PHOENIX — Saying it actually will help affordable housing, Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday signed legislation that will allow landlords to evict some tenants who make only partial rent payment.

Existing Arizona law does not require landlords to accept partial payments. But a court ruling last year blocked eviction once a landlord has accepted such payments from an outside party.

Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, said the legislation simply restores the law to the way it had been interpreted prior to the ruling.

That, however, did not calm the fears of various charities and churches which provide help to some tenants when they cannot pay their rent. So the final version of the measure was amended to spell out that eviction is not an option once a landlord takes a partial payment from any faith-based organization, a community action agency program or a nonprofit entity.

Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, and Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, members of the conference committee that made the changes, said they do not go far enough. They said it does not cover landlords who accept public assistance funds like Section 8 housing grants, to still accept partial payment and then proceed to evict a tenant based on claim that the contract has been breached.

"The state of Arizona has an affordable housing crisis, and we should not be enacting legislation that exacerbates the problem,'' they wrote in a minority report.

Ducey, in signing the bill, did not see it that way.

He said national studies show that Arizona's current supply of affordable housing is enough to serve only about a third of those who need it.

"The bill encourages landlords to offer affordable housing and to participate in public housing assistance programs,'' Ducey wrote in a letter explaining his decision to sign the bill.

That mirrors arguments by Toma that landlords won't rent to tenants eligible for Section 8 housing if they fear that once they accept partial payment they won't be able to evict tenants for other violations of the lease.

Marijuana

Arizona's nearly 200,000 medical marijuana users will save $150 a year — if not more — under the terms of legislation signed Friday by the governor.

Current law requires those who have certain medical conditions to get recertified by their doctor annually to keep the state-issued card allowing them to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. That card costs $150 each time.

The new law says cards issued from now on will be good for two years. That saves not only the annual fee for the card but also the cost of an annual doctor's visit.

Another provision of the same law requires state health officials issuing licenses for new medical marijuana dispensaries give preference to areas where the one that was located there has since moved. This is designed to limit how far patients in rural areas have to travel.

And the law sets up a process that beginning next year will require the testing of medical marijuana and products made from the plant to be tested for both impurities as well as potency.

Horse Racing

Ducey also inked his approval to changes in state law dealing with off-track betting.

Part of the legislation is designed to benefit Arizona Downs in Prescott Valley. It has been engaged in a feud with Turf Paradise over whether the Phoenix track has to share certain TV signals of races to OTB sites operated by the Prescott Valley track.

The new law bars those that have the simulcast signals from "anticompetitive or deceptive practice'' in offering to share that signal with other racing facilities. And that specifically includes "any agreement to charge excessive or unreasonable fees for the right to receive the simulcast,'' with the decision of what that means left to the Arizona Racing Commission.

In essence, the legislation is designed to force Turf Paradise to offer the signals it controls to the networks operated by both Arizona Downs as well as the Rillito track in Tucson.

The same measure also eliminates a law that until now has limited the number of days Rillito can take wagers on races at other tracks when there is no live racing there.

Other bills signed Friday by the governor:

• Impose new requirements on how many votes a write-in candidate for local office must get in a primary to advance to the general election;

• Exempting fertilizers, insecticides, nutrients, and other chemicals used by commercial farmers from the state sales tax;

• Setting up a committee to study whether extra funds should be provided for programs at schools for gifted children;

• Reestablishing the Heritage Fund to finance local, regional and state parks, trails, natural areas and historic preservation projects, but with no actual state cash;

• Phasing out the lower vehicle registration fees now paid by owners of alternate fuel vehicles.

Howard Fischer is a veteran journalist who has reported on state government and legal affairs in Arizona since 1982, the last 25 for Capitol Media Services which he founded in 1991.

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