PHOENIX -- A Senate panel voted Tuesday to set up a militia of 300 citizen volunteers to fight what its proponent says is an invasion of state "by criminals who have formed alliances with Middle Eastern terrorists.'
Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said there is only so much that state police and local sheriffs can do about violence along the border and in the state's interior. And she said that, as an issue of national security, it is the responsibility of the federal government.
"But this is also an issue of public safety for the state of Arizona for the welfare, health and safety of our citizens,' she told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "And it is our responsibility to also respond to this crisis.'
SB 1083 would establish an Arizona Special Missions Unit, separate from the Arizona National Guard and even separate from the Arizona State Guard which lawmakers approved -- but did not fund -- last year. Under the control of the governor, it would respond to disasters and get involved in search and rescue efforts. But it also would be responsible in helping to secure the border and supplement law enforcement, including being able to pursue, arrest and detain individuals.
And unlike last year's bill authorizing the governor to set up a State Guard, this measure actually mandates the governor to name someone to head the unit and gives that person the power to get volunteers and appoint commissioned officers. It also includes a $1.4 million appropriation.
Allen said terrorists already have compromised law enforcement and the Army in Mexico and built relationships with Mideastern terrorist groups.
"It's taken years for them to do that,' she said. "And they're now doing that same thing in the state of Arizona.'
The proposal drew a skeptical response from foes.
"So we're going to take on the Mideastern terrorists and Hezbollah and the drug cartels with 300 volunteers and hardly any funding?' Sen. David Lujan, D-Phoenix, asked.
"We're going to hope that this might help in that effort,' Allen responded. "What are you suggesting, that we just sit here and let them come on in here?'
Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson, said she was concerned about putting armed people without proper background on the border.
She said the legislation provides just 40 hours of weapons' training, versus 500 required for sworn law enforcement officers.
"You've got some severe problems right there,' Cajero Bedford said, saying just the publicity over this is going to "give Arizona another black eye.'
But Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, one of the supporters, said the state needs what Allen is proposing.
"We have an obligation for public safety,' he said.
"I think this is a great start,' Melvin continued. "I'm confident this will evolve into a very effective force,' saying it is little different than the armed posses that are operated by sheriffs in Maricopa and Pinal counties.
But two other Republicans, Rich Crandall of Chandler and Jerry Lewis of Mesa, said they could not support the measure. That, however, still left sufficient votes for the legislation to clear the committee and head to the full Senate.