Lawmakers continue work on gun rights, business practices - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Lawmakers continue work on gun rights, business practices

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Posted: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 3:38 pm | Updated: 7:37 pm, Wed Apr 17, 2013.

Gun rights

The state House voted Monday to reaffirm their support of the Second Amendment and oppose new restrictions on weapons even as one lawmaker used the explosions in Boston as proof of why people need easy access to guns.

Much of Monday's debate over SCR 1015 went to the question of whether a belief in the Second Amendment means a belief that there should be absolutely no restriction on who can have a gun, where they can carry it, whether background checks are appropriate and what type of weapon someone can possess. Rep. Jonathan Larkin, D-Glendale, said he supports the constitutional right to bear arms but said laws must reflect changing times.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, told colleagues she had just read that authorities in Boston had shut down cell phone use "to promote remote detonations of explosives.'' She agreed with Larkin that "times are changing,'' but said not in a way to promote new limits.

Townsend said many people no longer have "landline'' phones and instead rely solely on cell phones.

"In a situation like this today, if I was in Boston and I needed a cell phone to call 911 to protect myself from someone, and I wasn't able to do that, I certainly would hope that I would be able to have a weapon to protect my children,'' she said.

Later reports said there was no shutdown of cell service but simply that the system was overwhelmed in the wake of the bombings.

The measure, approved on a 33-21 margin, says not only that lawmakers support the right of individuals to keep and bear arms but "reject the consideration of new legislation that would infringe on this constitutionally protected right.''

SCR 1015, already approved by the Senate, has no legal force, as Arizona legislators cannot affect what is happening in Congress. And lawmakers themselves remain free to impose state limits on gun possession or sales, though every measure approved by the Legislature for the last few years has actually eased restrictions.

Hospital prices

Rebuffed with a veto Friday, Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, is making a new bid to force hospitals to publicly disclose to potential customers, up front, what they charge for their most frequently performed services.

In her veto message, Gov. Jan Brewer said there were all sorts of technical problems with Barto's measure which made it unworkable. Barto, however, said the governor may be miffed by her opposition to Brewer's plans to expand the state Medicaid program.

So on Monday, Barto tacked much of the same language onto HB 2045 which deals with other changes to the Medicaid program.

To address Brewer's stated concerns, Barto's new version does exempt certain hospitals which do not serve the public like those run by the Veterans Administration. And the new version spells out that hospitals remain free to offer discounts from those rates which would have to be available on the Internet.

Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said late Monday his boss was "aware'' of what Barto was doing but would not commit to signing the new version, even with the changes.

"We have to see what the final product looks like,'' he said.

Safety audits

On a 18-11 margin the state Senate approved legislation Monday designed to let companies shield internal reviews of their own health and safety practices from those who seek to sue them.

Foes of HB 2485 said it will allow firms to conceal unsafe practices, giving them virtual immunity from lawsuits by individuals who claim they were harmed. That is because such lawsuits can require proof that a company knew about safety faults in their products yet chose not to make corrections.

But Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, said she believes the legislation actually will result in safer products as it removes any disincentive of companies to perform internal audits amid fears that the results will end up being used in court against them.

The measure now returns to the House which approved a slightly different version of the legislation.

School scholarships

The Senate gave preliminary approval Monday to legislation allowing limited liability companies to divert some of what they otherwise owe in state income taxes to instead provide scholarships for children to attend private and parochial schools.

Existing law already grants dollar-for-dollar tax credits to both individuals and corporations. HB 2617 simply extends those same credits to a different type of corporate structure.

Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said lawmakers should not be expanding these tuition tax credits until the state is adequately funding public education.

But Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, who runs an organization that administers such scholarships, pointed out that existing law caps the amount all corporations can divert at $10 million a year, a figure that increases automatically by 20 percent each year. He said that cap remains in place, with HB 2617 simply giving scholarship organizations more potential sources to tap for donations.

A similar version already has been approved by the House.

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