Historic Wins Achieved for Arizona Catholic Conference Legislative Agenda
On May 10, the Arizona Legislature adjourned sine die after spending 122 days in session. In total, almost 1,200 pieces of legislation were introduced with just over 400 of them set to become law.
Of particular note is the fact that several very significant bills supported by the Arizona Catholic Conference (ACC) were passed into law, while all of the most problematic bills again failed.
Historic School Choice Bill Becomes Law
Arizona made history when it passed SB 1431 creating universal eligibility in the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program. The ACC is grateful to Senator Debbie Lesko and Representative John Allen for sponsoring this legislation and to Governor Doug Ducey for signing this bill.
Under SB 1431 all public school students, as well as those entering kindergarten, will eventually be able to receive an ESA scholarship to attend the school that best fits their needs. The program will be phased in over four years and be capped at about 5,500 new students per year through 2022.
Currently, ESAs are awarded to students switching from failing public schools to private schools as well as those with special needs, foster children, and those living on Native American Reservations, or with parents in the military. By making ESA eligibility universal, Arizona is poised to become the first state in the nation to implement such a wide reaching program for children.
In addition to the historic ESA legislation, Arizona remains the national leader in school choice with the existence of its tuition tax credit programs that also help many low-income and minority students attend the schools that best fits their needs. There were a number of hostile bills introduced to curtail or eventually eliminate these credits, but because of their demise, all of these credits remain in place and the cap on the corporate tuition tax credit will grow another 20 percent next year.
Pro-Life and Conscience Victories
Two significant bills became law this year related to rights of conscience and the sanctity of human life.
The first bill, SB 1439, was sponsored by Senator Nancy Barto and protects health care providers not wanting to participate in services causing the death of their patients. These protections already exist under federal law with respect to health care providers not participating in assisted suicide or similar actions. SB 1439, however, will add state level protections and clarify that these health care providers are not discriminated against in their employment.
The other bill, SB 1367, meanwhile, was sponsored by Senator Steve Smith and is a positive effort to make sure that babies born alive after failed abortions are not discarded, but receive the basic medical care needed.
Numerous other bills aimed at legalizing assisted suicide and repealing virtually every pro-life and rights of conscience law on the books were introduced, but thankfully they were all defeated.
Vulnerable Populations Protected
Once again this year a problematic bill (SB 1468) was introduced that would have severely punished agencies assisting refugees. Catholic Charities is one such agency that has long helped countless refugees find a place to live, learn English, obtain employment, and become self-sufficient. Under this bill, they would have been fined $1,000 per day for each refugee they helped.
Similarly, there were other bills introduced (SB 1349 and HB 2038) that would have eventually repealed the charitable and foster care tax credit programs that benefit Catholic Charities, pregnancy resource centers, soup kitchens, and others.
Fortunately, through the advocacy efforts of the ACC, all of these measures that would have harmed faith based and other charities were ultimately defeated.
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 blessed again to get historic and significant 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.
Ron Johnson is executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference.