Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror
On Saturday, nearly all of the bills signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey earlier this year went into effect. Some of them impact Arizonans in their daily lives, classrooms and voting booths.
Taking aim at COVID-19 prevention
GOP legislators waved through a number of laws targeting pandemic safety measures that many found stifling. Some of them might handicap the ability of schools to mitigate future outbreaks, critics say. One new law prohibits the enforcement of mask use in classrooms without first securing parental consent, and another removes COVID-19 vaccinations from the list of possible immunizations the Department of Health Services can choose to require for students to attend public school. Requiring a minor to get a COVID-19 vaccination without parental consent, in fact, will be punishable with a class 1 misdemeanor.
Laws to bar mask and vaccine enforcement for some adults were also approved. House Bill 2453 blocks the state and any organizations that receive state taxes from enacting mask mandates on their premises, unless they’re required for reasons other than protection against COVID-19 transmission. Anyone employed by the state or an organization that receives state taxes is exempt from being vaccinated as a condition of employment, unless that employer is a health care provider.
The power of government officials to take steps to lessen the impact of public health emergencies are set to be curtailed. Mayors will no longer be able to close down businesses during a declared state of emergency, as was the norm in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce infection rates. At the statewide level, future governors will face a 120-day deadline, in 30-day increments, for state of emergency declarations. Extensions past that time are subject to legislative approval. Arizona was in a state of emergency from March 2020 through March of this year, and with the declaration came nearly $2 trillion in federal funding.
The classroom culture wars
The GOP-led war against critical race theory and gender studies resulted in laws purporting to keep parents informed.Teachers and school advocates, however, warn that over legislating and over scrutinizing schools only results in a blow to education quality.
A new law directs school libraries to provide parents with a list of books their children have checked out upon request, and upload a list of books purchased after January 2023 on the school district’s website for at least 60 days for public inspection. Another bans any school materials that include descriptions of sex or sexuality, and may result in taking books like “The Color Purple” or “Atlas Shrugged” out of classroom curriculums.
Parents will be allowed to visit any public school classroom of their choice, whether or not their children attend that school, as long as they are considering enrollment and a visit doesn’t endanger current students. Parents have also been empowered to bring civil lawsuits against officials and schools found to be violating fundamental parental rights to raise their children, though it’s unclear what exactly that entails and advocates warn it may end up in countless baseless claims.
A nationwide movement targeting transgender and LGBTQ+ youth across the country included the Arizona state house this year. Trans students interested in playing on their school sports team are prohibited from joining competitive girls teams from high school all the way through college and trans minors are barred from obtaining gender-affirming surgery until they reach adulthood, even if they have parental and medical permission.
Faith-based adoption and foster care agencies are free to make decisions based on their religious views, protected from discrimination lawsuits by a law which opponents say could harm LGBTQ+ Arizonans. Prospective parents may be denied placement based on their sexuality under the new law and foster parents are now allowed to use their own religion to raise children in their care.
‘Big Lie’ inspires election bills
The false claim that the 2020 election was fraudulent spurred a record number of voting bills. Unfounded concerns about ineligible voters resulted in a new law that prohibits same-day voter registration. Someone who registers a person on election day and deems them eligible to vote in that same election is guilty of a class 6 felony. Same-day voting has never existed in Arizona. Future legislation could strike down the prohibition and implement it, but it’s unlikely given the historic GOP control of the statehouse.
Early ballots have been the subject of intense suspicion from Republican legislators, despite the fact that nearly 90% of Arizona voters use them. Counties that use early ballots must now implement a tracking system that lets voters know their ballot has been received, verified and counted or rejected. Currently, only Maricopa and Pima Counties do so. Another law aimed at early voting requires people dropping off their ballots to show identification for them to be counted on-site, leading to what officials warn will be long lines and inconvenienced voters. Each voting location will have a designated area to process early ballots. Critics say that will result in voting officials scrambling to find new voting sites that meet the space requirement – and that’s a big ask when Maricopa County alone is expected to need more than 200 voting locations for the upcoming election.
The most notorious election law passed this year is a requirement for voters to prove their U.S. citizenship to vote in presidential elections. Under the National Voter Registration Act, voters don’t have to provide proof of citizenship to register to vote. To satisfy this federal protection, Arizona operates under a bifurcated voting system that allows voters who don’t provide proof to vote only in federal elections. But the new law would do away with that system, and in July, The Justice Department filed suit against the state.
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