Arizona Dems hope against hope to get bills passed

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX (AP) -- Long in the minority in the Arizona Legislature and with little chance of getting any of their priorities passed, Democrats keep soldiering on.

This year, they've introduced measures to repeal the death penalty, allow same-sex marriage and let immigrant students to get driver's licenses. All that in addition to a plan that would revoke immigration laws enacted in recent years - specifically Senate Bill 1070.

None of the proposals has more than a glimmer of hope of being enacted, yet that hasn't stopped the Democrats from tilting at windmills.

"These are issues that are near and dear to the hearts of a lot of people in the state of Arizona, and it's upon us as representatives of not only our districts but the state to bring these issues to light," said Democratic state Sen. Steve Gallardo.

"And the way you do that is by introducing a bill," he said. "You raise the level of debate."

Gallardo and other Democrats know that it's unlikely that any of their measures will pass.

While the party gained seats in the Legislature after November's election, they still hold little power in either chamber. Republicans maintain a 36-24 advantage in the state House of Representatives, and a 17-13 lead in the state Senate. The leadership that controls the fate of bills is Republican as well, meaning Democratic-sponsored legislation can easily be blocked.

That won't stop lawmakers like Sen. Anna Tovar, the minority whip in the Senate, who introduced a bill to sidestep Gov. Jan Brewer's executive order barring young illegal immigrants who've been granted temporary resident status from getting driver's licenses.

"On no, no, no, absolutely. I know it doesn't have a chance in hell of passing," Tovar acknowledged in a recent interview. "But I brought it for my constituents."

Democrats often criticize some Republicans for bringing bills that have no chance, saying the measures are waste of time and money. But raising such bills to raise ideological statements is something both sides do.

"Depending on where you stand, you could consider both sides guilty of the same sin," said Republican state Sen. John McComish, the majority leader. "What's the solution for that? The only solution is to take away the right of a legislator to sponsor whatever bill they want. You don't want to do that."

Senate President Andy Biggs said he'll assign every filed bill to a committee and see what happens.

"Yeah, you've got some bills that do everything from repealing the one-man, one-women voter initiative, you have all kinds of stuff on there," he said Monday. "I just think that's what happens when you get 90 people from all walks of life, they're a citizen legislature. It sounds to me like they're out talking to constituents and thinking up stuff."

Gallardo for the second year in a row is pushing a bill to essentially repeal SB 1070. Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year three of the four most contentious part of the law were unconstitutional, other provisions remain and need to be repealed, he said.

Gallardo points out that it took former Senate President Russell Pearce "three years to get Senate Bill 1070 passed in the state of Arizona. It took him three years," Gallardo said.

Even if his bill gets no hearing, Gallardo says he hopes to find a way to debate the issue anyway.

"And as soon as a bill comes to the floor that is germane you can bet 100 percent I am going to offer an amendment on the floor of the state Senate," he said. "And I am going to raise a discussion, a debate. Let's talk about the merits of this legislation."

In the House, Minority Leader Chad Campbell made a distinction from some bills now being pushed by tea party Republicans, such as barring enforcement of new federal gun laws, and those pushed by Democrats.

"Those are legitimate policy issues. Those are different than trying to secede from the union, basically," Campbell said of his party's bills.

"Pursuing bills that have no merit is tilting windmills," he said, explaining that their goals are not impossible to achieve.

"Pursuing policy ideas and having a discussion about ideas that matter and impact the daily lives of Arizonans," he added, is far from a waste of time.

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