PHOENIX — Several House Democrats are having second thoughts about supporting a law making it a crime to use the names or images of dead soldiers on merchandise sold in Arizona.
"I shouldn't have voted the way I did," House Minority Leader Phil Lopes said. The Tucson Democrat blamed his vote in favor of Senate Bill 1014 on a "senior moment."
Rep. Tom Prezelski, D-Tucson, said he thought problems he originally had with the measure had been fixed. He acknowledged not reading the final version.
And Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, conceded that she wasn't paying attention and was totally unaware of the contents of the bill on which she voted at least twice — once after a proponent of the measure gave a short floor speech explaining the essence of the bill and why he believed it was necessary.
The net result was that the measure passed unanimously.
Sinema said it's possible that if someone had raised an alarm, others might have been alerted to what she said are constitutional problems with the bill.
That, she said, might have resulted in more votes against it — and the possibility that Gov. Janet Napolitano would have refused to sign it into law.
But gubernatorial press aide Jeanine L'Ecuyer said a divided vote would not have resulted in a veto.
"Her concern is for the families who lost someone," L'Ecuyer said.
Asked if Napolitano, a lawyer, believes the measure is unconstitutional, L'Ecuyer's only response was, "The governor signed the bill."
The constitutional question is going to be decided in court. The American Civil Liberties Union is asking a federal judge to void the law, which took effect on May 24 when it was signed by Napolitano. No date has been set for a court hearing.
Backers of the measure acknowledge that it's aimed almost exclusively at Dan Frazier, a Flagstaff business owner who markets several anti-war items.
What has caused all the fuss is a T-shirt with "Bush Lied" on the front and "They Died" on the back, superimposed over the names of more than 3,000 U.S. service members killed in Iraq.
The law makes it a crime, punishable by up to six months in jail, to use a dead soldier's name for commercial purposes without permission of next of kin. Another provision allows relatives to sue to stop production of the items and claim any profits.
Lopes said he really didn't think about the implications of the measure when he voted for the bill, once on April 17 and again on May 21.
"I think it's a free-speech issue," he said. "I wish I hadn't voted that way."
Lopes said he realized his error "about five seconds after he did it," but he acknowledged that he never asked to speak to say he made a mistake or try to correct his vote.
Prezelski noted that he cast the lone vote against the measure when it was considered by the House Committee on Counties, Municipalities and Military Affairs. But he said it appeared there were sufficient changes made by a House-Senate conference committee to make the bill constitutional.
It was only later, after reading the final language, that he realized it still was unacceptable.
"These things slip past us all the time," he said, calling his action "the one vote I regret from the session."
Sinema, in contrast, said she never really focused on the legislation.
"If I had been paying better attention, I would have voted no," she said, adding that the measure got lost among other bills being voted on that day.
Unlike most of the other measures approved that day, however, this one did initiate a short floor speech from Rep. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson.
"I wish we didn't have to have a bill that would stop somebody from using a soldier's image or their name," Paton said during the April 17 vote. "But that's the world we live in today."
Do you support the law preventing the use of dead soldiers' names and images? Find this story online to participate in a poll at azstarnet.com/attack