Steele Resolve for Arizona
Eliminating Gun Violence.
“Thank you for your confidence and faith in me. I am back in the Arizona Senate fighting for you!“
TUCSON (KVOA) – This bill aims to increase the board of supervisors from 5 to 9 members. Supporters of the bill say this expansion is overdue and will help with better representation. Detractors say it is unnecessary.
J.D. Mesnard, a state senator from Maricopa County, proposed the bill because each County supervisor in Maricopa county represents over 900,000 people.
Each Pima county supervisors represents around 200,000.
State Senator Mesnard said, “So, 900,000 people is more than a member of the US House of Representatives even today represents the counties have certainly come into the limelight a little bit more as of as of late.”
Victoria Steele is a state senator that covers the Foothills area in Tucson and voted no to Mesnard’s bill. “It is a solution in search of a problem. There’s no problem here. We’ve had no complaints we have no reports of lack of representation.”
Mesnard says it will help to communicate with local government easier. “I am a believer in the idea that the smaller the constituency that you represent the more tailored the more focused the better representation you get.”
Many in the opposition including state senator Steele say we’re already spending enough, and this is an unnecessary expense. “This would be a huge waste of taxpayers’ money and frankly I’m surprised that this is sponsored by a republican because they generally aren’t in favor of more bureaucracy.”
The bill has been passed on to the house, but they have not scheduled a vote yet for the bill.
After hearing the distressing story of a mother desperate to conceive children only to find out the artificial insemination treatments she received were sourced from the very doctor she entrusted to provide her sperm from an anonymous donor, Arizona Sen. Victoria Steele (D-Tucson) decided to use her position of power to help other victims.
When Kristen Finlayson took an Ancestry DNA kit in 2019, her mother, Debra Guilmette, discovered that Dr. James Blute III, who provided her fertility treatments in the ’80s, used his own sperm to inseminate her instead of using sperm from an anonymous Hispanic donor as she requested.
Finlayson went 34 years believing she was of Hispanic descent, only to find out the DNA test results showed she had no Hispanic DNA and was primarily Irish. The Ancestry site shows that Finlayson has 12 half-siblings, including children of the doctor who delivered her.
Finlayson’s DNA tests revealed that Blute is her biological father.
Steele saw the story, first reported by Lupita Murillo of KVOA News 4 Tucson, and drafted a bill that would make fertility fraud a criminal offense in Arizona as it is in California, Indiana and Texas.
Steele introduced the bill before the 2021 state legislative session began, but her bill was never assigned to a committee.
“I requested a meeting with [Senate President Karen Fann], I said I’d like to see her because I want to ask her to please reconsider, and please assign this to a committee so it can get a hearing,” Steele said. “I think that she may be thinking that this is a controversial bill, but I think that actually, I put a bill up here that everybody can get behind, and we could have a real bipartisan bill . . . I assumed that in a few days, it would be assigned to a committee because she would look at it, and in her heart of hearts, she would get that this really does make sense.”
On Jan. 20, Steele found out a bill criminalizing fertility fraud did make it to a committee to be voted on, but it was not hers.
Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, had introduced a similar bill that would make fertility fraud a criminal offense. It was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 20.
“I was floored. I knew [Barto] would like it, but I didn’t know she’d like it that much,” Steele said. “It’s not against the rules, and so she has every right to take my bill and put it in and take credit for it. It doesn’t matter, as long as the bill gets passed. But it does matter because that kind of highly unethical behavior makes it really difficult to have bipartisanship, and it’s really difficult to get good bills to pass.”
Barto said she never knew about Steele’s bill, but that she was contacted by a constituent who had a story of fertility fraud and felt moved to draft legislation to criminalize the act.
Barto’s bill, SB 1237, proposed making “human reproductive material fraud” a class 6 felony while providing victims liquidated damages of $10,000.
Steel’s bill, SB 1055, also called to make fertility fraud a class 6 felony with damages to the victims of $50,000.
Bill amended to avoid making fertility fraud a criminal offense
Once Barto’s bill made it to a Senate committee, Finlayson was approached to testify about her experience.
After she shared her heartfelt story of betrayal, Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called for the bill to be amended to remove the language that would make fraudulent fertility treatments a felony.
“I thought at that moment, I was testifying for the criminal aspect of the bill to be passed. I didn’t know that was taken off,” Finlayson said. “I was pissed. That’s the most important aspect of the bill, for someone to be held criminally responsible for rape. My mom didn’t consent.”
The amended version of the bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee without dissent on Feb. 11. The new bill would hold doctors who provide artificial insemination treatments without the truth of the sperm’s origin liable for civil damages.
It lays out specific civil actions for victims of such crimes to seek damages against the doctors who deceived them, allowing them to receive relief of at least $10,000 in damages.
The civil actions could be brought forth by the woman who gave birth, her spouse or the children born as a result of a doctor’s fraud.
The civil charges would have to be brought forth within 20 years of the procedure or 10 years after the 18th birthday of the child.
But there’s nothing stopping victims from filing civil claims against doctors who impregnate patients through fertility treatments without consent. In fact, Finlayson and her mother Guilmette are in active civil ligation against Blute in Pima County Superior Court.
Blute has another case pending for artificially inseminating women with his own sperm under the guise of a separate sperm donor.
While Barto said her preference was to make fertility fraud a criminal offense, in order to move the bill forward, she had to be willing to negotiate.
“That’s the process of legislation. In order to move bills along you need to work with everybody and their feelings about how things should be held whether criminal or civil. [Peterson] had strong feelings about that,” Barto said. “In order to move the bill forward, we had to compromise and make it a civil penalty instead, it could still be quite significant, it can still be quite impactful to a doctor. So you know, I wasn’t about to complain, because I think we were making definite progress in holding physicians accountable to informed consent.”
On Feb. 22, 29 state senators voted to pass the bill with one member not voting. It’s since been sent to the House for a vote.
Meanwhile, victims like Finlayson believe the bill falls far short of the justice the victims of doctors who deceive their patients deserve.
“What if this happened to your daughter? If she went in and was in a position that my mother was in, and the doctor did this to her, now his grandson or granddaughter is now part of this doctor’s deception?” she said. “I don’t think they put themselves in other people’s positions. They don’t care—I’m not saying all of them. Just try to put yourself in our position.”
Barto said the amendments of the bill she introduced are a consequence of the legislative process, and while fertility fraud perpetrators may not be held criminally accountable, the consequences the bill lays out in civil liability are the best of a bad situation.
“I just really feel for anyone that’s gone through this. I think there’s a lot of consideration for those feelings and wanting to take the most hardline stance and measures against that activity towards them. You know, I can certainly understand that,” Barto said. “But if we’re going to move forward, we have to work together, and that’s how legislation works. Otherwise, it would have died and then we’d have nothing.”
N4T Investigators: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints respond to civil complaint.
N4T Investigators: Tucson legislator introduces bill to have clergy report child abuse despite Clergy Privilege.
Clergy in Arizona would be required to report suspected child abuse, even if they learn of it during a confession, under a new proposal.
The bill would eliminate the clergy-penitent privilege, closing what advocates say is a loophole that allows sexual predators to avoid being caught.
Senate Bill 1008 adds members of clergy to the list of mandated reporters of abuse and would curtail what is known as clergy-penitent privilege. Currently, only Guam, New Hampshire and West Virginia consider clergy mandated reporters and clergy-penitent privilege is waived in cases of suspected child abuse or neglect in those states.
Everywhere else, including Arizona, clergy are not mandated reporters and clergy-penitent privilege is not waived in cases of suspected child abuse or neglect. In Arizona, state law exempts a clergyman or priest from reporting abuse heard during a confession. Additionally, they cannot be forced to speak before the court over abuse they heard in confession in cases regarding child abuse of any kind.
“I can’t imagine why anyone who is in a religion should be exempt from reporting child abuse,” the bills’s sponsor, Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, said.
Steele, a survivor of sexual abuse herself, said that the bill is in part a response to a case that rattled the small town of Bisbee.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is being sued over its alleged involvement in covering up abuse, as its hotline to report abuse directed Church leaders to not report it.
Two Bishops called the line to report abuse that included porographic videos of children being created to be shared online. Some of the reports of abuse were alleged to have come to light to the Bishops during confessions.
“This is the hardest thing in the world for me to do, to talk about this, but I have to because it is real and people need to understand,” Steele said about how talking about issues of abuse often reignites her own past trauma. “We can protect children, but not if we keep it secret.”
Tim Lennon, President of the Arizona chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, sees the bill as a necessary step to protecting Arizona’s children.
“There is nothing religious about covering up sexual abuse,” Lennon, a survivor himself, said. “Religion is part of our culture and our society… Having child predators exposed is not an imposition against that faith.”
Steele is worried that the bill may not move forward. An identical proposal last year never got a hearing.
“Protecting children shouldn’t be about someone’s political party or religion,” Steele said.
The bill has been assigned to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, but has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.