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Arizona Senator Rejects Compromise on Sexual Assault Bill, Budget Battle Continues

Sen. Paul Boyer
Howard Fischer/Capital Media Services
Paul Boyer in 2019.

A bid by House Speaker Rusty Bowers to break Republican gridlock over the budget has been rejected by the Republican the deal was supposed to satisfy.

Bowers is proposing to give victims of sexual assault and abuse when they were minors until age 30 to file civil suits against their assailants. That's 12 more years than they have now under what is one of the shortest statute of limitations in the country for victims of these types of crime.

But State Senator Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, who has held up the budget process until his bill on the issue is passed, said he's holding out for a law that would give victims seven years to file suit from the time they report the incident to a medical or mental health professional. Anything less, Boyer said, is largely meaningless.

"The one thing we know about sexual predators is they don't stop until they're caught or exposed,'' he said.

Boyer has vowed to withhold his vote for the approximately $11.5 billion budget until his version gets a vote. He has the backing of Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, which leaves Senate GOP leadership without the 16 votes needed to adopt a spending plan.

That isn't stopping Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, from saying they intend to unveil a spending plan on Monday, at least to their own members.

There are other problems for the GOP leadership in corralling the votes.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, has vowed to withhold her support until lawmakers repeal a $32-a-vehicle registration fee designed to fund the state Highway Patrol.

Lawmakers authorized the fee last year but left the amount up to John Halikowski, director of the state Department of Transportation after being told by budget analysts that it likely would be no more than $18. It was only in December that Halikowski said the computation — and the list of who is and is not subject to the levy — comes out to the higher figure.

And Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, has said she is holding out for more funding for social service programs and other priorities.

That doesn't even account for the fact that there are just 31 Republicans in the 60-member House, meaning Bowers cannot afford to lose even one vote given that, as of now, the Democrats have shown no interest in supporting the GOP spending plan.

And the issue is complicated by the fact that some Republican lawmakers have long-planned vacations starting later this month.

Bowers contends that giving victims until age 30 to file suit "will ensure that victims have greater access to justice and will bring Arizona's law more in line with other states.'' He also said his proposal is what had previously been agreed to by all involved.

Not so, said Boyer.

His plan does include a seven-year statute of limitations, but only with the clock starting from the time someone realizes she or he has been victimized by reporting it to a medical professional.

"The current version being proposed will not stop current predators from preying on children,'' Boyer said.

He acknowledged that, in spurning Bowers' offer could, he could end up with nothing, particularly if Senate leadership manages to corral the necessary votes for the budget by "buying'' Democrat votes by offering to fund some of their priorities. But Boyer, first elected to the Legislature in 2012, thinks he has the moral high ground — and that he can frame the issue in a way to make leadership go along.

"This will make Republicans look like the party that's covering for sexual predators,'' he said. "That's not the party I've been a part of since the age of 18.''