Governor vetoes bill that would have allowed more executions

Gov. Jan Brewer

Gov. Jan Brewer

PHOENIX -- Calling it a serious threat to the state's death penalty, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed legislation Thursday that would have allowed more criminals to be executed.

HB 2313 would have added more factors to the list of what jurors could use in deciding whether someone convicted of a capital crime should be sentenced to life behind bars or executed. That new list includes both causing a death while engaged in human smuggling as well as having been previously convicted of that offense.

And it also would put jurors in the position of determining if that person might commit future criminal acts.

Other bills nixed by Brewer less than 24 hours after the legislative session ended include:

- Redefining what is a "firearm' in a way the governor said would let dangerous weapons into public buildings;

- Allowing rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft to accept paying passengers without complying with some of the same regulations that govern taxi firms;

- Limiting the ability of the state Board of Education to set academic standards.

Arizona law says those convicted of first-degree murder can be put to death. But the law also says that there have to be "aggravating factors' beyond a simple premeditated murder.

These range from killing someone for money to committing the crime in "an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner.'

HB 2313 sought to add to that list the jury's determination there was "a substantial likelihood that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that constitute a continuing threat to society.'

"The proposed additional language in the legislation broadens the scope of those eligible for the death penalty to the point where the constitutionality of Arizona's death penalty statute likely would be challenged and potentially be declared to be unconstitutional,' Brewer wrote in her veto message.

But Rep. Justin Pierce, R-Mesa, who crafted the measure, said the governor's concerns about the statute being overturned are unwarranted. He said it was aimed at gang members who already have killed people and are in prison.

"They're in the 'blood in/blood out' gangs,' Pierce said.

"We know that there's only one way out for them, and that's to commit a murder,' he continued. Pierce said even if they're sentenced to life behind bars, that endangers both corrections officers and other inmates.

Brewer also swatted down legislation that would have redefined what is a "firearm.' The governor said it would exclude certain weapons that could still cause injury or death, like air pistols, and allowed people to bring these in to public buildings.

SB 1366 also would have said a person is not guilty of illegal weapon possession if what he or she had was not "readily convertible' into a gun.

"That could permit an individual and an accomplice to carry two pieces of a weapon into a public building,' Brewer wrote. "Once inside, the weapon could then be easily reassembled as a firearm.'

But Charles Heller of the Arizona Citizens Defense League said the clear intent was to prevent people from being punished for having a non-working gun, perhaps an antique. He accused Brewer of "artful prevarication,' saying she "completely twisted the language of the bill to suit her veto.'

The veto that was least surprising was HB 2262 allowing "transportation network companies' to operate without what Brewer said are "fundamental safeguards' to drivers, passengers and the general public.

These companies use Internet aps to connect drivers using their own cars with passengers. Financial arrangements are made online, with the company keeping a share and paying the driver.

But Brewer said there are no requirements for pre-employment and random drug testing similar to what exist for taxi drivers. The governor said she made it clear to lobbyists that the bill was likely veto bait without that requirement.

The governor also worried that the fact these companies do not provide constant liability coverage for all drivers could lead to higher insurance premiums for other motorists.

In a prepared statement, a spokesman for Uber called the veto "an action that will slash quality jobs, restrict access to a best-in-class transportation option and set Arizona back in the innovation economy.'

Brewer did sign several other measures including:

- Taking away the authority of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission to police campaign law violations by candidates who do not accept public funding;

- Making "female genitalia mutilation' of minors, a practice in some cultures, a crime;

- Allowing physical therapists to do "dry needling,' a form of acupuncture, without additional licensing.

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