New firm files paperwork for initiative petitions - East Valley Tribune: Home

New firm files paperwork for initiative petitions

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Posted: Sunday, October 2, 2011 3:00 pm

A relatively new Glendale petition firm may give voters the chance to do some of the things lawmakers will not, ranging from releasing non-violent inmates from prison to legalizing what some now consider "victimless" crimes.

The company, Fox Petitions, also has filed the necessary paperwork seeking other changes in Arizona law including:

• Making it illegal to euthanize healthy dogs and cats unless they are dangerous.

• Setting up a fund to compensate people who are wrongly convicted of crimes.

• Precluding prosecutors from filing multiple charges on people based on a single incident.

• Barring companies from firing workers for their off-the-job conduct.

And two measures are aimed at lawmakers and their fellow travelers.

One would make it a felony for an elected or appointed public official to intentionally or knowingly "disseminate false information of a matter of public concern in any public forum." That would include not only making untrue statements but also omitting any material facts.

Those convicted would not only have to do time behind bars but also forfeit their office.

The other spells out that no one - particularly elected officials - are exempt from criminal laws or their enforcement.

That, however, may be a meaningless statute even if approved.

The only clear exemption is that state lawmakers are generally exempt from being arrested while the Legislature is in session. That simply precludes them from being taken into custody, as happened earlier this year when state Sen. Scott Bundgaard, R-Peoria, was released from police custody despite having a fight with his girlfriend in the median of a Phoenix freeway.

And as the Bundgaard situation also showed, it did not immunize him, with the lawmaker subsequently being charged and eventually pleading no contest to endangerment.

But the real flaw is that this immunity from arrest is in the Arizona Constitution. And that trumps any statutory change.

The motives behind all eight efforts is unclear, as is the question of whether Fox Petitions is fronting for some other client or simply flexing its political muscles in trying to show would-be clients it has the power to get measures on the ballot. Calls to the firm's office seeking comment were not immediately returned.

But some of the issues are those which have been debated at the Capitol.

Prime among those is whether the state, which has moved for years in the direction of longer mandatory prison terms, should reverse course.

As proposed, the measure would require that people convicted of non-violent offenses be released after serving one-quarter of their sentence. Instead, they would be outfitted with global positioning devices. In an explanatory note, Fox Petitions points to the rapid growth of the Department of Corrections which now houses 40,000 inmates, predicting that would rise by another 10,000 by 2016.

The proposal is similar to ideas floated by Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa.

A former public defender, Ash said there is ample evidence that some of the people now behind bars may not belong there, at least not for as long as the sentences judges were forced to impose. He said it is long overdue to look at the changes in the state criminal code that began in 1978 with restrictions on sentences judges can impose.

He cited a report by the Auditor General's Office which said that in 2008 the state locked up one person for every 170 residents. In 1980, that ratio was one inmate for every 749 Arizonans.

So far, though, any suggestion of easing prison sentences has run into political opposition.

Arizona's moves on victimless crimes have been even slower.

A decade ago, the state eliminated laws from its books on who can have sex with whom, and how, including a ban on sex acts other than those designed to create a baby. Also repealed was a law banning "open and notorious cohabitation."

But efforts to decriminalize drug use have proven non-starters at the Capitol. And there have been no discussions over changing laws on prostitution.

Less clear, though, is exactly what laws the initiative would repeal.

As crafted, the proposal would amend Arizona statutes to say there is no criminal liability "for conduct that did not harm, or will not bring harm to, another person, another person's property, or animal."

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