By Teri Walker–
Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake) unleashed a number of bills during the first week of the 2012 Arizona Legislative Session, several of which would put federal authority into the hands of the state.
Allen is co-sponsoring a bill dubbed “Statehood Day” with representatives of five other Western states, which would force the federal government to dispose of the lands it retained when Arizona became a state in 1912.
“It was unconstitutional and it is time that Arizona becomes a true state and control all the land within our boundaries,” said Allen.
Senate Bill (SB) 1081 would allow counties to declare a state of emergency due to unhealthy forest conditions, and require the U.S. Forest Service to undertake thinning and logging projects to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire to surrounding communities, lands and people. If the Forest Service doesn’t respond to the state of emergency in a specified timeframe, the county would undertake thinning or logging projects to “eliminate the threat.”
Allen said she has modeled SB 1081 after Otero County in New Mexico, which enacted a similar law. There, she said, “the county declared a state of emergency, and said they were going to start the thinning process in the Lincoln National Forest if the Forest Service didn’t get in and start work. They did a token one-acre to show the feds they were serious. The federal government finally responded and agreed to do 3,000 acres of thinning. Since then, a federal judge issued an order stopping all logging activity in New Mexico and Arizona, though, because of a lawsuit related to the Mexican spotted owl.”
This law pits state law against federal law, which currently grants the U.S. Forest Service, an arm of the Executive Branch, the authority and responsibility for managing national forest lands.
“We’re going to push this issue to see if we get any traction,” said Allen. “We’re doing this out of frustration after the Wallow and Rodeo-Chediski fires.
“If the Forest Service won’t do the job, the state will have a right to protect the ‘welfare, health and safety’ of the people,” she said.
Related to the emergency declaration law is SB 1075, which would allow the state forester to deploy state-trained firefighters to respond to wild land fires.
“We want to see if we can have local fire districts and the state forester be involved to more quickly respond to wild land fires,” said Allen.
“It seems like these wildfires get out of control because they’re not jumping on them quickly enough,” she said. “This law would establish a commission with the state forester at the head, and would establish fire districts and train wild land firefighters to respond locally.
“These fires get going near our communities and we have to wait for Forest Service teams from around the country to show up to fight them. These fires are happening in our state, threatening our resources, our people and our properties, so the state needs to have a role,” Allen said.
Another federal vs. state’s rights law Allen is championing is Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 1008, which would allow local law enforcement to cross onto federal land to stop cross-border criminal activity. Again, the state would be able to declare a state of emergency, this time along the Mexican border, so law enforcement officers could cross into federal lands to pursue a suspect or a case, without getting entangled in jurisdictional disputes with the federal government.
The other bills Allen is sponsoring or co-sponsoring may touch on national issues, but do not call for shifting of federal power to states.
SB 1078 is an interstate compact addressing health care.
“In 2010, Arizona passed the Healthcare Freedom Act that stated we could not be forced into Obama Care,” said Allen. “This compact with another state will just strengthen the people’s right to not be forced into this socialist healthcare system.”
Allen has also presented an amendment to SB 1077, an Arizona law related to trespassing on state land. Her bill would allow for target shooting on state lands.
“It is becoming difficult for families to find a place to target shoot with federal lands being closed to this activity,” Allen said.
SB 1083 would organize and activate a state guard to patrol Arizona’s borders and help in emergency situations. A state guard would look and feel a lot like the National Guard, but would function under state government.
“This has been on the books, but we have never organized our state guard,” said Allen. “They would supplement sheriff’s (departments) and allow us to have more bodies on the ground during natural disasters and other emergencies.”
Allen is also advancing a bill that is an outgrowth of an intoxication task force she assembled early in 2011. SB 1082 would amend state liquor laws to allow municipalities and counties to place local controls on some elements of alcohol packaging and sales, and allow local law enforcement to hold intoxicated individuals until their blood alcohol level reaches zero.
“This bill is for the protection of those addicted to alcohol or drugs. They can be taken to a detox center and be held until they are sober,” said Allen. “No criminal charges would be filed.”
Holbrook Mayor Jeff Hill, Navajo County Sheriff K.C. Clark and County Attorney Brad Carlyon, who drafted the bill language, served on the task force that developed the legislation.
Language related to the imposition of a liquor sales tax to fund rehabilitation center operations was not included in the bill that was introduced last week, but Allen said she is still considering what to do with that recommendation.
“We couldn’t get that language in. I wanted at least this part of the bill to go forward,” said Allen. “That will be a separate push; I haven’t dropped the sales tax idea, I’m just not sure what we’ll do with that yet.”
Allen said another bill she is advancing during this legislative session is at the request of Carlyon.
SB 1080 would amend the length of grand jury terms, allowing counties to convene grand juries for six months, rather than just three or four months.
“There’s a lot of expense involved in convening a grand jury,” said Allen. “I’m running this bill for County Attorney Brad Carlyon to help with the cost to small counties of grand juries.”
Allen is also supporting SB 1079, which would allow the Arizona Commerce Authority (formerly the Department of Commerce) to grant small business loans.
The bill “would provide for a small business to be able to take out a loan that would be paid back in a short time,” said Allen. “The state would make money on the interest, and it would help small businesses to find capital for investment.”
The final two bills that Allen intends to introduce do not yet have assigned numbers, but deal with child welfare and custody issues. One bill would help families attempting to adopt an extended family member; the other would make lies related to serious accusations one party might make against another during a divorce a factor in determining custody of the involved child or children.
For more information about these or other proposed laws being addressed during the current legislative session, or their status, visit azleg.gov.