By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- State senators are moving to let residents of homeowner associations display flags honoring first responders regardless of what the governing board says.
But forget about a banner celebrating gay pride if your association doesn't want them. And don't even ask about one promoting Black Lives Matter.
On a divided vote, the Senate gave preliminary approval Tuesday to legislation prohibiting homeowner associations from prohibiting residents from displaying a "first responder flag.'' HB 2030 spells out the colors for each type -- police, fire and paramedics -- along with the words that can be used.
They would join the list of other flags that legislators previously have decided cannot be banned by HOAs, including the American flag, flags honoring branches of the military, the POW/MIA flag, the state flag, the flag of any Arizona tribe and the Gadsden flag. The last is the familiar coiled rattlesnake with the caption ''Don't tread on me.''
But Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, said there's no reason to limit the permissible banners to those, especially when now seeking to add more. He said it's a matter of free speech.
"Flags are not empty,'' Mendez said.
"They are symbols for movements,'' he continued. "We can't just allow one and then totally neglect all the other ones.''
Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, said if lawmakers are going to decide what HOAs have to allow -- and, by extension, what they can ban -- they have to realize that flags are a form of speech.
"Why is a 'supporting law enforcement' flag OK, but, for example, a 'pride' flag is not OK?'' he asked. Ditto, he said, if someone wanted to display a 'Black Lives Matter' banner.
"If we are going to allow flags at all, we should allow for all of that to be available and allow all those flags to be flying,'' Quezada said in support of the change Mendez sought. "It says that if you want to fly a flag, if you believe in something passionately that you want to hang a flag outside your home, you can do that.''
But the proposal failed because of opposition from Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, the sponsor of the original legislation. He told Capitol Media Services that what Mendez wanted would "inject controversy.''
"I specifically worded this bill so the symbols and the words could only deal with honoring first responders: police, fire, ambulance, EMT,'' Kavanagh said. "I don't want controversial flags from either the Left or the Right,'' he said, saying that would doom his bill.
Kavanagh rejected arguments that flags supporting the police, given the current political racial climate, could be considered controversial and representative of only one side of an issue.
"I think only among the most extreme partisans would that apply,'' he said. "I think it's disrespecting Democrats as a whole to say that they think any kind of a 'support the police' flag to be negative.''
More to the point, he said what would be permitted under his bill is not a political statement.
" 'Police lives matter' would be a political statement,'' he said, as would "Black Lives Matter.'' Kavanagh said that's why his measure is crafted in a way to limit the pro-police message that could be displayed.
Under HB 2030, such flags would be limited to the colors blue, black and white. The only permissible words would be "law enforcement,'' "police,'' "officers,'' "first responder,'' "honor our,'' "support our'' and "department,'' along with the symbol of a generic police shield in crest or star shape.
There is similar language for flags honoring fire fighters and paramedics and emergency medical technicians.
Kavanagh said he is not entirely unsympathetic to what Mendez is trying to do in terms of freeing residents who own houses in HOAs from restrictive rules of what is and is not permissive.
"I don't object to letting people fly those flags,'' he said. "And I would vote for a separate bill that did that.''
But Kavanagh said it is up to those who want to fight that battle with HOAs to introduce their own legislation and get it through the process rather than simply try to tack it on to his measure.
The bill now needs a final Senate roll-call vote and, if approved, then goes to the governor.