Ducey signs new law prohibiting outside support for election, among other measures

Maria Polletta
Arizona Republic
Gov. Doug Ducey signing documents alongside Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs on Nov. 30, 2020.

Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday signed legislation barring Arizona officials from accepting privately funded grants to help pay for elections, saying the state's operations must be "pristine and above reproach" given the contentious 2020 election results.  

House Bill 2569, sponsored by Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, makes it illegal to use outside cash to register voters, install ballot drop boxes, ensure polling places run smoothly on Election Day or execute any other part of the election process.

"If third party groups want to engage in advocacy and encourage people to vote, that’s great," Ducey wrote in a signing letter addressed to Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. "But the mechanics of elections cannot be in question, and therefore, all third party money must be excluded going forward to avoid any possible allegations of wrongdoing."

Ducey's rationale echoed that of the Republican lawmakers who'd argued in favor of the measure as it moved through the House and Senate. Hoffman said he proposed the bill to achieve the "utmost and maximum level of integrity, transparency and independence” in elections, even though multiple audits showed Arizona's 2020 election votes were counted accurately and machines were not tampered with. 

Opponents of the measure said the bill would leave election officials with few supplementary funding options, though — at the same time the Legislature weighs other measures that would make administering elections more expensive. Coconino County Recorder Patty Hansen contended it would make more sense for the Legislature to prohibit counties from using outside funds in a partisan or biased manner.

Hansen and other election officials had turned to private grants in the past, particularly as they grappled with drop-offs in poll workers and other challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, Ducey's office helped the Secretary of State's Office secure about $4.8 million from the Center for Election Innovation and Research, whose high-profile donors include Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Arizona used the money to help recruit poll workers, promote early voting and the permanent early voting list, and counter misinformation about the voting process.

In his signing letter, Ducey acknowledged the unprecedented hurdles election officials faced in 2020, as well as the fact that, "when private monies were offered, our election officials used these dollars with the integrity for which they've become known." But he said that can no longer happen in the future. 

"We are grateful for the assistance we received in 2020, and nothing in this law should be interpreted as us being unappreciative," Ducey wrote. "However, to preserve the integrity of and voter confidence in our elections, it is important that election officials avoid any perception of outside influence."

In a brief statement responding to the letter, Hobbs said she looked forward to Ducey "fighting for state funding for elections in the upcoming budget" since he had "found himself caught up in the politics of the moment" in signing HB 2569.

"I am deeply disappointed he has preferred to satisfy the conspiracy theorists within his own party instead of taking a stand," Hobbs, a Democrat, said.

House Bill 2569 — which, like most other bills, will take effect 90 days after lawmakers adjourn for the year — is one of a flurry of new laws signed this week by Ducey.

Here's a look at five other notable measures authorized in recent days by the Republican leader, who has not broken out the veto pen since 2019. 

House Bill 2770: Giving businesses freedom on mask rules

In addition to the election funding bill, Ducey signed another contentious piece of legislation Friday afternoon. 

House Bill 2770 will let businesses decide whether to require customers to wear masks, even if a city, county or the state has a mask mandate in place.

Arizona never implemented a statewide mask requirement to curb the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic. But several cities and counties did, infringing on the "individual rights of these business owners as Americans," according to Rep. Joseph Chaplik, the Scottsdale Republican who sponsored the bill. 

Deeper look: Ducey signs bill to let businesses ignore mask mandates

In a signing letter, Ducey — who has continued to encourage Arizonans to mask up as the state emerges from the pandemic — charged Arizona's largest cities with failing to enforce mask mandates, "leaving the responsibility up to local businesses."

"I understand the concern and heartache this caused," he wrote. 

Ducey's office noted that, as written, the law could inadvertently prevent the enforcement of mask requirements designed to protect employees from exposure to harmful materials. 

But the governor opted to sign off on it anyway, saying Chaplik had committed to addressing the problem before the end of the legislative session.

Senate Bill 1720: Establishing rules for car sharing

Ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber's logos adorned on a car.

Another bill signed by the governor Friday garnered much less controversy and much more bipartisan support. 

Senate Bill 1720 establishes a statewide regulatory framework for peer-to-peer car-sharing companies, which allow car owners to rent out vehicles when they're not using them. 

The law creates guidelines for insurance policies, public safety recalls and consumer protection disclosures.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said she believed the law struck a balance between protecting consumers and giving businesses the freedom to innovate.

It also "provides the Arizona tourism industry with additional revenues while creating new income opportunities during a time of economic recovery in our state," said Fann, who sponsored the bill. 

Senate Bill 1551: Ending license suspensions for unpaid fees

On Wednesday, Ducey signed legislation that had drawn unanimous support in both the House and Senate during a largely polarized legislative session. 

Senate Bill 1551 ensures Arizonans who can't afford to pay traffic fines or fees won't have their licenses suspended as a result. 

The law gives judges the discretion to waive or adjust fines if the penalty would create an undue hardship on the driver, unless the violation involves driving under the influence.

It also reinstates driving privileges for Arizonans whose licenses were suspended or restricted for failure to pay civil traffic violations alone.

The law, which could affect more than 30,000 Arizonans, was endorsed by conservative and progressive organizations alike, including Americans For Prosperity and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.

“Taking away an Arizonan’s drivers license when they can’t pay for a traffic ticket just doesn’t make sense,” Ducey said in a statement released after he signed the bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale.

“People need to drive to places like medical appointments, school and work to earn a living," Ducey said. "There’s no sense in getting in the way of that when they can’t afford the fine, especially when there are other steps the courts can take to collect fees."

House Bill 2111: Arizona as '2nd Amendment sanctuary'

On Tuesday, Ducey signed what he described as a "proactive" move to preserve Arizonans' Second Amendment rights in the event President Joe Biden oversteps on gun control.

House Bill 2111 essentially makes Arizona a “Second Amendment sanctuary” state, forbidding state and local officials from enforcing federal restrictions "inconsistent with any Arizona law regarding the regulation of firearms."

Ducey signed the bill, sponsored state Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City, despite criticism that it would dissuade police from enforcing gun laws, jeopardize Arizonans' safety and possibly prompt court challenges.

Gun control advocacy group Moms Demand Action had collected more than 2,000 signatures on a petition it delivered to Ducey's office in attempt to sway him. 

"The law that I signed was a proactive law that would preclude any unconstitutional changes or things that would erode people's enumerated rights in the state of Arizona," Ducey told reporters after an unrelated news conference Thursday.

If gun reform advocates want a safer state and country, they should push for the enforcement of existing laws, he said. 

Sophia Ramirez, a volunteer with the Arizona chapter of Moms Demand Action, said it was "disappointing that our lawmakers and governor continue to take Arizona backwards and ignore the will of constituents who want stronger gun safety laws."

Senate Bill 1377: Making it harder to sue over COVID-19 infections, deaths

On Monday, the governor signed a bill more than a year in the making: Senate Bill 1377, which makes it harder for Arizonans to sue businesses and other entities over COVID-19 infections and deaths.

Republican lawmakers had attempted to expand liability protections for businesses early in the pandemic, before the 2020 session came to an abrupt end. During Ducey's 2021 State of the State address, he expressed a desire for lawmakers to try again, saying an emergency shouldn't "line the pockets of trial attorneys with frivolous lawsuits."

Democrats, lawyers and labor organizations didn't necessarily disagree with that sentiment, but many felt the legislation ultimately proposed by Sen. Vince Leach, R-Saddlebrooke, focused on protecting the wrong people.

Senate Bill 1377 raises the bar in two ways for anyone wanting to sue a business, school, health care facility or nonprofit after contracting COVID-19 or losing a loved one to the virus.

First, the person has to prove willful misconduct or gross negligence on the part of the institution — basically, that an entity or individual deliberately acted in a way likely to cause harm. That's a higher standard than simple negligence, where harm results from inattention or careless mistakes.

Next, allegations need the support of clear and convincing evidence, which is harder to prove than a preponderance" of evidence. Entities that acted in good faith, defined as adopting and implementing "reasonable policies" related to the pandemic, could avoid liability.

The law will not affect workers' compensation claims.

Republic reporters Andrew Oxford and Ryan Randazzo contributed to this article.

Reach the reporter at maria.polletta@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter @mpolletta.