PHOENIX (AP) -- An Arizona Senate panel split along party lines approved a bill March 12 allowing surprise inspections of abortion clinics.
The 4-3 vote in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee came after more than an hour of testimony from supporters of removing the current warrant requirement and from Planned Parenthood of Arizona, whose president testified that clinics could be subject to harassment by future regulators.
House Bill 2284 has been described by supporters as a vital tool for health inspectors, who now must get a warrant to make unannounced searches of abortion providers.
Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko testified that the bill she's sponsoring only attempts to remove a warrant requirement that only applies to abortion providers.
"I think the abortion clinics needs to be brought up to the health standards of every other health institution in the state," Lesko said. "For goodness sakes, even Burger King and McDonalds are subject to unannounced health inspections."
The Arizona Department of Health Services has sought only one warrant in the past four years. It happened just days before the bill was first heard in the House last month. The House approved it last week.
Planned Parenthood of Arizona President Bryan Howard said state officials can do any number of inquiries without the need for a warrant, and he worried that future state officials could take advantage of the lack of a warrant requirement to target clinics for harassment.
"I would like to believe this department would not misuse this authority," Howard said. "But I do not know who would be the next director of the department might be."
The search warrant bill is being pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy, the conservative group that wrote a now-vetoed religious freedom bill that angered gays, civil rights proponents and the business community. President Cathi Herrod said it is needed to protect women from rogue doctors like Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia physician found guilty last year of murder in the deaths of three babies prosecutors said were delivered alive and killed.
The bill passed the House on a party-line vote on March 4, with all but one Republican in support and all but one Democrat opposed. The vote in the Senate committee also saw majority Republican vote together to move the measure.
It now goes to the Senate floor for action after a routine review in the Senate Rules Committee.
Follow Bob Christie at http://twitter.com/APChristie