Originally Published: January 18, 2017 5:59 a.m.
PHOENIX – When Rep. Bob Thorpe ran for reelection in November, the areas in around the Northern Arizona University campus were among his lowest vote tallies.
Thorpe won reelection anyway, with strong showings in the largely Republican Gila and Navajo counties portion of his legislative district.
Now the Flagstaff lawmaker wants to keep students from voting, unless they happen to already have been living there with their families before they went to school.
HB 2260 would make it illegal to use a dormitory address “or other temporary college or university address” like an apartment to register to vote. Instead, Arizona law would presume these to be “a temporary address with intent to return to some other permanent address.”
Thorpe’s legislation also comes shortly after voters in Flagstaff approved an initiative to eventually move that city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour.
That measure passed by a margin of 54-46 percent citywide. But in multiple areas around the NAU campus the margin was closer to 2-1, and even approached 3-1 at two precincts that include parts of the campus, enough to overturn the vote in some some residential precincts where it failed.
What Thorpe proposes would have statewide effect on candidate, bond and initiative elections in communities with public and private colleges with students in residence on or near the campus.
Separately, Thorpe has crafted HB 2124 to not only bar local communities from ever enacting their own “living wage” laws higher than the state minimum but also retroactively repeal what Flagstaff voters approved in November.
And he proposes in HB 2255 to make it illegal for individuals and businesses who do not reside in Arizona to contribute money in support or opposition to ballot measures.
Thorpe refused to speak about any of his proposals.
But Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, assistant minority leader, said the measure on student voting is bad public policy.
“The problem we’re having with young voters now is they’re not voting often enough,” said Farley, whose district includes areas in and around the University of Arizona. “If they’re committed to their college community, committed enough to want to reregister to vote there, then we ought to encourage that.”
What it also is, according to Coconino County Recorder Patty Hansen, is illegal. “You can’t single out a group of people,” she said, citing a 1979 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that upheld a lower court ruling voiding practices by Waller County, Texas, which involved special treatment of college students when they sought to register to vote.
Secretary of State Michele Reagan has her own problems with what Thorpe wants to do.
“I’m not in favor of that just as somebody who spent the last year on all of the college campuses personally registering people to vote,” she said. “That would fly in the face of everything we’ve tried to do in the past year.”
In fact, Reagan said she is working with Arizona State University on a pilot program to let students register to vote when they register for class.
And Reagan said HB 2260 makes the presumption that students are somehow linked to where their parents live.
“They’re not using their home address any more,” Reagan said. “They’re using their student address.”
Thorpe is doing more than trying to change rules for who can vote in future elections. He wants to amend a pair statewide initiatives voters already have approved, one in 2006 and one just last year, that set a statewide minimum wage.
HB 2124 would say that only a statewide minimum wage is permitted. And if approved, it would be retroactive to Oct. 31, meaning it would effectively nullify the Flagstaff vote.
It also has language allowing employers statewide to pay a wage below the state minimum to employees who are in training. Thorpe’s measure does not say how little that may be.
Thorpe also wants to limit who can contribute to ballot measures, like that just approved minimum wage hike.
Existing law allows any individual or corporation to give money to try to get an initiative approved or rejected. The only requirement is that the campaign committees that get the cash detail from who it comes.
HB 2255 would make it illegal for anyone from outside of Arizona to contribute money for or against ballot measures.
That measure, however, may have a large loophole: It specifically covers committees organized “for the purpose of influencing a ballot measure.” And Thorpe’s legislation would continue to leave the door open for out-of-state residents to continue to give to political candidates and their campaign committees.
Rep. Ken Clark, D-Tucson, said it would be one thing if Thorpe were seeking better disclosure of the source of donations. “But I don’t think you can legally restrict out-of-state money from being spent in Arizona,” he said.
Other measures being sponsored by Thorpe this session include:
• HB 2097 making it illegal for the state or local governments to use resources to implement federal laws, federal court rulings, executive orders and rules;
• HB 2119 allowing the attorney general to withhold some state aid from community colleges and universities that offer in-state tuition to “dreamers”;
• HB 2120 withholding some state aid from community colleges and universities that teach courses the attorney general determines promote hatred;
• HB 2121 barring local governments from refusing to cooperate in some instances with federal immigration officials;
• HB 2282 allowing the legislature, by simple majority, to remove a federal judge “who is not serving in good behavior”; and,
• HB 2283 requiring state universities and community colleges to warn students that there may not be jobs available in their chosen fields.