10 key Arizona events in 2007
Aggressive actions by Gov. Janet Napolitano, the Legislature, federal judges and other authorities kept Arizona in the national spotlight throughout much of 2007.
Napolitano gained attention not only by signing a law cracking down on employers who knowingly hire illegal workers, but by pushing nationally for tougher vehicle emission laws and strategies to reduce global warming. Rep. Russell Pearce of Mesa, the chief force behind the sanctions law, has been quoted by media outlets ranging from Fox News to the Hays Daily News in Kansas.
The Washington Post last week became the latest newspaper to call Arizona "Ground Zero" in the immigration debate, describing the sanctions law as the nation's toughest and potentially most far-reaching crackdown on undocumented workers. The Post predicted that Arizona may become a national test case "for how much pain a state is willing to endure, and inflict, in the name of ridding itself of a population that contributes enormously to its economic growth and prosperity."
But immigration is not the only topic that drew attention to Arizona in 2007. The state also made news for its crackdown on smoking, its tougher drunken-driving laws, its attempts to reduce vehicle emissions and its higher minimum wage.
Here are the 10 state actions that had the biggest impact in Arizona and elsewhere during 2007:
1. Governor OKs toughest migrant-hire law in U.S. After the Legislature passed the sanctions bill with heavy margins (47 to 11 in the House, 20 to 4 in the Senate), all eyes turned to the governor. Napolitano had called for sanctions against employers as a way to stem the demand for illegal labor. She also had argued that employers needed to be part of the equation, noting that most immigration proposals focused only on the immigrant.
2. Judge: Sanctions law stands Business and Hispanic civil-rights groups twice tried to block the sanctions law from taking effect, and both times, they were rebuffed by U.S. District Court Judge Neil V. Wake. Appeals to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals are on hold until the results of a Jan. 16, 2008, hearing on the sanctions law - a hearing that promises to deal with the merits of the state law. The previous legal proceedings dealt more with procedural issues, such as the fact that the plaintiffs were found to have sued the wrong parties.
3. State lays out rules for new smoking law; bar owner challenges measure in court. The law, approved by voters in November 2006, banned smoking in public places, most notably restaurants and bars, as of May 1. The owner of four Phoenix bars defied the ban, prompting state health officials to take him to court, where they won an injunction that ordered him to stop the smoking at his establishments.
4. Legislature passes tougher drunken-driving laws. Arizona enacted one of the toughest DUI laws in the nation in September. New penalties include mandatory ignition-interlock devices for first-time offenders, increased fines and a minimum of 45 days in jail for superextreme DUI convictions. Hardest hit are first-time violators and a new class of "superextreme" DUI offenders whose blood-alcohol concentration registers 0.20 or above.
5. Arizona joins other states in push for tougher emissions laws. Arizona in November joined California and 13 other states in a suit demanding authority from the Environmental Protraction Agency to more strictly regulate auto emissions. The rules aim to slow the effects of climate change. In late December, the EPA rejected the states' efforts to tighten rules on greenhouse gas emissions, but Napolitano and other governors said they would continue their push for tougher standards.
6. Judge again orders more money for English Language Learner programs. The 15-year battle over funding for teaching non-native speakers English continued in court, as lawmakers are deeply divided over how to resolve it. U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins held an eight-day trial early in the year and in March ruled that the plan approved by the Legislature in 2006 was inadequate. That triggered an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard arguments in December. The justices suggested mediation as a possible solution, but the lawmakers, education advocates and the governor involved in the suit indicated it would be futile. A ruling is expected in 2008.
7. Voter-ID law's key elements upheld. A federal judge ruled in August that key parts of Arizona's voter-approved law requiring proof of citizenship to vote are constitutional and don't violate federal or state law. U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver rejected nine claims against the law known as Proposition 200, including cornerstone complaints that it violates the National Voter Registration Act and constitutes a poll tax.
8. Businesses deal with new minimum-wage law. Beginning in January, Arizona employers had to adhere to the state's first-ever minimum wage of $6.75 an hour. An uproar ensued when the operators of sheltered workshops, which are staffed by disabled workers, said that complying with the law would force many of them out of business. A solution was worked out through the state Industrial Commission and sanctioned by the Legislature, allowing the workshops to continue paying subminimum wages.
9. Vet home fined, may lose funds. In December, federal officials fined the state $10,000 and said they would soon cut off federal funding for new residents at the Arizona State Veteran Home after an inspection found residents were harmed because of poor care at the state-run facility. It was the second time in 2007 the central Phoenix facility was slapped with federal fines because of serious problems with the care provided to the nearly 200 veterans who live there. Earlier in the year, inspectors reported that residents were left unsupervised while smoking and call lights weren't responded to quickly, among other problems. That led to the resignation of the head of the Department of Veteran Services and legislative hearings about problems at the home.
10. State may give benefits to domestic partners. Late in the year, the Department of Administration proposed extending the state-employee benefits policy to domestic partners. Done as a rule change, it happened very quietly but drew loud condemnation as well as praise after it became public. The proposal is still pending approval by the Governor's Regulatory Review Council; some GOP lawmakers are irked at the move but have little recourse to change it.