The Arizona Senate Appropriations Committee passed the amended Senate Bill 1083 Tuesday, bringing Arizona closer to funding an armed, civilian militia.
The committee approved the bill with a 7-6 vote, and it will now go to the full Senate. The bill would provide funds to create the Arizona Special Missions Unit.
In her speech to the committee, Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said the unit would help protect Arizonans from the criminal activity on the border.
“We are being invaded by criminals who have formed alliances with mid-eastern terrorists to use violence in the most evil of ways to intimidate, control and protect their drug, human smuggling, multi-billion dollar business,” Allen said. “(The Special Missions Unit) would supplement law enforcement and state agencies in combating international criminal activity.”
The unit would consist of 300 volunteers who are required to complete 40 hours of police training. The training would include learning how to properly pursue, detain and arrest individuals.
The unit’s responsibilities include, but are not limited to, responding to man-made and natural disasters along with supporting the security of Arizona's southern border.
One issue that arose during the bill's hearing was if the required training hours would effectively prepare militia members for patrolling Arizona's border with Mexico.
In comparison, a police officer must complete 500 hours of training before he can perform the same actions, said Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson.
“I think for sure this is going to wind up in court,” Lopez said.
Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson, said the difference in required hours is a “serious” problem.
“I think this bill will probably wind up on The New York Times and give Arizona another black eye,” Cajero Bedford said.
Sen. David Lujan, D-Phoenix, said he was also concerned about the amount of training hours required.
“According to (Allen's) description, they'll be taking on mid-eastern terrorists, Hezbollah and drug cartels,” Lujan said. “It seems to me that we'd want these individuals to have some certification by the Police Officer Training Board.”
Allen, a primary sponsor of the bill, said training above the requirement is not needed.
“There is no need for them to go through that because they're not going to be doing the whole aspect of law enforcement,” Allen said.
If more training is needed, the militia commander, who would be appointed by the governor and approved by Senate, could request additional training hours, she said.
“The thing I am most concerned about is cross-border criminal activity,” Allen said.
Committee members voiced concerns about the proposed amount of funding would be sufficient.
A recent amendment to SB 1083 reduced the initial amount of funding from $1.9 million to $1.4 million.
The revised funding would not cover all of the costs, Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, said.
“If you were to truly offer live fire weapons training, you would burn through that $1.4 million in no time at all and have no budget for anything else,” Crandall said.
The funding of $1.4 million would be taken from Arizona's Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission sub-account. GIITEM is a division under the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
“One of the major concerns I have is that we're taking the GIITEM dollars away from county sheriffs,” said Lopez, adding that the sheriffs use this money to purchase equipment to fight criminal behavior.
Lujan said law enforcement officers should be allowed to retain the $1.4 million for their border patrol efforts.
“We need to listen to the law enforcement officers that are down there and I believe the majority of them are saying this is not a solution,” Lujan said.
In response, Allen said the money could be used from the GIITEM fund since it pertains to border security.
“It's not taking money from GIITEM,” Allen said. “It's not their money.”
Other amendments to the bill include separating the militia from the National Guard, along with adopting a vetting process.
Sen. Jerry Lewis, R-Mesa, said crimes committed near the border are a problem for the state, but the bill will need more work.
“I know this is a problem, but I believe that the solution is going to require a whole lot more vetting and bringing stakeholders to the table,” Lewis said.
Sen. Al Melvin, co-sponsor of SB 1083, said the bill is a great start to protecting Arizona’s southern border.
“I know it’s going to be effective in helping us protect our citizens,” Melvin said.
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