PHOENIX - Setting the stage for a possible confrontation with Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano over the state's role in fighting illegal immigration, Republican lawmakers are assembling a sweeping bill that could include provisions similar to individual bills she previously vetoed.
Components expected to be included are measures creating new state immigration-related crimes, acquiring radar to detect illegal border-crossings, mandating local law enforcement involvement in fighting illegal immigration, penalizing employers who hire illegal immigrants and providing money for immigration-related law enforcement and increased National Guard presence on the border.
Though the package is being introduced in the House and will be considered by that chamber first, several prominent Republican senators are involved with drafting it along with Rep. Russell Pearce, a Mesa Republican who is the Legislature's most prominent critic of illegal immigration.
Arizona is the busiest crossing point along the U.S.-Mexico border, and illegal immigration has been a hot topic in the Legislature since opening day.
"She's going to have the chance to sign something significant," Pearce said of Napolitano." "I'm tired of the tough talk, the drive-by rhetoric."
Napolitano has vetoed individual bills making illegal immigrants' presence in Arizona a crime under the state's trespassing law and requiring her to deploy National Guard troops to the border. That law came in response to her declaration of an emergency in four border counties.
In vetoing those bills, Napolitano has said lawmakers had ignored the call in her State of the State address in January for a comprehensive package and failed to include funding for mandates placed on law enforcement.
On Thursday, Napolitano sent the Republican leaders of the House and Senate a letter in which she said she had long wanted to work with them on crafting a "realistic border plan for Arizona" that includes enforcement funding, employer sanctions and establishment of special squads to target human smuggling and trafficking.
However, citing concerns from law enforcement officers, she promised to veto the new bill if it contains the trespassing provision.
"If you are serious about a 'comprehensive' immigration package, as I am, I hope you will listen to the men and women in the front lines who understand what enforcement measures will actually help solve this issue and work with me to adopt real reform that can actually become law and be enforced," she wrote.
Republicans said Thursday they were packaging a number of individual bills into one measure that included appropriations to answer Napolitano's criticism.
"I think as a package the governor will be more amenable," House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, said. "She used that criticism over and over again."
"Our plan all along has been to provide funding but it wasn't clear to others," said Senate Majority Leader Tim Bee, a Tucson Republican involved in preparing the legislation. "Now our effort is to put it together so it will be obvious what our plan is."
A Democratic legislator, Rep. Meg Burton Cahill of Tempe, said the Republicans are playing politics on immigration, trying to damage Napolitano's re-election prospects.
"Some of this is spurred on by the governor's popularity," Burton Cahill said. "It's all about the election."
Lawmakers are long past the normal deadline for introduction of bills, but the House Rules Committee on Thursday authorized late introduction of the measure, which is expected to be considered Monday by a House Appropriations committee.
Barrett Marson, a spokesman for House Republicans, said the legislation was based on numerous existing bills but would include changes and was still being drafted Thursday. The bill would be released and posted on the Internet Friday, he said.
Some possible changes already were evident.
For example, the National Guard bill that Napolitano vetoed would have required to her order a deployment along the border because she'd declared an emergency order.
However, draft legislation released Monday in preparation for a since-canceled committee hearing Thursday would instead have provided a $100,000 appropriation for increasing the National Guard's presence on the border if Napolitano provided lawmakers a detailed report on actions she was taking "to stabilize the emergency."
Napolitano said the vetoed bill would have trod on her authority as governor and that she'd order more National Guard troops to the border if lawmakers provided funding without mandating the deployment.
In a related border-security development, Napolitano has requested a $6 million increase to the $9.1 million in federal funding already sought in the next fiscal year for a 160-member National Guard task force assigned to combat drug trafficking.
The unit formerly had 260 soldiers but had been reduced this decade due to inadequate federal funding, Napolitano said in a letter sent Tuesday to Defense Secretary Donald Humsfeld and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
On the Net:
Arizona Legislature: http://www.azleg.gov