January 8th Memorial Bill stalls, for now

Published: Apr. 21, 2017 at 3:50 PM MST|Updated: Apr. 21, 2017 at 4:39 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The January 8th Memorial Bill has stalled in the current legislative session and will not yet be moving forward, lawmakers said.

"This particular bill is dead for this legislative session," Republican Sen. Debbie Lesko said in an email. Lesko is the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

According to the House Chief Clerk's office, legislators set a goal to complete a legislative session in 100 days. They hit the 100 day mark on April 18. The 2017 legislative session has not yet ended, but bills are not being heard in committees anymore.

With approval in the state government, HB 2436 would have given state funding for the memorial honoring the victims and survivors of the Jan. 8, 2011 shooting that targeted former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords.

Crystal Kasnoff, Executive Director of the January 8th Memorial Foundation, explained the bill would allocate $2.5 million over five years in a matching program. The foundation estimates the cost of construction for the planned memorial would be about $5 million. It's designed to be an open, public memorial site at El Presidio Park in downtown Tucson, near the old courthouse.

The Arizona House of Representatives had already approved the bill by a 49-11 vote on Feb. 23. The legislation to appropriate funds for the planned memorial had been sitting in two Senate committees. Records show no legislative steps have been taken since March 1.

According to various lawmakers in the House, including authors and sponsors of the bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee was unwilling to hear the legislation and push it forward. Lesko said the bill was double assigned to both the Senate Natural Resources, Energy, and Water Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"Before I add a bill to the Appropriations agenda, I make sure that it passes out of the other committee first, since it has to pass out of both committees to proceed to the Senate floor for a vote," Lesko said. "The Natural Resources committee did not hear the bill, so I didn't put the bill on my agenda."

Hearings on bills have concluded for current legislative session. HB 2436 would have had to pass out of both committees to move forward to the Senate floor for a vote.

"There is not a statute saying it has to pass out of the other committee first, but there is no reason for me to add a bill to the appropriations committee agenda if the bill is double-assigned to two committees and doesn't pass out of the other committee first," Lesko said.

Republican Sen. Gail Griffin is the Chairman of the Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee. Her office said she was currently unavailable to speak about why the bill did not pass her committee. It was not heard in the committee.

Tucson's Republican House Rep. Todd Clodfelter is behind the legislation.

"I'm a little disappointed. It was one of my first bills as a new legislator," Clodfelter said. "I'm a little disappointed it wasn't at least heard in the committee, but that's the chairperson's prerogative."

Clodfelter said it is not unusual for legislation to be introduced to two separate committees. He said it could be reassigned to a different committees in the next legislative session, should a similar bill be introduced. He explained the bill was sometimes a tough sell.

"The biggest pushback it seemed to be getting is taking public money that a lot of people think could be better spent," Clodfelter said. "From the local perspective, there are conservative voters - my constituents - who are not thrilled with the concept."

Clodfelter explained that there were various contingencies in the legislation, as they wanted to assure that private funding would be generated in its complete amount. There were also contingencies that if the memorial wasn't deemed a national monument by 2023, the public funding through HB 2463 would be returned to the state of Arizona.

The next legislative session would likely begin the second week of January 2018, according to Griffin's office. The January 8th Memorial Bill would have to be reintroduced as new legislation and pass through both branches of the Arizona legislature.

Clodfelter said he has not yet had discussion with fellow HB 2436 authors about reintroducing a January 8th Memorial Bill in the next legislative session.

Lesko also cited the need to wait for the next Fiscal budget to be negotiated and passed. Last year's 2017 Fiscal year budget was not signed by Gov. Doug Ducey until May 2016. The governor's office released the Fiscal Year 2018 executive budget plan on Jan. 13.

"Even if the bill had passed out of both committees, it is considered a 'money bill' because its passage would cost the state general fund money. Money bills are always held until the budget is negotiated," Lesko said.

On March 22, Kasnoff, said they would rely on private donations if they could not get the matching $2.5 million they need from the state government.

Naming rights were announced and approved March 21 at the Pima County Board of Supervisors meeting. But the January 8th Memorial Foundation hasn't yet put together all the money needed to complete construction on what's planned at El Presidio Park in downtown.

Kasnoff said she is also hopeful that pending legislation at the federal level would grant them status as a national memorial. By doing so, it would give them naming rights as a national memorial and a listing with the National Park Service.

The news of the legislative impasse was disheartening for Democratic Rep. Randy Friese. He is also a trauma surgeon, and was working at University Medical Center the day of the mass shooting, treating gunshot victims.

"This is an important thing to memorialize - the loss of that many people and the first time in more than 100 years that a sitting congressperson had an attempt on their life," Friese said.

The House of Representatives member tried to pass a similar memorial funding bill back in the 2016 legislative session. He was less successful than Rep. Todd Clodfelter who authored this 2017 legislative bill that also failed.

"I haven't lost hope. Writing laws and passing laws is an iterative process. Every time you try it, if things are moving in the right direction, then it gives you hope and it gives you cause to do it again next year," Friese said.

Friese explained the appropriation of funding could still pass in budget negotiations. He believes new options could be explored, like whittling down the funding to a smaller amount than the $500,000 annual amount for five years that was requested in HB 2436.

He said he has seen the governor's executive budget that was released in January, but there was no mention of helping to fund the memorial. That was released prior to when the lobbying began to attempt and pass HB 2436. He also said he has recently seen the budget legislative priorities, but the memorial funding wasn't included.

When asked about the probability of it passing in the budget Friese stated, "Unfortunately, I would say it's low."

Ducey has the legislative option to push the bill forward, but it would still need approval from the Arizona House and Senate. The legislation would have to be introduced and planned for in the governor's budget.

Jared Lee Loughner killed six and injured Giffords and 12 others in the 2011 shooting. He was sentenced to life in prison.

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