ARIZONA CATHOLIC CONFERENCE
2021 LEGISLATIVE WRAP-UP
By Ron Johnson
Arizona Catholic Conference
After one of the longest sessions in history, the Arizona Legislature finally adjourned sine die on June 30th after spending 171 days in session. In total, approximately 1,900 pieces of legislation were introduced with over 400 of them now set to become law.
Fortunately, several very significant bills supported by the Arizona Catholic Conference (ACC) were passed into law while the most problematic bills again failed to pass.
Protecting the Sacraments
Some of the most intense battles facing the ACC this year revolved around religious freedom, including matters related to the sacraments of the Catholic Church.
Two attempts were made by Senator Victoria Steele to force priests to violate the seal of Confession under various circumstances. The first of these bills (SB 1008) died when it did not receive a hearing in the committee to which it was assigned.
Nonetheless, another attempt was made to resurrect this legislation in the form of a late strike-everything amendment (HB 2494) that was heard in the Senate Education Committee, despite never having been assigned there. Ultimately, HB 2494 was defeated by a 4-4 vote in this committee. The ACC is grateful to Senators T.J. Shope, Nancy Barto, Sally Ann Gonzalez, and Rick Gray for voting no on this legislation.
Priests, with no exceptions, are forbidden from disclosing sins learned while administering the sacrament of Confession. Doing so is a mortal sin resulting in excommunication of the priest. If such a deeply engrained and core principle of Catholic doctrine were to be removed, as was proposed in these bills, it would seriously undermine the fundamental notions of rights of conscience and religious freedom upon which our country was built. Accordingly, the defeat of these problematic bills was an extremely positive development.
The other important bill relating to the sacraments was a very helpful measure (HB 2575) introduced by Representative Quang Nguyen and signed into law by Governor Doug Ducey. This legislation is aimed at increasing clergy access for hospital patients, especially those near death, who want to receive the sacraments, including the Anointing of the Sick.
There have been many dedicated health care providers who have done so much to assist people in need over the course of the pandemic. After all, patients typically need both great care for their bodies as well as for their souls.
Ultimately, HB 2575 is simple legislation that will now allow clergy of all faiths to have in-person visitation in hospitals when requested by a patient and it is safe for any other visitor. By providing this spiritual care, HB 2575 will improve access to the sacraments and give great benefit and comfort to both dying patients and their families.
The passage of SB 1457 continues Arizona’s legacy as the most pro-life state in the country and establishes that Arizona’s laws will be interpreted in the context of valuing all human life. This legislation looks forward to the day that Roe v. Wade is overturned and shows concern for both unborn children and their mothers.
Arizona already has a statute on the books protecting human life from the moment of conception, and SB 1457 leaves this excellent statute in place while also not making the mother a criminal.
More immediately, SB 1457 prohibits public educational institutions from performing abortions, calls for the cremation or burial of aborted babies, forbids abortions on the basis of genetic abnormalities like Down Syndrome, and clarifies that abortion-inducing drugs may not be sent through the mail.
For all of the reasons above, SB 1457 will help mothers and their unborn babies, while saving lives. Accordingly, we are appreciative of Senator Nancy Barto for sponsoring this bill and all of the elected officials who voted in support.
Other pro-life victories this year included SB 1254 (sponsored by Senator Barto) which will better promote adoptions to women otherwise seeking abortion and HB 2410 (sponsored by Representative Diego Espinoza) which expands Arizona’s Safe Haven Law for newborn babies from 3 to 30 days.
Meanwhile, all of the many pieces of legislation aimed at legalizing assisted suicide and either weakening or repealing nearly all of our positive laws pertaining to abortion and rights of conscience were defeated! Unfortunately, a bill (SB 1082) sponsored by Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita to make oral contraceptives available to women without a visit to the doctor did pass, but it thankfully did not impact the rights of conscience of health care providers.
Wins for Vulnerable Populations
The ACC is pleased that Arizona became the 49th state to accept consular identification cards from non-citizens as a form of identification when SB 1420 was signed into law. These cards cannot be used for purposes of voting, but they are valuable for police in accurately identifying people. Additionally, consular identification cards help promote human dignity by assisting undocumented immigrants to obtain basic utilities and to open bank accounts.
Another important proposal that received bipartisan support (SCR 1044) was sent by legislators to the ballot in 2022. If voters approve, SCR 1044 will allow students who spend at least two years in Arizona high schools, and graduate from them, the ability to receive in-state college tuition regardless of their immigration status. Essentially, this measure will help undocumented children who were brought to this country at a young age, and know no other country, some ability to be treated like the rest of the peers they grew up with at school.
With regard to charities, the ACC was pleased that legislation (SB 1828) to further incentivize charitable giving was passed into law. Specifically, the new law allowing 25 percent of charitable deductions to be deducted from state income tax will now increase each year by the rate of inflation. This legislation is particularly helpful in that people do not need to itemize their taxes to receive this deduction for donations to charities.
Fortunately, there were no bills to promote or expand predatory lending in Arizona. While Arizona voters overwhelmingly banned the use of payday loans several years ago, predatory lending in other forms continues to be a problem for many people in poverty. Accordingly, the ACC continues to oppose expansion of predatory lending while looking for opportunities to improve consumer protections.
School Choice Successes
The number of bills hostile to school choice continues to increase. The ACC is grateful, however, that all of these proposals targeting Arizona’s successful tuition tax credit and Empowerment Scholarship Account programs failed.
Meanwhile, Arizona remains a national leader in school choice and managed to pass a couple of positive bills in what is a difficult political environment. Among these laws was a measure (SB 1297) to extend the date for claiming tuition and charitable tax credits this year an extra month to align with the federal income tax deadline.
Additionally, eligibility under both the corporate and overflow tuition tax credit programs was expanded to include students coming from out of state, homeschoolers, and students leaving the ESA program, while also increasing the cap on the maximum dollar amount of a corporate credit scholarship (SB 1828). These changes will particularly benefit high school students facing higher tuition costs by providing greater opportunities for them to receive financial assistance.
It is also worth noting that with the passage of SB 1828, the cap on the corporate tuition tax credit benefitting disabled children (Lexie’s Law) was increased by $1 million. This increase was long overdue as the cap had remained at $5 million since its inception many years ago and will now assist many more disabled students.
Finally, improvements were made to the ESA program (HB 2898) so that students need only attend a public school for 45 days instead of 100 days before becoming eligible for an ESA. Meanwhile, the waiting time to be eligible for an ESA for students who both qualify for free and reduced-price lunches and attend failing public schools has now been eliminated.
The Arizona Catholic Conference is grateful to all the elected officials and groups we worked with this past legislative session to continue our great accomplishments. We are also appreciative for your assistance in responding to Action Alerts, and especially your prayers.
If you have not done so already, please sign up for free e-mail updates at www.azcatholicconference.org so that we can continue to grow the influence of the Catholic Church in Arizona on important matters of public policy.