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Hobbs signs budget, vetoes bill that would have criminalized certain library materials for children

Posted 6/18/24

PHOENIX — Gov. Katie Hobbs isn’t going to allow teachers and librarians to be locked up even if they provide sexually explicit materials within a public school or public library.

The …

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Hobbs signs budget, vetoes bill that would have criminalized certain library materials for children


PHOENIX — Gov. Katie Hobbs isn’t going to allow teachers and librarians to be locked up even if they provide sexually explicit materials within a public school or public library.

The legislation crafted by Sen. Jake Hoffman was one of three measures the governor vetoed on Tuesday. The Queen Creek Republican said it was necessary to put some teeth into existing laws on access by minors to certain materials.

Other bills vetoed by Hobbs on Tuesday include:

• Subjecting public entities to lawsuit losses in certain cases where employees committed sexual offenses against minors;

• Requiring the state health department to license out-patient facilities where individuals could get psilocybin-assisted therapy;

• Mandating that anyone doctor, health care institution or anyone else who performs gender transition procedures to pay for “detransitioning.”

All this came as the governor, as expected, penned her approval to legislation to balance the budget for the current fiscal year. The new $17.2 billion spending plan ensures the state has a positive cash balance on June 30 as required by the Arizona Constitution.

Hobbs also signed the documents making up the $16.1 billion spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1. The package was narrowly approved Saturday despite opposition from some Republicans who said it still contained too much spending and some Democrats who objected to cuts being made in what they said are needed programs.

That budget plan also seeks to sweep $195 million during a four-year period out of a $1.14 billion settlement the state made with opioid manufacturers and pharmacies to settle claims that they are responsible for addiction. The dollars would be funneled into the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry.

But the future of that allocation remains in doubt as Attorney General Kris Mayes insists the agreement, approved by a federal judge, restricts how those dollars can be spent. She rejected claims by the governor and legislative leaders that all those dollars are needed to provide treatment to inmates who are addicted to various drugs, arguing instead that it really is just a scheme to balance the state budget and the funding shortfall in the prison system.

Mayes said she is weighing legal options.

The legislation on sexually explicit materials is designed, at least in part, to put some penalties into existing statutes.

State law makes it illegal for a public school to use or refer students to any “sexually explicit material.’’ That is defined as text, visual or audio materials that depict sexual conduct, sexual excitement or “ultimate sexual acts.’’

There are exceptions for materials that possess “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” Bit even then, a student needs written parental consent on a per-item basis.

The problem, Hoffman told colleagues, is these materials are showing up in school classrooms as teachers can bring in their own materials. And he said school librarians pretty much make their own decisions on what to put on shelves.

As proof, he brought a copy of a book called “It’s Perfectly Normal” to a committee hearing. Promoting as being for age 10 and older, he showed other lawmakers drawings of things like youngsters masturbating and two teens having sex.

“These are sexually explicit images that, unfortunately, are shown in our classrooms,” Hoffman said.

The legislation did not stop at classrooms — or even schools. Hoffman sought to apply that same Class 5 felony to an employee or an independent contractor at a public library who referred a minor to any sexually explicit material or facilitated that child’s access.

Hobbs did not get into the merits of any of that in rejecting the bill.

“This legislation is an attack on public schools and public libraries, and does nothing to protect minors,” she wrote in her entire veto message.

The measure on public entity liability is designed to close what Sen. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, considers a gap in the statutes.

Current law generally immunizes those entities from being sued for the actions of employees, even in felonies, unless the entity knew of that worker’s propensity to take that action.

Bolick’s legislation eliminates that immunity if it was a sexual offense on a minor if the public employer did not do a background check, or if the entity failed to reasonably investigate or take action on alleged violations of written policies.

Gretchen Jacobs, the mother of a special needs child, told lawmakers the change is appropriate.

“The application of immunity provides the perverse incentive of a reward for public entities of immunity for willful blindness,” she said.

Jacobs pointed to one case where an employee was fired for sexually violating a patient. He then was hired by a school district.

She said child pornography was found on his computer which included nude photos of a non-verbal, non-ambulatory special needs student in his care. But a lawsuit by the parents on behalf of their daughter was thrown out when a judge said there was no evidence the school district knew of his propensity because there was no evidence the district contacted the prior employer.

Hobbs, in her veto message, said the measure is flawed.

“Legislation that expands public entity liability needs to be carefully tailored and thoughtfully executed,” she wrote. “This legislation does not meet that standard.”

The proposal on psychedelic mushrooms was pushed by Sen. T.J. Shope. The Coolidge Republican said it would not legalize the drug for recreational purposes but instead a way of providing treatment — and in a clinical setting — for those struggling with things like post-traumatic stress disorder and other health issues.

Shope said he has heard multiple stories from individuals, particularly those who were in the military, who found themselves still suffering mental trauma.

Hobbs noted the state formed a psilocybin research advisory board last year. And she said the panel, in its first report, concluded while it may be a promising treatment “we do not yet have the evidence needed to support widespread clinical expansion.”

“Arizonans with depression and PTSD deserve access to treatments that may be seen as outside the mainstream,” the governor wrote. “But they should not be the subject of experiments for unproven therapies with a lack of appropriate guardrails.”

The legislation on gender detransitioning was brought by Sen. Janae Shamp. The Surprise Republican said there are individuals who, after having someone perform gender reassignment surgery, change their minds only to find the health care providers won’t reverse the procedures.

Shamp said she had no idea how many would be affected but quoted a 2022 study saying there are 53,000 adults from Arizona who are on a web discussion page for transgender adults and another 7,000 age 13 through 17.

Hobbs vetoed the measure, saying it is unnecessary “and would create a privacy risk for patients.”

The action drew a sharp response from Shamp.

“If doctors are going to block the natural puberty process of children and surgically alter the genetalia of people struggling with gender dysphoria, they must be prepared to undo the damage — as much as possible,’’ she said in a prepared statement.

Her legislation would have imposed the same mandate on insurance companies, saying if they govern gender reassignment surgery they must also cover detransition surgery.