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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : latest news : state May 24, 2016

1/16/2013 1:21:00 PM
Legislature to again take up debate on texting while driving

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Not everything that lawmakers are expected to deal with this session revolves around the big issues of the budget and gun control.

Several other key proposals are bound to provoke debate.

One is whether Arizona motorists should be able to text while driving.

AAA Arizona has been at the forefront of pushing for new laws. Its lobbyists cite data which show that someone who is texting is 23 times more likely to get into a crash than someone who is not similarly distracted.

But prior versions have fallen short amid arguments that lots of other things distract drivers, including eating breakfast on the way to work, putting on makeup and turning around to yell at the kids in the back seat. And since driving recklessly is already a violation of the law, they question the need for a special statute.

One possible area of compromise could be to make the texting ban apply only to new drivers. But even a proposal to ban all cell phone use by teens failed to get out of the Legislature last year.

There also is likely to be a new push to regulate what lawmakers can accept from lobbyists.

Arizona law generally precludes lawmakers from taking gifts from special interests. But there are a series of exceptions, including food, entertainment, travel and speaking fees.

And they can go to sporting events if every member of a discrete group was also invited. That could be the full Legislature or even just the members of the House Commerce Committee.

On top of that Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who investigated lawmakers who got free tickets to the Fiesta Bowl and other events, said reporting requirements are lax and it's almost impossible to prosecute violators because it has to be shown they knowingly broke the law.

Various proposals have been offered in the past but none have gained traction.

Legislators also will consider whether to revamp the state's sales tax system.

One issue involves the fact that each city can pretty much decide what is and is not taxable. And each can decide when to audit a business.

That has created heartburn for companies that may not be big enough to have staff to sift through all the various tax laws. The proposal from a gubernatorial task force would restrict some of what cities can do.

That same task force also wants to revamp the current law where contractors pay no sales taxes when they buy materials, instead paying a percentage of the total price -- parts and labor -- when the job is finished. The suggestion is to have the tax paid on materials at the time of purchase.

But that creates winners and losers: For example, if a contractor buys all the lumber he or she needs for a Marana subdivision from a Tucson lumber yard, Tucson gets the cash.

Other issues:

- Making permanent the temporary 5 percent pay boost given to state employees who are not covered by merit protection rules.

- Prohibiting motorists from installing special license plate covers designed to thwart photo enforcement of red lights and speeding.

- Imposing new signature hurdles or earlier filing deadlines for citizen initiatives.

- Requiring parents to promptly report missing children.

- Altering the way insurance companies pay their equivalent of income taxes.

- Providing more funds for Independent Redistricting Commission for legal fees and possible court order to redraw lines.

- Asking voters to repeal 2010 medical marijuana law.

- Easing the law that says elected officials cannot announce they are running for another office before the last year of their term.

- Deciding whether to place new restrictions on rules that can be enacted by homeowner associations.

- Possible changes to the voter-approved law that allows candidates for statewide and legislative office to get public funds for their campaigns.

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