/ Modified mar 11, 2021 3:57 p.m.

News roundup: Legislature considers restrictions on voter-approved laws, surveys track trash in Santa Cruz River

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, March 11.

Arizona COVID-19 cases: 7 days

Map shows COVID-19 cases and case rates over the week preceding the last update.

Credit: Nick O'Gara/AZPM. Sources: The New York Times, based on reports from state and local health agencies, Census Bureau. Case reports do not correspond to day of test.

Cases 830,465 | Deaths 16,464

On Thursday, March 11, Arizona reported 1,835 new cases of COVID-19 and 60 additional deaths.

AZ voter-approved laws could be restricted


The proposal approved Wednesday by the state Senate will allow state lawmakers to throw out a voter-approved law if a court finds any part of the law is illegal or unconstitutional.

Opponents of the idea argued that voter-approved laws should have what is known in legal terms as severability. That is when if one section is found illegal it is thrown out, but the rest of the law remains on the books.

Backers including Oro Valley Republican Senator Vince Leach said the legislature is not making any changes to how citizen-approved laws are implemented. They pointed out the proposal is a constitutional amendment that requires voter approval.

Learn more here.

Surveys aim to track trash making it into the Santa Cruz River


For the last several months, Luke Cole has spent time counting every piece of trash in a roughly 30 by 30-foot square up and down the Santa Cruz riverbed. He's not doing it alone: Cole, associate director for resilient communities and watersheds at the Sonoran Institute, has been leading a team of volunteers.

The surveys are collecting long-term data about how much trash accumulates in the riverbed and where it's coming from.

Cole said they've started finding more microplastics in the stomach tissue of animals that live along the river. The trash surveys also encounter a lot of single-use plastic bags and clothing.

Learn more here.

Arizona reports 1,835 more virus cases, 60 deaths


PHOENIX — Arizona has reported 60 additional deaths from COVID-19 plus with 1,835 newly confirmed cases after three straight days of fewer than 1,000 cases.

The latest figures released Thursday increased the state’s pandemic totals to 830,465 cases and 16,464 deaths.

Arizona’s seven-day rolling averages of daily new cases and new deaths has dropped over the past two weeks. That's according to data from the state's coronavirus dashboard and Johns Hopkins University.

In other developments, Phoenix plans to start returning city workers to their offices later this month and Prescott is launching a program to reimburse large local health care providers for the costs of administering COVID-19 vaccinations.

Learn more here.

Navajo Nation reports 13 more COVID-19 cases, 1 more death


WINDOW ROCK — The Navajo Nation on Wednesday reported 13 additional COVID-19 cases and one more death from the virus as a downward trend in infections and hospitalizations continues.

The latest numbers pushed the tribe’s totals to 29,900 confirmed cases and 1,205 known deaths since the pandemic began a year ago.

The Navajo Department of Health identified eight communities with uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 on Tuesday. That compares with 75 communities having an uncontrolled spread of the virus in January.

A daily curfew from 9 a.m. to 5 a.m. and a mask mandate remain in effect for residents of the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Learn more here.

Navajo Nation to allow 'soft reopening' of some businesses


WINDOW ROCK — Navajo Nation officials cited a declining number of new COVID-19 cases and other improving conditions as they announced a new public health order that will allow some businesses to reopen under certain restrictions.

However, officials said a separate new health order will keep the daily curfew for residents of the tribe’s reservation from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. in effect. Both orders will take effect Monday.

Officials cited testing availability, hospital capacity and contact tracing in addition to the decrease in new cases as factors in the transition to a status allowing some businesses to reopen under restrictions that include capacity limits.

Learn more here.

Arizona Board of Regents approves Cruz as new NAU president


PHOENIX — The Arizona Board of Regents voted Wednesday to approve the appointment of Dr. José Luis Cruz as Northern Arizona University’s new president.

Cruz had been the executive vice chancellor and university provost of The City University of New York. He accepted the NAU job on Feb. 18.

Cruz already has visited the Flagstaff campus and cited plans to develop programs and build initiatives that improve the university’s access, success and community engagement. Cruz says he decided to leave his position in New York to become NAU’s 17th president because he wanted to return to a more community-integrated university.

He replaces Rita Cheng, who announced in September that she would not seek a contract extension after serving as NAU's president since 2014.

Learn more here.

1 of 3 surviving Tuskegee Airmen in Arizona dies at 95


PHOENIX — One of three surviving members in Arizona of the famed all-Black Tuskegee Airmen has died.

The Archer-Ragsdale Chapter Tuskegee Airmen confirmed that Robert Ashby died Friday at his home in Sun City. He was 95.

Ashby enlisted at age 17 in the Army Air Corps, which later became the U.S. Air Force. He went to Tuskegee, Alabama, for aviation training in 1944 and later served in all-Black units.

Lt. Col. Ashby retired in 1965 and went on to be an airline pilot and flight instructor. Ashby is believed to be the first Black pilot with a major airline to reach mandatory retirement age.

Learn more here.

Effort to block clean energy rules stumbles in Legislature


PHOENIX — Efforts by Republicans who control the Arizona Legislature to strip elected utility regulators of their power to require utilities to get more electricity from clean energy sources have hit a big bump, with the state’s largest utility coming out in opposition to the move.

In addition, it appears the measure is falling short of votes in the state Senate after one GOP lawmaker said he cannot support the bill.

The push in the Legislature to gut the Arizona Corporation Commission’s authority to require utilities to use renewable power comes as the nation is getting larger amounts of electricity from solar, wind and other clean sources.

Learn more here.

Contempt hearing sought against Joe Arpaio’s successor


PHOENIX — Civil rights lawyers are seeking a civil contempt of court hearing against metro Phoenix’s sheriff for a backlog of 2,000 internal affairs investigations each taking an average of 500 days to complete.

Sheriff Paul Penzone is the second Maricopa County sheriff to be accused of noncompliance in a racial profiling case in which a judge ordered an overhaul to the agency’s much-criticized internal affairs operations.

Penzone's predecessor, Joe Arpaio, was found to be in contempt for ignoring a 2011 order in the profiling case, but his criminal contempt conviction was pardoned by then-President Donald Trump.

Penzone’s office declined to comment on the contempt request.

Learn more here.

Arizona panel to study how courts issue no-knock warrants


PHOENIX — Arizona’s court system is going to look into how so-called no-knock search warrants are authorized for use by law enforcement agencies across the state.

An administrative order issued Wednesday by Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Brutinel creates a task force of judges, attorneys, law enforcement officials and others to consider whether the state has adequate safeguards in place.

Brutinel said use of such warrants that allow officers to enter a location without first announcing themselves can create dangerous situations for officers and citizens. He said few such warrants are issued in Arizona but that the public’s trust in the justice system is at stake if even one warrant “goes badly."

Learn more here.

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