Capitol Lucha
Randy Perez speaks in front of the Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee discussing the impact of Senate Bill 1032. (Photo by Luis Torres/Cronkite News)

Thursday, local lawmakers and advocates rallied against two bills they say will negatively impact the immigrant community and working class voters.

A crowd gathered on the lawn of the Arizona State Capitol Thursday morning to rally against two proposed bills they believe would oppress minority voters and encourage anti-immigration sentiment.

Approximately 60 people opposing the measures attended hearings that morning on HB 2598 and SB 1032, two bills they say would negatively impact the Latino immigrant community and working-class voters who may not understand the proposed change to the early voting process.

HB 2598 would mandate that all Arizona agencies and local jurisdictions comply with the federal government to detain undocumented immigrants, including in sanctuary cities. Currently, there are no sanctuary cities in Arizona, nor is there a legal definition of what the designation means.

The bill shares similarities with a portion of the controversial SB 1070 legislation that allows local enforcement to check immigration status during law enforcement stops. Many of Thursday’s rally-goers protested against SB 1070, and spoke of the sting they still feel from when it was passed.

“We need to send a message, not only to our elected officials, but also to the business community to remember what happened when SB 1070 was passed,” said Rep. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix. “We lost millions in [business] dollars. We lost people to other states. We separated families, and we know that HB 2598 is coming with the same attention to create division – to create fear. But the difference is that we are stronger, and we are going to fight at a different level than we’ve ever fought before.”

Photo by Camaron Stevenson

Terán added that this time, the Latino community will not stand by and allow legislation like HB 2598 and SB 1070 to pass without consequence. She told the crowd that opponents previously only had megaphones to protest against SB 1070 in 2010; however, the difference this time is “we have microphones in the Arizona House of Representatives on the floor.”

“We have a different level of power,” Terán said. “We have a different level of organizing. Whatever happens here, we’re going to win at the ballot box. But we need to fight here first.”

But rally-goers didn’t get a chance to voice their opposition to the bill. One of the sponsors for the legislation was unable to attend due to a family emergency, according to a statement from one of the rally organizers. The bill was pulled from the agenda and has not yet been assigned a new date to be heard in the committee.

With HB 2598 temporarily off the table, rally-goers piled into the Arizona Senate building to oppose SB 1032. Advocates against the measure claim it is form of voter oppression, especially among minority voters. Under the current statute, early ballots must be accompanied with a self-addressed return envelope that includes a printed affidavit declaring the individual who filled out the ballot is registered to vote. If the affidavit is not signed, election officials mail the ballot back to the voter, who is then able to sign the envelope and resubmit the ballot.

If passed, the proposed law would prohibit election officials from allowing voters to add their signature to the ballot affidavit if the envelope is returned with the signature missing and prohibits the ballot from being tabulated. The bill also would prohibit election officials from signing the envelope on the voter’s behalf, even if they verify that signature on the ballot matches official records.

Photo by Camaron Stevenson

Advocacy groups ProgressNow Arizona, Tomorrow We Vote, Our Voice, Our Vote Arizona, Invisible Arizona, Arizona Jews for Justice, Mi Familia Vota, Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy, and Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), many of whom attended and helped to organize Thursday’s rally, argue that SB 1032 suppresses votes and disenfranchises voters.

However, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, said the bill allows county recorders more flexibility to handle early ballots with missing signatures. Additionally, Yavapai County Recorder Leslie Hoffman said the bill “just expands the process.”

“Our job is to count ballots, not reject them,” she said. 

Despite Hoffman’s clarification, advocates against the measure maintain that not enough is being done to educate the public about the election process and its complexities.

And despite more lawmakers being against the bill rather than for it, the committee passed it along party lines 4-3. The room quickly cleared after the vote.

Disappointed, organizers against the bill said the vote was not surprising. Leaders added that similar to SB 1070, they would continue to fight against legislation they feel to be discriminatory in nature.

After passing committee, SB 1032 will next be sent to the Senate floor for a vote. If passed, the bill will then be voted on in the state House.

Associate Editor Camaron Stevenson contributed to this report.