, legislation (SB 1457) was passed and signed into law relating to the provision of health care to low-income children. In particular, this law unfroze the KidsCare program so that like every other state in the country, new children will be eligible to receive these benefits.

School choice progress

Arizona has long been a national leader in school choice, but these efforts are also under seemingly continuous attack. This session, an unprecedented number of bills were introduced to roll back these gains by, among other things, eliminating any growth in the corporate tuition tax credit and even eventually eliminating tuition tax credits altogether. Once again, with the help of legislative leadership, all of these efforts were defeated.

Because these harmful proposals failed, the tuition tax credit programs will remain in place and the cap on the corporate tuition tax credit will continue to grow 20 percent a year. These school choice programs are important because they allow parents, especially those who are low-income, to send their children to the school that best fits their needs, while saving the government money.

Progress was also made with respect to the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program, which parents can use, among other things, to pay tuition at private schools. Specifically, SB 1280 expands the program to children of blind parents and SB 1457 allows severely disabled children to continue receiving ESA scholarships for a few extra years if they are unable to graduate high school upon turning 18 years of age.

Conclusion

The Arizona Catholic Conference is grateful to all of the elected officials and groups we worked with this past legislative session to make Arizona a better place for people to live. We were fortunate again to get very good legislation passed while making sure that all of the many problematic bills were defeated.

As always, your assistance in responding to Action Alerts, and especially your prayers, are greatly appreciated.

If you have not done so already, please sign up for free e-mail updates at www.azcatholicconference.org so that we can continue to grow the influence of the Catholic Church on these matters.

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