Wed, May 22

Law allowing production of industrial hemp moves forward in State Senate

PHOENIX --State senators took the first steps Monday evening to allowing Arizona farmers to grow industrial hemp.

Existing law makes it a felony to grow or possess all forms of marijuana. SB 1337 creates an exception for plants where the concentration of tetrahydrocannibinol, the psychoactive element of marijuana, is less than 0.3 percent.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, held up examples of products made from hemp, ranging from rope to lotions, with the raw materials imported from elsewhere.

“We’ve been missing out on a multi million-dollar industry,’’ he told members of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Public Safety. And Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, said allowing farmers to grow the crop and have it processed here would reduce the trade deficit.

The only concern came from attorney Bob Lynch who represents irrigation districts that would supply water to farmers.

He pointed out that hemp growing remains illegal except for certain exceptions like university research. And Lynch cautioned that a new president and new attorney general could decide to prosecute anyone who helps grow the crop, including his irrigation districts.

“We need to tread lightly here,’’ he said.

Despite that SB 1337 was approved on a 6-1 vote. It still needs to clear the Senate Appropriations Committee because it contains money for the Department of Agriculture to police the industry before it goes to the full Senate.

License suspensions

Motorists who drive on a suspended license would no longer face jail time for a first offense under the terms of legislation given preliminary Senate approval Monday.

Violators now can be incarcerated for up to six months. SB 1160 would reduce that to an unspecified civil fine.

The same legislation would also remove criminal penalties for not having current registration on an out-of-state vehicle and for failure to wear required corrective lenses.

SB 1160, which now needs House approval, would give judges more power to impose restrictions on someone’s driving rather than entirely suspending their licenses. For example, it could include the ability to drive to and from work, school, doctor and probation officer.

Trapped kids and animals

Individuals who break into locked cars to rescue children and animals would no longer face civil liability under legislation approved Monday by the Senate.

SB 1001 provides immunity from damages to someone who uses “reasonable force’’ to enter an unattended vehicle if he or she has “a good faith beliefs’’ that the minor or pet is “in imminent danger of suffering physical injury or death’’ unless rescued. The measure requires that a would-be rescuer first notify a peace officer, first responder or animal control agency and, after breaking in, remain with the vehicle until someone arrives.

The measure, which now goes to the House, says immunity does not apply if the person uses “more force than is necessary under the circumstances’’ or “commits any unnecessary or malicious damage.’’

Student journalists

Without dissent the Senate on Monday to protect newspapers produced by students from most administrative intervention.

SB 1384 which now needs House approval guarantees freedom of speech and press to school-sponsored media in kindergarten through colleges and universities. More to the point, it precludes limits solely because the newspaper is supported by the school or the facilities are owned by the school.

The legislation has some exceptions, including allowing intervention to halt libelous or slanderous content or stories that constitute an “unwarranted invasion of privacy.’’ Other exceptions from free-press standards for student papers include violations of state or federal law or any story that “creates the imminent danger of inciting students to violate the law or district regulations or materially and substantially disrupts the orderly operation of the public school, community college or university.’’

Water rights

A Senate panel on Monday rebuffed a plea from some Pinal farmers to change Department of Water Resources rules they say affect the value of their land.

Current law allows farmers to continue to pump as much groundwater as they have been using forever, as long as it is for agriculture. They also can convert 94 percent that water right for industrial and municipal uses.

The issue is that new developments -- or the cities where they build and get their groundwater -- have to replenish any water they pump.

In a bid to reduce groundwater draw, DWR is reducing the amount of water that can be credited to a development from buying up a farmer’s water rights. At some point, that credit will reach zero, leaving developers instead having to buy water from the Central Arizona Project to replenish the groundwater supply.

Tiffany Shedd who owns 3,000 acres of farmland told members of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, Energy and Water that will mean landowners who decide years from now they no longer want to farm would find no buyers for those water rights since developers could not use them. She argued that is taking away property rights without compensation.

Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, sponsor of SB 1280, urged colleagues to overrule the DWR rules and halt the reduction in those “extinguishment credits.’’