By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Arizona's high school students will be required to pass the same civics test that immigrants must pass to gain citizenship, under a first-in-the-nation bill signed into law on Thursday.
Arizona Republican Governor Doug Ducey, who had championed the idea in his state-of-the-state address on Monday, signed the measure only hours after it sailed through the state House and Senate on Thursday.
"Not long from now, our children will be entrusted with protecting the principles on which this country was founded, and it is up to us to prepare them for that responsibility today," Ducey said in a statement.
Ducey, sworn into office on Jan. 5, hailed the bi-partisan passage of the bill and said it would "help ensure all Arizona students understand basic American civics."
The fast-tracked bill, the first to hit Ducey's desk since the state Legislature convened on Monday, requires that students correctly answer 60 of 100 questions on the test beginning in the 2016-17 school year.
Students would be allowed to take the test as many times as necessary in order to pass, according to the new law.
Critics said the bill should not be a top legislative priority. Some objected to the way the measure was pushed through both chambers.
"There are so many things we can do to help our state right now," said Democratic Senator Steve Farley, assistant minority leader, who voted against the bill. "This half-baked bill is not even near anyone's top of the list."
The measure passed the state House by a 42-17 vote and the Senate by a 19-10 tally on Thursday.
Arizona was the first to pass the measure among 17 other states considering it, according to the Joe Foss Institute, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based group that is promoting the initiative.
North Dakota's state House resoundingly passed a similar measure on Thursday and may be the next to pass it, the group said. Utah also appears close to passing a bill.
"It's a new year, and a new day for students here in Arizona and across the country who will now have the basic tools they need to become active, engaged citizens," Frank Riggs, the group's president and chief executive, said in a statement.
(Reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Ken Wills)