Leave Prop. 200
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
Attorney General Terry Goddard
issued an opinion Nov. 12 clarifying the scope
of the new law created by Proposition 200.
Just six days later, Prop. 200
supporter Randy Pullen filed a lawsuit,
contending Goddard interpreted the new law too
That is a shame. This is an issue
that properly belongs in the Legislature, not
After months of a divisive,
sometimes ugly campaign, Arizonans voted 56-44
for the proposition. Supporters said it would
ensure illegal immigrants do not violate the law
by voting or receiving certain public benefits.
Opponents said it was unnecessary
at best, racist at worst. They also feared it
would have far-reaching and expensive unintended
That argument aside, Prop. 200
now is law and will go into effect within the
next few weeks. This presents a problem,
however. Prop. 200 requires agencies providing
"state and local public benefits" to verify that
each applicant is eligible for the benefits. It
further requires employees to report any illegal
immigrant who applies for benefits. Failure to
do so is a misdemeanor.
But the initiative did not define
what it meant by "public benefits." How do state
employees comply with a new law they don't
Thus, it fell to the attorney
general to tell state officials which agencies
and benefits are affected. He did so in a
14-page opinion that concluded the phrase
"public benefits" refers only to welfare
His opinion means Prop. 200 does
not affect such things as health care for the
poor, temporary assistance to needy families or
home care for the elderly.
Goddard's interpretation is both
reasonable and thoughtful. Arizona laws are
broken into "titles," with each one on a
specific subject. The drafters of Prop. 200
placed the "public benefits" language into Title
46, which deals with welfare.
Goddard logically concluded this
meant they intended for the law to affect only
welfare benefits. He noted that the drafters had
the option of putting the language into Title
36, which governs public health programs, or
Title 38, which sets requirements for public
officers, but chose the welfare section instead.
Goddard's interpretation won
support from a surprising source - surprising to
me, at least. Kathy McKee, organizer of the
original committee that drafted Proposition 200,
said Goddard got it right.
She characterized as "offensive"
Pullen's lawsuit, and she criticized the backing
Pullen is receiving from the out-of-state
Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Pullen, however, wants the courts
to rule that programs other than welfare are
covered, such as temporary assistance to needy
families and the state's health insurance
program for the poor.
Pullen filed his lawsuit in Mesa,
rather than with the main court in downtown
Phoenix. That was deliberate, he told Howard
Fischer of Capitol Media Services. "Sometimes
you've got to think about what judges you might
get," he said.
Rather than trying to find a
friendly judge, however, Pullen has a better
option. He should be asking legislators to craft
a law extending the scope of Prop. 200 to cover
the programs he wants. New laws are the province
of the Legislature, not the courts.
In the meantime, the final legal
steps required to turn Prop. 200 into state law
are nearly complete. On Monday, Secretary of
State Jan Brewer certified the final election
Now, Gov. Janet Napolitano must
proclaim it is in effect and order state
agencies to implement it. She will do that
perhaps as early as next week.
She is holding back momentarily
so that state agencies can gear up for the law's
They need to determine such
things as which welfare programs are affected
and what requirements should be set for
Goddard didn't attempt to resolve
those issues, but he said his office will
provide guidance to the responsible agencies.
Turning Prop. 200's voting
provisions into law will take more time. They
would require Arizonans to show proof of
citizenship when registering to vote and to show
identification when voting.
Before they can go into effect,
however, the U.S. Justice Department must
determine that they do not restrict the rights
of minority voters. That ruling should come by
the end of January. Undoubtedly, lawsuits will
be filed over the voting provisions before then.
The political debate over Prop.
200 was ugly and divisive, and it has left many
people concerned about its effects.
Goddard has provided Arizona a
path out of that ugly thicket. His opinion makes
it possible to implement the public benefits
provisions of Prop. 200, in accordance with the
voters' wishes, but it would minimize the great
damage that opponents feared.
● Jim Kiser's column
appears Sundays and Wednesdays in the Star,
P.O. Box 26807, Tucson, AZ 85726; 573-4597;
firstname.lastname@example.org. Find previous
columns at www.azstarnet.com/kiser.