TUCSON (KVOA) – A controversial bill that would make it mandatory for clergy to report child sex abuse went before the Senate Education Committee Tuesday.
Arizona law currently gives clergy an exception to the reporting laws.
This bill was presented as a result of our investigation into a case in Cochise County where a father told his church leaders, he was sexually abusing his daughters and making videos and placing them on porn websites.
The Senate Education Committee voted four in favor, and four against.
SB 2494 failed.
However, the author of the bill Tucson Senator Victoria Steele said she wasn’t giving up.
This was the third time she’s presented the bill. She told the News 4 Tucson, “This really is one of those really no brainer. You are either going to protect the children or the monsters who would hurt them. And that’s what the vote was really all about today. Four senators voted to protect them.”
Miranda Whitworths’s six-year-old adopted daughter was sexually abused. Her testimony brought tears to some of the senators. “My infant daughter was raped daily, and many people knew and did nothing. They suffer no repercussions. I’m tired of excuses and red tape on this critical issue. My daughter and my family suffer every day.”
The Senate Education Committee spent more than an hour discussing SB 2494. The members agreed the premise of the bill was good, but others held the church’s right to keep the confessional a secret and voted no.
Senator Nancy Barto said in the hearing, “I too think it’s an overreach for this particular case with that Sen Barto votes no.”
Lynne Cadigan an attorney who has represented victims of sex and child abuse for 35 years also testified. She was disappointed the bill failed .”What members would have any faith in their church if they knew that their leaders were keeping sex abuse of their children a secret.”
We reached out to the senators who voted no, and none were available for comment.
The ongoing energy and human disaster following the recent historic freeze in Texas has created an immense nationwide awareness of the importance of safe and effective energy policies.
Here in Arizona, we face critical decisions on our energy future regarding the wellbeing of our citizens and our economic viability. That’s why I stand in strong opposition to legislation that would strip the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) of its ability to set renewable energy standards. In a nutshell, Senate Bill 1175 is an unconstitutional power grab by the Republican-controlled legislature in order to derail the commission’s new, modernized clean energy rules.
This bill targets and threatens the bipartisan clean energy rules now being considered — rules that will save ratepayers money, clean up our air and boost our economy. The ACC’s clean energy rules allow us to benefit from the least expensive sources of electricity as renewables and energy efficiency save ratepayers money, because there are no fuel costs with renewables as there are with fossil fuel sources.
The ACC is an independent elected body, constitutionally charged with setting energy policy and regulating utilities. The Arizona Legislature is not in charge of the Corporation Commission and lacks the legal standing to pass this bill, a position the Arizona Supreme Court recently made clear when it ruled in Johnson Utilities v. Arizona Corporation Commission that “the legislature may only enlarge, not lessen, the Commission’s authority.”
These rules, which are the target of much of this legislation, were not railroaded through the ACC, but instead have gone through a thorough bipartisan and public review process. They were developed over a period of two years, with extensive stakeholder engagement and vetting from citizens, as well as those from the financial, environmental and technology industries.
When it comes to making critical decisions on Arizona’s energy portfolio, regulation and ratemaking, we must have those experts making the decisions. In the legislature, we are expected to know a little about a lot of topics as we aim to debate a record number of bills in less than 100 days. Meanwhile, the Corporation Commission is laser-focused 365 days a year on these vital energy issues.
Further, these new clean energy standards are good for Arizona’s economy. Businesses are demanding more affordable sources of energy and cleaner air, which is not only good for the environment but for their bottom line. Companies like Google, the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, Tesla and the Arizona Technology Council, which represents more than 800 tech sector businesses and more, support the ACC’s clean energy rules and oppose SB1175 because it would create an uncertain business environment for clean energy investments. The new energy standard will put Arizona on track to establish itself as a leader in clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Arizona’s clean energy industry already is a major driver of economic growth, creating good-paying jobs that can’t be easily outsourced.
The advanced energy sector already employs 69,000 Arizonans — twice as many as the state’s agriculture and mining industries combined. We need more jobs like that. Instead, Republicans are forcing through this bill that risks tens of thousands of jobs in our state by creating economic uncertainty in clean energy investments.
The bottom line is that clean energy is the future. This bill stifles that future, allowing other states to race ahead of us in attracting successful sustainable businesses and jobs and creating a healthier, cleaner environment. As Lee Iacocca said, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”
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.
PHOENIX — Residents of the state’s two largest counties could find themselves with more people to call when something goes wrong.
But it will cost them.
On a 15-13 margin the Arizona Senate on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to expanding the size of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors from five to nine. SB 1498 also would increase the size of the Pima board from five to seven members.
The move came over the objection of several Democratic lawmakers who said the board members in the two affected counties are opposed. Sen. Victoria Steele of Tucson said the issue for the supervisors in her county is cost, at least in part.
The cost of operating an office, including salaries and equipment, is about $500,000. So two new supervisors in Pima County would increase public spending by $1 million, what she called an “unfunded mandate.”
Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, said there were similar objections from the Maricopa supervisors.
But Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said the two counties have grown so large that individual supervisors can no longer adequately represent their constituents.
He said the situation is particularly pronounced in Maricopa County where each of the five supervisors represents close to 900,000 residents. Adding four more board members would cut that to about 635,000 per district.
It’s not quite as severe in Pima County where a supervisory district now consists of about 200,000 residents. Going to seven would cut that to about 150,000.
Still, Mesnard defended extending his legislation to Pima County. He said it’s a “similar principle though obviously not as extreme.”
The idea of linking the number of supervisors to population is not new.
Arizona law already says that once a county hits 175,000 the size of the board has to go from three to five.
Mesnard’s bill simply adds two new thresholds.
At a million, the minimum becomes seven. And at three million, that requires nine.
“There comes a point in time when trying to represent a very large number of people is difficult,” Mesnard said. In fact, he said, at 900,000 the size of Maricopa County districts is larger than any of the state’s congressional districts.
Steele does not dispute that number.
But she said that most county residents actually live within the incorporated limits of a city.
In Pima County, the most recent estimates show 35% of the population is in an unincorporated area. It’s even more pronounced in Maricopa County where just 7% of residents do not live within a city.
And Steele said that means they are more likely to call a council member with a problem than a supervisor.
Mesnard said that may be true but it does not make them any less important.
“They’re still elected officials who have a constituency,” he said. “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.”
Mesnard said that it is “absolutely true” that a government can be more efficient when there are fewer people in charge. But he said that does not tell the whole story.
“They would be very efficient having single persons governing everything,” Mesnard said. “But we all know that’s not a good principle.”
The measure still needs a final roll-call vote in the Senate before going to the House.
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.”
TUCSON (KVOA) – A bill that would make it mandatory for clergy in Arizona to report child abuse to law enforcement has failed.
Senator Victoria Steele of Tucson sponsored SB 1008 after learning some children in Cochise County were being abused by their father.
The church clergy were aware of this abuse and never reported it to law enforcement citing clergy privilege.
This is the second time Sen. Steele has introduced this bill.
Both times it’s failed even though there appears to be a lot of support for it.
She told News 4 Tucson Investigators, “I’m not giving up, and again I am incredibly disappointed.”
Sen. Steele said, Sen. Nancy Barto. who heads the Health and Humans Services committee told her the reason she was not going to hear it was because she didn’t think the state should interfere in the confession.
Sen. Barto sent News 4 Tucson the following statement:
“Not being Catholic, I’ve had to think long and hard about the likely impact of SB 1008 on both victims and their abusers should it pass. I believe it would not actually solve the problem, as there is no evidence that forcing priests to disclose the contents of a confession would have prevented a case of child abuse. Furthermore, it could actually be detrimental, rather than protective of crime victims, as removing this limited exception would very likely result in perpetrators simply not bringing the matter to confession. Victims expecting confidentiality may also be chilled into silence, not receiving the much-needed help from police or a trained counselor.”
Father James Connell a priest with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee sent an email to Steele supporting the bill.
He disagreed the bill would have interfered with the church. “What kind of religion wants to protect criminals over protecting children? That has just got to change and move past that. Now, if our faith is about truth and justice and love. It has to be about protecting children before we protect criminals.”
Defense attorney Lynne Cadigan represents three children in Cochise County who were emotionally, physically, and sexually abused by their father.
It was that case Sen. Steele learned about that brought on the proposed legislation both times.
Cadigan currently has a civil suit against the church of Jesus Christ-Latter-day Saints. She too is disappointed the bill failed “A legislator who is a parent how can they not pass this bill. How can they not even hear it?”
Sen. Steele added, “When a child tells you that they are being abused you have a moral and a legal responsibility to report that, to protect the children.”
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.
Lawsuit: Fertility Doc Fathered His Patient’s Children
Last December, Kristen Finlayson purchased an Ancestry DNA kit in a half-off holiday special.
Curious about her familial roots, she spit into a test tube and patiently awaited the results. But what she found out would irrevocably change her sense of self and foster a heinous knowledge of betrayal throughout her family.
The online results of her familial relations echoed the same surname over and over: Blute.
Finlayson received a message on the Ancestry site from a reported half brother. He told her to look at her birth certificate.
She found the worn piece of paper documenting her birth and fell devastated when she saw the name of her delivery doctor: Dr. James Blute III.
Having gone 34 years of her life believing her Hispanic dad, Phil Salgado (who passed away when she was 27), was her biological father, Finlayson’s mother admitted she was conceived through fertility treatments.
Finlayson’s DNA tests revealed the doctor who administered the treatments, James Blute III, is also her biological father.
“I started shaking…I didn’t know what to do. I just felt like my whole identity was just taken.” -Kristen Finlayson
After taking both Ancestry and 23andMe DNA tests, she found 10 half-siblings who share DNA with her and with Blute.
“I started shaking…I didn’t know what to do. I just felt like my whole identity was just taken,” Finlayson said.
Finlayson’s brother Aaron Salgado took a DNA test to find the same results. His father was also Blute, the doctor who gave his mother fertility treatments in the ’80s.
“I was just sick, I really was. I just could not believe it,” said Finlayson’s mother, Debra Guilmette. “Especially now that I’ve been an RN for 40 years, I know the medical profession, and the first thing is ‘Do no harm.’ I just was blown away, completely.”
Blute has two civil court cases pending against him in Pima County for artificially inseminating women with his own sperm under the guise of a separate sperm donor. He denies the charges against him.
But Blute can only be civilly charged with the alleged misconduct, as fertility fraud isn’t a criminal offense in Arizona as it is in California, Indiana and Texas.
Arizona stymied in taking ‘next logical step’ toward equality
After beating the rest of the country in giving women the right to vote, Arizona has trailed the pack in passing the Equal Rights Amendment.
Arizona women led the charge for the right to vote in 1912, the year the territory became a state — and a full eight years before the rest of the nation granted women the vote. In 1923, it would seem an easy victory for Arizona women when the first effort to get the Equal Rights Amendment into the U.S. Constitution was introduced.
Ninety-seven years later the fight goes on.
“We have made great progress, but that progress could be overturned and reversed and is being overturned and reversed constantly, and so the only way to assure this is to put it into the Constitution,” Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, said.
Nationwide interest in the ERA was re-kindled during the 1970s and 1980s, a byproduct of the “second wave” of the women’s right movement.
“We were going great gangbusters at first to get the ERA ratified,” Steele said. “It was state after state after state and then all of a sudden it just got stopped. And it was because a group of very conservative women led by Phyllis Schlafly just wanted women to be home, barefoot and pregnant and making apple pie for their husbands in the kitchen. And they thought that if women had equal rights, that the family would be destroyed.”
In Arizona, the ERA was supported by the first female majority leader of a state Senate, Republican Sen. Sandra Day O’Connor. She helped introduce it to state Legislature where it failed to be ratified. She then joined efforts to get the amendment passed in a statewide referendum. That too failed. Even O’Connor, who of course went on to become the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, couldn’t shake the boogeymen with which Schlafly and her group had so artfully surrounded the ERA.
“It seems to just be really emotional and not based, in my opinion, on any sort of rational or logic,” Steele said. “And once the counter-arguments start again by Republicans, often Republican women, it digresses into if Arizona passes it, it is going to lead to unisex bathrooms … that it’s going to lead into more abortions. I mean, it’s really crazy but I think what happened is they go for and believe in these emotionally laden arguments that I don’t think there’s any rational evidence to support.”
That reaction to the ERA surprised even one member from across the aisle – Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, a Phoenix Republican.
“They somehow or another tied it into abortion and I could never get that squared away as to why that was,” Brophy McGee said. “And that they were insistent upon it, which was just so surprising. That’s why I think it hasn’t progressed and I do think there is some resistance to it from very, very conservative members of my caucus.”
The latest battle
Steele discovered that the hard way last year, when she was hoping to make Arizona the 38th state needed to ratify the ERA.
“I was just sweating blood to try to get this to happen, so that Arizona could be the 38th state,” Steele said. “We could not bring it to a vote, but we finally brought it to a debate on the floor. And with every Republican that spoke out against it, it showed exactly why we need the ERA in our Constitution. I mean, they just proved the point every time they spoke, and it was just ridiculous to see such pushback against having men and women equal under the law. Let’s move forward and let’s give women the same rights under the law that men have, period end of question, end of story.”
So, Steele attempted a procedural move on the Senate floor to force a vote on it.
“We had advocates with our ERA banners in the gallery and (President of the Senate) Karen Fann came up to me and said, ‘What are you up to? I know you’re up to something,’” Steele said.
Steele claims Fann censored her floor speech, an accusation the president denied on the floor.
“It was heartbreaking, because everybody up in the gallery was ready for me to make this motion and I didn’t do it and I was dying inside because they didn’t understand why I didn’t do it,” Steele said.
This year, the hope that Arizona would be the 38th and deciding vote on the ERA’s ratification became moot when the Virginia Legislature ratified the amendment.
“They were able to flip their entire Legislature to a Democratic-controlled Legislature and the first thing that they did in January of this year was to ratify the ERA,” Steele said. “And meanwhile, we were stuck with the same Republicans that would not allow us to even bring it up to a vote. There was no way that we could get it through.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks
Brophy McGee, the Republican colleague who supported Steele’s move, admitted she “ran into a buzz saw when I signed onto that.”
“I was thinking it was kind of the next logical step and the buzz saw was from members of my caucus that did not view it as benign or the next logical step,” she added.
Like Brophy McGee, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita also co-sponsored the resolution in favor of the ERA, but voted against suspending the rules to bring the matter to a vote.
Besides having a Legislature dead-set against approving the ERA, Brophy McGee said there was now another obstacle from on-high hindering any further attempts to get a vote on the floor. The obstacle was thrown up by none other the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
In February, during a public discussion at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Ginsburg said Virginia’s vote came too late. The U.S. Congress had set a 1982 deadline for the states to ratify the amendment.
“I would like to see a new beginning,” Ginsburg told the audience. “I’d like it to start over.”
Her remarks seem to support the U.S. Department of Justice argument that not only had the deadline to ratify the amendment expired decades ago, but also that some states had since rescinded their support.
“There’s too much controversy about late comers, Virginia, long after the deadline passed,” Ginsburg said.
On February 13, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to remove the 1982 deadline. With Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying he is not a supporter of the ERA, it’s uncertain where the bill goes from there.
Meanwhile, Virginia, Illinois and Nevada, the three states to put the ERA over the goal line, have filed a lawsuit against the National Archivist, ordering it to ratify the amendment. The National Archives and Records Administration said it would abide by the Justice Department’s opinion that the deadline for ratification has long passed.
Steele said she will continue the work to keep the ERA fight alive in Arizona and is looking at younger members of the Legislature to change the current status quo. It’s a sentiment echoed by her colleague Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix.
“Arizona is now within the top three states of female representation, and when I would speak to female groups, I would mention that, to which there’d be applause and people would be excited,” Rios said. “And I’d quickly follow up with the fact that it’s not about just electing women — that you need to elect the right women.
“This issue, like many others, does not change until you change the players. I mean, we’ve got a lot of old dogs at the Legislature and I will include myself in that pack, but along with that comes old mindsets and unfortunately, I don’t see those mindsets on this issue changing. What I find most promising is the younger, more open-minded legislators that are coming into the fold now. That’s the hope down the road that they’ll be able to carry the ball on these pieces of legislation that we haven’t gotten.”
As COVID-19 cases skyrocket in Arizona, wildfires burn through mountains and tax dollars.
The Bighorn Fire begins in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Credit: Kelly Michals
The saguaro cacti should’ve been finishing their blooms in June, not burning to the ground.
But it is 2020 after all. As if having recently reached the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases in the world wasn’t enough, Arizona is also suffering from an onslaught of debilitating wildfires. Scorching hundreds of thousands of acres and forcing thousands to evacuate from their homes, spanning from outer Phoenix to Tucson to north of the Grand Canyon and even the Navajo Nation, four major wildfires over the past two months have marked a boiling point in Arizona state history.
Who could’ve predicted this? Exxon, actually, more than 40 years ago. An internal company memo from 1979 warned that due to rising CO2 levels created by their products, “the southwest states would be hotter, probably by more than 3 degrees Fahrenheit, and drier.”
The ripple effects of wildfires, especially in the tinderbox of an increasingly hot and dry desert landscape, are wide-ranging. There is the obvious damage to homes, crops, and living landscapes; the closures of roads and highways; the significant scar on regional biodiversity. But there are less obvious consequences, too, like the flash floods that happen when rain falls on eroded landscapes after a wildfire, carrying blackened sludge filled with wildfire debris downstream and infiltrating homes and waterways below. Since the Bighorn Fire struck Pima Canyon in early June, the County Regional Flood Control District has sent out letters to 400 homeowners warning that their already-flooding property will be at even greater risk during the summer monsoons.
Who had this on their 2020 hellscape bingo card? pic.twitter.com/fUNvIVS7aw
— Official Pima County (@pimaarizona) July 16, 2020
Travis Bruner, Conservation Director of the Grand Canyon Trust, told me that suppression of the natural fire cycle north of the Grand Canyon has set back a nearly 20-year-long forest restoration effort designed to prevent just this kind of disaster from occurring. “Climate change only increases our urgency and the need for forest restoration in northern Arizona,” Bruner said. “We are going to continue to see fires burning like this if we’re not able to perform the forest restoration that would minimize the threats to communities.”
That’s not to mention the unforeseen financial hits to communities near the path of destruction. “Recreation and tourism on public lands is an incredibly important economic contributor in northern Arizona,” said Bruner. “These severe wildfires are going to have negative impacts that way and could limit the number of people who want to come visit these areas and spend money in these towns.”
In one of the fastest-warming states in the country, where the largest, most destructive wildfires have all occurred in the past two decades, the destruction will almost certainly get worse. Combined with a drought problem that’s expected to more than triple by mid-century, Arizona could see 115 days with high wildfire potential by 2050. Forty-five percent of Arizona’s population, or almost 2.9 million people, are already at risk of experiencing wildfire damage — a statistic playing out in real time as thousands of people face evacuation from their homes with little to no notice.
Senator Victoria Steele of Tucson, where the already $37-million Bighorn Fire still blazes through the Catalina Mountains, says it’s time to come to terms with the crisis putting Arizonans in danger.
“The people of southern Arizona are grappling with our new reality of a hotter, drier future and the knowledge that these fires are no longer confined to one season, but all year long,” Sen. Steele said. “We cannot write off these wildfires as random acts of nature. It will take political courage and quick action for us to mitigate the consequences of climate change.”
The fossil fuel industry’s successful efforts to stall climate policy for decades mean that, regardless of future actions, communities will still need to deal with the costs of already-baked-in climate disasters like this summer’s wildfires. With local budgets, public healthcare, and lives under unprecedented pressure from the state’s extraordinary spike in COVID-19 infection rates, communities could end up paying a fatal price.
This struggle is nowhere more plain than in Arizona’s portion of the Navajo Nation, a Native reservation spanning northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah and northwestern New Mexico, where decades of uranium and coal operations left a scar. The Nation has been devastated by unusually high coronavirus rates since the pandemic started: Indigenous people account for 20 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Arizona, but make up just 3.9 percent of the state’s population. Then, the Wood Springs Fire 2 made its way to the reservation. The still-active fire has left Navajo families preparing for evacuation procedures that officials fear will lead to increased COVID-19 transmission due to the close quarters of public shelters, and pollution from wildfire smoke in the region could increase vulnerability to that risk.
“With this Covid and this fire now, the only thing we can do is pray and help each other,” Wilson Stewart Jr, a Navajo Nation council delegate, told the Guardian.
One thing is clear across the Grand Canyon state: communities have been left to fend for themselves against the fossil fuel industry’s destruction for far too long. Polluters spread climate denial through false advertising, fake science, and lobbying in order to sell their products — yet they have contributed nothing to helping communities stay safe from the outcome.
“The Bighorn Fire is an example of what goes wrong when we fail to address climate change and get real about its implications,” says Arizona House Member Andrés Cano, who represents Tucson and the rest of Pima County. “Our land, lives, and livelihoods are at risk because oil and gas executives decided their bottom line was more important than our health and safety.”
Communities in California and Colorado that have taken Exxon and other fossil fuel companies to court point to local wildfires as one of many damages that the industry knew their products would cause. It’ll be up to Arizona’s elected officials to decide whether they too will take action to ensure their communities don’t foot the bill alone.
“This is about state and grassroots leadership beginning to hold ourselves and our organization accountable,” California NOW President Kolieka Siegle said.
Furious that the National Organization for Women has yet to remove President Toni Van Pelt over allegations of racism, a group of state chapter leaders have started a social media campaign to push her out of office.
Over the month of July, the California NOW chapter is hosting Facebook live streams with 20 other state chapter leaders who will demand Van Pelt’s resignation and discuss their experiences with racism in the organization more broadly. The point of the campaign, California NOW president Kolieka Seigel said in a recent broadcast, is to “address systemic racism within our own ranks, to uplift the experiences of women of color and to collectively tell our story.”
“This is about state and grassroots leadership beginning to hold ourselves and our organization accountable and charting a path forward, ” she said, adding that the chapters are also calling for an oversight committee to monitor the leadership and for a revision of NOW’s bylaws.
Six chapters, including Washington state, Florida, Minnesota and Nevada, have already posted videos, and Seigel told The Daily Beast that the remaining 15 chapters will post theirs before the month’s end. Twenty-five of the organization’s 36 chapter presidents have also signed onto a letter to the NOW board demanding Van Pelt step down or be removed.
The campaign comes after a Daily Beast investigation revealed dozens of allegations of racism within the iconic feminist group, from the state chapters all the way to the national organization. Among other things, former employees accused Van Pelt of sidelining and disparaging women of color, including by telling them, “I don’t care about your opinion.” Both her previous vice president, a Native American woman, and her current vice president, a Black woman, have accused her of discrimination.
In a statement last month, Van Pelt told The Daily Beast that she understood it was “critical to acknowledge my own privilege and strive to be a better ally.”
“As the leader of NOW, and a leader within the intersectional feminist movement, I must hold myself and our organization accountable to do more,” she said. (NOW did not respond to a request for comment on the latest campaign.)
“Here in Minnesota we believe that feminism is intersectional, and if one of those pieces is falling off, you’re really not qualified to lead a feminist organization.”
Many of the organization’s leaders were not satisfied by the response. In addition to the state chapter presidents, nine national board members signed into a letter asking Van Pelt to resign. After a vote to remove her failed to go forward, the entire D.C. NOW board resigned their positions. On Friday, the executive board of the NOW Twin Cities chapter also resigned en masse.
“Instead of acting swiftly to condemn and weed out racism and transphobia within NOW, much of the organization has worked to protect and defend this leadership,” the executive board wrote in a letter announcing their departure. “It is now clear that the problems within NOW are systemic and that the institution as a whole is unwilling to do the work to change.”
In the livestreamed videos, chapter leaders described why they signed onto the letter demanding Van Pelt’s resignation. Jerri Burton, the Nevada state chapter president and a national board member, said her chapter signed on after hearing complaints from members and from political candidates they had endorsed. Marquita Anderson of Minnesota NOW said her board decided Van Pelt’s behavior was “unacceptable” after reading a 22-page complaint signed by 15 former NOW staffers.
“Here in Minnesota we believe that feminism is intersectional, and if one of those pieces is falling off, you’re really not qualified to lead a feminist organization,” she said.
Van Pelt has shown no signs of stepping aside, and the national board would need at least two more votes to forcibly remove her. But Victoria Steele, an Arizona state senator and one of the nine board members calling on the president to resign, told The Daily Beast they would not stop fighting until she was gone.
“For God’s sake, we’re a women’s group,” she said. “We’re a feminist organization. Why should we have to scream this loud?”
As hospitals inch closer to reaching full capacity, doctors and nurses continue to ask the public to reduce the risk of virus transmission.
Arizona’s hospitalizations from coronavirus have doubled in the last month as high daily case counts continue. State data show that for weeks, Arizona hospitals have been running short on beds for COVID-19 patients. Capacity for inpatient beds, especially in intensive care units, has been hovering at about 90%.
The state health department set up what it calls the Arizona Surge Line, which allows for the transfer of patients between hospitals when they don’t have sufficient resources to care for someone.
Jennifer Schomburg is the CEO of Northwest Medical Center, which operates Northwest Hospital in Tucson and Oro Valley Hospital.
She said that the hospitals she oversees have used the surge line both to accept patients from other facilities and to transfer patients to different hospitals. She said that transfer patients generally end up going to hospitals in Maricopa County or Yuma, but that she did not know of any patients sent out of state for treatment.
The availability of certain medical specialists and equipment can impact the hospital’s ability to accept surge line requests.
“We have had to deny specific transfers coming through the surge line or other hospitals if I didn’t have that type of bed, like an ICU bed, available or an ICU nurse available,” Schomburg told The Buzz.
Schomburg said that the hospital is not currently under crisis care, explaining that status is triggered when the hospital experiences significantly worse conditions, such as a severe shortage of critical supplies, having to treat patients in unapproved areas and not having enough trained staff on hand.
The community has shown their support for health care workers, Schomburg said. She also said that the hospital staff has been working long and hard during the pandemic and will continue to do so.
“I believe so much in the strength of this team and of our staff, not only in their clinical excellence but also in their heart,” Schomburg said. “They put their heart and soul in the work they do.”
Catherine Dewsnup is a nurse who oversees the emergency rooms at Northwest Hospital. She said that though her job has always been hard work, the extra safety measures necessary during this pandemic have added to the workload.
“In the last two weeks, with the increase of patients that have come in, it’s a labor-intensive job,” Dewsnup said.
She said COVID-19 patients tend to stay in the hospitals longer. Dewsnup has also seen people with chronic health issues, such as diabetes, delaying their ER visits due to fears about coronavirus, which can greatly affect how much care that person will end up needing.
Dewsnup says her staff has been handling the stress and workload well, but still urges the public to take caution.
State Sen. Victoria Steele of Tucson visited Tucson Medical Center Tuesday to talk with medical staff about how they’re handling the pandemic. Steele said she visited TMC at the invitation of hospital officials after she wrote on social media about her concerns with the state allowing hospitals to implement triage standards of care if they became overwhelmed with patients.
“[TMC is] not at complete capacity, but it could happen,” she said.
Steele said doctors and nurses feel discouraged that people aren’t taking precautions to prevent coronavirus infection seriously enough, while they fight day in and day out to save lives.
“And they really are asking the governor to reconsider and to please put a mask mandate in place. Because people just aren’t doing it,” Steele said.
Steele recorded an interview with Dr. Clifford Martin, an infectious disease physician and head of medical staff at TMC, which she shared with AZPM. TMC has declined interview requests from AZPM in recent weeks.
Martin said the governor’s decisions made early on, like the stay-at-home order, were the right steps.
“Unfortunately, we opened things up so quickly, without appropriate baby steps to introduce regular life again,” Martin said. “Without mask requirements, without really effective education about what it really means to social distance and why it was important. So we backtracked really quickly.”
Steele said health care workers she talked with asked for the governor to institute a statewide mask mandate and also asked for more personal protective equipment. She said TMC is not currently transferring patients out of the city, but they have in the past.
TMC, Northwest Hospital and others will be receiving relief workers soon to help with staffing to handle the surge of cases.
Medical professionals in hospitals are not the only ones seeing patients with the novel coronavirus. Roy Loewenstein is an outpatient internal medicine doctor with Arizona Community Physicians in Tucson. He diagnoses COVID-19 and counsels patients who contract the disease.
“A lot of people over age 70 think it’s a death sentence and, on average, it isn’t,” Loewenstein said. “And a lot of people younger than 40 think it’s not a big deal, and that’s not true either.”
He said that right now there is nothing he can really give patients to treat the disease other than ibuprofen. However, some new therapies being tried elsewhere, like dexamethasone, give him hope.
By now it has become clear that people who do not show any symptoms of illness can still transmit the coronavirus. Loewenstein echoed the desires of other health care workers and said that people should engage in preventive behaviors like hand-washing, mask wearing and social distancing, even around people who appear healthy.
“If you do one simple thing, we can have hundreds less ICU beds taken up,”
Banner Health OBGYN Hospitalist Dr. Dionne Mills said.
PHOENIX — COVID-19 cases continue to run rampant across the state.
According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, there are 128,097 confirmed cases and 2,337 Arizonans have lost their fight with the virus as of Tuesday. Each of those cases and deaths take a toll on health care workers.
Since last week, the number of positive cases has drastically increased by 36,512 cases. The state is reporting more than 5,942 hospitalizations with 88% of ICU beds and 85% of inpatients beds in use.
In a Twitter video shared by Arizona state Sen. Victoria Steele, Tucson Medical Center’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Clifford Martin said, “There’s a disconnect with what people in the community are experiencing and what healthcare workers here on the front line are experiencing.”
Tucson Medical Center COS, Dr. Clifford Martin on the “disconnect” that some in the public have and how it “bruises” our front line healthcare heroes. pic.twitter.com/KFeG5InGGI
— Victoria Steele (@VictoriaLSteele) July 14, 2020
The virus has taken a toll on healthcare workers across the state. In the same tweet, Steele announced the state will be sending 75 ICU trained personnel and crisis counselors to Tucson Medical Center to help staff with the “emotional trauma they’re enduring day after day.”
“You don’t just stop taking care of a patient because a whistle blows or it’s that time of day or you need to go punch out,” said hospital physician Dr. Matthew Heinz. “That goes for the nurses and the doctors and everyone involved.”
Heinz often works 10-hour overnight shifts as the flood of COVID-19 patients continues to infiltrate hospitals.
“We’re working longer hours because people are sicker,” Heinz said.
But it’s not just the public getting sick. Physicians and nurses are also fighting to stay healthy.
On Monday while delivering a message to Gov. Doug Ducey to hold the start of schools across the state, Banner Health OBGYN Hospitalist Dr. Dionne Mills reminded those in attendance that the virus has been deadly to healthcare workers, including her own family.
“So many of our brothers and sisters in medicine have been killed because of their exposure to people who didn’t have to get sick, including my cousin Debbie Anne Stewart, a devoted nurse who watched over 40 of her patients die before succumbing to the virus herself,” said Mills.
Medical professionals, according to Mills, should not have to prove the reality of COVID-19 to the community.
She says there is no other side. The virus is deadly but preventable if people will take responsibility for themselves and others.
“If you do one simple thing, we can have hundreds less ICU beds taken up, and way less techs and nurses and everybody exposed, dead, dying, or sick,” she said.
State health care workers want the public to listen to science, wear a mask, and social distance when around other people. She also says just because a hospital bed is available it may not be the right one for a COVID-19 patient and the bed itself could limit necessary medical interventions.
Mills also wants the public to know the virus impacts all people. She says many of her pregnancy patients sick with COVID-19 are in their 20s and 30s.
Frontline health care workers urge public to wear a mask
Local medical professionals are reiterating the call for people to wear masks as they deal with a surge of COVID-19 cases.
State Sen. Victoria Steele of Tucson visited Tucson Medical Center Tuesday to talk with medical staff about how they’re handling the pandemic. She said the message they gave to her was simple:
“‘Wear a mask. For god’s sake, put a mask on! Wear a mask! This is easy for you. Wear a mask’,” Steele said.
The state senator said she visited TMC at the invitation of hospital officials after she wrote on social media about her concerns with the state moving to triage standards of care. Steele said despite the state enacting its “crisis care” standards, TMC officials say they currently do not have to ration care for patients, yet.
“They’re not at complete capacity, but it could happen.”
Steele said doctors and nurses feel discouraged that people aren’t taking precautions to prevent coronavirus infection–like wearing masks, staying home and washing hands–seriously enough, while they fight day in and day out to save lives.
“And they really are asking the governor to reconsider and to please put a mask mandate in place. Because people just aren’t doing it,” Steele said.
Steele recorded an interview with Dr. Clifford Martin, an infectious disease physician and head of medical staff at TMC, which she shared with AZPM. TMC has declined multiple interview requests from AZPM in recent weeks.
“The early efforts to encourage people to stay home…was the right thing to do, because the way this virus spreads is by close contact and it’s very contagious,” Martin said. “Unfortunately, we opened things up so quickly, without appropriate baby steps to introduce regular life again. Without mask requirements, without really effective education about what it really means to social distance and why it was important. So we backtracked really quickly.”
Martin said the rush to reopen and put the pandemic behind us has led to things “skyrocketing.”
He lauded the efforts of the tireless health care workers at his hospital.
“If you look outside, if you go to restaurants, you look at stores, you go to the mall, you don’t see the impact of this disease like you would if we were in a war and bombs were dropping. You don’t see sick people walking around in the street,” Martin said.
“So there’s a disconnect with what people out in the community are experiencing and what our health care workers here on the frontline are experiencing. And I think they’re hurt. Because they see people making decisions that are making their jobs worse,” Martin said.
Steele said health care workers she talked with asked for the governor to institute a statewide mask ordinance and also asked for more personal protective equipment. She says the governor has arranged for 75 health care workers to come to TMC for six weeks to relieve and assist local nurses and doctors.
“We don’t know when they’re coming, we hope it’s soon. Because the need is now,” Steele said.
According to Steele, TMC is not currently transferring patients out of the city, but they have in the past.
Victoria Steele is running for reelection in District 9 in the Arizona Senate.
Parking lot face off with protesters leaves lawmakers shaken
The scene Sen. Victoria Steele encountered when she walked out of the Senate last week was like nothing she has seen in nearly a decade at the Capitol.
Steele, D-Tucson, knew demonstrators stood outside. She had seen some on her way into the Senate that morning, but, at the time, they kept their distance, heckling and promising to recall every lawmaker who voted to end the session — never mind that they all face elections in a few months anyway.
But after the Senate voted 24-6 to adjourn sine die, the group of about 20 people – none wore a mask – in a parking lot reserved for lawmakers shifted from yelling at a distance to surrounding senators’ cars, banging on windows and screaming into the vehicles. Steele walked out to see a fellow senator who voted for the sine die motion, Phoenix Republican Kate Brophy McGee, trying to back her car out as demonstrators swarmed around her and uniformed Department of Public Safety officers stood watching. Steele grabbed her phone and started recording as she walked to her own car.
“They could have stood six feet away and yelled to me and talked to me, and I would have listened,” Steele said. “But when I got out there and I saw them screaming and I saw Kate Brophy McGee honking her horn to try to make them move, I knew they didn’t want to talk.”
The demonstrations on May 8 — as well as a previous rally at the Capitol during which a man threatened to shoot legislative Democrats — shook lawmakers.
Steele said the parking lot demonstration and “Reopen Arizona” rallies remind her of the atmosphere in southern Arizona a decade ago shortly before then-U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot. Giffords, a Democrat who represented a district that voted for Sen. John McCain for president in 2008, was in a swing district that’s a top electoral target of the then-nascent Tea Party. McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, put crosshairs over Giffords’ district in a map depicting the 20 districts Republicans wanted to reclaim.
Giffords retained her seat, and investigators found no evidence that her shooter had clear political views or that the shooting was politically motivated. But that shooting at a congressional event followed months of Tea Party activists denouncing Giffords as a traitor to the Constitution, broken windows in her Tucson office and an incident in which a protester who attended one of her constituent meetings dropped a gun on the floor.
All of that, Steele said, reminds her of what’s happened over the past several weeks.
“Are they just being loud and obnoxious and saying stupid things or are they dangerous?” she asked. “I live about a mile away from where Gabby was shot, and I saw how nasty things were getting before that.”
Fellow Tucson Democrat David Bradley, the Senate minority leader, said he hasn’t seen the tactics used by lockdown protesters at any point during his 16 years at the Capitol, including when the Tea Party was at its strongest. The Red for Ed movement crowded the Capitol grounds and the Tea Party was angry, he said, but neither major protest movement made people feel unsafe.
“I don’t remember them ever accosting people in the parking lot or following people into the building,” Bradley said.
One huge distinction between the current protests and the ones before is the importance of personal space, Bradley said. In pre-pandemic times, someone yelling in a lawmaker’s face could just be part of the job. But now, getting closer than 6 feet is threatening.
The videos Steele took of her encounter with protesters show a man identified as Bryan Masche follow her to her car and loom over her as she unlocked it. Masche was at one time the star of a reality television show about raising sextuplets. The show went off the air around the time Masche was arrested for domestic violence. He pled guilty to misdemeanor counts of threatening and intimidating and disorderly conduct, according to media reports at the time.
Steele asked the man to give her some distance, but he said he didn’t have to go anywhere and ordered her to get in her car.
“This guy is like 2 to 3 feet away from my face, and he is spewing his droplets into my face,” Steele said. “I don’t know if this guy was exposing me to COVID-19, and I take care of my elderly parents.”
Brophy McGee has encountered similar demonstrations. Her work with the Department of Child Safety earned her the ire of a cadre of parents who have lost custody of their children, and in some cases she’s had to seek security escorts from meetings because those parents followed her.
Despite being a practiced hand at dealing with angry people, Brophy McGee said she found the protesters “very scary.” “Security got me into my car and I appreciated that, but then all hell broke loose,” she said. “They ran up to my car. They pounded on the windows. They got in my face. I’m used to being confronted. Shoot, I was on a school board. I’ve worked with angry people and angry constituents a fair amount, and I get it, but I think they went beyond the pale.”
Senate President Karen Fann planned to meet May 13 with Democratic leaders to discuss security concerns related to last week’s protests.
Fann encountered the demonstrators when she arrived around 8:30 a.m. on May 8, and one handed her a two-page paper explaining that they would immediately try to recall any senators who voted to adjourn sine die. But by the time she left late that afternoon, the parking lot was clear, and Fann said she saw encounters other senators had solely through videos posted on Facebook.
This is the fifth in a six-part series examining the half-century fight to add women to the U.S. Constitution—and a game plan on where we go from here.
Get caught up:
- Part 1: “We Want In!,”
- Part 2: A Long History of Obstruction, Delay and Trickery
- Part 3: A Patchwork of Laws, Statutes and Court Rulings
- Part 4: From Addressing the Wage Gap to Combatting Violence Against Women, We Still Need an Equal Rights Amendment
Part 5: Where We Go From Here
“We know that equality for women will always elude us when it isn’t etched into the Constitution,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), an advocate for the ERA in Congress, says.
We are in the final homestretch of the long-fought battle for the ERA—but the fate of the amendment rides on the fall elections.
“The ERA resolution is being blocked by McConnell and by the leadership of the Republican party,” says Feminist Majority Foundation president (and Ms. publisher) Eleanor Smeal, who for part of the 1970s and ’80s was president of the National Organization for Women, which led the ERA fight.
“That’s why we have to flip the Senate. It isn’t individual Republicans. I believe if the ERA were put on the Senate floor, we would pass it. The problem is the leadership, and whoever they are beholden to. We must flip the Senate to have leadership that will remove the time line.”
Democrats need a net gain of four seats to win control of the Senate, and Smeal says they have a good chance in six states: Arizona, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, Kansas and Iowa.
Like in Virginia, feminists have strong on-the-ground campaigns in these states and are using the ERA to motivate people to get out and vote.
“In Virginia in 2019, the ERA was ‘on the ballot.’ It was one of the motivating reasons that people voted,” Smeal says. “I think that women’s rights will be on the ballot in some key states this November. It will be the reason people will say ‘I’ve had it with these Republicans. I want equality for women.’”
Supporters are also working to win additional ERA ratifications in states such as Arizona and North Carolina. In Arizona, advocates are hoping to flip their state’s legislature this November and bring the total to 39 ratified states.
Arizona state Sen. Victoria Steele told Ms., “We are going to do in Arizona what Virginia just did. This year all seats are up for election. We have turned purple, and we’re about to turn blue.”
Arizona advocates are using the ERA in the elections not only to flip the state legislature, but also to win a second U.S. Senate seat for Democrats.
“It’s a huge, huge issue here,” Steele says. “They have fought us [on the ERA] at every turn. But we’re not giving up.”
As Smeal says, “It was never a matter of if, only when the ERA would be ratified. Women have fought long and hard for equal rights under the law and waited too long for full equality. It’s time—long overdue—for the 38 states that have ratified the ERA to be recognized and for the ERA to be enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
“The days of women working twice as hard for half as much must end.”
Political Notebook: FBI investigates state senator’s
Zoom bombing; Chuy’s scene of rally
State Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, said she’s spoken with the FBI after an online town hall she was holding last week was interrupted by somebody who shared child pornography.
Steele called the incident “violent,” “traumatic” and “hideous” for the roughly 125 people who tuned in on the virtual Zoom discussion alongside state Reps. Pamela Powers Hannley and Randy Friese, who also represent the north-side Tucson district.
But it ultimately triggered Steele, a child sexual abuse survivor, who said she didn’t feel safe, suffered heart palpitations and had to spend the night on the phone with friends because she was unable to sleep.
“I will be OK, but I will never be fine as a result of what happened to me as a child,” Steele told the Star. “I was a victim of this when I was a little girl. It has had an ongoing impact on my life. I’ve had to work with it. I’ve had to deal with it my entire life.”
Steele has become an advocate to stop child sexual abuse and violence against women. She co-founded the Tucson Chapter of the National Organization for Women. She also has pushed for state legislation to curb sexual abuse, including an unsuccessful attempt this session to narrow the exceptions that prevent some clergy members to be classified as mandatory sexual abuse reporters.
For that work, Steele said she feels like she was targeted by the video.
“I do think that was issue-specific because … they didn’t show the video until I started talking about child abuse,” she said, adding the video came in the 49th minute of the town hall.
Steele said she was notified by the Arizona Department of Public Safety, which forwarded her case to the FBI, with whom she has interviewed. An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment.
Steele, who sent out an email to the participants of the Zoom call with a list of mental health resources, said she’ll continue to be outspoken regarding her opposition to sexual abuse.
“Why do I do this work? Because I know what it’s like and I want to prevent this and stop the monsters who are doing it,” she said.
TUCSON CONTINUES ITS FIGHT AGAINST LEGISLATURE OVER ELECTION DATES
The city of Tucson has filed a complaint against the state regarding its move to change the timing of elections, arguing that it violates the city’s charter, and ultimately continuing a yearslong battle with the Legislature.
The city has long fought the state over its passing of laws in 2017 and 2018 that require Arizona cities with odd-year elections to switch to even years, or the same years as state and federal elections, which have the highest turnout.
In January, the Tucson City Council had unanimously passed a motion for the city’s legal staff to argue that the statute “cannot be applied to the city as a charter city with respect to the timing of either candidate or non candidate elections, including the charter amendment elections that are purely a matter of local concern.”
The city’s complaint, which was filed in Pima County Superior Court on May 1, asserts those points, according to a copy obtained by the Star.
A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who is named as one of the defendants along with the state, said Thursday the office has not been served and is “not commenting at this time.”
COUNTY ATTORNEY CANDIDATE GETS ENDORSEMENT DESPITE COMPETITOR’S FAMILY CONNECTION
The Tucson Police Department Officers Association has endorsed Jonathan Mosher, a Democratic candidate for Pima County Attorney, calling him “a well-respected prosecutor, successfully working on a number of high-profile cases with many members of our association.”
The association, which has more than 700 officers, detectives and sergeants, said in a news release that Mosher, who has held the positions of chief criminal deputy, chief trial counsel and felony training supervisor, “tenaciously” prosecuted cases involving officers who were the victims of crime.
That endorsement comes at the expense of another Democratic candidate for county attorney, Laura Conover, a criminal law attorney who is running as a criminal justice reform candidate. She is the sister of Sgt. Jason Winsky, supervisor of TPD’s mental health support team.
Conover has otherwise picked up a number of key individual endorsements, including ones from U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, state Reps. Pamela Powers Hannley and Andrés Cano, and Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson.
Mosher boasts endorsements from outgoing County Attorney Barbara LaWall, county Supervisor Ramón Valadez and state Sen. Andrea Dalessandro.
DESPITE LIMITS ON GROUPS, RALLY HELD AT CHUY’S
More than 100 people, led by Daniel McCarthy, an Arizona candidate for U.S. Senate, and Garret Lewis, a local radio host, held a political rally this week at Chuy’s Mesquite Broiler in Oro Valley after the restaurant had its liquor license suspended because of coronavirus restrictions.
The restaurant’s owner, Christopher Evenson, told KVOA that the meetup was intended for supporters who “share the same ideas on how everyone feels and stands politically.” Photos shared on Facebook showed many of the attendees were from the Tucson Trump MAGA Meetup group.
While local and state orders ban public gatherings, Evenson told the station that what he thinks happened at the restaurant wasn’t illegal. Oro Valley police did not issue any citations but drove by to make sure the event was peaceful.
“The short answer is no. I do not think it is illegal,” he said. “We are all adults, congregating where we want to congregate.”
Evenson, who has already said he plans to appeal the suspension, called the police decision the “correct step.”
“At this point in time with how long this thing has gone on, I think that is the correct step,” he said. “There is more dangerous activity going on elsewhere than congregating for business sake and political beliefs.”
VOTE BY MAIL OPEN FOR CORONAVIRUS-CONCERNED VOTERS
Voters who usually vote at the polls and may want to do so from home this year are now able to sign up to vote by mail for the Aug. 4 primaries.
Those interested can do so at www.recorder.pima.gov/BallotByMail, by printing and mailing a form on the website, or calling 724-4330.
To be eligible, you must be registered to vote at least 29 days before Election Day, 18 years of age on or before the day of the election, and must request a ballot by 5 p.m. July 24.
Meanwhile, those who are already on the permanent early voter list received a notice this week about the primary. Almost one-third of voters who received the notice are “independent” or “party not designated” voters, so they have the option to choose which political party’s ballot they would like to receive for the primary.
Bisbee man confesses he’s molesting his daughter.
Church tells bishop not to report abuse to authorities.
Senator Steele: “How can Mormon Bishops turn a blind eye to the rape of a child? If a member of the clergy of any religion knows a child is being sexually abused, they must report it. My Senate Bill, 1235 would make reporting of these incidents mandatory for all.”
Bisbee man confesses he’s molesting his daughter.
Church tells bishop not to report abuse to authorities
Corrections & Clarifications: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the federal agency
that investigated an Interpol report of child abuse. It was the Department of Homeland Security.
When a Bisbee man told his Mormon bishop he was sexually abusing his own 5-year-old daughter, the bishop provided counseling. He involved the man’s wife in the sessions, apparently hoping that knowledge of her husband’s activities would prompt her to keep their children safe.
What the bishop didn’t do was report the abuse to police. He didn’t have to. Although Arizona law classifies clergy, as well as many others, as mandatory reporters of child abuse, there is an exception for clergy to not report if they believe it is “reasonable and necessary within the concepts of the religion.”
The bishop’s counseling sessions apparently had little effect. The man continued to molest his daughter, and later, after her birth in 2015, his infant daughter. He made videos of the encounters and posted them on pornographic websites, which were eventually discovered by Interpol, reported to his employer, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and led to criminal charges.
The wife also was investigated for conspiring with her husband to allow the child abuse and indicted on 12 criminal counts. She pleaded no contest to two counts of child abuse.
Court transcripts from her 2018 sentencing hearing reveal a timeline that showed the abuse happened over a seven-year period, that the bishop and his successor knew of the abuse and that there was an ongoing criminal investigation into the church’s role in the matter.
Now, an attorney is readying a lawsuit against the two LDS bishops as well as a Border Protection agent on behalf of the two girls, who have since been adopted by separate families. The investigation into “certain members of a local church community” is ongoing, according to Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre, declining to name any names.
And a state lawmaker vows to again introduce legislation to eliminate the so-called confessional exception when it comes to admissions of ongoing abuse, prompted in part by the Bisbee case.
Arizona’s mandatory-reporting law requires clergy, among many others, to contact law enforcement or child-welfare officials when they suspect child abuse.
But the law also allows clergy to not report if they are told of the abuse in confidence or during a confession. In those cases, state law says, clergy may withhold a report if the clergy member feels it is “reasonable and necessary within the concepts of the religion.”
Thirty-two states besides Arizona have such exemptions, commonly called the “clergy-penitent privilege.” They are a necessary protection of the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom from government dictates, say attorneys who have represented religious institutions.
Keeping confessions confidential is a key tenet of many faiths. Historians believe it originated with the seal of confession in Roman Catholic canon law, tracing it back centuries, to the origins of the Christian Church.
In the ninth century, Catholic church law added punishment for any priest who violated the confessional seal. Today, that punishment would likely be excommunication, church officials say.
Other faiths also recognized the confidentiality of confessions. That secrecy is necessary to make a penitent feel free to confess his or her wrongdoing and seek forgiveness.
Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert.
NATHAN J. FISH/THE REPUBLIC
To force a clergy member to report a confidential communication “changes the whole nature of the confessional,” said state Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, and a member of the Mormon Church. Earlier this year, he declined to give a hearing to a bill that sought to further narrow the clergy exemption.
Piercing the confidentiality that surrounds confessions would invite a First Amendment clash, said Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference.
“Basically, it’s the government regulating a sacrament,” he said.
Courts have largely upheld the clergy exemption.
A January decision from the Montana Supreme Court concluded that Jehovah’s Witness elders who learned of a member’s repeated sex abuse were not required to report the abuse to authorities “because their church doctrine, canon, or practice required that clergy keep reports of child abuse confidential.” The man had for nine years abused two of his stepchildren as well as his step granddaughter.
Calls for change
In recent years, adult survivors of child abuse and others have pushed to overturn these exceptions. They argue the laws allow child abuse to continue, when in other circumstances — such as a teacher who reports abuse — there is the opportunity to stop the perpetrator before further harm is done.
Legislation introduced this year in Arizona and Utah, and last year in California, sought to remove or modify the clergy-penitent exception. The bills failed, but the sponsors say they’ll try again.
“One person’s First Amendment rights give way when they infringe on another person,” said Stephanie Carson, a Tucson-based volunteer with the activist group Stop Civil Abuse Activists for Reform and Safety. “When in doubt — hello — protect the babies.”
Sen. Victoria Steele, D- Tucson
MARK HENLE/THE REPUBLIC
In Arizona, state Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, said she’ll renew her effort next year. Her proposal, Senate Bill 1235, would have required clergy to report if they know that abuse or neglect is still occurring or if they determine that it will recur.
“I don’t think most people are going to confess that they are sexually abusing little children,” Steele, a Christian, said when asked about the practical impact of her bill. But, she added, anyone who learns about such activities in any confidential session should report it.
After all, she said, the intent is to protect children.
Lawmakers in other states cited the same motivation as Steele, but their efforts to abolish the privilege have faltered in the face of opposition from religious institutions.
Last year, California state Sen. Rep. Jerry Hill introduced a bill to eliminate the clergy-penitent privilege for child-abuse reporting.
“The exemption for clergy only protects the abuser and places children at further risk,” Hill, a Democrat, said when he proposed the legislation. Hill held the bill after it won little support, saying he would try again when there is more support.
A Democratic lawmaker in Utah proposed similar legislation, and it met a similar fate.
“My intent is to protect children,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Angela Romero told Deseret News earlier this year. “This isn’t about the Catholic Church. This is about religious institutions ensuring that people aren’t hiding under the guise of confession to get away with hurting children.”
‘No duty to report’
Cochise County Court records show the Bisbee bishop cited the clergy exemption as the reason he did not report Paul Adams’ abuse to police.
That bishop, John Herrod, told a Department of Homeland Security investigator that after learning of Adams’ molestation of his daughter, he sought legal advice from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headquarters in Salt Lake City.
“The church conveyed that he needs to continue counseling sessions, and that there’s no duty to report to authorities due to the clergy-penitent privilege,” Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent John Edwards testified in August 2018.
Edwards also testified that Kim Mauzy, who succeeded Herrod as bishop in the Bisbee Ward, knew about the father’s abuse and followed the church directive to not report.
By following that direction, the counseling sessions – and the abuse – continued for years and extended to the couple’s youngest daughter. Court records indicate she was molested as young as 6 weeks old.
Church officials and their attorneys did not return The Republic’s repeated calls seeking comment.
The abuse only stopped in 2017, when Adams was indicted on 11 counts of child sexual abuse after Interpol tipped off Homeland Security to pornographic videos he had posted.
The subsequent investigation determined the videos were shot inside his Bisbee home and involved two minor girls.
While awaiting trial at a privately run federal prison in Florence, Adams was found hanging by his neck in December 2017. He was facing prosecution on both federal and state charges related to child abuse, child exploitation and production, distribution, possession of child pornography.
It took an investigation into his wife Leizza Adams’ role in the girls’ abuse to uncover the fact that clergymen had known about the abuse and had followed church directives to not report it to authorities.
That revelation prompted the ongoing investigation.
In a statement, Cochise County Attorney McIntyre confirmed “there is a pending investigation being conducted by an outside agency regarding alleged failure to act by certain members of a local church community.”
Meanwhile, parents of the two girls hired attorney Lynne Cadigan to explore a lawsuit against the church as well as Border Patrol agent Shaunice Warr. Warr was friendly with the mother and told investigators the mother shared with her that her husband was emotionally and physically abusing her and her children. As a peace officer, Warr is a mandated reporter, Cadigan said.
(All five of the couple’s children have since been adopted and have different last names from their birth parents.)
“The persons or institutions that keep this abuse a secret are morally and legally responsible for the harm to these children,” Cadigan said. “Law enforcement needs to step up and charge those responsible for not immediately reporting these crimes.”
Cadigan said she can’t fathom why a clergy member would decline to report ongoing child abuse and instead keep it confidential, as happened in the Adams case.
“Why would any cleric refuse to report the rape of a child?” she asked. “If a pedophile knows the cleric will not report his crimes, the cleric is enabling this monster to continue raping children.”
Not a blanket exception
Religious officials are quick to point out the exception to the mandatory-reporting law is narrow. The law does not absolve clergy from a duty to report suspected child abuse that they learn of outside a confessional-type setting, said Gerard O’Meara, who represents the Catholic Diocese of Tucson.
Under a long-standing agreement with the Pima County Attorney’s Office, the Tucson diocese automatically reports to that office any reasonable suspicions of child abuse, he said.
“It’s passed on to the county attorney and we (the diocese) stand back,” O’Meara said. Only after law enforcement has done its investigation does the church step in.
Although he couldn’t cite any prosecutions of a priest, O’Meara recalled one case where law enforcement declined to file charges against a clergy member who confessed to child abuse. Despite that, the diocese took action “and that individual is no longer part of the priesthood,” he said.
The exception for confessions or admissions made in confidence is designed to protect religious freedom.
“For the state to attempt to erase that from our statues would be a violation of our canon law,” O’Meara said. The consequences for a priest who ignored that canon law are “grave,” he said: He could be defrocked.
There was a similar agreement between the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and the Phoenix diocese, created in the wake of a 2003 clergy sex-abuse scandal that reached all the way up to the diocese’s bishop. But that lapsed after then-County Attorney Rick Romley declared the agreement fulfilled.