The 108th session of the United States Congress recently wound to a close over a long weekend, and although more legislation may be passed during a brief “lame duck” session scheduled for mid-November, I’m happy to report now on several major policy victories for the people of Arizona and crime victims everywhere.
* The Arizona Water Settlements Act is the biggest agreement of its kind in American history. Fifteen years in the making, it is the product of hard work and negotiation by literally dozens of parties, who settled their conflicting claims to Arizona’s water resources. It will bring long-sought certainty to cities, communities and Indian tribes as they plan their growth and development.
The act also resolves a long-running dispute between the state and the federal government over nearly $2 billion in repayments for construction of the Central Arizona Project, and provides funds to tribes, like the Gila River Indian Community, to construct water projects. It is expected to pass the House in November.
* The Petrified Forest National Park Expansion Act, already passed by both the House and Senate, will expand Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park to protect some of the most unique natural and cultural resources contained anywhere in the world.
Nowhere else can you glimpse the fossil remains of an ancient wilderness ecosystem as it existed 30 million years ago. Today we know that petrified wood is only a part of the globally significant record contained in the rock formation, commonly known as the ‘Chinle Escarpment,’ that cuts across the park.”
Scientists have also found numerous paleontological deposits and nationally significant archeological sites there, including ancient Pueblo cultural settings.
However, only six miles of the 22-mile escarpment are within park boundaries.
The bill will expand the park to include an additional 120,000 acres of checkerboarded federal, state, and private lands, protecting them against theft of petrified wood and fossils, pot hunting, vandalism to petroglyph sites and the environmental degradation caused by mineral exploration.
* Finally, I am particularly proud that the Senate and House passed the Justice for All Act, the most sweeping legislation to protect the rights of crime victims in U.S. history, after years of effort by myself and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
Under this bill, victims will no longer be relegated to observer status in federal cases against their attackers. Now, victims will be active participants in the pursuit of justice, as they should be. The new guarantees include:
* The right to be notified of and heard in public proceedings, such as plea, sentencing, reprieve, and pardon hearings;
* The right to be notified of the release or escape of an accused perpetrator;
* The right to proceedings held without unreasonable delay; and
* The right to participate in adjudicative decisions that take into account victims’ safety.
Thirty-three states, including Arizona, have passed victims’ rights legislation by popular margins averaging 80 percent.
Our bill extends similar protections to the victims of federal crimes and their families. And it provides incentives to states - where in many states cases the protection of victims has been lax - to be more vigorous in enforcing their laws.
President Bush has indicated his support for all three bills, so I look forward to seeing them signed into law.