KINGMAN - Arizona is facing two significant threats this year - illegal immigration and a slumping economy - Arizona Speaker of the House Kirk Adams said.
Adams was in Kingman Friday to speak to local leaders and the public about the state's economy. He also touched on Senate Bill 1070, the Legislature's illegal immigration measure that has created a firestorm of controversy across the nation.
The bill would allow law enforcement officers to ask a person already stopped for another reason about their immigration status. The law goes into effect this summer.
The biggest problem Adams said he had with the bill was the fact that a lot of people seemed to have an opinion on it, but very few people have actually read it.
"The bill has been completely misdescribed by the national media," he said.
Many people seem to think the bill gives an officer the right to pull over anyone who looks Hispanic and demand their papers, Adams said, and that's not the case. The officer has to have a legal reason to pull the person over before he can ask about a person's immigration status.
The bill specifically states, multiple times now since it was amended, that racial profiling is illegal and will not be tolerated, he said.
He also pointed out that the bill was based off of a federal law that has been on the books for the last 20 years.
"They (opponents) think of the good people," Adams said, the people who come to this country to help their families back home or make a better life for themselves.
"People just can't comprehend the reality of the border," said local Rep. Doris Goodale.
"They haven't see the human cost, the tragedies, that illegal immigration brings us now," he said. Immigrants are being used to and killed while smuggling guns and drugs into the country or are sold into sex slavery.
And its not just immigrants who are being killed.
"An American being killed on American soil should be an outrage," he said, referring to an Arizona rancher who was killed a few months ago, possibly by an illegal immigrant.
"It's (the bill) not about Hispanics or people with Hispanic heritage," Adams said. "It's about the criminal impact to Arizona - and we certainly got the attention of the nation."
But, Adams admitted, "the bill does not solve the problem." It is an attempt by the state to discourage people from crossing the border. The smugglers, drug cartels and gangs can't operate if they don't have anyone to smuggle their stuff.
It also shows that the state will do whatever it can to stem the problem until the federal government does something to secure the Arizona/Mexico border, he said.
When asked about the possible increase in costs to law enforcement agencies and local governments, Adams said he didn't really see an increase. The bill really doesn't change how a law enforcement agency would handle a known illegal immigrant.
Currently, most departments simply notify the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement office and wait until ICE officers pick the immigrant up. That wouldn't change, he said.
When asked about some officers' concerns that the bill would interfere with an investigation or make illegal immigrants less likely to come forward with information about crimes, Adams said the bill strictly prohibited an officer from asking someone who was a witness or involved in an investigation about their immigration status.
He had some concerns about the boycotting of Arizona products, business and tourism, but boycotts don't always work, and recent national polls show strong support for the bill, he said. In fact, there is now a "buycott" movement to encourage people to purchase Arizona products and visit the state.
There were larger crowds protesting the cuts to education in the state budget then there were protesting the immigration bill, Goodale said.
When asked if the bill was an attempt by some legislators to get re-elected, Adams said that wasn't the case. The issue has been brought before the legislature many times in prior sessions, he said.
Adams also spoke to local leaders about House Bill 2250, which would have reduced corporate property and income taxes and provided incentives to draw businesses into the state. The bill passed the House but failed to reach the Senate floor.
The state has one of the worst economies in the nation, outside of California, Adams said. It's ranked 50th in job growth, and since December of 2007, the state has lost more than 323,000 jobs.
Historically, the state has usually climbed out of recessions very quickly, but not this time, he said. Adams said he doesn't expect to see economic growth in the state until 2014.
"Right now, Arizona is on the defensive, but you have to put a good offense on the field in order to score points," Adams said.
Arizona has one of the highest rates of corporate taxes in the nation, he said. HB 2250 would have lowered those rates and made the state more attractive to businesses. Legislators plan to bring the bill back during the next session.
Kingman Mayor John Salem asked Adams about cuts to Highway User Funds and other state-shared revenues to cities.
"The Legislature is very reluctant to go into state-shared revenues," Adams said.
HURF and other funds were swept this year by the Legislature but very reluctantly, he said.
State-shared revenues are one of the last big buckets of funds remaining, Adams admitted. "There's no easy answer. There's not a lot of wiggle room."
That was one of the reasons why the state will send the expansion of the state healthcare system and some other voter approved projects back to voters in the fall, he said. It's an effort to avoid cutting into local funds.