10 Controversial Bills Just Passed By Arizona Republicans

By Camaron Stevenson

May 17, 2023

The bills include another attempt to ban abortion outright, as well as efforts to ban certain books in schools and a proposal to criminalize homelessness.

State lawmakers voted on nearly 100 bills during a six-hour floor session at the Arizona Capitol on Monday, passing several controversial proposals that appear to be unpopular with the general public.

Ten of the bills championed and passed by Republican legislators focused heavily on restrictions surrounding freedom of expression and restricting access to information—many of which could be in direct violation of the US Constitution. Similar laws to the ones passed in Arizona have previously become law in states like Tennessee and California, but were quickly blocked or overturned in court for violating residents’ constitutional rights.

Many of the proposals have thus far proven to be unpopular with the general public as well. In addition to national polls indicating voters don’t support restrictions on drag performances or rules that discriminate against LGBTQ students, the state Capitol’s informal method for tallying public sentiment, known as the Request to Speak (RTS) system, appears to show that Arizona residents overwhelmingly oppose all 10 bills.

The Copper Courier has put together a brief description of each bill, where they stand with the public, and whether or not they can expect to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs.

1. Personhood Bill That Would Outlaw Abortion

House Bill 2502 was one of several bills sponsored by Phoenix Republican Rep. Matt Gress that were presented as ways to protect pregnant women—in the case of HB2502, to require child support from the point of conception—but in reality, would redefine what the law considers a person.

“It’s a term called ‘fetal personhood,’ which essentially tries to write into law that a fetus should be treated as a person under the law,” Phoenix Democratic Rep. Analise Ortiz told The Copper Courier. “These bills are part of a bigger strategy we’ve seen in other states to essentially write into law that a fetus has more rights than a pregnant person. The end goal is to outlaw abortion outright.”

A similar bill sponsored by Gress was passed in March and quickly vetoed by Hobbs.

Public Opinion: A poll conducted by NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist National in April 2023 found that 82% of Americans support access to abortion care in some form. Arizona submissions to RTS found that 89% were opposed to HB2502.

Status: Likely to be Vetoed.

2. Criminalizing Homelessness

Tucson Republican Sen. Justine Wadsack’s proposal to criminally prosecute unhoused Arizonans for sleeping on private property passed along party lines, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats voting against the bill. If signed into law, Senate Bill 1413 would require municipalities to tear down homeless encampments—broadly defined to essentially mean anything that resembles shelter—on private property and charge anyone on-site with trespassing.

“I sponsored SB 1413 because Tucson and Pima County as a whole are suffering from just an overabundance of homelessness,” Wadsack said when defending the bill earlier this year. “Nobody should walk outside their four-star restaurant and find human feces in their front doorstep.”

But local housing experts say the solution to Arizona’s growing housing crisis is more about housing supply and keeping rent in check. During a panel discussion on housing hosted by ASU’s Project Humanities, Nic Smith, vice president for real estate development for Chicanos Por La Causa, explained that the number of new houses being built in the state has not kept up with the number of new residents. This has resulted in a low-supply, high-demand housing market, which in turn has caused housing prices to skyrocket, worsening the homelessness crisis.

RELATED: Pregnant Phoenix Mom Finds Safe Home in UMOM’s New Affordable Housing Complex

Laws similar laws to SB 1413 have passed in other states, and were challenged and overturned by federal courts at every level for being in violation of the First, Eighth, or 14th Amendments.

Public Opinion: A YouGov poll from April 2022 found that 65% of people oppose arresting and jailing someone for being unhoused, but sentiment surrounding banning encampments was more mixed. While 38% said they supported encampment bans, 35% opposed the bans and 27% were unsure. 

Wadsack’s SB 1413, which would do both, is only supported by 28% of Arizonans who submitted public comment through RTS.

Status: Likely to be Vetoed.

3. Restrictions on Preferred Pronouns in School

Hobbs has promised a swift veto of Senate Bill 1001, but Republicans nonetheless spent months debating—and finally, passing—the bill. If it were to go into effect, the bill would prohibit K-12 school employees from referring to any student under 18 with a pronoun that doesn’t correspond with their biological sex without first receiving permission from the student’s parent or guardian.

RELATED: Arizona Rep. Lorena Austin Shares Personal Insight on the Harm a Pronouns Bill Would Cause

Public Opinion: An April 2023 Economist/YouGov poll found that 60% of voters nationwide support a requirement that educators inform parents regarding their child’s preferred pronouns. In Arizona, only 38% of RTS submissions were in favor of SB 1001, while 62% were against.

Status: Likely to be Vetoed.

4 – 7. Restrictions on Drag Performances

Senate Bills 1026, 1028, 1030, and 1698 target drag performances by restricting where and when they can be held, how they are defined, the financial consequences for establishments that host them, and criminal penalties for attendees will soon make their way to the governor’s desk. 

When a similar law passed in Tennessee earlier this year, opponents sued the state, saying it violated their First Amendment right to freedom of expression. A federal judge ruled in their favor in March, who said the wording in the law was “vague and overly broad,” according to the Associated Press.

The bills would:

  • Expand what the state considers a sexually explicit business to any establishment that hosts drag shows, thereby prohibiting minors from entering the premises. For example, this could apply to restaurants and coffee shops. 
  • Prohibit any person or business that accepts government funding from hosting a drag show.
  • Define drag performances as “adult cabaret performance” and prohibit them from being held in any public building or any place where a minor might see them. 
  • Restrict when drag shows can be held to Monday thru Saturday, 9 a.m. to midnight and Sundays from 12 p.m. to midnight.
  • Impose penalties for anyone who violates the law including fines ranging from $2,500 to $150,000 and jail time from six months to two years.

Public Opinion: An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist National Poll from March 2023 found that laws restricting drag shows are only supported by 40% of Americans. Arizona residents feel similar, with only 44% of RTS submissions being in support of these four bills.

Status: Likely to be Vetoed.

8 – 9. Bans on Media Relating to Sex and Abortions

Senate Bills 1146 and 1696 aim to impose severe restrictions on sexually explicit materials, expanding the definition to include most sex education materials. These bills would not only prohibit any public entity from utilizing books or media that touch on sex in any way, but would also cut off public funding from any organization that provides these materials. If signed into law, any school with sex education curriculum would be in danger of losing funding.

RELATED: Arizona Book Ban Targeting Authors Of Color and LGBTQ+ Topics Now in Effect

SB 1696  would also prohibit public funds—including investments from the state treasurer—from going to any organizations that “promote, facilitate or advocate for abortions for minors or for the inclusion of, or the referral of students to, sexually explicit material.”

The proposals are an extension of the 2022 law banning media from schools that contain what was vaguely defined as “sexually explicit materials,” which educators have criticized as being so broad as to include any mention of homosexuality, and being so poorly defined as to include religious texts such as the Bible. 

Public Opinion: Research published by the Journal of Adolescent Health in April 2022 found that 88% of Americans—and 90% of parents—support sexual health education in schools. Support for SB 1146 and SB 1696 was more narrowly divided among Arizonans, with 40% of RTS respondents in favor of the proposed bans, and 60% against.

Status: Likely to be Vetoed.

10. Anti-trans School Bathroom Bill

Fountain Hills Republican Rep. John Kavanagh’s Senate Bill 1040 would require public schools to provide separate—but equal—bathrooms and locker rooms for people who are “unwilling or unable” to use the facilities that match their biological sex.

The bill would also allow people to sue schools if they used a restroom at the same time as a trans person—which they would have to prove, somehow, meaning the student involved would have their privacy violated in an incredibly invasive, humiliating, and public manner.

Public Opinion: A September 2022 poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that support for laws requiring that transgender people use the bathroom that corresponds with their sex assigned at birth has gone up over the years, from 35% in 2016 to 52% in 2022. Notably, this has come amid a well-funded and years-long anti-trans campaign among conservatives. 

Public opinion among RTS voters was split nearly down the middle: 49.8% of respondents were in support of Kavanagh’s bill, while 50.2% were opposed.

Status: Likely to be Vetoed.

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  • Camaron Stevenson

    Camaron is the Founding Editor and Chief Political Correspondent for The Copper Courier, and has worked as a journalist in Phoenix for over a decade. He also teaches multimedia journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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