PHOENIX — Calling it a matter of free expression, a House panel voted Wednesday to give residents of homeowner associations and condos the right to fly flags supporting first responders.
But don’t even think about hoisting a “gay pride” flag — or any other flag that could be considered a matter of personal beliefs. That right would not be guaranteed under HB 2010.
The measure approved by the Committee on Government and Elections expands on existing statutes about how far homeowner associations can go in restricting what can occur within their communities.
Current law bars restrictions against the U.S. and state flags. Also permitted are flags of any branch of the military, the white-on-black flag for POW and MIA, and the flag of any Arizona Indian nation.
And in 2011 the Republican-controlled legislature added the Gadsden flag,
That's the black-on-yellow flag with a picture of a rattlesnake and the logo “Don't Tread on Me.” Backers said it recognizes that this was one of the earliest flags used by colonists in the rebellion against the British. That came over the objection of others who pointed out it had become the symbol of the Tea Party movement which opposed excessive taxation and government intervention in the private sector but supported stronger immigration controls.
“Any expression of support for these first responders who put their life on the line every day, for all of us, we should have the right to, in fact, honor them in any way we want,” Dennis Legere, representing the Arizona Homeowner Coalition, told lawmakers in support of HB 2010.
But Legere, who said about 3.5 million Arizonans live in communities with HOAs and the restrictions they impose, said that, as far as he is concerned, the proposal by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, may not go far enough.
“Fundamentally, my position on all of these issues is that any flag is an expression of free speech,'' he said. “And HOAs and condominiums should not ever have the right to restrict or infringe on your fundamental right to free speech.”
Legere said the only time restrictions would be appropriate is if a banner contained profanity, promoted discrimination or is offensive.
In fact, he he told lawmakers, he had never heard of a problem specifically related to a resident being denied the right to fly the flag of first responders.
Kavanagh’s measure is restricted to honoring law enforcement, fire departments and paramedics. And he said it is crafted in a way to keep the flags from being political, even to the point of restricting the words that can be on the banners, the symbols allowed and even the colors used.
But House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, said he doesn’t see it as neutral as Kavanagh claims.
“The way that this language is currently crafted, some of these flags could be seen as political,” he said, what with current controversies like the role of police and funding. “I would hate to see the politics of some of these flags being used to particular offend people of certain communities.”
And Bolding said if lawmakers are going to go down this path, there’s no reason to limit the scope of what views are permissible.
“I do think that it’s important to allow folks to have the freedom of expression to be able to show their support for whatever issue it is that they care about, whether it's first responders or whether it's a pride flag or whether it's any other flag,” he said. “I do think there's some language that can make this bill more amenable.”
But Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, said he’s happy with the bill as it is now.
“I do not see the relationship with other institutions or other organizations such as the pride flag or things of that nature,” he said.
And Kavanagh showed no interest in making changes to the measure which now requires approval of the full House.
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