100 days of session and no end in sight


Senate President Karen Fann is pursuing what a fellow Republican lawmaker calls “the impossible dream” – a truly bipartisan budget with spending priorities that reflect Republican and Democratic priorities.

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley is still waiting for an invitation to the negotiating table.

Meanwhile, Gov. Doug Ducey wishes everybody would just shut up.

Such is the state of budget negotiations as Arizona lawmakers near the 100th day of session. They will meet that milestone on April 23, a benchmark that historically signals that their work is coming to a close. It can also serve as a reminder to hustle up and pass a budget, the only responsibility that’s constitutionally required of senators and representatives.

But with big-ticket items dealing with taxes and controversial fees still up for debate, leadership in both chambers say they have yet to settle on an agreed estimate of state revenues – meaning they don’t yet know how much they’ll have to spend in Fiscal Year 2020.

Some lawmakers close to the budget negotiations predict a long summer spent at the Capitol.

Gov. Doug Ducey gives his 2019 State of the State address on January 14, with Senate President Karen Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers looking on. Ducey faces fierce opposition from Republican leaders over his budget proposal. PHOTO BY ROSS D. FRANKLIN/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Gov. Doug Ducey gives his 2019 State of the State address on January 14, with Senate President Karen Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers looking on. Ducey faces fierce opposition from Republican leaders over his budget proposal.

So does Ducey, if that’s what it takes.

“From our standpoint, we in the governor’s office don’t sine die. We always say that we’re here all year round, and we think that members understand the budget is the most important thing we do all year,” said Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak.

For now, Ducey would at least be satisfied if lawmakers stopped chatting with reporters. Their airing of budget grievances in the Yellow Sheet Report, a sister publication of the Arizona Capitol Times, has drawn the governor’s ire.

“Reading the Yellow Sheet every day, it sure does seem like there are some who are wanting to negotiate the budget through the media, and we prefer not to do that,” Ptak said. “We want to be respectful of the process, and of members and of legislative leadership.”

That didn’t stop Ptak from disputing claims by some legislative Republicans that the governor has backtracked from apparent consensus in negotiations. Rep. Regina Cobb, the House appropriations chairwoman, said negotiations took “one step forward, two steps back” thanks to the governor’s shifting positions.

Ptak said that’s not accurate, and that both the Legislature and the governor have provided wiggle room in negotiations.

But Cobb’s comments echo complaints from Senate Republicans, who have bemoaned since January that Ducey’s budget proposal found ways to spend or save all of a roughly $1 billion surplus in state revenues. Fann, a Prescott Republican, said that’s part of the reason why she’s pushing for the Senate to propose its own spending plan.

“If you look at the governor’s budget, most of that money was all eaten up, and both the House and Senate members are saying, ‘What about us?’” Fann said. “So we’re just taking this opportunity — all of the senators, Rs and Ds over here — that we’re going to say, ‘We’re just going to start putting together our own budget here, so we can start plugging in some of our priorities.’”

Fann’s effort at bipartisanship drew praise from colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Sen. David Farnsworth, a Mesa Republican, said he is excited at the prospect of the Senate working on its own proposal with Democratic input.

“It’s a lot of hard work, but I think the best legislation that goes out of here is bipartisan legislation,” he said. “It’s challenging, but we certainly should be working in that direction.”

As an eight-year veteran at the Legislature, Sen. Martin Quezada knows that budgets are typically Republican-only affairs, and the Glendale Democrat noted that Fann has spent more time on outreach to Democrats than previous Senate presidents.

Quezada remains open-minded, but skeptical of the new approach.

“A lot of it really could just be posturing to spur the discussions amongst the Republican caucuses and the governor’s office. I think that would be a good way to get those conversations moving – is to threaten that ‘I’m going to put out a budget with Democrats,’ especially if it’s something that could possibly get done,” he said.

Bradley, D-Tucson, said he, too, is encouraged by Fann’s remarks, but is waiting for meaningful follow through. Fann promised that’s coming soon.

“Although we are not yet at the table, we welcomed President Fann’s recent comments about her desire to work with Democrats to craft a budget and we are ready to work with Gov. Ducey and Republican leadership if asked,” Bradley said.

But Rep. John Kavanagh said that’s politically impossible.

Even when Republicans promise individual Democrats to include some of their big wishes, they rarely vote for the budget or for more than one portion of the spending plan, said Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills.

“Chances are you will lose more Republicans by granting that one or two rogue Dems their wish,” Kavanagh said. “And in the end, they’re not there to help you anyway. Philosophically, we’re too divided to have that kind of agreement.”

The increased budget chatter is a sign of the times in more ways than one.

Lawmakers aren’t just racing against the clock, feeling the pressure of hitting the 100-day mark. They’re also dealing with the makeup of the House and Senate. Republicans still hold majorities in both chambers by one and two votes, respectively.

That’s enough to pass a budget without help from Democrats, as is usually the case, but with no room for error in the House.

Ptak acknowledged that the narrower-than-usual partisan divide plays a role in how Ducey is approaching this year’s budget, and why the governor has been in contact with everyone.

“(Given that) this is a new Legislature and makeup and a very different fiscal situation that the governor has had for a budget, we have worked to involve members of both parties really from the beginning,” Ptak said.

That approach doesn’t mean the governor’s priorities are dictated by the narrow party divide, Ptak added: “I wouldn’t characterize it as putting forward priorities for the sake of them being bipartisan … We want to make sure we’re making the right decisions and being fiscally conservative and responsible, and we feel that that represents bipartisan priorities that everyone can get behind.”

For Ducey, that may mean sticking to his January proposal to boost the state’s rainy-day fund to $1 billion, which would mean saving more than $500 million in funds this year. In principle, Republicans and Democrats alike support saving, but they have balked at saving that much.

Ptak indicated the governor is willing to wait them out.

That would be bad news for lawmakers with other plans in May or June. Some, like Rep. Travis Grantham, have unavoidable obligations. The Gilbert Republican, a major in the Arizona National Guard, is scheduled to deploy this summer.  His absence during session would spell doom for any House budget bills that doesn’t have bipartisan support.

Would Ducey wait that long?

“If it means getting it right, then yes,” Ptak said. “We want to make sure we get this right, and we’re willing to be here as long as it takes to do that.”

AG says state required to fund schooling only for minor inmates


A new opinion from Attorney General Mark Brnovich is leaving dozens of young adults who are locked up in Pima County jail without the funding to help them complete a high school diploma.

Brnovich acknowledged that state aid is available for school districts for anyone younger than 22. And Pima County School Superintendent Dustin Williams said his office runs a state-recognized school district for anyone younger than 22 who is locked up.

But Brnovich said he reads the law to require the state to provide funds only for those younger than 18.

The only exception, the attorney general said, is when the person in county jail has a disability. In those cases state aid runs through age 21.

Monday’s opinion drew an angry reaction from Williams who said the cutoff of state dollars has left more than four dozen students in his district without education opportunities.

“How in the world are we not educating probably the most neediest kid and start to tackle this school-to-prison pipeline and start to tackle this recidivism that is out of control,” he told Capitol Media Services.

“I would reckon to bet that 100 percent of the taxpayers don’t want these individuals just sitting there doing nothing all day,” Williams said. “I think they would prefer if they were getting an education or finishing up on some school while they’re incarcerated.”

An aide to Brnovich defended the opinion.

“We follow what the law says, not what we want it to be or what we think it should be,” said Ryan Anderson.

At the heart of the battle is a state law which says that all schools shall admit all children who are between the ages of 16 and 21 who reside in the district and who have not graduated from high school.

Williams, as county schools chief, runs an “accommodation” school district for youngsters who are locked up, complete with a principal and teachers. That makes his district eligible for state aid, just like any other district.

He said it’s bad enough that state law pays him just 72 percent of what other districts get, a figure that comes out at about $3,100 per student per year.

“I lose 28 cents on every kid,” Williams said.

Williams said he he worked with Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, last year to get the same funding as other districts. That bill cleared the Senate Education Committee but never got any farther.

As it turned out, the state Department of Education, changing its auditing procedures, concluded that he was entitled to no funds at all for those who have turned 18.

The Pima County Attorney’s Office disagreed, issuing its own formal opinion in a bid to get the dollars restored. But Brnovich, by law, gets the last word.

The result, said Williams, is that the program for about 50 youngsters in that age group has gone away.

“Now we’re not getting anything and those individuals are just sitting there,” he said.

But Brnovich, in his opinion, said the legal issue boils down to the wording of state laws: Counties are required to provide education services to incarcerated youths only until they reach age 18, with the exception of those with disabilities.

“Their meaning is clear: State funding is available only for the two categories of prisoners to whom county must offer a jail education program,” he wrote. And Brnovich said the fact that schools are required to admit anyone through age 21 does not mean the state has to provide aid if the school is run as part of a jail.

Williams said that with the state funding gone he is pursing alternatives to help those who are locked up but 18 or older get a chance for a diploma.

One, he said, would be to try to earn a GED high school diploma through online courses offered through Pima Community College. But Williams said that should not be necessary.

“We’re a full-on district school,” he said. “I’ve got principals and teachers and experts, all certified.”

More to the point, Williams said Arizona should be doing more to help ensure that all students have a chance to get a diploma.

“We need to be progressive in this state, and we need to be progressive towards incarcerated individuals, period,” he said.

Williams also said he hopes to convince Gov. Doug Ducey to pursue a change in the law.

“He has said that the direction of the state (that) he wants to focus on incarcerated youths,” Williams said.

Arizona lawmakers mull shutting down session to prevent coronavirus spread

Arizona Capitol Building (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Arizona Capitol Building (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

A House Democrat has announced he’ll be stepping back from most lawmaking duties for the remainder of the session amid calls from some legislators to temporarily suspend the session to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19.

Rep. Amish Shah, D-Phoenix, announced on Facebook Friday that he will “no longer be able to attend the Arizona House of Representatives in person in 2020” so that he can work scheduled shifts in the emergency room. Shah is an emergency physician with Dignity Health. 

For me, it’s a duty to work in the emergency department and take care of patients,” Shah, who has notified legislative leaders of his decision, said. “It’s important to be here. It would be irresponsible to go down to the legislature and be around all of those people.”

Shah’s decision comes as legislative leaders debate next steps for the Capitol, which has sat in the shadow of uncertainty since Gov. Doug Ducey declared a public health emergency last week.  

Legislative leaders plan to meet Monday morning to discuss how to proceed with the session. Lawmakers already decided yesterday to shut down the Senate and House galleries and limit public testimony on bills as safety measures. And state Sens. Heather Carter and Paul Boyer pledged to stay away from the Capitol for the foreseeable future to promote “social distancing,” taking with them two votes needed to pass any partisan legislation. 

Shah’s hiatus changes the legislative math for House Democrats, who began the session on the losing end one-vote Rebublican majority — nonetheless a slim enough margin to kill the occasional GOP proposal. Now, the seat split sits at 31-28. 

Shah said that he will still participate in meetings so long as he can attend remotely, but he won’t be returning to the Capitol in person. House rules require a lawmaker to be present to participate in committee meetings or action on the floor.

Senate President Karen Fann texted the 16 members of her Republican caucus on Friday afternoon to tell them she would meet with House and Senate leaders, according to a copy of the message shared with the Arizona Capitol Times. Neither Fann nor Senate Minority Leader David Bradley immediately returned phone calls. 

House Speaker Pro Tem T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, told the Yellow Sheet Report, a sister publication of the Capitol Times, that he thinks the Legislature should take a break until April 6.

Waiting until April also means lawmakers will see March revenue numbers and revise budget requests accordingly, he said. While revenues have been higher than expected throughout the year, the COVID-19 outbreak and related closures are expected to slow the economy. 

“With spring training canceled, those revenue numbers will have to come down,” he said. 

Both chambers on Thursday unanimously authorized the state health department to spend up to $55 million to combat the spread of COVID-19. Moving quickly on the funding was necessary “on the slim chance that if we had to suspend session and would not be here, we would have the funds to handle it,” Fann said. 

Legislatures in Colorado, Georgia and Vermont already announced temporary shutdowns. Several other states, which pass budgets every two years instead of annually as Arizona does, already ended their short sessions. 

Boyer, R-Glendale, and Carter, R-Cave Creek, said they would be working from home for the foreseeable future. Boyer, a high school teacher, and Carter, a university professor, are already doing their day jobs from home as universities and schools shuttered or moved online, but they can’t vote on legislation unless they’re physically in the Senate. 

Lawmakers shouldn’t be voting on anything if they’re not allowing public input, Boyer said. House Education Committee Chair Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, and House Regulatory Affairs Chairman Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, announced they would run their committees on Monday without an audience or public testimony, and other committee chairs are weighing their options. 

“My two cents is it’s just not fair to the public,” Boyer said. “If we’re not allowing public input on bills and then voting on them, it’s not right.” 

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include information on Rep. Amish Shah deciding not to return to the Capitol. 


Auditor: Laws need to change for effective charter school scrutiny

Lindsey Perry
Lindsey Perry

If lawmakers want quality audits of Arizona charter schools, they have to change the laws governing how charters operate, the state’s top auditor said.

Arizona Auditor General Lindsey Perry, who was appointed to the post in April, told lawmakers on the Joint Legislative Audit Committee on September 20 that calls for her office to audit Arizona’s 546 charter schools are missing one key component.

“Regardless of where you stand on the charter schools, having the Auditor General’s Office … reviewing oversight and compliance is not the solution,” Perry said. “I think that it’s part of the solution, but it’s not the only solution. I think there have to be fundamental changes to the charter school laws that would allow our oversight to be impactful.”

For example, school districts operate under strict procurement codes, while most charters do not. Roughly 95 percent of charter operators apply for and are granted exemptions from state procurement codes by the Board of Charter Schools, freeing them from undergoing steps like a competitive bidding process for purchasing and contracts.

And while all school districts and charters regularly report their finances, districts use a uniform financial reporting system, known as USFR, and are backed up by a 29-page questionnaire to vet the audit process. Charters have their own unique reporting process.

Chuck Essigs, a lobbyist for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, said it’s not as robust, and that’s not good enough for the more than 180,000 students attending charters.

That’s roughly 17 percent of the state’s student population.

Perry wasn’t critical of the way charters are audited now. But in the committee hearing, she made it clear that an audit by her office of the information now available about charter schools wouldn’t be as revealing as district school audits.

“The very things that we would be providing information on, that I think the public is interested in, charters are exempt from,” Perry said. “So to throw all this money at a whole new division (to audit charters), I don’t feel like we could provide a lot of value.”

The Auditor General’s Office used to oversee charters, but that role was transferred to the Arizona State Board of Charter Schools in 1999. If Perry’s office were to have that oversight again, then it would take more manpower.

The Auditor General’s Office is already strapped for time while conducting performance audits of all the state’s 236 school districts, and they can only conduct about 12 to 15 of those audits annually, Perry said. Arizona’s school districts are also audited annually by independent firms, which conduct financial audits of each school district.

Similarly, Arizona charter schools, which are privately-owned schools financed with public monies, are required to undergo annual audits.

There are distinctions. The Auditor General’s Office must approve contracts school districts agree to with independent auditors, and their reports are sent directly to the Auditor General’s Office and the Department of Education.

Charter school auditors report to charter holders. Their contracts are not approved by the State Board of Charter Schools. And the audits are handed over to the charter schools, which then provide them to the state board.

Lawmakers like Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, have sponsored bills that would require the Auditor General’s Office to conduct performance audits and monitor charter schools in the same manner it monitors school districts. And recently, Republicans like Sen. Kate Brophy McGee of Phoenix have echoed some of those calls for greater transparency among charters.

In fact, Bradley proposed bills that, accompanying the call for oversight from the auditor general, would hold charter schools to the same standards as district schools, as Perry suggested would be a necessary policy change.

That includes a bill to require charters to adhere to the same competitive public bidding process as school districts, removing the Charter School Board’s authority to exempt schools from those procurement rules, and calls for audits to dive deeper into the pay of administrators or owners of charter schools.

Some Republican senators and representatives balked at changing those laws, arguing instead that the lax restrictions placed on charters are part of what make them a success.

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said that stricter financial reporting requirements could be a burden on small charter schools, and even suggested loosening the restrictions placed on district schools, rather than clamping down on charters.

Some procurement rules are probably unnecessary and were born simply out of local officials seeking political cover, Kavanagh said. Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, said that while there are some “bad operators” among charters, “removing some of those procurement rules would allow (district) schools to maybe make better choices.”

Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, said such a suggestion ignores the history of abuse that led to those procurement rules being adopted in the first place.

“Things happened and procedures came out of embezzlement and other bad things that happened,” Worsley said in committee.

Kathy Senseman
Kathy Senseman

Kathy Senseman, president of the State Board for Charter Schools, told the Arizona Capitol Times that while there’s room for improvement in the way the board audits and oversees charter operators and schools, there’s no need for the auditor general to get involved.

The audits schools contract out for themselves, combined with site visits conducted by board staff to verify the information being reported about charter schools, has provided plenty of information to reveal bad actors among the state’s hundreds of charter schools, Senseman said.

Sometimes it’s difficult to move as quickly as the board wishes it could to take action, she said.

For example, Senseman noted that the Discovery Creemos Academy, which abruptly closed in the middle of the school year in February, was under investigation for months before it closed. Officials were scheduled to conduct an on-site audit of the school’s student population on the same day the school closed, a maneuver Senseman said she suspected was designed to avoid the obvious red flags that would have been revealed.

“All these schools you read about in the paper, we know” something is wrong, Senseman said.

She said while there are problems, “I don’t think it’s a matter of not capturing the information or not having access to information.”

The nature of charter school operations – though they’re funded through public monies, they’re privately run businesses – also means the board is often captive to other government entities responsible for civil or criminal investigations of wrongdoing, Senseman said. It wouldn’t take a legislative change for the Charter School Board to work more fluidly and closely with officials from the Attorney General’s Office or the Department of Education, Senseman said.

She said she would like the board to beef up its audit team, and has asked the Governor’s Office for the funding in the board’s fiscal 2020 budget request.

The request for eight new staffers would include four new education program managers, who would be responsible for visiting charter schools and reviewing the schools’ academic and operational performance. Another four employees would help audit charters’ financial records.

Big fights loom over few differences in GOP spending proposals

Male hand putting a coin into piggy bank

Cage fighting has begun at the state Capitol.

And while physical violence has been avoided, the stakes are high all the same. Somewhere in the ballpark of $12 billion in state revenues is up for grabs as lawmakers forge ahead on this session’s appropriation process, having bucked tradition by drafting separate legislative budget proposals in each chamber that need to be reconciled before negotiations can begin with the Governor’s Office.

Those proposals became public earlier in January, and Republican leadership and Appropriations Committee members from both the House and Senate have already held several meetings in the Joint Legislative Budget Committee offices, dubbed “the cage,” to hash out their differences on where the state should spend its money in the next fiscal year. Meetings with the governor, who released his budget proposal January 17, are on the horizon.

In broad strokes, the three Republican budgets are fairly similar. All call for increased funding for K-12 education, roads and public safety, and include some form of tax cut.

But there are key differences, mostly between the governor’s budget and the two legislative budgets.

Gov. Doug Ducey wants to close a prison, launch a new program to fund low-achieving schools and stash more money in the state’s rainy day fund. Republicans in both legislative chambers are agitating for more aggressive tax cuts than the governor proposed.

The Senate framework has detailed requests from individual members, including overhauling a special education funding formula that has gone unchanged since 1980, building a veterans’ home in Mohave County and providing state aid to cities covering the costs of firefighters’ cancer treatment. The House, meanwhile, has set aside around $51 million ongoing for member requests – an amount that would all but disappear if lawmakers acquiesced to some of Ducey’s spending requests.

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said discussions with House leaders are going well, but both chambers still have many questions for Ducey.

“Some of the things they have in their budget, we don’t understand what they’re doing or how they’re doing it or why they’re doing it,” she said of the governor’s budget plan.

Unknown Priorities

Chief among those questions is just how to handle the closure of Florence Prison, a move Ducey announced in his State of the State Address to the apparent surprise of Florence town officials. The governor’s budget staff estimated that moving prisoners to county jails or private prisons and reassigning correctional officers to the nearby Eyman Prison would save the state $270 million over three years.

But in the next budget year, closing the prison entails spending about $33 million to buy bed space for inmates in county jails and private prisons, according to the Governor’s Office, though neither the House nor Senate budget makes a similar appropriation. Legislative budget staff say questions over how much money is needed and where prisoners will go could remain unanswered until after the Legislature adjourns for the year.

“We’d like to have more details about that, as to how we’re going to go about transferring those prisoners and how those costs will be transferred to either the Eyman Prison or over to the county jails,” Fann said.

And legislative Republicans don’t know what to do with Ducey’s school-funding initiative, dubbed “Project Rocket,” which would spend $44 million to increase per-pupil funding at low-performing, low-income schools over three years. Neither legislative budget proposal carves out any funding for the new program, which Fann said most lawmakers didn’t know about prior to the governor’s State of the State Address.

While Project Rocket has support from Republicans, including House Education Chair Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, legislative leaders as a whole are skeptical of the program, which would eat up the bulk of the ongoing discretionary spending set aside for member requests if passed as written.

“Obviously we’re all for funding education, particularly schools that need the extra help to bring them up, but it’s a new program and so we have some questions,” Fann said. “How does it work? Who exactly is going to get the funds, and under what conditions?”

The program is modeled after a pilot that offered “results-based funding” in Avondale, Wickenburg and Deer Valley school districts, in effect increasing per-pupil spending. House Appropriations Chair Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, said she’s not sold on the initiative, and that she thinks it could be cheaper and just as effective if lawmakers narrow its scope.

“It includes D schools, F schools and it also includes C schools with 60% [free or reduced lunch] – that’s where that $44 million comes from,” Cobb said. “If you just did D and F schools, you could probably just drop it to $12 million.”

‘Bothersome’ Tax Cuts

And then there are differences on what to do with the state’s overflowing surplus. House Republicans want $350 million in tax cuts over the next three fiscal years, while the Senate calls for $275 million of cuts in the same time period, just about covering a wide-reaching plan introduced by Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, that would cut about $300 million over three years.

The governor, on the other hand, only calls for a reduction of $45 million, the result of a proposal to eliminate income taxes on veterans’ pensions. Ducey also wants to add $25 million to the rainy day fund, while appropriators have yet to propose an amount they’d like to see added to the fund.

Cobb called Ducey’s proposed tax cut a “carve-out of a carve-out,” not the kind of broad-based cuts sought by many conservatives.

She’d like to tinker with personal exemptions and charitable tax credits – perhaps in concert with the governor’s cut – to reach $100 million a year in ongoing cuts, plus a $50 million one-time cut in fiscal year 2021, which starts this coming July 1.

Regina Cobb
Regina Cobb

“I think that when you’ve got $1 billion in surplus, $100 million is not a lot of a tax cut to be given back to the taxpayers, especially since we’ve got …  an increase in income,” Cobb said. “We don’t want to live off of a nine or 10% growth rate. That’s unsustainable. So what we wanna’ do is live off of the lower growth rate.”

But the Legislature’s ambitious tax cut plans risk alienating moderates like Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, a north Phoenix Republican who faces stiff odds as she runs for re-election this year. Brophy McGee’s opposition to a tax cut plan Mesnard pitched last year that would have given more income tax breaks to wealthier Arizonans and increased taxes for the state’s poorest residents was one of the key reasons it didn’t pass.

Brophy McGee called the tax cut figures in the Senate and House budgets “bothersome,” but said she’s “somewhat interested” in Ducey’s narrowly targeted tax cut plan for veterans. The state still has $1.1 billion in K-12 rollovers and debt that has yet to be paid back, and should wait to go through another robust economic cycle before discussing cuts, she said.

“Let’s get back to where we were before the wheels fell off, and then we can talk about tax cuts,” she said.

The Dem Factor

Tax cuts also mean losing support from Democrats in either chamber who might otherwise be willing to support pieces of the budget, Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said. Sweeping tax cuts are a “poison pill” that will contaminate every budget bill, he said.

Democrats in the House and Senate plan to introduce their own spending proposals by next week, publicly laying out their starting point in negotiations as Republican leaders barrel toward a planned late-February budget passage.

The House and Senate budgets do more closely align with Democratic priorities in one sense – they both call for more funding to help homeless Arizonans.

Both legislative proposals would give $10 million to the state Housing Trust Fund, while Ducey’s budget allocates no money to the oft-neglected fund. State support for subsidized housing plummeted during the recession, but last year’s budget reversed course by providing a one-time influx of $15 million to the fund.

While the $10 million proposed in this year’s budget is a start, Fann said she and other Republican senators would like to spend more. Democrats in both chambers have made increased funding for housing a key part of their platform.

Bucking Tradition

Settling these differences and getting a budget passed will be something of a novel process. In the past, budget negotiations took place much later in the session, and the governor tended to set the terms of debate, whereas now the dual budgets from the Legislature give lawmakers a bit more bargaining power.

“It wasn’t necessarily contentious, but it was extremely slow,” said Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who for years served as House Appropriations chair. “We would make a proposal and it would take days to come back – then the change was minor.”

Now, Kavanagh, who still serves on the Appropriations Committee, senses a “spirit of greater collaboration,” partly because lawmakers want to finish the budget and hit the campaign trail as soon as possible.

And even once there’s a unified Republican spending plan, leaders have to fend off holdouts from rank-and-file lawmakers who have specific requests or who feel jilted by a lack of transparency in the negotiations process, a perennial complaint that has persisted this session. This is especially crucial in the House, where one Republican defection means that leaders have to seek Democratic votes to get a budget passed.

“Our votes are never secure,” said Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott. “We all want what we want for our districts and our constituents.”

As with any fight, cage or otherwise, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

“The fun has yet to begin,” Kavanagh said.

Borrelli again targets medical marijuana dispensary kitchens

Deposit Photo
Deposit Photo

A state GOP senator wants to allow the Arizona Department of Health Services to inspect medical marijuana kitchens without giving notice and blames the marijuana industry for killing the same effort last session.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, introduced his first bill of the 2020 legislative session hoping to address concerns over how marijuana edibles are created in those kitchens. Last session, he enlisted Sen. Paul Boyer to sponsor the bill for him, hoping he would have better luck getting the three-fourths vote needed to amend the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act because it is voter protected. 

Not a single Democrat in the Senate voted for the SB1222 on the floor February 18, and none of the 13 members gave a reason why they refused to support it. 

Borrelli believes it’s because the dispensaries persuaded them to kill the measure.

“They have no clear-cut reason why to vote ‘no’ other than the marijuana industry doesn’t want any oversight whatsoever,” Borrelli said. 

When it passed through committee none of the Democrats said a word, and on the Senate floor only the Senate Minority Whip Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, spoke, but not to provide any inkling as to why she was voting no. Otondo, instead, chose to take issue with Borrelli’s choice of words on whether marijuana does in fact have medicinal value. Borrelli and Boyer were the only other senators to speak at all. Boyer, R-Glendale, said he still doesn’t understand why it did not have the support from the Democrats. 

Otondo could not be reached for comment. 

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, thought his caucus opposed the measure because the bill would give oversight of the inspections to the Department of Agriculture instead of DHS, but Boyer shot that down. 

That was only something discussed as a possibility after the bill failed, he said. 

Sen. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City)
Sen. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City)

Borrelli is more hopeful his bill that he sponsored himself will make it through since in the interim there was a DHS audit pointing to problems the department has had when it comes to witnessing the creation of marijuana edibles in dispensary kitchens. 

As it stands, dispensaries get advance notice of inspections, and the DHS audit found that kitchens always happened to be closed at the time of inspections. Borrelli’s bill eliminates the advance notice making it so inspections would be random like they are for any other industry.

“[Inspectors] can go into everything from a Burger King to an abortion clinic unannounced – but not a dispensary,” Borrelli said, adding that if any other industry received notice before an inspection it would be ridiculous.

“I’m going to inspect your illegal gambling operation on Thursday at three o’clock, is that OK with you,” Borrelli said. “You’re going to get there and people will just be playing dominoes and chess.”

This is the only business that enjoys that huge benefit, Borrelli said. 

The Smart and Safe Arizona Act, an effort to legalize adult use marijuana on next year’s ballot, also would address Borrelli’s concern over advance notice of inspections. It says DHS should make “at least one unannounced visit annually” to each licensed facility. 

Pele Peacock Fischer, the Arizona Dispensaries Association lobbyist, said the association was going through a transition period between lobbyists when the bill failed so no association lobbyist influenced the Senate Democrats on how to vote.

She said a potential reason why it failed could be because the Legislature wanted to wait to see what happened with the State v. Jones case at the Arizona Supreme Court, which eventually determined on May 28 marijuana concentrates could be used as medicine. 

In the other chamber, House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, said in July her caucus would happily help get the three-fourths vote necessary to close the loophole, noting that they supported new marijuana testing requirements, and don’t want to put medical marijuana patients’ health at risk as the audit suggested.

If legislation would make it through the House and Senate, Tim Sultan, the Arizona Dispensaries Association executive director, said they would not stand in the way. 

Boyer gives caucus price for vote on budget

In this April 16, 2016, photo, Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, attends a panel discussion hosted by the Center for Political Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/Flickr
In this April 16, 2016, photo, Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, attends a panel discussion hosted by the Center for Political Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/Flickr

A Republican senator is prepared to withhold his crucial vote on the state’s budget unless it contains at least $160 million in ongoing funding for higher education and another $20 million for firefighters with cancer.  

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, told the Arizona Capitol Times he won’t vote for a budget without that roughly $180 million in ongoing funding. Legislative Republicans cannot afford to lose a single vote on any bill because of the close margins in the House and Senate. 

If his Republican colleagues balk at the price tag, Boyer said they could consider reducing the hundreds of millions of dollars they want to give away in permanent tax cuts. The economic benefits of cutting taxes are speculative at best, he said, while he has a study that predicts more than $14 billion in new state and local revenue as a result of the higher education funding he wants.  

“I don’t know why we would put all of our eggs in one basket with a questionable return on investment when we have a clear return on investment,” Boyer said.  

The higher education funding package Boyer supports contains $100 million divvied up among the three universities, $50 million for statewide financial aid for would-be university students and $12.5 million for a similar financial aid program for community college students. All of that funding would be ongoing, a tough sell to a conservative Legislature that prefers one-time funding increases.  

Gov. Doug Ducey’s January budget proposal called for $35 million in ongoing funding for the three universities – making permanent one-time spending they received in prior years but didn’t get in 2020. A budget framework released by Senate Republicans in January had no additional funding for universities. 

Ducey’s budget also noted that universities received about $115 million through federal Covid relief funds, but Boyer said that one-time windfall from the feds doesn’t replace a need for ongoing state spending on higher education. Universities had to pivot to largely online learning and Arizona State University led on Covid testing in the state, and the federal money can help with those one-time expenses.  

“I just don’t see why we should think that one-time funding from the feds is sufficient when a lot of my caucus wants to do permanent tax cuts,” Boyer said. “I don’t know why we would do something speculative when we know what the return on investment will be with targeted investments.” 

An economic impact study commissioned by the Arizona Board of Regents from Rounds Consulting Group, which Boyer said he’s sharing with other senators, predicts the $100 million per year given to the three universities would result in $14.4 billion in state and local tax revenues over the course of 20 years. 

All three universities would break even, with revenues generated surpassing the cumulative amount spent, by year 10 at the latest, according to Rounds’ analysis. 

Universities and community colleges have struggled to recover from budget cuts during the recession, including a budget deal in Ducey’s first term that cut $104 million from universities and zeroed out state funding for Maricopa and Pima community college districts 

The largest community college districts now only receive state funding for specific projects. Universities received $8 million in FY2019 and $35 million in FY2020, but nothing last year after the Legislature rejected nearly all one-time spending to pass its “skinny” budget at the start of the pandemic.  

“They have to fight for it every single year,” Boyer said. “Last year they were asked to do more with less.” 

His other budget demand is for $20 million in ongoing funding for firefighters with cancer, but he said that can be accomplished without directly appropriating money from the General Fund. Instead, he would divert money cities now pay the Department of Revenue for administering transaction privilege tax on their behalf.  

As part of 2015 changes to sales tax laws, the department’ General Fund appropriation was reduced by roughly $20 million per year, with cities paying that amount in fees to cover the department’s costs administering sales taxes assessed by cities and towns.  

There was an understanding that after three years cities would stop paying those fees and the General Fund money would again be used, but almost six years later that still hasn’t happened, Boyer said. Now, he has cities on board with continuing to pay the same fees, provided those fees are used for aid for firefighters who contract cancer from fighting fires. 

 “Cities are fine with continuing being taxed, but they want to spend it on what is a priority for them,” he said. 

The plan would result in the Dept of Revenue likely needing about $20 million more from the General Fund, but Boyer said lawmakers had already committed to doing that in 2015.   

This is the third year in a row that Boyer has threatened to withhold his budget vote to force concessions from his caucus, with varying success. In 2019, he and then-Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, successfully extracted more opportunities for survivors of sexual abuse to seek justice in civil court, and millions more for affordable housing, school counselors and doctor training. 

The two came prepared to fight again, this time for funding for firefighters and universities, in 2020, but then-Democratic leader David Bradley gave Republicans the 16th vote they needed on the “skinny” budget. Carter lost her primary to conservative Nancy Barto in part because of her budget tactics, while Boyer won re-election in his increasingly moderate district.  

He now faces two separate recall attempts, tied to his decision earlier this year to block his caucus from moving to arrest Maricopa County’s elected supervisors when the supervisors stood in the way of senators completing another audit of the 2020 election. Boyer acknowledged that his new push for higher spending and fewer tax cuts won’t win him many friends in his party, but he said he wasn’t worried.  

“I’m always prepared for blowback when it’s the right thing to do,” he said.  






Committee gives OK in first step to create new dental profession

A bid to license dental therapists in Arizona survived the sunrise process November 29, paving the way for legislation to be introduced to the full Legislature.

The proposal by the Dental Care for Arizona coalition has now successfully navigated what has been called one of the most obscure proceedings at the state Legislature, one criticized by lobbyists for being what they see as an obstacle to change and lower-level health care providers.

Rep. Heather Carter (R-Cave Creek)
Rep. Heather Carter (R-Cave Creek)

Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, voted not to advance the proposal and also took time to defend the sunrise process against a recent spate of criticism. The five hours spent debating dental therapy, she said, were a prime example of its importance.

“You don’t want to see this on the floor,” she said, noting a time when lawmakers were left to debate the merits of a health care measure at 3 a.m. one sine die.  “Having these debates on the floor … just becomes a popularity contest.”

Carter promised that any subsequent dental therapy legislation would be heard by the House Health Committee, but history seems to suggest there’s no guarantee such a bill will materialize.

Despite a high rate of approval for sunrise applications before the Legislature’s Committee of Reference, they seldom lead to legislation. And that, according to veteran lobbyist Barry Aarons, is because the proposals may not have the votes to pass anyway. Aarons is not involved in the dental therapy application.

According to a statement from Dental Care for Arizona, legislation will be introduced in January to create a licensing structure, educational requirements and the scope of practice.

Even those who voted in favor of advancing the dental therapy concept cast a shadow on advocates’ hopes for the future of the effort.

Sen. David Bradley (D-Tucson)
Sen. David Bradley (D-Tucson)

“I doubt that, regardless of the outcome of this hearing, the proposal as is would pass the Legislature,” said Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson.

Despite his pessimism, Bradley cast one of five votes to move the proposal forward and continue the debate around the state’s “huge, huge, huge, huge oral health crisis.”

“We’re chipping away with our various approaches,” he said, “but we’re not getting to the core of the problem.”

Dental therapists would be allowed to perform common procedures, like simple tooth extractions and evaluations, and would operate under the supervision of licensed dentists.

Opponents like Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman – the Legislature’s only practicing dentist – have criticized the proposal, saying it would allow providers with “less than adequate education” to treat the state’s most vulnerable populations, namely children and the elderly.

Sen. Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix)
Sen. Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix)

Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, said she took her colleagues’ comments to mean the application only as it stands now would not be voted into law, and the coming stakeholder meetings would be the key to finding common ground.

“There’s a lot still to negotiate as far as how this might work in Arizona,” she said. “I think there are going to be opponents who don’t want to negotiate at all but probably will come kicking and screaming to a place of neutrality at least.”

Court expansion key to artists’ win in discrimination case

Brush and Nib Studio owners from left are Breanna Koski and Joanna Duka (Facebook)
Brush and Nib Studio owners from left are Breanna Koski and Joanna Duka (Facebook)

A landmark Arizona Supreme Court decision on September 16 would have been different had the court not expanded from five to seven justices in 2016.

Gov. Doug Ducey on several occasions has been accused of “packing” the state’s highest court with conservative justices. It was a criticism in 2016 when he signed the court expansion bill into law and this year when he appointed Justices James Beene and Bill Montgomery.

Ducey has now made five appointments, more than any other governor in Arizona history, and has shaped the court for possibly decades.

His choices for justices on the court and the expansion certainly affected the outcome of Brush & Nib v. City of Phoenix, a case in which a split court said the First Amendment rights of two business owners outweighed a city anti-discrimination ordinance.

Ducey appointed Justices Andrew Gould and John Lopez to fill the newly created sixth and seventh seats at the end of 2016, and both of them voted in the majority, joining fellow Ducey-appointee Clint Bolick, who was appointed in 2016 before the expansion, and Gov. Jan Brewer-appointee John Pelander, who retired March 1.

Because oral arguments in Brush & Nib took place in January, Chief Justice Scott Bales, who retired in July, and Pelander still weighed in on the case.

Bales, an appointee of Gov. Janet Napolitano, voted in favor of Phoenix along with Vice Chief Justice Ann Scott Timmer, an appointee of Brewer.

Current-Chief Justice Robert Brutinel, a Brewer appointee, recused himself, but his stand-in, appellate judge Christopher Staring, sided with Bales and Timmer. Staring, who Ducey appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals in 2015, would have been the deciding vote, had the court stayed at five members.

Thus, had Ducey and the Republican-controlled Legislature not expanded the court, the city of Phoenix would have won the case, 3-2.

The anti-discrimination ordinance was challenged by Brush & Nib owners Breanna Koski and Joanna Duka, who do not want to prepare their custom wedding invitations and other products for same-sex nuptials.

Duka and Koski are devout Christians who believe their work is inextricably related to their religious beliefs. They have said they strongly believe a marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman, and argue they cannot separate their beliefs from their work.

But in the carefully worded decision, the justices refused to give blanket protection to all businesses – including Brush & Nib – to simply turn away customers because of their sexual orientation. Gould, writing for the majority, said it leaves open the question of whether the two women could be forced to produce other products, like place cards for receptions, which do not specifically celebrate the marriage.

And it leaves in legal limbo the ability of Phoenix and other cities to enforce their ordinances that make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma,  and Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, among other prominent Democrats, criticized the decision, saying it was the result of Ducey’s master plan to stack the court to ensure conservative outcomes.

“This was a narrowly crafted case that produced a narrow, limited and hopefully temporary setback for equal rights in front of Governor Ducey’s packed and politicized Supreme Court,” Fernandez said in a press release.

The court historically is unanimous in its decisions – even after the expansion – and it is especially rare for justices to land on a 4-3 split. The Brush & Nib case is one of the examples where the dissent opinion would have been the majority without Ducey’s two additional appointments.

But it’s not the only instance. A 2018 water case with a 4-3 decision also saw Lopez and Gould vote with the majority. 

In fact, since the two of them joined the court, they have been on the bench for 72 cases together, and have voted together in 71 of those. The one case where they did not agree occurred in 2017, Louis Cespedes v. State, a child abuse case where Gould authored the majority opinion, and Lopez was in the dissent.

Democrats discouraged despite getting more bills passed

(Photograph by Hank Stephenson/Arizona Capitol Times)
(Photograph by Hank Stephenson/Arizona Capitol Times)

Senate President Karen Fann can boast a 333 percent increase in the number of bills sponsored by Democrats that passed out of her chamber in 2019 compared to last year.

That’s because Senate Democrats cracked double digits, after getting only three bills out of the Senate last year. In the House, meanwhile, 15 Democratic bills passed this year. That’s marginally better than last year when they only got nine bills out of the House, an increase of about 67 percent.

And of the 320 bills signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, only eight were sponsored by Democrats.

“It’s pathetic,” said Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale. “It’s a pathetic number.”

Martin Quezada
Martin Quezada

Democrats, perpetually in the minority in both chambers, started the year optimistic that close margins in both chambers and several statewide victories in the 2018 elections would lead to more success in the Legislature. In the House, where Republicans hold a 31-29 majority, Democrats began the year thinking they’d have a voice, said House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma.

Instead, Democrats in both chambers watched as most of the roughly 500 bills they introduced met quiet deaths in the middle of the session as procedural deadlines came and went without hearings or votes.

“I don’t like to look at those numbers because they’re so demoralizing,” Fernandez said. “They’re not reflective of 29-31, just like our committees.”

Some of her members found success through other channels.

Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Glendale, couldn’t get his legislation on adult changing stations in public restrooms heard in the House Rules Committee. It was one of many bills killed silently by Rules Chairman Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale.

But Andrade’s idea still made it into law with the help of Hereford Republican Rep. Gail Griffin. Griffin sacrificed one of her own bills to allow a strike-everything amendment that adopted Andrade’s changing station language in place of her own proposal. Successes like that, involving procedural moves that essentially transferred ownership of a bill out of Democratic hands, were not counted in this analysis.

Senate Democrats succeeded in getting 13 bills out of their chamber, but only four of those received a vote in the House. If Fann were serious about working in a bipartisan way, she could have advocated for those bills in the House, Quezada said.

Richard Andrade
Richard Andrade

Two of his bills — SB1437, which would have prohibited most employers from asking about applicants’ criminal history until the interview stage of an application, and SB1424, which would have created a pilot program to help young entrepreneurs — made it out of the Senate but never came up for a vote in the House.

“To allow for Democratic bills to advance out of the Senate and then not advocate for them to at least get hearings in the House, it’s almost as if it would have been better had she done nothing at all and just killed all of our bills in the Senate,” Quezada said. “The end outcome is still the same.”

The bills Democrats succeeded in getting passed were rarely substantive policy issues. Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Glendale, had a bill signed by Ducey that will allow court buildings to fly the POW/MIA flag. Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, secured a new license plate promoting affordable homeownership. And Rep. Arlando Teller, D-Chinle, succeeded with a two-sentence law saying rural Arizonans applying for a new federal rural broadband program can get the state Department of Agriculture’s help reviewing their applications.

Still, this year Democrats sponsored more successful bills than they have in any year since 2011. Senate Minority David Bradley, D-Tucson, said he’ll work next year to help other Democratic senators get more bills passed and feel some sense of success.

“While you’re in the minority, you’ve got to deal with the hand you’re dealt,” Bradley said. “You’ve got to be realistic about what can be accomplished, and it all reduces itself to a function of relationships with people, and that’s how you succeed around here.”

Getting substantive bills passed as a member of the minority requires working with the majority, said Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix. He credited Sen. J.D. Mesnard and Rep. Jeff Weninger, both Chandler Republicans, for helping him get his school suicide prevention bill passed by testifying for it in committee.

Bowie, who represents a swing district in the East Valley, said he thinks he gets a more welcome reception from Republicans than some of his Democratic colleagues because he takes a less hostile approach.

“Sometimes I think it depends on the member who’s introducing it,” Bowie said. “Sometimes it depends on luck.”

Ducey goes partisan in 2020 State of the State Address

Gov. Doug Ducey makes his way through the Arizona House of Representatives on January 13 to the podium to deliver a speech on his priorities to a joint session of the Legislature. PHOTO BY ANDREW NICLA/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Gov. Doug Ducey makes his way through the Arizona House of Representatives on January 13 to the podium to deliver a speech on his priorities to a joint session of the Legislature. PHOTO BY ANDREW NICLA/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

As Gov. Doug Ducey welcomed in a new decade with his address to the joint session of the Legislature on January 13, it became clear that he left the Era of Good Feelings behind in 2019.

Just over a year ago, Ducey’s State of the State Address delivered a simple message: “Bipartisanship is a word that gets tossed around a lot,” he said.

“So let me be clear on the approach I intend to take,” he continued. “I’m not here just to work with Republicans on Republican ideas. And bipartisanship doesn’t simply mean working with Democrats on Democratic ideas. I’m here as governor of all the people to work with all of you on good ideas.”

He welcomed a host of new faces from both parties to the chamber, expressed gratitude for the lifetime of service by former Gov. Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat; and talked about bringing politicians and regular people from all walks of life together to address the viral spread of mass shootings on school campuses. He put front-and-center the need to come together on the opioid crisis, teacher pay and reduction of the prison population. He waxed effusive about key Democrats like Senate Minority Leader David Bradley.

There was a clear reason for such feelings of goodwill: With a water crisis looming, it was existentially important that lawmakers came together to pass the Drought Contingency Plan.

And while the ink has dried on the water plan, many of the issues that Ducey centered in last year’s State of the State speech have resurfaced in this year’s nascent legislative session: sex education, K-12 funding, criminal justice changes, infrastructure spending. However, he made it clear it’s a new day.

Things began on January 13 earnestly enough, with namedrops of Arizona icons like John McCain, Raul Castro and Sandra Day O’Connor. But by the speech’s 14th paragraph, the usually demure, business-forward Republican came out swinging.

“Let’s continue hacking away at the permanent bureaucracy and the ‘mother may I’ state,” he directed.

He took shots at liberal states like California and New York for their tax rates and their regulatory environments, took aim at the so-called “spending lobby” and, to rousing applause from his caucus, paid homage to the late President George H. W. Bush: “No new taxes; not this session, not next session; not here in this chamber, not at the ballot box, not on my watch,” Ducey said.

In short, if last year’s speech created an opening for togetherness, this year’s made it clear that the GOP is in charge, and that in the upcoming election cycle, it plans to keep it that way.

Lawmakers took note.

“It was a true, Republican, conservative speech,” said Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, on the House floor. Compared to last year’s, which he didn’t like, this was a speech that made him happy, he said.

Ducey didn’t hesitate to twist the knife where he saw Democratic governance going awry. He called out the city of Phoenix for its game of chicken with rideshare companies over increased airport fees and called upon a Republican Rep. T.J. Shope of Coolidge to carry a bill that would ask voters to make so-called sanctuary cities unconstitutional following the 2019 defeat of a sanctuary city initiative in Tucson, one of the state’s most progressive cities.

“If anyone needed a reminder … here in Arizona, we respect the rule of law,” he said.

Democrats, who for a brief moment last year convinced themselves that they liked the governor’s speech, were aghast, if not surprised.

“It’s the most partisan speech that I’ve seen the governor make,” said Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe. “They’re doubling down on the extremist agenda.”

Campaign Season

It’s impossible to divorce this from the looming campaign season. Not only is Republican leadership under attack at the White House, Democrats in the state are bullish on their chances to swing the state House, where the Republican majority tiptoes on a razor’s edge.

The irony, said Democratic consultant Ben Scheel, is that on economic policy, Ducey was not actually at his most conservative. While he talked a lot about cutting taxes, the only concrete cut he announced was the elimination of state income taxes on veterans’ military pensions. He also implored insurance companies to cover mental health treatments, announced Project Rocket, a $43 million funding plan for underprivileged schools, and touted big infrastructure projects and the replenishment of HURF funds.

“Some of those budget items, I don’t think legislative Republicans are gonna go for,” Scheel said. “I think that he included more funding measures than usual.”

To compensate, Scheel claims, Ducey needed to allude to other conservative causes.

“We believe in the free market, the free exchange of ideas and the freedom to make your own way,” Ducey said in his speech. “We believe in life and the potential of every child, along with the dignity of every individual.”

This could also explain the governor’s proposal that for every one regulation that’s passed, three need to be rolled back — a literal one-up of an executive order signed by President Donald Trump stipulating that for every regulation enacted, two need to go.

What went unsaid in the speech, aside from infrastructure spending, were issues that could likely garner support from both parties, such as sentencing law changes favored by Reps. Walter Blackman, R-Snowflake, and Ben Toma, R-Peoria.

While Ducey did mention criminal justice, his two biggest announcements were the closure of a prison and the rebranding of the Arizona Department of Corrections as the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Re-entry.

Toma acknowledged that these weren’t quite the overtures to revamping sentencing laws that some might have hoped for, but placed blame on Democrats.

“Part of the frustration at least from me has been that the other side seems to talk about bipartisanship, but when push comes to shove and it’s time to vote, they seem to take this stance of resisting anything that’s pushed by Republicans,” he said.

And because Democrats weren’t willing to embrace the spirit of bipartisanship last year, Ducey had no reason to offer that same olive branch, he said. And if Ducey’s amped-up rhetoric can stave off a Democratic majority in the House, or even pick up some extra seats, then all the better.

“In terms of tone, I don’t know if trying to hold out an olive branch when it was snubbed last session is a winning policy,” Toma said.


Ducey signs legislation to give sex abuse survivors more time to sue assailants

Sen. Heather Carter details Tuesday the hurdles that had to be overcome to get colleagues to give child victims of sex abuse more time to sue assailants. With her are Sen. Paul Boyer, left, the prime sponsor of the legislation, and Gov. Doug Ducey who signed the measure. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Sen. Heather Carter details Tuesday the hurdles that had to be overcome to get colleagues to give child victims of sex abuse more time to sue assailants. With her are Sen. Paul Boyer, left, the prime sponsor of the legislation, and Gov. Doug Ducey who signed the measure. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Calling it a “significant and critical first step,” Gov Doug Ducey has signed into law a measure that will give those who were sexually assaulted or abused as children more time to sue, no matter how long ago the event occurred.

“Sexual abuse is never easy to disclose, especially for a young person,” the governor said at a signing ceremony Tuesday at the Capitol, less than 24 hours after lawmakers approved the change unanimously.

“This we know: Victims need time, time to process, time to understand what has happened and to come forward,” he said. “And they deserve the ability to come forward.”

The new law, which took effect immediately on Ducey’s signature, does that in two ways.

First, it scraps the prior statutes which required victims to sue before their 20th birthday or forfeit their legal rights. Now they will have until age 30.

Second, it opens up a temporary legal “window” for lawsuits by those whose time to file suit already has expired: They will have until the end of 2020 to bring their claims.

But concerns about people bringing claims on incidents going back decades forced a compromise to get the necessary votes.

First, those in this second category will have to prove their claims by “clear and convincing evidence.” That’s a higher standard than “preponderance of the evidence,” the balancing test used by jurors now – and still available for those who sue by age 30 – to determine whether it’s more likely than not that the incident occurred.

Any lawsuit in that group against a church or organization also would have to provide proof that someone in authority not only knew about the incidents of abuse but either did nothing or deliberately covered it up.

Finally, those suing based on older claims cannot seek punitive damages.

The changes in law drew praise from Bridie Farrell, a former speed skating champion who came to Phoenix to testify about how, at age 15, she was sexually assaulted by a much older silver Olympic medalist while at a training facility. She said it took her years to come to terms with what happened to her.

Farrell said the ability to pursue not just those who committed the abuse but those who knew is critical.

“Survivors don’t want to take down the LDS church or the Catholic Church or the Boy Scouts or, my case, the United States Olympic Committee,” she told those at Tuesday’s signing ceremony.

“We want to ensure that no child has to go through what we went through,” Farrell said. “And that’s all this has been about from the very beginning.”

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, who was the prime mover behind the legislation, said it is part of an effort to help those who have been abused.

“This bill in particular offers justice for survivors who have been sexually assaulted, and hope – hope that no other child will have to be harmed in this manner,” he said.

Ducey separately formed a task force to evaluate existing Arizona laws for protecting children and young adults who have been sexually abused. He said it will include victims, police, prosecutors and court officials.

But the governor was less clear on whether there would be representation by the organizations that tend to get sued in these kinds of cases and the insurance companies who represent them.

“Of course we want to have all voices represented,” he said.

“There’s always a concern about false accusations,” Ducey continued. “And of course we don’t want to harm any worthy institution.”

The governor said he will talk with those he will appoint to lead the task force to determine who should be represented.

Monday’s vote came after several lawmakers related personal stories.

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, told of going to Catholic seminary at age 13 and his “complicated seduction” by an older seminarian who would later become “one of the most notorious child sex abusers in Arizona history.”

“I kept the ship afloat, I found a way,” Bradley told colleagues. Now a therapist, he said others were not so fortunate.

“I attended their funerals, visited them in prisons, witnessed their destruction personally and the many lives that they have touched and were adversely affected,” he said. “The abused sometimes became the abuser.”

Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, told of a family member who was victimized as a child, as did Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek.

And Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, who previously disclosed rape by a family member, said victims “remember each day of our lives.”

Despite the unanimous vote, the process of getting there did leave some hard feelings.

“I have been threatened personally and politically,” Carter said. She was one of the two Republican lawmakers who refused to vote for the budget until lawmakers agreed to make major changes in the time limits for victims to sue. And Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, lashed out at Carter and Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, for taking that stance, saying they were holding the Legislature hostage.

Carter conceded her role in delaying adoption of the budget. But she had no apology, accusing those who pressured her of using “school yard bully tactics.”

“Nothing that we have experienced the past two weeks comes even remotely close to what a victim of child sexual abuse experiences,” she said. “That’s why I held out.”

Ducey, GOP legislative leaders agree on $11.8B spending plan


Gov. Doug Ducey would get much of what he asked for as part of an $11.8 billion budget deal struck with Republican legislative leaders, including savings of more than a billion dollars.

Budget documents obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times show a path forward for Republicans to adopt a spending plan and end protracted negotiations that have pitted Ducey’s desire to save against Republican efforts to pay down debt and spend more of a $1 billion  surplus.

The compromise, hashed out over the weekend by the Governor’s Office and GOP leaders from the state Senate and House of Representatives, achieves those savings and debt-payoff goals while also increasing state spending by roughy $1.4 billion over the $10.4 billion budget adopted in May 2018.

A plan to stash away $542 million by July 1 would bring the total balance of Arizona’s rainy-day fund to more than $1 billion. The governor has turned this key legislative proposal into a common talking point, with his tale of turning a $1 billion budget deficit he inherited in 2015 into a $1 billion surplus and more than a billion dollars in savings.

Rank-and-file Republican lawmakers, who were presented budget details Monday, were wooed by plans to pay off $220 million in debt, offset higher taxes due to changes in federal tax law and phase out a controversial $32 public safety fee over five years.

The early returns seemed promising, as some GOP representatives were spotted high-fiving one another as they walked onto the House floor Monday afternoon.

Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City, said he was  impressed by a budget presentation from House leaders. Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, said the rural caucus was pleased with the budget details they’d discovered even before getting a full briefing from House leadership.

Some Republican senators were similarly pleased.

“What I see, I like,” Senate Majority Whip Sonny Borelli, R-Lake Havasu City said.

Lawmakers will have to wait another day for budget bills, however, as the House adjourned without introducing a package of bills. The Senate has yet to do so either, meaning committee hearings on the spending plan won’t occur until Wednesday at the earliest.

Some parts of the spending plan seem designed to have bipartisan appeal, a sign that Republican leaders may be hedging their bets in case any GOP lawmakers hold out for their own pet projects.

A range of Republican senators, in particular, have threatened to vote against the budget for a variety of reasons.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, wants a clean repeal of the public safety fee.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said Monday he isn’t satisfied with a plan to change the state’s income tax code.

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, has vowed to vote no on the budget unless his colleagues agree to expand opportunities for victims of child sex abuse to sue their abusers.

House Republicans are pushing a bill to increase the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits over sexual abuse, but not in a way that Boyer desires.

With that in mind, some Democratic budget priorities made it into the spending plan, at least when they align with GOP interests.

That includes a $15 million grant program for schools to hire counselors or school resource officers – with a plan to let schools decide which position to hire, not dictate the decision from the state level. There’s also $10 million in funding for the state’s Housing Trust Fund to help address homelessness, though the amount is not as much as some Democrats sought.

Democrats will also be pleased that the budget incorporates a bill, sponsored by Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, to set a cap on the growth of a tax credit program that provides private and parochial school scholarships to Arizona kids.

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said the concessions to Democratic priorities are not enough.

“It appears that some of our ideas were incorporated perhaps on the premise that fulfilling a series of small requests of the minority will achieve our silence and consent,” the Tucson Democrat said. “Placating is not negotiating.”

Monday afternoon, Senate Democrats presented their own spending plan, which calls for $50 million in the next fiscal year and $40 million in future years for the Housing Trust Fund, and $34 million in ongoing funding for universities, whereas the GOP budget deal provides $35 million in one-time funding for higher education and $10 million for homelessness.

Bradley said he was confident there are enough votes to pass the Senate Democrats’ amendments – or at least pressure Republicans to bring Democrats to the table.

“I’m confident that we can thwart this effort to pass their version of the budget at this point,” he said.

But House and Senate Democrats rumored as targets for their budget votes said they haven’t been approached by Republicans.

“Generally, they don’t come to us unless they need us,” said Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson. “And I don’t know that they need Democratic votes.”

Elsewhere, the spending plan includes enough funding to follow through on Ducey’s promise to boost teacher pay – $165 million is dedicated to a 5-percent raise for teachers, the second phase of a three-year plan to boost teacher pay by 20 percent.

There’s also extra money in additional assistance for computers, books and minor repairs, in addition to $88 million in school building renewal grants and $79 million for new school construction.

Ducey would get the 10 new employees at the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools he requested, though only five will be funded in the next fiscal year. The other five will be funded in 2020.

Republicans also agreed to boost spending on infrastructure, including a $130 million project to widen I-17 over the next three years, plus another $77 million in transportation projects spread throughout Arizona.

Pinal County farmers would get $20 million they were promised to help start building wells, a concession that’s part of the drought contingency plan lawmakers approved earlier this year.

Republicans will also be asked to agree to a tax reform package, designed by Republican Rep. Ben Toma of Yuma, that reduces the number of income tax brackets from five to four, while slightly lowering tax rates for each bracket. Combined with matching the federal standard deduction – $12,000 for individuals, $24,000 for joint filers – while also providing a new charitable tax deduction and child tax credit, that amounts to a $320 million income tax cut.

That cut is designed to offset higher income taxes caused by conforming to changes in federal tax law and an estimated $85 million in new revenue from enforcing online sales taxes. Another $24 million in interest savings, thanks to paying down debt, ensures the plan is revenue neutral.

Democrats have argued in favor of pocketing new revenue, not eliminating it with offsets.

The tax plan has already cost Republicans the support of at least one of their own. Mesnard said Toma’s plan provides tax relief to some, but not enough relief to all who are impacted by conformity.

“That’s just unacceptable,” Mesnard said late Monday after he was briefed on the budget proposal. “I won’t vote for a budget that doesn’t hold taxpayers harmless. At this moment, I’m not the only one.”

ERA measure debated in Senate, fails to advance


Republican state senators today rejected an effort by the chamber’s Democrats to vote to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Stymied by the traditional legislative process – GOP Sen. Eddie Farnsworth of Mesa blocked a resolution to ratify the ERA from a hearing in his Senate Judiciary Committee – Democrats motioned Wednesday afternoon to suspend Senate rules and bring the resolution to an immediate vote on the Senate floor.

But the motion, made by Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, failed on a 13-16 party line vote.

Even Republican senators who signaled their support to ratify the ERA voted against the procedural maneuver.

Sens. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix and Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, both co-sponsored the resolution in favor of the ERA, but voted against suspending the rules to bring the matter to a vote. Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, also co-sponsored the resolution, but was not on the Senate floor for the vote.

Had the Arizona Senate supported the resolution, it still would’ve needed approval in the House of Representatives. But moving the resolution along would’ve put Arizona one step closer to being the crucial 38th state to ratify the ERA. Thirty-seven states have ratified the amendment to date and it would take one more to amend the U.S. Constitution, though lawmakers debated whether it’s too late to ratify.

Democratic senators argued that voting to ratify the amendment was something of a moral obligation on behalf of women in Arizona and throughout the country.

Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Tucson, concisely summarized the arguments of her colleagues: “Women do not have equality in the United States.”

Republicans argued that issues raised by the minority party, such as pay gaps between men and women, are already addressed in other laws. Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said that the ERA could lead to unintended consequences, such as transgender men infringing on women and the amendment being used to uphold abortion rights.

After a heated debate that lasted nearly two hours, Bradley said the motion to suspend the rules, which essentially bucks the authority of GOP leaders, was not meant as a partisan blow. Instead, it was merely a sign that the minority party disagreed with Farnsworth’s decision to shelve the bill in his committee, Bradley said, and that Democrats sought a chance for debate.

“The irony is that what just happened in the last two hours was exactly what was being requested,” Bradley said. “The difference is that people on both sides of the issue who are sitting up in the gallery would have been permitted to speak.”

The Senate’s vote was met with disdain by ERA backers in the Senate gallery, who jeered GOP senators as “cowards” and shouted “shame as the exited the chamber.

Though the ERA resolution failed, the debate did mark the first time in years that Democrats were given an opportunity to debate the measure on the floor of either the Senate or House.

Past efforts by Democratic representatives in the House have been undercut by procedural maneuvers from Republicans to avoid any discussion.

Fann selects Republican Douglas York for IRC

Senate President Karen Fann has selected Douglas York, a Republican from Maricopa County, to serve on the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the Senate GOP announced today. 

In a statement, Fann said that York, the president of an irrigation business, understands “the challenges Arizona faces in the next decade” and the growth patterns of the state. 

York’s appointment to the commission means that Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, the next and final legislative leader to make their pick, must select someone from outside Maricopa County. The state Constitution stipulates that no more than two of the four partisan picks can hail from the state’s largest county.

Fann had until next week to make her pick. House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, made her selection yesterday, starting a seven-day clock for the Senate president. 

Evidently, Fann chose to accelerate an already sped-up timeline — House Speaker Rusty Bowers began the process last week, earlier than at any point in the IRC’s history, prompting an ongoing lawsuit from Fernandez and Bradley that stalled yesterday when a judge decided not to slow down the selection process.

In his application for the IRC, York wrote that he was motivated to seek the job in part because of his dissatisfaction with the outcome of redistricting in 2010. 

“I am interested in beginning a new process that is fair for the state of Arizona,” he wrote.

Fernandez, rebuffed by judge, picks Shereen Lerner for IRC

ircHouse Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez this afternoon picked Democrat Shereen Lerner to serve on the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, a decision that came only a few hours after a Maricopa County Superior Court judge denied a request from Democratic legislative leadership for a temporary restraining order to halt the nomination process. 

Lerner, a professor of anthropology at Mesa Community College and historic preservationist who’s active in Tempe civic life, wrote in her application that she had studied election systems from an anthropological perspective and was interested in applying that knowledge at the IRC.

Shereen Lerner was far and away the most qualified candidate we interviewed, and I’m proud to select her for this vital role in our state’s history,” Fernandez said today in a written statement. “Redistricting is an intense and highly challenging process that requires a combination of intelligence, communication skills and strength of character to succeed. That is exactly what Dr. Lerner will bring to the Commission.” 

The pick of the first candidate from Maricopa County still leaves some flexibility for Senate President Karen Fann and Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, who pick next in that order. No more than two of the picks from legislative leaders can be from Maricopa County or from either party. Fann must make her choice within the next seven days. 

“Creating fair and competitive legislative and Congressional districts that reflect Arizona’s diverse population and communities of interest is an incredible responsibility, and I will carry out those duties to the best of my abilities at all times,” Lerner said in a written statement. 

Charlene Fernandez
Charlene Fernandez

Fernandez would have preferred not to make the announcement today, as Democrats argued that House Speaker Rusty Bowers’ pick — the earliest a House Speaker has made their choice since the commission’s inception — was premature. 

Fernandez and Bradley filed a lawsuit last week against the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments shortly after Bowers on Oct. 22 picked David Mehl, a prominent Republican from Tucson. Historically, the Speaker has made the first pick in the year ending in one. 

But Judge Janice Crawford ruled late this morning that while the Arizona Constitution sets a deadline for IRC picks, it says nothing about how early the process can begin. Crawford also said that Democrats failed to explain why they did not file their request for a TRO prior to Bowers’ pick, given that their legal argument for why the order is necessary is that two of the independent candidates — Thomas Loquvam and Robert Wilson — are not qualified, a case that Democrats have been pleading for weeks.  

“As set forth above, Plaintiffs had acted to oppose Mr. Loquvam’s and Mr. Wilson’s applications and, thus, knew the facts on which they contend Mr. Loquvam and Mr. Wilson are unqualified,” Crawford wrote. “Any irreparable injury is caused by Plaintiffs waiting until after the Speaker made his appointment to seek the Court’s intervention.” 

In explaining her ruling on the TRO, Crawford signaled that she did not believe that the case to remove Loquvam and Wilson from consideration for the IRC was likely to succeed on its merits. 

Democrats filed the suit a day after Bowers made his pick, alleging that because Loquvam was a lobbyist with EPCOR and Wilson held a Trump rally at his Flagstaff gun store they were not qualified to chair the IRC. 

Shereen Lerner
Shereen Lerner

The state constitution bans paid lobbyists from serving on the commission if they were active in the prior three years. While the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments winnowed out IRC candidates who were registered as legislative lobbyists, they did not do the same for Loquvam, who is registered with the Arizona Corporation Commission. 

“It is undisputed that Mr. Loquvam disclosed that he was registered as a lobbyist with the ACC. While the Court, at this stage, may consider Plaintiffs’ position to have some merit, the Court declines to substitute its opinion on the qualifications of a nominee who was fully vetted by the CACA,” Crawford wrote. 

She added that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that they would be “deprived of making their selection or will have lost an opportunity to select a candidate that did not become part of the pool because of Mr. Loquvam’s nomination.” 

As for Wilson, who owns a gun store in Flagstaff, Crawford said it’s “undisputed that Mr. Wilson has been registered as an Independent for three or more years prior to the appointment” and that “it is unlikely that the CACA was not fully apprised on the facts under which Plaintiffs contend Mr. Wilson is not unbiased.”

In general, she seems intent to respect the role of the commission in vetting candidates, writing that the public’s interest in ensuring that the IRC is composed of “qualified individuals” is secured through the commission’s process.

Earlier this week, Jim Barton, the attorney representing Democratic legislative leadership, told the Yellow Sheet Report, a sister publication of the Capitol Times, that the case wouldn’t become “moot” even if the judge denies the TRO, as the plaintiffs wanted to ensure that Bradley had a qualified pool of applicants. 

Today’s ruling didn’t shake his belief in the chances of the suit, he said.

“I understand the court’s ruling … but I don’t think it has any impact on our ability to litigate against two candidates who in our opinion are not qualified,” Barton said. “Courts take briefing for a reason. We will brief on the merits of our argument, we will have an opportunity to take some depositions and put on evidence.”

He continued: “I think what is going to happen in effect now is we’re going to be litigating over who’s gonna be qualified to serve as the independent chair.”

House adjourns, bringing session to uneasy close

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, left, talks with Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, during a vote in the Arizona House of Representatives to end the 2020 session due to the coronavirus Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in Phoenix. Arizona House voted Tuesday not to join the Senate in ending the the 2020 legislative session, going ahead with legislation that had been in the pipeline before lawmakers paused the session in March amid concerns about the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, left, talks with Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, during a vote in the Arizona House of Representatives to end the 2020 session due to the coronavirus Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in Phoenix. Arizona House voted Tuesday not to join the Senate in ending the the 2020 legislative session, going ahead with legislation that had been in the pipeline before lawmakers paused the session in March amid concerns about the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The state House of Representatives has finished its work and notified the Senate of its intent to adjourn sine die today, bringing one of the strangest legislative sessions in recent memory one step closer to its end.

Typically, such a motion, carried out at 5:55 p.m. today, would terminate the session. But the House only adjourned after sending two pieces of late-introduced legislation to a Senate that hasn’t yet indicated whether it would come out of its slumber to consider the final House bills.

The first of those bills, which the House passed on party lines, increases the legal standard under which individuals can sue a business or non-profit if they suspect they contracted COVID-19 on the premises. The second appropriates tens of millions of dollars in CARES Act monies to support childcare centers.

Thursday’s action on the floor concludes a last-ditch effort by the House Majority to restore some normality to the chamber. GOP leadership concocted a plan to hear dozens of Senate bills this week – almost all without amendments, which would allow the Senate to return and transmit the bills to the desk of Gov. Doug Ducey with minimal effort.

For the most part, these bills passed out of the Senate with broad support and little fanfare.

Rusty Bowers
Rusty Bowers

But they led to fierce debates and animosity in the House, where the minority party members took nearly every opportunity they had to admonish their colleagues for considering legislation that didn’t directly address COVID-19, for fast-tracking the two final House bills and for using procedural maneuvers to stymie Democratic outrage on the floor.

That much was clear from the start, when on Tuesday, Rep. Arlando Teller, D-Chinle, made a motion to immediately end the session that failed on party lines.

“I believe that as a body that is looking to the best interests of Arizonans … we can successfully, cooperatively end today’s session, and proceed with special sessions that will be specific to the COVID pandemic,” Rep. Arlando Teller, D-Chinle, said, citing the havoc that COVID has wreaked on the Navajo Nation, which has the highest rate of infection in the country.

But the Republican membership has for weeks been agitating for a return to the Legislature, especially now that the state is in the early stages of reopening.

“We told Arizona that it’s time to get back to work. But if we’re not getting back to work we’re setting a bad example,” said Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers had promised to govern based on a majority of the majority — and his own members held his feet to the fire for nearly reaching an agreement with Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, to adjourn earlier in May.

“When I first said we would sine die, they didn’t accept that,” Bowers said.

Now, a special session is likely right around the corner. While the two parties have agreed upon very little, they’ve both come to accept one or more special sessions to address COVID-19 and right the state’s budgetary ship as an inevitability.

One item that might be on that session’s agenda is the legal liability bill, the brainchild of Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, House Majority Leader Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert and Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, also a Gilbert Republican.


The Senate intends to return Tuesday to accept the House’s sine die motion, Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said. The Senate itself has already asked the House for permission to adjourn, and has sat in recess, waiting for the House to accede to its request, since.

As such, the chamber can technically return with a quorum at any time. Senate President Karen Fann left open the idea of passing two or three COVID-19-related bills, though support is unlikely there in the Senate for the liability measure.

This will come as welcome news to Democrats, who lamented the fact that the bill received a hearing only in the Rules Committee with minimal input from the public. Some in the minority have expressed support for a liability protection bill if it stipulates that businesses have to take the necessary precautions to protect their patrons and employees from COVID-19.

Lawmakers will also have to contend with a budget shortfall that could potentially exceed $1 billion, the result of a state economy devastated by COVID-19.

“There will be more than one [special session],” said Bowers, R-Mesa. “The budget, if there’s any discrepancies in the things we passed or didn’t pass today, there will be more on childcare, more on liability.”

The House’s final week was a fitting encapsulation of the session as a whole. It began with the hope that lawmakers from the two parties would put their differences aside, unite behind bills that passed with little controversy in the Senate and expedite the end of the session.

But any feelings of good-will quickly evaporated. Bruising committee hearings and floor debates dashed any hopes of a smooth session. Democrats, who felt shut out, tried to block Republican-backed proposals.

“We’re in this weird situation where … we’ve been adjourned for about a month and a half (and) they’re calling us in. Our hope and our expectation was that if they’re not going to follow suit with the Senate and sine die so we can go into special session, maybe we’re here to do the work of COVID-19,” said Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe. “Instead, we see, we’re playing politics. Instead we see we’re doing business as usual.”

In this case, business as usual mostly meant spinning the wheels of policymaking but rarely moving forward. Republicans mustered the support necessary to pass significant legislation, such as a bill to require school counselors and social workers to be trained in suicide prevention.

However, lawmakers spent about as much time debating bills that had little relevance to COVID-19 or that are likely doomed to never get the blessing of the governor’s pen.

Charlene Fernandez (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)
Charlene Fernandez (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)

“This pandemic has revealed deep, systemic problems in our unemployment insurance program. Over the past three days since coming back into session, our efforts to bring those issues forward in this session were shut down in one of the most undemocratic processes I’ve ever witnessed,” said House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, in a written statement. “Hopefully we can all do better in a special session.”

Democrats attempted to introduce amendments to a variety of legislation throughout the week — such as on a controversial bill that will force insurers to cover pre-existing conditions if the Affordable Care Act is overturned but doesn’t place price caps on coverage — and were outmaneuvered almost every time.

They were also unable to introduce their own version of the liability legislation, as the Rules Committee on Monday voted only to allow the late introduction of Kavanagh’s bill.

“They know just like we know that the Senate is unlikely to come back and do anything substantive,” said Toma. “Them getting an amendment is not them getting a win, it’s them killing the bill.”

But the week wasn’t for naught, even if the liability bill that was this week’s focus doesn’t have support in the Senate, Republicans said.

“The point is that I committed to these people that this is what we’d do, and we did it,” said Bowers.

That’s an important point, as division within the Republican Party has characterized much of the past few weeks. Bowers twice committed to come back to adjourn, only to face harsh criticism from the more fervently conservative elements in his caucus.

“I hope the Senate tries to join us, but even if they don’t, we’ve shown that we have 31 votes when everyone thought we didn’t,” said Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge.

House Dem budget proposal aligns mostly with Ducey’s

Arizona House Democrats held a press conference to pitch their budget proposal. (PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES)
Arizona House Democrats held a press conference to pitch their budget proposal. (PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES)

Democratic representatives took their budget pitch public on Wednesday morning in an effort to appeal to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, while state senators in the minority party are keeping their plans close to the vest.

Their differing strategies reflect the political realities in the state Senate, where GOP leaders have pledged to work across the aisle on a roughly $11 billion spending plan, and the House of Representatives, where Republicans made no qualms about keeping Democrats out of the loop.

Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, said she’s tried and failed to engage with her Republican colleagues in budget talks, so instead, she took her case directly to the governor. Her sales pitch comes a week after leaked budget documents prepared by Senate Republicans showed a spending plan that vastly deviated from Ducey’s desires to invest in education and infrastructure, while also saving hundreds of millions of dollars for a rainy day.

Fernandez offered Ducey an alternative path. The House minority leader’s budget proposal accomplishes much of what the governor asked for in January by investing in KidsCare, Arizona’s health insurance program for children; funding a teacher’s academy at public universities; providing state employees a pay raise; and investing in new school construction, among many other areas of agreement.

All told, Democrats seek to spend roughly $200 million more than Ducey proposed, and save roughly $80 million less in the state’s rainy-day fund. With a little “leadership” from Ducey, perhaps House Republicans can be swayed to use those figures as a starting point to negotiate with Democrats, she said.

“They’re not talking to us,” Fernandez said of House GOP leadership.

That’s been the standard at the Arizona Legislature, where Republicans control the governor’s office, the House and the Senate, and historically use that advantage to pass budgets without meaningful input from Democrats. The process inevitably results in budgets that are approved mostly along party lines, save for a rare instance where one or two Democratic lawmakers vote for individual pieces of a spending plan.

“We’ve asked the governor’s staff to bring them to the table with us,” Fernandez said. “That’s the governor’s job – to talk to them and say this budget is good for Arizona and for us.”

As for the Senate, Democrats have been silent when it comes to their own priorities. That, too, is by design, said Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, as they’re trying to cooperate with Republicans to build a bipartisan budget.

“Everybody’s situation is different,” Bradley said. “Over here, we’re still trying to work it out.”

Bradley said Republicans were caught unaware when an early version of their budget draft leaked last week, and he expects Republicans to share an updated version with Democrats soon. Like their House colleagues, Senate Democrats supported most of the governor’s budget, which contains a lot of “Democratic priorities from bygone days,” he said.

Senate Democrats still differ from Republicans on some significant issues, including funding for KidsCare and universities, he said. But as long as Fann keeps those conversations going, Democrats have promised Senate Republican leadership not to broadcast their own budget priorities.

Unlike in the House, “we haven’t been cut out,” Bradley said.

That’s in line with Senate President Karen Fann’s ongoing vow to pursue what one GOP lawmaker called the “impossible dream,” a budget agreement that Republicans and Democrats alike will vote for.

In the opposite chamber, Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, was unapologetic about the Republican’s approach.

“Fernandez and their leadership team, including the real minority leader, Rep. [Isela] Blanc, are the last folks I would reach out to on a budget or any other bill,” Shope said via text. “Doesn’t mean I won’t reach out to other members who are reasonable.”

The House Democrats’ olive branch to Ducey isn’t inclusive of their Republican colleagues either, Shope said. The Democrats crafted their proposal behind closed doors without input from the majority caucus, and in any case, he’s not taking their proposal seriously.

“I don’t pay much attention to desperate acts for attention,” Shope said.

Reps. Regina Cobb, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and Warren Petersen, the House majority leader, were similarly left in the dark about the Democrat’s spending priorities, they said, though Petersen took no issue with them announcing their budget plan.

“They’re free to release their own proposal. That’s what they got elected to do, to try to get things done and make things happen down here,” the Gilbert Republican said.

House Republicans are working with Ducey on their own proposal, which they’ll release “as soon as possible,” he said. But if it’s anything like the budget documents that leaked from the Senate, Fernandez said Ducey would do better to engage with Democrats.

“Is he willing to accept a budget that thumbs its nose at most of his stated priorities? Or does he want a budget that moves Arizona forward? His budget, for the most part, will require the votes of both Republicans and Democrats to pass,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez heaped praise on Ducey for introducing a budget in January that was “pretty good” and highlighted the areas in which Ducey’s priorities align with those of House Democrats.

And she appealed to the governor’s sense of expediency.

“With just some minor adjustments to his plan, and some leadership, the governor could lift us out of this stalemate this week,” Fernandez said.

CORRECTION: This article previously identified Tucson Democrat David Bradley as the majority leader in the Senate. He is the minority leader. 

House’s business immunity bill likely DOA in Senate

Jennifer McKeon, facilities operations national manager at Life Time, disinfect equipment at the Life Time Biltmore as it opens for business after being closed due to the coronavirus Monday, May 18, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Jennifer McKeon, facilities operations national manager at Life Time, disinfect equipment at the Life Time Biltmore as it opens for business after being closed due to the coronavirus Monday, May 18, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The tort reform measure House Republicans tout as the main reason for continuing legislative work likely doesn’t have the votes it would need in the Senate.

Legislation introduced by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, actually has its roots in the Senate, where Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, crafted a bill to retroactively suspend punishments for anyone who violated Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive orders and protect businesses from civil liability if an employee or patron contracts COVID-19.

Senate GOP leaders shopped the Farnsworth measure alongside the possibility of adjournment. But as all Senate Democrats and a handful of Senate Republicans are skeptical of the liability measure, GOP leaders scrapped it, choosing instead to deal with tort reform in a special session or if the House managed to come up with a better bill.

So far, the House hasn’t, Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, said.

“I’m moderately confident it doesn’t have the votes in the Senate,” Bradley said.

After being closed for several weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak, Chandler Fashion Center Mall welcomes back patrons Sunday, May 17, 2020, in Chandler, Ariz. While the mall was open, many of the chain stores remained closed. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
After being closed for several weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak, Chandler Fashion Center Mall welcomes back patrons Sunday, May 17, 2020, in Chandler, Ariz. While the mall was open, many of the chain stores remained closed. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The initial Farnsworth plan, drafted and circulated around the Capitol but not filed as an official bill, would have prevented any criminal charges, fines or revocations of business licenses for people or businesses that flouted Ducey’s COVID-19-related executive orders, including a now-expired stay-at-home order the Republican governor drew fire from his own party for extending through May 15.

It also would ensure that business owners are not civilly liable to employees or customers who contract COVID-19 on their premises unless that employee or customer can prove the owner acted with “gross negligence or intentional misconduct.” In contrast, people injured by falling at a store typically need to prove only negligence, a lesser standard.

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, one of several Senate Republicans with misgivings about the liability measures, said he supports the intent but needs to do more digging into the policy.

For one thing, he said, he doesn’t know what “gross negligence” means practically, or how the bill could be applied in particular industries. And he said he definitely doesn’t see the rush to do it now, because Republicans can’t have the bill take effect immediately without Democratic votes.

“Given the fact that they probably don’t have the Democrats, if you don’t have the Ds you can’t get the emergency clause,” he said. “I don’t see the rush to do it now instead of in a special session if you’re going to have to wait 90 days for enactment anyway.”

While Kavanagh’s bill closely resembles Farnsworth’s, it also extends near-immunity from civil liability to schools and churches as well as businesses. And it permits fines of up to $100 for anyone, including a business owner or an individual, who is warned that they’re violating executive orders but continue to disobey.

Democrats might be able to come on board with the latter clause if the fines were progressive, perhaps starting at $100 and ramping up with continued disobedience, Bradley said.

“We probably would entertain the notion of not yanking people’s licenses,” he said. “But a one-time $100 fine is not enough.”

Senate Democrats would like to see more protections for good actors, businesses that have sought to minimize safety risks, said Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale.

“From my perspective, it appears that the solution they’re offering would only apply to the worst of the worst actors in the business community,” Quezada said. “These are business owners that are putting profits and moneymaking ahead of public safety.”

Protecting good actors could include ensuring that businesses requiring customers or employees to wear masks or practice physical distancing are safe from lawsuits, Bradley said. He compared it to the “no shirt, no shoes, no service” signs common at gas stations, which are protected under current law.

Lawmakers grateful for rainy-day fund, some hold to principles against it

Republican Rep. Noel Campbell, foreground left, speaks with GOP Rep. Travis Grantham, foreground right, as members gather in the Arizona House under a closed public gallery before a floor session at the Capitol in Phoenix, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. The House hopes to quickly pass a bare-bones budget and send it to the Senate before adjourning until the coronavirus crisis ebbs. (AP Photo/Bob Christie)
Republican Rep. Noel Campbell, foreground left, speaks with GOP Rep. Travis Grantham, foreground right, as members gather in the Arizona House under a closed public gallery before a floor session at the Capitol in Phoenix, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. The House hopes to quickly pass a bare-bones budget and send it to the Senate before adjourning until the coronavirus crisis ebbs. (AP Photo/Bob Christie)

As some grocery store shelves lay as bare as Cactus League stadiums and restaurant dining rooms, lawmakers in the Arizona Legislature are scurrying to wrap up their business, begin their social isolation and hunker down for a storm. Their rainy day is here.

Gov. Doug Ducey pushed over two legislative sessions to fill a rainy-day fund against resistant Republicans who preferred to use an abundance of revenues to address the state’s debt, and Democrats who wanted to enhance government services.

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

The state tapped into the $1 billion savings account March 12 to wage the medical fight against COVID-19, a pandemic that is decimating economies worldwide, and while those resistant Republicans and Democrats are grateful for the extra cash, they stand by their arguments against the rainy-day fund.

When Ducey came into office, the state had about $455 million in the rainy-day fund, an amount that remained steady for the first few years of his governorship and one he worked to increase each year of his first term. In 2018, the same year the state got an unexpected $155 million windfall in state income tax revenue changes from federal tax law, Ducey demanded that money be saved, not spent, and that the fund be brought up to $1 billion.

In order to do that, he had to convince Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and a few other Republicans who wanted that money spent to pay down state debt or put back into taxpayer pockets. While Finchem and others were not against the idea of having money stowed away, they weren’t as receptive to savings as much as Ducey was asking for.

For Finchem, it wasn’t the best way to “recession-proof” an economy – he says taxing less is.

“When government takes less money, we are helping people with preparing for an economic downturn,” Finchem said. “But if government takes that money and puts it into the rainy-day fund, well, now the folks are less prepared to deal with changes in their own personal financial condition.”

The balance of taxing what’s necessary and spending and saving wisely on a government level is a tough balance, Finchem said.

Finchem was one of the few Republicans vocally advocating against raising the rainy-day fund to $1 billion in the 2018 legislative session and instead wanted to raise it to $750 million in that time, push for the $1 billion threshold in the 2019 session and include a tax reduction. In the end, he was overruled and he said he’s OK with that.

Mark Finchem
Mark Finchem

“Either way, we built up the storehouse, if you will, for a day when things were not so good, and we appear to have arrived at that day,” Finchem said. “I’m somewhat ambivalent at this point. The money is there, but I pray that we are cautious, very cautious and prudent about how we extend those resources for the greatest community.”

If and when they have to dig into the fund, an abundance of caution is crucial in the weeks and months ahead, Finchem said, because once that billion is gone, it’s gone. But that’s dependent on how bad future state revenue projections are.

That’s what Finchem and other Republicans hope to find out in about a month, assuming they pass a so-called “skinny-budget” Ducey approves of and return to work to pass a budget using more current and accurate revenue forecasts.

Democrats, including Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, said while they do believe in the idea of a rainy-day fund and are grateful to have one, the severity of this economic uncertainty could have been lessened.

Cutline: Members of the Arizona House recite the Pledge of Allegiance before the start of an unusual floor session devoid of members of the public in Phoenix on March 19, 2020. The Legislature worked on passing a basic state budget and fixes for schools and workers before adjourning to allow the coronavirus crisis to ebb. The Legislature has a rainy-day fund of nearly $1 billion to work with as the state falls into a recession because of the corona virus crisis. PHOTO BY BOB CHRISTIE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Members of the Arizona House recite the Pledge of Allegiance before the start of an unusual floor session devoid of members of the public in Phoenix on March 19, 2020. The Legislature worked on passing a basic state budget and fixes for schools and workers before adjourning to allow the coronavirus crisis to ebb. The Legislature has a rainy-day fund of nearly $1 billion to work with as the state falls into a recession because of the corona virus crisis. PHOTO BY BOB CHRISTIE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Had the state invested more in public education, health care services, agencies and other budget items Democrats argued were crucial, Fernandez said, the state may have been in a better place. Instead, the state may need to partially bail out these things with emergency funds if the economy worsens exponentially.

With these things at a lower capacity than Democrats asked for, Fernandez said, they’re worried that essential public services, like unemployment insurance, might not be available at the level they could have been. Fernandez compared the budget to maintaining a home.

“You have to have a savings account, of course you do, but you also have to maintain your home and make sure that the water is running and all those things too, to make sure our government is prepared for this,” Fernandez said. “Who prepares for a crisis like this? Who would have known?”

What made building up this fund possible, Fernandez said, was stripping agencies “to the bare bones” and creating an artificial, unearned budget surplus.

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, has long advocated for state leadership to focus less on building up a rainy-day fund and more on restoring cuts made during the recession and before.

The state doesn’t have a budget surplus, he insists. Instead, it’s underwater on a debt to underfunded state agencies.

But while he has criticized the rainy-day fund, he said he’s glad the state has some money set aside to deal with the current crisis.

“In the large scheme of things, is it good that we have some resources to deal with this crisis to the extent that we know about it?” he asked. “Yeah, that is true. That’s true. Even though those might seem like conflicting statements.”

These arguments are nothing new for Corporation Commissioner Bob Burns, who said he’s heard, and settled, them before. In late 1993 when Burns was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, he helped lead discussions with other lawmakers and Ted Ferris, then-executive director of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, who first suggested the idea of a rainy-day fund.

That idea became Burns’ project, which he made a reality by the end of that session after pushing against a lot of resistance, mostly from conservatives who thought it was a “method of government growth.”

After weeks of meeting with members, Burns and others finally convinced enough people that it was a good idea and while the formula for the rainy-day fund has slightly changed, the idea in principle has remained consistent.

Bob Burns explains why he was the lone vote against selecting Tom Forese as new chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Bob Burns  (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

“My philosophy has always been to have money in the savings account,” Burns said, speaking from personal experience.

When he and his wife moved to Arizona, they financially disciplined themselves to live only on his salary. During good and bad years, he spent frugally and saved what he could while she continued to work and save all of what she made – they eventually used that money to start a business.

The same philosophy applies to state government, Burns said, when even during an abundance of “good” economic years, it’s important to remain hesitant to spend in anticipation of what could come.

“You never know when a downturn could occur and you don’t continue to grow forever – it’s a cycle,” Burns said. “You got to be careful how you spend your money and, and especially careful when you’re in that sort of lucrative income period. That’s when you get in trouble.”

Ducey inherited a projected $1 billion dollar deficit, partially due to pending K-12 litigation, as well as debt from the Great Recession and because of that had to make cuts to agencies and services to generate a surplus. These cuts came at the expense of some pet projects lawmakers wanted, who called the effort to grow the fund a public relations gimmick.

Republicans, like Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, one of the members leading budget talks, wanted more of that money spent on paying down the state debt. In fact, she joined Finchem in calling for the $1 billion rainy-day fund balance to be met this year instead of last year, but was also overruled.

Despite how the state got here and built up the fund, it’s here and its economic future remains foggy until forecasts come. Cobb said that feeling of uncertainty is affecting budget talks for now, but she’s glad the fund is here.

“Whether it’s a gimmick or whether it’s not a gimmick, it’s there,” Cobb said. “I know there wasn’t a broad support for a billion dollars for it, but it’s there and thank God we have it. This is our rainy day.”

Reporter Julia Shumway contributed to this story. 

Lawmakers jockey for leadership roles in House, Senate

(Photo by Ellen O'Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)
(Photo by Ellen O’Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)

The day after the November 6 election will be followed by another kind of vote, as elected Arizona senators and representatives will meet with their fellow Republicans and Democrats to choose leaders for their respective parties.

Some of those leadership races are all but decided, but others may hinge on who gets elected, and who doesn’t, when voters head to the polls.

Those elected leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate will be responsible for shepherding policies through the Legislature in 2019, and just as importantly, will have the power to block the passage of bills they oppose. The House speaker and Senate president are responsible for assigning bills to committees and scheduling bills for votes on the floor of each chamber.

And caucus leaders help set agendas for Republicans and Democrats, while also serving as a unifying force to keep their respective party members working in concert to back those agendas.

Republican and Democratic caucuses in both chambers will cast leadership votes on November 7, less than 24 hours after polls close on election night.

Arizona House of Representatives
Arizona House of Representatives

House GOP

Rep. Rusty Bowers of Mesa is considered a shoo-in to serve as the next House speaker, though he’s not running unopposed. Rep. Mark Finchem of Oro Valley claims he’s one of the “serious contenders,” while Rep. Noel Campbell of Prescott has flirted with running for the post.

Rep. Anthony Kern of Glendale is locked in a two-way race to serve as the GOP majority leader against Sen. Warren Petersen of Gilbert, who’s running for the House this election while also seeking a leadership post. Kern claims to have 18 votes in his favor, enough to win the chamber assuming the 35 member Republican Caucus doesn’t grow in size.

Reps. David Cook of Globe and Becky Nutt of Clifton are the two Republicans running to serve as majority whip. Sen. John Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills Republican running for the House, recently dropped out of the race for whip and threw his support behind Cook.

House Democrats

Reps. Reginald Bolding of Phoenix and Charlene Fernandez of Yuma are locked in a battle to lead the House Democratic Caucus. Bolding can boast of a slate of supporters, having teamed up with Rep. Diego Espinoza of Tolleson, who would serve as assistant minority leader, and Rep. Kirsten Engel of Tucson, who would serve as whip. Fernandez, the current whip, has the mutual support of Rep. Randy Friese, who would like to continue to serve as assistant minority leader.

Reps. Athena Salman of Tempe and Richard Andrade of Glendale are also running for whip, though Fernandez has not endorsed either candidate.

Fernandez said she’s expecting more legislative success from Democrats in the next session: “We had like six bills that went to the Governor’s Office, which is ridiculous. We have great ideas and we represent more than 40 percent of Arizona,” she said.

Bolding said the Democrats are assured a greater voice next session because they’ll have a larger caucus.

“It’s a foregone conclusion that we pick up seats in the House. The question is how many,” he said.

Senate-2Senate GOP

The only contested leadership race among Senate Republicans is perhaps the closest of the year. Sen. Karen Fann of Prescott said the race for president is too close to call, especially considering several Senate races in traditionally Republican districts may be closer than usual. Her opponent in the leadership race, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, is by his own words “running scared” to get elected to the Senate in Legislative District 17.

Assuming both are elected to the Senate, the winner may be decided by comparing the number of re-elected senators to the number of House members crossing over. Fann would presumably have the upper hand attracting votes from senators she served with the past two years, while Mesnard may have the loyalty of representatives who served under his leadership in the House.

Fann said it’s a “shame” Mesnard decided to run for leadership at all, noting that a freshman senator has never served as president, but Mesnard argued he’s the best choice because of his experience leading the House. He also cites his prior work as a Senate research staffer.

“This is a historically unique situation happening in the Senate, which makes it all the more important for someone who has both leadership experience at the highest level and intimate familiarity with the Senate… to step in,” Mesnard said.

As for the other GOP leadership posts, Sen. Rick Gray of Peoria is running unopposed to serve as majority leader, while Sen. Sonny Borrelli of Lake Havasu City is the lone candidate for whip.

Senate Democrats

Sens. David Bradley of Tucson and Martin Quezada of Glendale would like to lead the Democrats, but both are preparing for an even better outcome for the traditionally minority party in the Senate – the possibility of a split chamber, or perhaps the Democrats winning enough seats to hold a majority.

Bradley’s pitched himself as a seasoned legislator about to serve his last term in office, offering his guidance in a letter sent to all Democrats, and independents, running for the Senate. Quezada, who served as co-whip the past two sessions, said he’s “in great shape” to step up and serve as minority leader, though he’s also focused on how to negotiate a split chamber.

While Bradley acknowledged that he’d be happy to serve as Senate president, Quezada said he’s focused on other positions of power.

“My ultimate goal is a fair and equal division of power,” Quezada. “I don’t think the Senate president has to be a Democrat. It could be a Republican. But I think a Democrat should have a powerful chairmanship if that were the case.”

Rounding out the field of leadership candidates are Sen. Lupe Contreras of Avondale, who serves as co-whip with Quezada, and Rep. Rebecca Rios of Phoenix, who’s running for her second stint in the Senate. Those two would occupy the positions of assistant minority leader and whip, though it’s unclear who’d serve in which capacity.

Legislative Democrats unveil ‘the people’s’ budget proposal


Democrats in the House and Senate released their $12.5 billion budget proposal Monday morning, insisting that it’s not too late for the minority party to get a seat at the negotiating table even as crossover week approaches. 

The “people’s budget,” as it’s been dubbed by House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, assumes an increase in revenue despite not levying new taxes due to a proposed repeal of tax credits for private school tuition organizations and the hiring of more tax collectors at the Department of Revenue. 

The budget uses this extra windfall in order to afford significant spending on schools, housing and infrastructure. But while it spends more than any Republican spending plan and lacks the tens of millions of dollars in tax cuts included in each GOP proposal, the Democratic plan does overlap with each Republican plan in key areas like infrastructure and education spending. 

Charlene Fernandez (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)
Charlene Fernandez (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)

“There is common ground in all the Republican plans we’ve seen,” Fernandez said. “I sincerely hope that the governor and the Republican leaders, I hope they’re listening right now and that they will sit down with us and work together with us. Arizona can’t reach its full potential as a land of opportunity until all sides are at the table.”

Among other priorities, Democrats want to spend heavily on both K-12 and post-secondary education. Like proposals from across the aisle, Democrats would restore district additional assistance and carry out the final round of teacher pay raises. 

But the minority would also add $85 million to the Arizona Financial Aid Trust to help students pay for college. And it would spend an extra $15 million in ongoing funds to expand the scope of the Arizona Teachers Academy to include school counselors and social workers. Under the Democratic plan, community colleges would also come out ahead, netting almost $20 million for scholarships and $17.6 million for workforce development programs. 

The Democratic budget also calls for spending more than four times as much to aid homeless Arizonans as preliminary spending plans put forth by Republican leaders in the House and Senate. Democrats would appropriate an ongoing $40 million to the Housing Trust Fund, plus another $6 million to help low-income seniors afford to stay in the homes they own.

Senate President Karen Fann (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate President Karen Fann (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Republicans in both chambers proposed adding a one-time $10 million to the Housing Trust Fund, though Senate President Karen Fann said she and others in the Senate Republican caucus are interested in doing more if the money is available. Ducey’s budget adds nothing to the fund.

The Democratic proposal also seeks greater funding for administration of the Empowerment Scholarship Account program than any of the Republican budgets. It calls for $3.2 million in ongoing funds for the Arizona Department of Education to administer the program, matching the agency’s request. Gov. Doug Ducey’s budget appropriates only $961,000, while the two Republican legislative proposals call for $1 million. Up to 5% of the ESA fund can be used for administrative costs — 4% to the Education Department and the remaining percent to the Treasurer’s Office. 

Despite repeated requests and the growing size of the voucher program, the department has never gotten the full appropriation. This has made for a useful rebuttal by Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, a Democrat who has faced accusations from the right that she’s seeking to undermine the voucher system — especially after her department improperly redacted and released a database of each voucher account to the media. 

Democratic leaders boasted that their budget did not rely on any tax increases, though repealing School Tuition Organization tax credits would result in a $110 million increase in revenue this year and up to $164 million in additional revenue by 2023. Thanks to a 1992 constitutional amendment, any attempt to raise taxes or repeal tax credits requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers.

The budget also calls for the elimination of results-based school funding that awards state dollars based on performance on standardized tests — another way to free up funds. 

“They would be revenue-increasing, but I see that as more of a reallocation,” House Assistant Minority Leader Randy Friese said of repealing tax credits. “That program was designed to help families that have less means get to a private school, but that’s not what that program is doing.” 

Other big spends include $60 million, $80 million and then $120 million over the next three years for pay increases for those who care for Arizonans with developmental disabilities. Caretakers of the elderly and physically disabled would also see pay boosts under the budget, as would caseworkers in the Department of Child Safety. 

Republicans in the House and Senate proposed allocating an extra $15 million this year to provide 3% pay raises to caretakers for Arizonans with disabilities. But Democrats including Sen. Lela Alston, the Phoenix Democrat who serves as the ranking minority member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the state needs to do more. 

“It is a sad state of affairs when these providers are competing for and losing employees to McDonald’s and to Burger King, and this must change,” Alston said.

David Bradley
David Bradley

Friese and Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said Republican leaders have a good idea of Democratic priorities, even if they didn’t share their line-item budget with Republicans until after announcing it publicly. There’s still plenty of time to add Democratic spending priorities to the eventual legislative budget, said Bradley, D-Tucson. 

“We’ll go lengthy into the night, night after night after night after night, as long as it takes to get it done. So, yeah, we’re confident that there’s time,” Bradley said.

Republican leaders in both chambers are still working toward finalizing a legislative budget proposal by the end of crossover week, one week from Friday, said Fann, R-Prescott. As of Monday afternoon, she had not seen the Democratic proposal, and she said she was disappointed Democrats shared their spending plan publicly before sharing it with her because she’s been asking for it for weeks. 

“We are all working on this diligently, and it would be nice to know what the Democrats want sooner rather than later,” she said. 

Legislature passes $11.8B budget, $50M for COVID-19 aid

Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers speaks on a video-chat with a handful of members who plan to vote remotely before the start of an unusual floor session devoid of members of the public in Phoenix, on Thursday, March 19, 2020. The Legislature could work long into the night to enact a basic state budget and fixes for schools and workers before adjourning to allow the coronavirus crisis to ebb. (AP Photo/Bob Christie)
Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers speaks on a video-chat with a handful of members who plan to vote remotely before the start of an unusual floor session devoid of members of the public in Phoenix, on Thursday, March 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Bob Christie)

The Arizona Legislature will adjourn until April 13 after lawmakers in the House passed a $50 million deal Monday intended to mitigate the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The passage of the budget concluded  a multi-day saga in which leaders from both parties and both chambers butted heads as they rushed to pass a series of emergency measures and leave the Capitol as soon as possible.

The deal, worked out between Senate Democrats and Republicans last week, would give Gov. Doug Ducey great latitude to spend up to $50 million to forestall evictions and foreclosures, fund food banks and assist struggling businesses and nonprofit organizations. The deal also relaxes work requirements and time limits on unemployment benefits. Ducey is expected to sign the spending package today.

“We took that out to our members and said: ‘Here’s the lay of the land, we need to get something done,’” said House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. “We know that they’re a different body and we have to work with them. We put it to our people and they said yes.”

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

Lawmakers left themselves flexibility in adjourning as well, crafting language to allow Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann to call the Legislature back into session when they see fit — even if that date falls before or after April 13. And the Senate changed its rules today to allow for remote voting, a step the House took last week. 

“We don’t know if this is going to get better or worse, or what we’re going to be needed to come in for,” said Fann, R-Prescott. “We tried to set this up the best we could to make sure that the governor would have the ability and the financial resources to do what needed to be done for the next month (or) two months.” 

Both chambers already approved $55 million in emergency spending for the Department of Health Services to handle the pandemic. The $50 million safety net approved Monday was an added appropriation on top of an $11.8 billion so-called “skinny budget” that would fund agencies and provide some certainty should lawmakers be unable to return when promised. 

The House today also passed a bill loosening requirements for unemployment insurance benefits in order to meet new federal guidelines from the Department of Labor, one of two non-appropriations emergency bills that lawmakers have passed in the last two weeks. The other, passed on Thursday, continues state funding for schools that remain closed through the end of the school year. 

Passing the Senate deal was no minor feat in the House. Democrats introduced a series of hostile amendments to expand benefits, prevent price gouging and help small businesses, leading to short-lived but acrimonious debate and a raft of parliamentary procedures to fast-track the budget bills with minimal input from the Minority on the floor. 

The Senate deal had only token opposition from two of that chamber’s most liberal members. But House Republicans, who learned about the deal minutes before the Senate began voting on it, balked and adjourned Thursday without voting on the measures.

At that time, neither party in the House was fond of the deal. Bowers said the deal didn’t have enough votes in his caucus. House Majority Leader Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, called it a “kneejerk” response. 

Democrats, meanwhile, thought the deal gave too much discretion to the governor without going far enough to prescribe certain usages of the $50 million. House Democrats were peeved with their colleagues in the Senate for acquiescing to Republican leadership without pushing for more robust aid for working families. 

Charlene Fernandez
Charlene Fernandez

However, House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, said that her caucus would fall in line and vote for the deal, despite misgivings from some of her members. 

“I wondered why the bill hadn’t been put forth on Thursday,” she said. “[Bowers] said his members weren’t there yet. I told him go ahead and work on it. I assured him that we were still on board.” 

Fann said the composition of her chamber made passing a budget favored by the House GOP impossible. While Senate Republicans have a wider margin over Democrats than their peers in the House — a 17-13 margin in the Senate compared to 31-29 in the House — two of her Republican senators were practicing social distancing.

And even if those two Republican senators appeared to vote, as they ultimately did, Fann’s caucus contains more moderate members than the House GOP. This calculus gave Senate Democrats the leverage needed to get the $50 million emergency package into the skinny budget. 

“If (the House) sent a budget over here, I could not get it out over here because I did not have a majority of Republicans ready to vote for it on the floor,” Fann said. “It never would have passed. It just wouldn’t.”

With that dynamic in place, Fann and other Senate leaders counted on House Republicans to spend the weekend reading the Senate deal and deciding that they liked it. Several senators had promised not to come in on Monday, effectively forcing the House to bite on the deal. 

And despite doubts and bloodied noses on both sides of the aisle, House legislators were indeed able to convince themselves of the Senate agreement — or at least able to realize that there was no better option on the table. 

“I think we all started making calls and seeing where they were…and a majority of the majority was fine,” said Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, who serves as House speaker pro tempore. “While the trust may not exist between the two caucuses separate from each other, there is trust within our own.”

Ducey said shortly after the House passed the Senate budget deal he was proud of “bipartisan leadership” shown in the Legislature. 

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

“I’ll applaud the bipartisan leadership that we’ve had — Charlene Fernandez, (Senate Minority Leader) David Bradley, Rusty Bowers and Karen Fann. You’ve seen what (Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction) Kathy Hoffman has done regarding schools and what (Democratic Secretary of State) Katie Hobbs has done so we can allow democracy to function. That’s how we’ll continue to operate in Arizona.”

That bipartisanship is nominal at best, only secured through strategic maneuvering by lawmakers in the Senate who understood that perhaps the best way to get the House to act in unison was to give it no other choice. 

Even as they pushed for their members to vote the same way on the same deal, Bowers and Fernandez seemed to alienate each other on the floor. Bowers accused his Democratic counterpart of reneging on a promise to stop introducing floor amendments, whereas Democrats were furious at Republican leadership for cutting off debate to fast-track the budget. 

And despite a temporary ceasefire, Fernandez promised to continue pushing for the policies underlying those floor amendments, ensuring that debate over the Legislature’s response to COVID-19 will continue at a later date, whenever that may be.

“I hope I’m wrong in thinking that this crisis won’t be worse in two weeks,” she said. “Our work is not done.”


Legislature passes $11.8B budget, adjourns session

Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada and Republican Sen. Vince Leach talk during a break in budget votes at the Arizona state Capitol in Phoenix on Monday, May 27, 2019. The Legislature on Memorial Day broke an impasse that had prevented passage of a state budget for weeks. (AP Photo/Jonathan J. Cooper)
Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada and Republican Sen. Vince Leach talk during a break in budget votes at the Arizona state Capitol in Phoenix on Monday, May 27, 2019. The Legislature on Memorial Day broke an impasse that had prevented passage of a state budget for weeks. (AP Photo/Jonathan J. Cooper)

With an $11.8 billion spending plan on Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk, the Arizona Legislature adjourned sine die on Tuesday after a long and at times contentious debate on the budget, statutes of limitations for sexual abuse survivors and a higher daily allowance for lawmakers.

It only took the Arizona Legislature 135 days, and most of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, to get it done.

The lengthy session dragged on for more than a week after Senate President Karen Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers announced they’d struck a deal with the governor to increase year-over-year spending in Arizona’s budget by roughly $1.4 billion.

And for weeks before that, lawmakers were stuck fighting over $320 million in tax cuts designed to offset the higher income taxes that hit some Arizonans after the state failed a year ago to adopt a plan to conform to changes in federal tax law.

Lawmakers had also balked at Ducey’s chief policy priority: A balance of more than $1 billion in the rainy-day fund, an achievement that required a $542 million deposit in the state’s savings account.

In the end, Ducey got much of what he asked for when he proposed a spending plan in January, including his savings goal.

“With this budget, Arizona is learning from the past mistakes, exercising fiscal responsibility, investing in the things that matter and making a historic down payment on securing Arizona’s future,” Ducey said in a written statement.

And if there was any doubt that the governor approves of the Legislature’s labor, Ducey left no doubt: “I look forward to signing it.”

In the final act of session, the House handily defeated a bill of last-minute budget amendments, including new funding for diabetes programs and financial literacy for youth organizations, with a raucous 7-53 vote. Democrats and Republicans alike rejected the bill, preferring instead to adjourn sine die.

Bowers, R-Mesa, cryptically suggested that lingering frustrations — he wouldn’t say with what — also played into the House’s final vote.

“I’m guessing they may be upset about how things happened,” Bowers said.

Still, the final budget also included new spending that helped ensure Republicans in the Senate had enough votes to approve the spending plan along party lines, even when one GOP senator voted against most bills.

That includes more than $18 million for graduate medical education, $5 million on top of the $15 million allocated for school resource officers and counselors, and another $5 million for the Housing Trust Fund, all requests made by Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek.

That’s not all Carter held out for. She joined Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, in refusing to vote for a budget as long as GOP leaders blocked a vote on Boyer’s bill to increase the statuet of limitations for survivors of childhood sex abuse to sue their abusers.

As unanimously adopted by the House and Senate, the limit will increase by 10 years, from age 20 to 30.

And Boyer negotiated an opportunity for anyone who’s aged beyond that new limit to sue their abusers before Dec. 31, 2020, although the agreement stipulates they can’t be awarded punitive damages in court.

With Boyer and Carter’s votes secure, the Senate was prepared to play catch up with the House, which secured party line votes on all 11 budget-related bills during a marathon voting session late Friday night and Saturday morning.

Carter and Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, joined with Democrats to kill a bill that would allocate $2.5 million to a center that discourages abortion, citing disappointment that the Legislature wasn’t funding the state’s 211 hotline instead. And most lawmakers in both the House and Senate voted for a bill that would triple daily allowances for rural lawmakers and nearly triple them for Maricopa County residents.

In the Senate, the budget bills passed mostly along party lines. Only Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, broke ranks, voting against most of the budget measures out of protest a tax conformity plan that cuts roughly $320 million in income taxes next year.

Mesnard, however, didn’t object to the tax cut, but to the beneficiaries of it. The plan agreed to by GOP leaders and Ducey collapsed the state’s income tax brackets from five to four, predominantly decreasing taxes for lower and middle class Arizonans. Mesnard had pushed for a three-bracket structure aimed at lowering taxes for wealthier Arizonans, who Mesnard argued were hit harder by President Trump’s 2017 tax reform plan.

“Since there are easy and viable alternatives, I can’t go along with this and I won’t vote for the budget with it,” Mesnard said. “This scheme doesn’t need to pass for the budget to work, and if it fails we can continue to pursue better plans.”

The tax plan came close to failing in the Senate, as a group of Republicans gathered around Mesnard’s desk to discuss it in the middle of voting. Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, asked whether they could kill the tax plan and still pass the budget, and it took a reminder from Fann that the plan was part of the budget package legislative leaders negotiated with Ducey for it to succeed.

Freshman Sen. Tyler Pace of Mesa scolded other senators for not dealing with tax conformity a year ago, before taxpayers filed their 2018 taxes. He ended up voting for the plan, but called that vote “unfortunate.”

“If I vote aye, we move forward,” Pace said. “If I vote nay, we go into the same position we were last year, of neglect, where we say we’ll do a special session, we say we’ll fix this problem.”

In the end, the budget’s criminal justice and K-12 spending bills were the only measures Mesnard voted for.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, voted against all budget bills despite entreaties from Fann to support them.

“So many  things in this bill are the direct result of the kindness and the caring and the asks from my Democratic colleagues,” Fann said before moving one bill.

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, said Democrats found it difficult to negotiate because goal posts kept moving.

“We make a direct offer, we get an indirect or no response,” Bradley said. “We have only offered up ideas accompanied with numbers and have awaited a response.”

He said Democrats wanted a budget that would support teachers, students, homeless Arizonans and pregnant and chronically ill residents.

Because Republicans hold a one-vote majority in the House and a two-vote majority in the Senate, this year was a perfect time to set a new standard for bipartisanship in the Legislature, said Sen. Martin Quezada. But on that count, both houses failed, the Glendale Democrat said.

“We seem to have a perverted idea of what bipartisanship actually is,” Quezada said. “A bipartisan budget is not a budget that happens to have one or two Democratic votes at the end of the night.”

Mesnard: Ducey’s tax conformity depends on Dems

Gov. Doug Ducey gives his 2019 State of the State address on January 14, with Senate President Karen Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers looking on. Ducey faces fierce opposition from Republican leaders over his budget proposal. PHOTO BY ROSS D. FRANKLIN/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Gov. Doug Ducey gives his 2019 State of the State address on January 14, with Senate President Karen Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers looking on. Ducey faces fierce opposition from Republican leaders over his budget proposal.

If Gov. Doug Ducey wants to pass a budget that pockets higher tax collections due to changes in federal tax law, he may have to work across the aisle to get it done.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard told the Arizona Capitol Times that Ducey is in for a long and bumpy ride this legislative session after the governor vetoed a bill, backed by all but one Republican lawmaker, to offset estimates of higher tax collections this year by roughly $150 million or more.

What Ducey calls a windfall, Republican legislators call a dramatic spike in taxes.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler)
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler)

Mesnard, R-Chandler, said his GOP colleagues won’t stand for it. And if Ducey is dead set to get his way, the most likely scenario for passing a budget entails the governor and legislative Democrats teaming up to roll Republican leadership, Mesnard said, perhaps as late as June.

“I’ve been around a long time. I can see rolls coming. And I think the present situation is so toxic that that is an inevitability,” he said.

“Rolling” leadership can take many forms, the most dramatic being a full replacement of the GOP leadership teams in the House and Senate if they refuse to advance bills supported by the majority of lawmakers.

The most recent, and less drastic, example came in 2013. Then-Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, was at odds with many GOP lawmakers about expanding the state’s Medicaid program. So Brewer and legislative Democrats teamed up with a handful of Republicans and threatened to remove House and Senate leadership if the Medicaid expansion legislation was blocked.

The chamber leaders relented, keeping their positions, but losing any power to control the flow of legislation through their chambers.

Mesnard’s comments come as the full Senate prepares to vote on two bills that highlight the staring contest GOP legislators find themselves in with Ducey, and could exacerbate the divide between the governor and his own party.

Republican senators on the Finance Committee advanced SB1166, a bill that would reduce income tax collections by partially conforming to changes in federal tax code that were signed into law by President Trump in late 2017. The maneuver would “decouple” certain income tax deductions from the federal code, including a deduction for state and local taxes and a deduction for interest on home mortgages.

Another measure, SB1481, would extend the deadline to file state income tax by two months, from April 15 to June 15. It passed the committee on February 13 with bipartisan support.

Though the method differs, the result of SB1166 is fundamentally the same as an earlier bill, also sponsored by Mesnard, that lowered income taxrates. SB1166, as did the earlier version, seeks to reduce the tax burden on Arizonans filing their 2018 tax returns.

Ducey vetoed that initial proposal, which he criticized as an “irresponsible measure that hastily changes Arizona’s tax laws without any reliable data to back it up.” There’s no reason to think Ducey will accept a second attempt to lower tax collections, as the governor has made it clear he wants to conform with the federal tax code on his terms.

Specifically, Ducey said conformity should be agreed to in the context of budget negotiations. The governor has dug himself into a hole with that stance, Mesnard said, since Ducey can’t get his way without legislative approval.

“I don’t know how a budget with a $200 million individual income tax increase ever gets out of the Legislature without really strong Democratic support,” Mesnard said, noting the sooner Ducey starts negotiating with the minority party, the sooner the session will wrap up. “Unless those negotiations with the Democrats start now, I think we’ll be in session until June.”

Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, echoed Mesnard’s disdain for the situation the governor and the legislators – by declining to act on conformity until now – have put themselves in. While he doesn’t like Mesnard’s latest plan to reduce harm to taxpayers, doing nothing is far worse, he said.

And he, like Mesnard, refuses to support a budget in which Ducey gets his way.

“I will not vote on a budget that raises $100 million, $200 million, $300 million in income taxes on the citizens of this state just because we don’t do conformity,” Livingston said during the Finance Committee vote.

House Republicans are similarly flustered by Ducey, according to Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, who told the Capitol Times he’s “pissed” at the governor, “and I think the caucus is pissed, too.” And he won’t vote for a budget that includes higher tax collections, either.

“I’m not going until conformity is taken care of, and if that means staying here until the fall, we stay here until the fall,” Kern said.

Senate President Karen Fann said talk of the governor “rolling” GOP legislators on the budget is premature and unproductive.

Though she acknowledged the budget negotiations this year will be tough, particularly given the power dynamics in the narrowly divided House, that doesn’t mean Republicans can’t work something out with Ducey.

“No issue – I don’t care what the issue is – should be in such a position that it creates this kind of a problem where threats are going on or people are talking about rolling each other. That’s ridiculous,” said Fann, a Prescott Republican. “Somehow, we’ll sit down and we’ll figure it out. But we can certainly do that without threats.”

A spokesman for Ducey declined to comment on Mesnard’s prediction of budget mayhem.

We aren’t going to negotiate budget issues through the media,” said spokesman Patrick Ptak. “We continue to have productive discussions with leadership.”

Both Senate Minority Leader David Bradley and House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez expressed reservations that the relationship between Ducey and legislative Republicans would deteriorate to the point that the governor would turn to Democrats for help.

“No one’s talked to us about that. I can’t imagine them doing that,” said Fernandez, D-Yuma.

Nonetheless, Fernandez said she’s hoping Ducey won’t budge and that some Republicans will realize they’ll just have to come to the side of the Democrats, who are supportive of the governor’s simple conformity plan. But that is, in fact, one method of rolling leadership, Fernandez acknowledged.

“We’re not actively out there trying to pull people,” she said. “We would not be disrespectful to the speaker. He’s got his caucus. We’ve got ours.”

Bradley, a Tucson Democrat, said his caucus is prepared to work with Ducey, if needed.

“I can’t speak to the discord of [Ducey’s] party, if it’s there,” Bradley said. “But obviously if they are divided, we’re going to try and take advantage of that to the extent that we can.”

Yellow Sheet Editor Hank Stephenson and Arizona Capitol Times reporters Katie Campbell and Carmen Forman contributed to this report.

Old tactics, new territory as lawmakers embrace partisan COVID-19 framing

From left in this photo from Rep. Anthony Kern’s Twitter account are Kern, R-Glendale, Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, as they point towards a clock at a Phoenix restaurant to mock a Phoenix order for restaurants to close at 8 a.m. to lessen the spread of COVID-19.
From left in this photo from Rep. Anthony Kern’s Twitter account are Kern, R-Glendale, Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, as they point towards a clock at a Phoenix restaurant to mock a Phoenix order for restaurants to close at 8 p.m. to lessen the spread of COVID-19.

In any other week, Rep. Anthony Kern’s dinner choices wouldn’t have mattered to anyone but the most fervent crusader against lobbyist influence. This week, depending on who you ask, he’s either a hero fighting government overreach or the face of irresponsibility. 

The Glendale Republican and the lobbyist who bought his dinner on Tuesday night, former House staffer Brett Mecum, headed over to the Capital Grille to meet up with three other Republican lawmakers: Rep. Mark Finchem of Oro Valley and Sens. David Gowan of Sierra Vista and Sonny Borrelli of Lake Havasu City. 

The four crowded close, grinned broadly and pointed up at a row of clocks showing the time: 8:15 p.m., 15 minutes after Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego had ordered all restaurants to close to diners to alleviate the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s 8:15 p.m……. Do you know where Phoenix Mayor @KateWGallego is?” Kern tweeted, adding hashtags for “resist” and “freedom of assembly.” 

Anthony Kern
Anthony Kern

Kern has since deleted the tweet, which encapsulates the diverging political philosophies at the Capitol that have made governing in the era of coronavirus so difficult. The GOP-led House and Senate consider the virus serious enough that the House suspended its rules to allow remote voting and both chambers are hurrying to pass budget bills this session.

But Republican lawmakers, including some in leadership, have also dismissed calls to close schools as “pure politics” and orders to shut restaurants as government overreach, theorized that the illness will disappear once the weather warms up and shared conspiracies that the “deep state” is using the coronavirus to expand government’s power. 

“Lighten up guys, it’s a little humor,” Kern said. “It’s 8:15. What, the virus only comes out after 8 o’clock? I mean, come on.”

During floor debate in the House on Wednesday, Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, referred to the small number of people in Arizona who have tested positive for the virus so far, expressing that figure as an infinitesimal percentage.  

So far, only 15 people have tested positive in the state — but more than 100 tests are pending, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. And that doesn’t capture all the people who might need tests but can’t access them, for any number of reasons.  

“It takes an immense amount of privilege to minimize how devastating coronavirus is,” Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said to Grantham. 

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley put it differently. 

David Bradley
David Bradley

“They’re nuts,” he said. “Put that down. It’s sad that science has no standing with some of these people.” 

The partisan dimensions of the issue go beyond Twitter. Despite the high stakes and repeated pleas for bipartisanship, negotiations over a spate of emergency bills to help Arizonans respond to the virus are familiar, if not downright routine: Democrats make demands and take advantage of brief political opportunities, Republicans brand those demands as unreasonable, a clash ensues, the dust settles and the cycle repeats. 

 “Is there bipartisanship? Absolutely not,” said House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma. She said that Republicans have brushed aside a list of Democratic policy prescriptions that bolster social safety nets. 

“They’re calling this ‘pork.’ I know what pork is, and this is about our constituents, human lives,” Fernandez continued. 

The playing field appears more level in the Senate, a rare feat. In the upper chamber, two Republican senators have pledged not to return for the duration of the outbreak, opening a window for Senate Democrats to push their demands and for Republican leadership to embrace a spirit of bipartisanship. 

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, appealed to Senate Democrats and Republicans to put politics aside in the face of an impending crisis, coming together as a Senate to pass a strong budget that includes some requests from Democrats. In that light, she introduced a bill to address one request from Democrats: allowing workers to receive unemployment benefits if their working hours are slashed but they’re not formally laid off. 

“I’m hoping that our Senate members, Rs and Ds alike, are going to step up, show some leadership, show responsibility and get something good together,” she said. “If it’s different than what they have (in the House), we can get it out of here and send it over there and say ‘OK, here’s what we’ve got.’” 

But the partisanship of normal budget negotiations doesn’t just go away, even in extraordinary situations. Senate Republicans returned to the floor on Wednesday to adjourn for the day while their Democratic colleagues were still in a caucus meeting receiving a briefing on budget bills, which most rank-and-file members — and Democratic policy staff — hadn’t had a chance to read. 

Senate Republicans including Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, questioned the need to even wait for Democrats to consent to the bills proposed Wednesday. If the minority caucus isn’t on board by the end of the week, Republican leadership should just put the bills up for votes and let them fail if they’re going to fail, he said. 

“Then hit pause,” he said. “And they can go explain to their constituents why they voted to let government shut down. People need a government.” 

– Yellow Sheet editor Hank Stephenson contributed to this report



Parking lot face off with protesters leaves lawmakers shaken

Bryan Masche, who accosted Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, in the parking lot of the Arizona Senate on May 8, was part of a group of protesters who encountered lawmakers after the chamber adjourned sine die. PHOTO FROM TWITTER
Bryan Masche, who accosted Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, in the parking lot of the Arizona Senate on May 8, was part of a group of protesters who encountered lawmakers after the chamber adjourned sine die. PHOTO FROM TWITTER

The scene Sen. Victoria Steele encountered when she walked out of the Senate last week was like nothing she has seen in nearly a decade at the Capitol. 

Steele, D-Tucson, knew demonstrators stood outside. She had seen some on her way into the Senate that morning, but, at the time, they kept their distance, heckling and promising to recall every lawmaker who voted to end the session — never mind that they all face elections in a few months anyway.

But after the Senate voted 24-6 to adjourn sine die, the group of about 20 people – none wore a mask – in a parking lot reserved for lawmakers shifted from yelling at a distance to surrounding senators’ cars, banging on windows and screaming into the vehicles.

Steele walked out to see a fellow senator who voted for the sine die motion, Phoenix Republican Kate Brophy McGee, trying to back her car out as demonstrators swarmed around her and uniformed Department of Public Safety officers stood watching. Steele grabbed her phone and started recording as she walked to her own car.

Victoria Steele
Victoria Steele

“They could have stood six feet away and yelled to me and talked to me, and I would have listened,” Steele said. “But when I got out there and I saw them screaming and I saw Kate Brophy McGee honking her horn to try to make them move, I knew they didn’t want to talk.”

The demonstrations on May 8 — as well as a previous rally at the Capitol during which a man threatened to shoot legislative Democrats — shook lawmakers. 

Steele said the parking lot demonstration and “Reopen Arizona” rallies remind her of the atmosphere in southern Arizona a decade ago shortly before then-U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot. Giffords, a Democrat who represented a district that voted for Sen. John McCain for president in 2008, was in a swing district that’s a top electoral target of the then-nascent Tea Party. McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, put crosshairs over Giffords’ district in a map depicting the 20 districts Republicans wanted to reclaim.

Giffords retained her seat, and investigators found no evidence that her shooter had clear political views or that the shooting was politically motivated. But that shooting at a congressional event followed months of Tea Party activists denouncing Giffords as a traitor to the Constitution, broken windows in her Tucson office and an incident in which a protester who attended one of her constituent meetings dropped a gun on the floor. 

All of that, Steele said, reminds her of what’s happened over the past several weeks. 

“Are they just being loud and obnoxious and saying stupid things or are they dangerous?” she asked. “I live about a mile away from where Gabby was shot, and I saw how nasty things were getting before that.”

Fellow Tucson Democrat David Bradley, the Senate minority leader, said he hasn’t seen the tactics used by lockdown protesters at any point during his 16 years at the Capitol, including when the Tea Party was at its strongest. The Red for Ed movement crowded the Capitol grounds and the Tea Party was angry, he said, but neither major protest movement made people feel unsafe. 

David Bradley
David Bradley

“I don’t remember them ever accosting people in the parking lot or following people into the building,” Bradley said.

One huge distinction between the current protests and the ones before is the importance of personal space, Bradley said. In pre-pandemic times, someone yelling in a lawmaker’s face could just be part of the job. But now, getting closer than 6 feet is threatening. 

The videos Steele took of her encounter with protesters show a man identified as Bryan Masche follow her to her car and loom over her as she unlocked it. Masche was at one time the star of a reality television show about raising sextuplets. The show went off the air around the time Masche was arrested for domestic violence. He pled guilty to misdemeanor counts of threatening and intimidating and disorderly conduct, according to media reports at the time.

Steele asked the man to give her some distance, but he said he didn’t have to go anywhere and ordered her to get in her car. 

“This guy is like 2 to 3 feet away from my face, and he is spewing his droplets into my face,” Steele said. “I don’t know if this guy was exposing me to COVID-19, and I take care of my elderly parents.”

Brophy McGee has encountered similar demonstrations. Her work with the Department of Child Safety earned her the ire of a cadre of parents who have lost custody of their children, and in some cases she’s had to seek security escorts from meetings because those parents followed her.  

Despite being a practiced hand at dealing with angry people, Brophy McGee said she found the protesters “very scary.” 

“Security got me into my car and I appreciated that, but then all hell broke loose,” she said. “They ran up to my car. They pounded on the windows. They got in my face. I’m used to being confronted. Shoot, I was on a school board. I’ve worked with angry people and angry constituents a fair amount, and I get it, but I think they went beyond the pale.”

 Senate President Karen Fann planned to meet May 13 with Democratic leaders to discuss security concerns related to last week’s protests.

 Fann encountered the demonstrators when she arrived around 8:30 a.m. on May 8, and one handed her a two-page paper explaining that they would immediately try to recall any senators who voted to adjourn sine die. But by the time she left late that afternoon, the parking lot was clear, and Fann said she saw encounters other senators had solely through videos posted on Facebook.

Phoenix woman seeks mandated coverage of fertility treatment

(Deposit Photos/Merion_Merion)
(Deposit Photos/Merion_Merion)

While she and her husband were trying to conceive, Elizabeth Marshall had to spend about a week each month taking pregnancy tests, waiting and hoping.

Hoping the test would come back positive, because the Phoenix woman and her husband have wanted to start a family since they married in 2008.

Hoping it would come back negative, because she hadn’t had the medical treatment necessary to prevent another miscarriage.

“It was seven days of taking pregnancy tests every day, hoping I was pregnant and all the while hoping I wasn’t because we hadn’t had progesterone,” she said.

Marshall’s body doesn’t naturally create enough progesterone — a steroid hormone produced in the ovaries that prepares the uterus for pregnancy and nurtures the fetus during pregnancy. Without treatment, she has only a one-in-five chance of carrying a pregnancy to term.

Her insurance company will cover progesterone treatment after Marshall conceives, but she needs it several weeks before conception to increase the odds of a successful pregnancy.

Seventeen states now require insurance companies to cover infertility treatment. Arizona does not. Marshall is fighting to change that law and she’s likely to run into tough opposition at the Legislature.


It took a few years to realize that something was wrong.

After their wedding, Marshall and her husband weren’t actively trying to have children, but they also weren’t doing anything to avoid having a baby. Then, they started seeing birth announcements from couples they knew who had been together for less time than they had.

It finally happened for them in 2012, but Marshall miscarried on Christmas Day. Four more miscarriages — three from natural pregnancies, one from a cycle of in vitro fertilization they paid for with what was supposed to be a house down payment — followed.

Out of pocket, one cycle of IVF costs between $6,000 and $10,000, with medication and bloodwork adding an additional roughly $5,000 to $10,000. Just paying for progesterone treatment costs about $120 a month including bloodwork and medication, plus additional fees for doctor visits, Marshall said.

“It’s not like Vitamin D, right? It’s not like you can just go to the store and get it from the pharmacy,” she said.

About 137,000 Arizonans have issues with infertility, according to RESOLVE, a national infertility association that has worked with Marshall. And roughly one-quarter of those affected cannot afford treatment.

Even if they’re able to conceive, either naturally or through IVF, women affected by infertility issues are more likely to have high-risk pregnancies, miscarriages and higher medical costs.

Because of the cost of IVF, women may also choose to have multiple embryos implanted to increase their chances that one will succeed — leading, in some cases, to more expensive, higher-risk multiple pregnancies, or medical advice to abort one of the fetuses.

Adoption is an option for some people who hope to become parents, Marshall acknowledged, but it’s not for everyone. It doesn’t treat underlying medical issues.

And adopting means opening your home and life to scrutiny from strangers who will decide if you’re fit to be a parent — something Marshall described as being particularly difficult to take when infertility already feels like your own body is saying you don’t deserve to be a mother.

“If I adopted a child, I would still have infertility,” Marshall said. “It’s not like ‘Congratulations, you’re infertile, have a baby.”

Marshall and her boss first tried to add infertility coverage to their company insurance plan, but learned that insurance companies only allow larger businesses with 100 or more employees to elect for fertility coverage. Marshall, an accountant at a small firm in Mesa, and her husband, who works at a Gilbert auto manufacturing company, are among the 45.1% of Arizonans employed by small businesses.

“No one really likes a mandate, but this is the one disease that’s allowed to be discriminated against by insurance,” Marshall said.

The Law 

Changing insurance mandates isn’t as simple as introducing and voting on a bill. State statute requires anyone advocating a legislative proposal that would affect coverage by insurance companies to submit a report detailing the social and financial effects of such a change to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee by September 1 of the year prior to the bill’s introduction.

The joint audit committee then sends the report to a standing legislative committee, which has to hold a hearing and send recommendations to the Senate president, House speaker, governor and Department of Insurance by December 1.

Earlier this month, the Audit Committee referred Marshall’s report to the Senate Finance and House Regulatory Affairs committees, which are expected to schedule hearings later this fall. Getting even to this preliminary step has taken three years of work.

The study required to change state law cost about $10,000, a sum RESOLVE was willing to pay if Marshall first found a lawmaker willing to introduce a bill. Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, introduced one in 2018 – his bill died without a hearing.

Miscommunication about the report due date meant it was too late to introduce a bill this year, making 2020 the earliest such a bill could be heard in the Legislature.

In the meantime, Marshall kept talking to lawmakers and seeking support from Republicans, who are critical to getting anything passed. Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, and Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, have been receptive, she said.

Cobb is out of the country this month and wasn’t available for an interview. Carter said she has heard similar stories from constituents and wants to do something to help.

“This is an issue that many families are faced with, and I think we should at least have a conversation about it in the Legislature,” Carter said.

She said she hasn’t had enough conversations with colleagues about the issue recently to know whether the effort has a chance in the Legislature.

As proposed, the bill would require insurance companies to cover medically necessary tests and treatment for patients with an infertility diagnosis. Covered treatment would include hormone treatment, artificial insemination and up to three cycles in vitro fertilization.

The bill also would require coverage for fertility preservation for patients undergoing chemotherapy. Surrogacy and vasectomy reversals would not be covered.

Adding infertility to the list of covered conditions could increase premiums by about $1.37 per month, according to the report Marshall submitted.

The opposition

A requirement that insurance companies cover IVF is a non-starter for some Christians, particularly Catholics. Church teaching allows infertility treatment through fertility drugs, but describes IVF and other forms of artificial insemination as immoral.

Earlier iterations of IVF resulted in unused embryos being thrown out. Technology has advanced to the point where they’re frozen rather than discarded, but Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, said that still isn’t acceptable.

“Creating embryos is creating a human life,” she said. “It’s a pro-life concern. We’re concerned about creating embryos that will basically be left in a frozen safe in a clinic forever.”

Herrod said she and the influential conservative advocacy group she leads will be waiting to see what the introduced bill looks like before deciding whether to weigh in on it.

“If the issue is as simple as an insurance company providing progesterone to help a woman maintain a pregnancy, that’s a different issue than mandating coverage for infertility treatment that produces multiple embryos of which some may be implanted and carried to birth and some may be left in a frozen state,” she said.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, the Chandler Republican who leads the Senate Finance Committee, is skeptical of changes to mandated insurance coverage. He said he’s willing to hear Marshall out when his committee reviews her report, but the committee also has to look at tradeoffs of any expanded coverage.

“At some point, you transition away from what is a need versus. what is a want, even if it’s a strong want,” Mesnard said.

Pima County officials see legal trouble in desegregation tax

Pima County officials say a new state law dictating how to collect taxes for desegregation funding in Tucson puts the county at legal risk.

Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

A provision in the budget signed by Gov. Doug Ducey shifts the burden of a tax that provides funding for desegregation and student achievement efforts at public schools from all Arizona homeowners to only the homeowners in the 18 school districts that utilize the funding. The new policy provides a savings to the state. Prior to the change, desegregation taxes were levied as a primary property tax, which means the state picks up the bill above the constitutionally mandated 1 percent cap on property taxes.

Programs funded by desegregation taxes are designed to meet the demands of federal court orders or agreements with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in districts found to have racial disparities in their schools.

A memo from Deputy Pima County Attorney Regina Nassen, first reported by the Arizona Daily Star, details how the new law that shifts the tax burden may contradict Arizona’s Constitution, which states that homeowners’ property taxes may not exceed 1 percent of their property’s value. The exceptions are for local taxes that residents get to vote on, such as bonds and overrides.

The budget, approved in May by lawmakers, classified the desegregation levy as a secondary tax. But, unlike bonds and overrides, voters get no say in whether they are taxed for it.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted on May 22 to release the memo publicly. The board is also seeking an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office to determine whether the county should follow the new law or if it violates the Constitution.

If it’s the latter, levying the tax could put the county at legal risk, Nassan wrote.

Though the tax would only apply to homeowners within the district boundaries of the Tucson Unified School District, the county is responsible for administering property taxes, and the county will be liable for repaying taxpayers if the tax is later deemed illegal, she wrote.

Chuck Essigs
Chuck Essigs

That’s a legitimate factor for the county, the state, and perhaps the school district to consider, according to Chuck Essigs, a lobbyist for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials. Effectively, legislators decided to alter what voters were told decades ago when the Arizona Constitution was changed to implement the 1 percent cap on how much homeowners pay in property taxes: For every $100,000 in assessed value, a homeowner only pays $100.

The exceptions are bonds and overrides, and Essigs said the Legislature has changed people’s tax situation with the stroke of a pen as a way to free up roughly $18 million from districts that use desegregation levies, including $16 million from TUSD.

With this precedent, legislators could make future changes to balance the state budget that would mean higher taxes for some Arizona homeowners without them getting a say in the decision, according to Essigs.

“A lot of times people refer to a slippery slope. Well, this is a slippery slope,” Essigs said. He added that people may not understand the legal issue as much as they understand the philosophical issue, which is when voters are told something, “do you stick to it?”

Kevin McCarthy
Kevin McCarthy

Kevin McCarthy, president of the Arizona Tax Research Association, said seeking an opinion from the attorney general isn’t going to have an impact on whether Pima County officials must follow the new law.

“Is someone going to enjoin the county (from administering the tax)? Shy of that, I don’t know any way that the county could legally argue they shouldn’t follow the law that was just passed,” McCarthy said.

A spokesman for Attorney General Mark Brnovich confirmed that any opinion from the office would be just that: an opinion. And as of April 30, Pima County officials have made no formal request for an opinion.

“There is nothing that is legally binding about the opinion. It is truly guidance,” said spokesman Ryan Anderson.

Essigs agreed that the matter may require a legal battle to settle. In the meantime, TUSD could be left short on the funding necessary for its desegregation programs if Pima County officials decide it’s in their best legal interest not to levy the desegregation tax.

“It would appear to me what happens is the district will spend that money as if it was there, and pretty soon they’re going to reach a point in the year where they don’t have any more revenue to cover their expenditures,” Essigs said.

TUSD Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo did not return calls for comment.

If they levy the tax, county officials could find themselves in the crosshairs of outraged TUSD homeowners. State budget analysts estimate that the new taxing mechanism will increase the average property tax bill within the district by $176 to recoup the $16 million supplement the state will no longer provide.

That’s not something that will be lost on those TUSD residents, according to Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson. Perhaps, he said, the governor will bear the brunt of homeowners’ ire.

He suspects people will hear about how Ducey increased their taxes by $16 million, he said.

“I think that narrative will not go away,” Bradley added.

Q&A with Senate Minority Leader David Bradley

David Bradley
David Bradley

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley will end a 16-year career as a lawmaker this year with a rare accomplishment: having voted for a bipartisan budget.

It only took a global pandemic and the absence of two Republicans for the Tucson Democrat to finally get a real seat at the negotiating table.

We’ve talked some in the past about how the coronavirus ended up oddly giving Senate Democrats more say in the skinny budget and other aspects of the session than you all normally would have. How did the dynamics of this session change what it’s like to be a Democrat working in the Senate?

You got to the point where the majority just didn’t have their majority, and they needed our help to accomplish anything. The need to do it quickly played in as well. I don’t know if the right place, right time kind of thing is the right way to say that, but it’s just a function of circumstance the majority party had to negotiate.

Did the coronavirus relief package that you passed initially go as far as you would have wanted it to go?

We probably would have liked more specificity in terms of the assignment of the resources, particularly to housing and unemployment. We wanted those things to be expanded. We wanted the unemployment rate reimbursement to be increased. That was one of the things that we were unable to do. But the fact that we got almost $55 million in additional funding I think was significant.

Some Democrats in the House were initially upset with the relief package and had some harsh words for your caucus. How do you draw that line between ideological purity, fighting for whatever you most want versus working with the majority and reaching a compromise that may not be what either side most desires?

It’s the old line about giving up the good in pursuit of the perfect, and there’s always varying opinions about what that is. We were comfortable with what we were able to negotiate. You know, from the Senate side, we tried to keep the House involved or at least up to date about how our negotiations were going all along. I don’t think it should have been a huge surprise. As I said, we would have wanted more specificity in terms of what the governor could do with those resources, and then issues relative to unemployment insurance, but felt that what we got was pretty much almost everything we asked for, with those exceptions.

What do you see as the next steps from here? It’s an odd session in the sense that you adjourned sine die, but there seems to be an expectation that you all will come back at some point.

I know I’ve received mixed messages about when that might occur, or even if it’s going to occur. I think both Senator Fann and myself were under the impression that we would be called back to deal with health issues relative to the virus and then any kind of economic impacts that we might have to deal with at least, and so we’re kind of in a waiting stage. I know we’re waiting for the May numbers to come in.

We talked at the start of the session about one of your longtime personal priorities, funding for community schools. You also had a number of caucus priorities that didn’t make it out this year in part because we only passed 90 bills. What’s it like to be ending your last session with all this business that you wanted to do this year that isn’t getting done?

Having been in the minority my entire 16 years, one tempers their expectations. And so, no matter how optimistic I try to be, I’m also realistic about what can happen. I’m not crushed or disappointed in the sense that that’s the last thing I expected to have happen. My bills didn’t make it through because it’s the exception, not the rule when they do. And the other thing is that time marches on. There’s another session in January.

Sometimes we forget that the ideas that we have are far more important than we are. We come and go. To illustrate that, I asked people in my own district to name my predecessor, and people will struggle to do that. They really have to be political junkies to be able to do it. And so, you know, we’re here in these roles for a brief period of time and we’re forgotten about pretty quickly. It’s not a function of leaving a legacy for me personally. Obviously, I think that the community schools is a good concept and I’m confident that people will take it up in the next round, not on my behalf but on behalf of the children that it serves.

What’s next for you after your successor is sworn in in January?

I use my wife as an example. She was an administrator, a superintendent, and now she’s back working as a kindergarten aide. And so I may make a return to my roots of mental health counseling and providing services to people from that perspective. I don’t foresee getting much engaged in the whole political world all that much unless somebody asked me to. I enjoyed most of my time with the Legislature, and I’m turning it over to people who are smarter and more capable, and I’m confident that they will do good things.

What advice would you have for the next person, Democrat or Republican, who takes your role as minority leader?

I think Senator Fann and I have left an example of how to work together and communicate well together. I would hope that no matter who’s in charge of the Senate, that if Democrats take over that their first move is not to say, “Now we’re going to show you guys. What you did to us now we’re going to do to you.” Or if the Republicans retain control, I think it would be cool if whoever’s in charge appoints a pro tem of the opposite party, or whoever’s in charges appoints chairpeople and makes the vice chair from the opposite party, just to show the state that although we disagree on thing we don’t have to be so divisive.

Q&A with Senate Minority Leader David Bradley

David Bradley (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)
David Bradley (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)

As he enters his final year in the Legislature, Senate Minority Leader David Bradley is in a contemplative mood.

Bradley, first elected to the House in 2003, is reflecting on decades of tax cuts and what he describes as the “hollowing out” of government. And while he remains bullish about his chances of being the last Democratic minority leader the Senate will have – with the emphasis on minority – he fears that the bill for years of cuts will come due soon.

“It’s easy to get seduced by looking into the light, and by that I mean looking at the rainy day fund and the fund balances, and going, ‘Hey, we’ve got this thing down,’” Bradley said. “But alas, something wicked this way comes.”

How long do you think we’re going to be here this session? 

I’m guessing fairly quick, on the premise that there’s issues, obviously, but there’s not that big one like last year when we had taxes and water issues. Assuming that both the Republican caucuses have their act together — and I don’t know that for a fact at all — but if they do, I suspect it will be pretty quick.

There’s no pressing tax conformity, but we do have a Republican here in the Senate who wants to cut hundreds of millions in taxes, and other people pushing all sorts of controversial issues. Do you think that will drag out session at all?

If we do, it will be because the other caucus can’t get its act together or they’re so divided that they can’t get to 16 or 31, and of course 31 over there is much harder.

This is my last go-around, so my thoughts center around just looking back over the last 30 years, not screaming or yelling at the current governor or the current majority. But over this period of time, the term I’m using is “hollowing out.” I keep hearing this principle of running it like a business, and I ran a business for 30 years. I don’t recall saying as a first move, “Let’s figure out how to cut our revenue” as the first thing we think about. What I think you do when you run a business, unless I got this wrong, is you look at your mission and your vision and your values, what is it you’re trying to do, and what you need to exist to be in operation.

I’m assuming that folks are going to be looking at the rainy day fund and what they’re calling a surplus and I call a fund balance. They’re going to say, “Everything’s rosy; let’s cut taxes.” The metaphor I’m using is that they’re kind of looking into the sun and everything’s bright, and if you do that long enough you’ll start to see mirages. No matter where we look, whether it’s the Department of Revenue, or water, or health care, developmental disabilities, schools, prisons, it doesn’t matter. Everywhere you look, there’s a hollowing. There’s a need that can’t be addressed because we have cut all this revenue. If you’re hollowing out functions of government that we have kind of agreed that we should do and we don’t have the resources to do it, then who pays? Because eventually, somebody’s gotta’ pay.

My swan song message is that you can’t rectify this in one session. You can’t just go back and re-establish billions of dollars in taxes, but at a bare minimum, when you’re in a hole, stop digging.

As you and Leader (Charlene) Fernandez are developing your blueprint for the 2020 session, how much are you focusing on what can realistically be done working with the majority here versus. a blueprint for what could happen after the 2020 elections if they go your way?

I’ve said, only moderately facetiously, that the next minority leader will be a Republican. With the exception of four years, it’s been 60 years with the current majority where they’re at, and it’s time to do something different here. And of course there’s the session-to-session need to work with the majority where we can. I don’t use the term “conservative” as a pejorative. What I ask of a person who labels themselves that way is what is it you’re trying to preserve, and how can I help you. That will remain true during session.

How is your relationship with President Fann now?

We’re still friends. Last session ended ugly, but I think through it all we were able to maintain our relationship as friends. I disagree vehemently with what happened and made that clear, and it was a rough ending last time around. It may end that way again, particularly if they’re going to hold on to a huge tax cut that will be a stumbling block for us. Maybe I’m attending the wrong meetings or talking to the wrong people, but I just don’t hear clamoring for tax cuts.

What areas are you expecting to really have to play defense on this session? 

From what I hear, some of the social issues. I’m sure you saw the sex ed bill drop. I think it’s a great bill for 1920, but unfortunately it’s 100 years later and in 2020 I think we can see things a little differently. (Rep. John) Fillmore has dropped a bunch of curious bills that I hope don’t get any traction. I don’t know if he’s worked those and has a constituency behind them or is just kind of pulling them out of his ear.

Do you have a final personal priority?

My personal one is the community schools piece. It’s just a pilot program, and it reduces itself to a simple concept: You cannot teach kids who are not present. What community schools try to do is figure out what’s in this kid’s way, why can’t this kid attend.

Will we see a separate Democratic budget proposal again this year?

Yeah, we had talked about having it before session, but our dilemma is we don’t want to be negotiating against ourselves. At this point, we’re going to see where the governor’s at on some issues. I’m appreciative that Senator Fann tries to go to every member and ask about their personal priorities, but the drawback is that our more global issues, whether in health care or housing or education, are our priorities and we don’t get bought off. And if they’re going to be serious about another tax cut, that will be front and center for us. There’s always good things in the budget no matter who does it, but sometimes the bill has a death pill in it that you can’t accept. The death knell would be yet again if there’s a huge tax cut in the works. I’m hoping that there isn’t a big tax cut in there, and then it’s easiest for us to look at the individual budget bills. In some cases, we might be able to support pieces of it.

Q&A with Senate Minority Leader David Bradley


David Bradley is at the end of his time at the Arizona Capitol. The Tucson Democrat plans to return to southern Arizona for good in 2021 after serving one last term in the state Senate. But before he leaves Phoenix for good, Bradley lobbied to serve as minority leader, so that he can guide up-and-coming Democrats to be the next leaders of the caucus and the party at large.

Have you ever been in leadership before?

No, this is the first official (position).

Why was this the right time?

It is my last go-around. I made it clear from the get-go that I’m not running for anything else. I’m not using this as a stepping stone, as far as my political career goes. So I thought that was a little bit of an advantage, in terms of communicating to people that my goal is to do what’s best for the state. … Everyone who’s elected is a leader. I’m the minority leader, but I’d rather call it the minority servant in terms of how I view the world. And my role is to ensure they can be the best leaders they can be; that they prepare for what’s next for them personally. So one of the things we’re doing is setting up individual communications plans for each member, in terms of their own personal goals — if the main thing is they want to get re-elected, or they want to run for Congress, whatever they want to do, we want to make sure that whatever they do contributes to that role.

Why is that emphasis on future roles, on future leaders?

If you didn’t see that as a blue wave that just happened, there’s a strong undertow. So there’s a pulling. That’s how I read the election. My interpretation of it is to stop screaming at each other, figure out how to do things together, and the result reinforced that. … I think the governor is clearly aware of this.

Then how are things going to be different this year, as far as the minority party’s relationship with the GOP majority?

Sen. (Karen) Fann and I are friends. I think that’s a little different than what my predecessors dealt with in terms of working with the president at any given time. So I’m optimistic. My emphasis with her, as well as the governor and my own caucus, is let’s start on common ground. Let’s not put up our dukes right off the bat. Let’s figure out, where do we link? People come here for a reason. I always assume good intent.

How do you accomplish that?

The first thing is identifying those common ground issues, and there are some to start off with: sentencing reform, prison reform issues, charter reform issues. Water issues, I think there’s common ground. Where exactly that lies, I’m not sure myself. … But I think there’s opportunity to do something there. And then we have the — I don’t like to use the term surplus — we have this amount of money. When you withhold money over here and then put it over there, I don’t call that a surplus, I call that something else. But in any event, there are these resources that we can expend on one-time needs, capital needs in particular. So I think our work is making sure that our voice is heard in these common ground areas, and then building from there. And when we differ, we differ. Our obligation in the minority is to make our case. There is some point where the only card we have left to play is to kind of pound the table and say this is how we see the world, and the other side goes, “That’s nice. See ya later.” But my hope is not to start there.

You’ve got a record of working well with Republicans. How have you made that work?

Historically, that’s been my approach, just dealing with reality. When I first got here back in 2003, I thought, like many people, “What have i gotten myself into? What do you mean no one cares what I have to say about this issue?” So I learned very early on that just pounding the table on the House floor was not all that much use. So, let me find allies. My background is in child welfare, so I tend to find common ground with people on that issue. It’s hard to find somebody who doesn’t care about children, doesn’t care about how we educate them, how we care for them, how we provide services for them, so I’ve always used that as my entrée for working with members from the other side. … And I don’t have to be patted on the head. The issue is more important than I am. So whatever it takes — I’m glad to disappear. If you want me to come testify or not, I’ll do that, depending on what issue I was dealing with over the years, or what member I was dealing with. You know, Senator (Andy) Biggs carried bills for me when I was in the House, on foster kids. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to get to people.

You’re also, and this is my own observance, a quiet guy. Are you prepared to be the voice of Senate Democrats? Traditional party leaders take a lead role in speaking on the floor.

I will do what I need to do in those situations. My first move will be to identify and support the member for whom this is an issue for them, they’ve been promoting or working on themselves, so I don’t steal any thunder from their point of view, from their perspective. I want them to be up front with whatever that topic is. But when necessary, I’ll be glad to pipe in if I think it makes sense to do so or I think it’s helpful. … My background is, I’m a mental health person, a counselor. We’ve been trained to absorb, take it in, and say, “How’s this fit?” … The Columbo approach is like, “That’s weird. There’s blood on your hands and there’s a knife. I wonder if those are related?” What I mean by that is just stepping back and letting people realize either what they’ve said or done, is that what they intended? Is that what you wanted to happen? … That’s my professional approach to things, and I think it’s spilled over into my political approach to things.

Senate Dem leader selects last partisan IRC member

irc-redistricting-puzzleThe Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is set with its partisan picks and all that’s left is choosing the independent chair.

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, picked Derrick Watchman, a Democrat from Apache County. Watchman is the first person from Apache County to ever be on the IRC, and the first member of the Navajo Nation.

Watchman was well-liked by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, and one of the top vote-getters after his interview last month. He now joins Pima County Republican David Mehl, a real estate developer; Maricopa County Republican Douglas York, a landscape CEO; and Maricopa County Democrat Shereen Lerner, an anthropology professor.

“We believe his experience as a leader in the business community gives him the consensus building skills that will make him successful in this very important role,” Bradley said in a press release.

Having someone from the Navajo Nation, as well as representing a county outside Maricopa and Pima counties, was important not just for the Democrats, but for representation in Arizona since members on Indian reservations have been historically overlooked on decision-making in the state.

“Indigenous perspectives and values have never been adequately represented,” Bradley said. “Every voter must have fair representation in our state and the ability to elect candidates that truly reflect and uphold their values.”

Mehl, York, Lerner and Watchman will now choose a nonpartisan chair, who will act as a tiebreaker for any deadlocked votes for the drawing of legislative and congressional districts next year. The five candidates they will select from are: Megan Carollo, a flower shop owner in Maricopa County; Thomas Loquvam, an attorney for EPCOR Utilities in Maricopa County; Erika Neuberg, a former psychologist in Maricopa County with political ties to both Republicans and Democrats; Gregory Teesdale, a businessman in Pima County; and, Robert Wilson, a gun store owner in Coconino County.

There is a pending lawsuit in court that House and Senate Democrats filed to have Loquvam and Wilson removed for being registered as a paid lobbyist and not a true independent, respectively.

Senate Democratic staff gets large raises


The Senate handed every Democratic policy staffer a raise of at least $10,000 at the end of August, a month after a federal jury awarded $1 million to a former Democratic policy adviser who argued she was underpaid. 

Every Senate employee received a raise of at least 3 percent in August, but many partisan policy staff, nonpartisan research employees and assistants received larger bumps in pay. It was all part of a new salary schedule Senate President Karen Fann and Chief of Staff Wendy Baldo worked on this summer to bring salaries in line with those paid by other government agencies, including the House. 

In an email to senators last week, Fann said she and Baldo “worked very hard on assessing (employees’) time of employment, responsibilities, skills, supervisory duties and comparison with counterparts in the House.”

Among other changes, the new salary schedules bring Baldo — who has 10 years in the role to House Chief of Staff Michael Hunter’s three and was previously making nearly $20,000 less than Hunter — to a salary of $164,800, about $4,500 less than Hunter.

Baldo previously told the Arizona Capitol Times work on new salary schedules was unconnected to former Democratic policy adviser Talonya Adams’ ongoing lawsuit, which alleged the Senate paid her less than it should because she’s a black woman and then fired her for complaining about unequal treatment. 

The Senate argued that Adams was paid less because she worked for the minority party, not because of her race or gender. With the new raises in place, most Democratic staffers still aren’t making what their Republican counterparts are, but the differences are smaller.

Democratic senior policy adviser Sean Laux had the single largest raise, a nearly $29,000 jump. He now makes about $10,000 less than the two Republican staffers with the same title — one of them, senior policy adviser Brooke White, used to outearn Laux by $34,000.

The Democratic caucus’s three other policy advisers, Selianna Robles, Vicente Reyna and Roxanna Pitones, previously made between $50,000 and $60,850. That range is now between $61,800 and $82,400, comparable to the $65,000 to $82,400 the House pays policy advisers in both parties and the $82,400 the Senate majority pays its sole non-senior policy adviser.

Democratic Chief of Staff Jeff Winkler, staff attorney Patricia Osmon and spokesman Aaron Latham each received about $10,000 in raises, putting them in line with their counterparts in the House Democratic caucus. But while top House Democratic staffers collected between $10,000 and $20,000 in bonuses over the past year, Senate spokesman Mike Philipsen said the Senate did not provide any bonuses or stipends.

Senate Democrats have long been advocating for higher wages for minority caucus employees, and Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, said caucus policy staff received even more than they asked for in a March request.

“As I understand it, the actual raises were above what we were requesting,” Bradley said. “On the policy side, from a salary point of view, things are pretty good as far as I know.”

Bradley said he welcomed Fann’s establishment of a salary schedule and ongoing work to create set standards to evaluate Senate employees based on performance. He said he hasn’t personally been involved in discussions about employee standards but knows that Democratic staff members have, and said having standards and policies in place could prevent the issues that led to Adams’ lawsuit.

“This is making some headway,” Bradley said.

Senate Democrats call for investigation of Ugenti-Rita over sexual harassment allegations

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale)
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale)

Senate Democrats today asked Senate President Karen Fann to investigate whether Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita violated the Senate’s sexual harassment policy.

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, told the Arizona Capitol Times the request is informal, and he hopes Fann will investigate without Democrats having to file a formal ethics complaint. Bradley said Democrats believe Ugenti-Rita’s alleged actions, reported in the Capitol Times last night, violate the Senate’s policy and want to see if Fann agrees.

 “We’re putting the ball in their court, saying this is where we think it falls,” Bradley said. “In a partisan world, it’s better if folks in the party they’re in initiate this.”

Fann and Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray did not return phone calls, and Senate GOP spokesman Mike Philipsen read but did not respond to a text asking to confirm whether Fann had received the Democratic caucus’s request and was considering an investigation.

The Senate’s policy requires that anyone who wants to complain about a fellow senator must first describe facts to one of the chamber’s leaders — Fann, Gray, Bradley or Assistant Senate Minority Leader Lupe Contreras.

Complaints can be resolved informally — such as through direct or mediated conversations between the complainer and the complainant — or through a formal administrative inquiry by a third-party investigator. That investigator’s report would be forwarded to the Senate Ethics Committee, which then recommends any disciplinary action for senators. 

Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, was reappointed as chair of the ethics committee at the start of the session after stepping down most of last session because she shares a district with former Rep. Don Shooter and beat him in the 2018 election. Shooter, who was expelled from the House in 2018 largely because of Ugenti-Rita’s claims that he sexually harassed her, accused Ugenti-Rita of harassing a female lobbyist in court documents filed late last week.

Senate Democrats’ request for an investigation closed a quiet and uncomfortable day in the Senate. The Senate introduced guests and did paperwork, but avoided any debates or votes and the chamber was largely empty after lawmakers took attendance.

Senate leaders not interested in investigating sexual harassment allegation against Ugenti-Rita

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, stands at her desk on the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives, before a vote to expel Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma. Ugenti-Rita’s allegations of sexual harassment by Shooter led a host of women and one man to air similar allegations against him. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Republican leadership in the Arizona state Senate has no interest in investigating allegations of sexual harassment made against Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita.

Senate Democrats on Wednesday evening said they hoped Senate President Karen Fann would investigate allegations that Ugenti-Rita, a Scottsdale Republican, sexually harassed a lobbyist in 2016 and threatened the woman in 2018. But Fann and Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray dismissed calls for an investigation in separate interviews Thursday, and rank-and-file Senate Republicans largely declined to comment. And Gray, R-Sun City, said Democrats can file a complaint if they want. But he warned Democrats to be careful because one of their own members, whom he declined to name, also could be investigated.

Rick Gray
Rick Gray

“If they want to open up all the cans of worms from years past, we can open up all the cans of worms,” Gray said. “This was years ago. It was in the other chamber. Both people have been re-elected.”

In both a statement sent early Thursday morning and comments to reporters on the floor of the Senate this afternoon, Fann, R-Prescott, said the Senate would not comment on ongoing litigation. The Senate is not a party in either lawsuit filed by former Rep. Don Shooter, who alleges the House of Representatives inadequately investigated allegations the lobbyist made against Ugenti-Rita, then a House member.

Fann said she has yet to receive a formal request for an investigation, and she’s staying focused on Senate business.

“Quite honestly, we are moving along,” Fann said. “We’re working on the budget, we’re getting our deals done so we’re just trying to keep the eye on the ball and keep this moving so we can get out of session and everybody can get out and do no more damage or harm, I could say.”

Fann said the Senate will address any new allegation about a new situation that has not already been investigated. According to the lobbyist’s deposition, one incident, in which Ugenti-Rita called the woman a liar in a public bathroom in December 2018, happened after Ugenti-Rita was elected to the Senate.

The House probe into sexual harassment did not investigate that incident, which would seem to fall under the Senate’s ban on retaliation.

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, who Wednesday afternoon said he wanted Fann to investigate Ugenti-Rita because his caucus believes her alleged actions violate the Senate’s sexual harassment policy, said he has nothing more to say until he speaks with Fann during a regularly scheduled meeting next week.

“We’ll probably discuss it,” the Tucson Democrat said. “My statement is my statement, and we’ll take it from there.”

Bradley said Wednesday it would be better for Republicans to initiate an investigation. Rank-and-file Republicans contacted by the Arizona Capitol Times have no interest in calling for one.

In a statement this afternoon, Bradley said that position hasn’t changed.

“I told (the Arizona Capitol Times) that my statement from yesterday, that the allegations warrant further investigation by President Fann, remains my statement and that I plan to discuss the situation with President Fann early next week. In no way should it be characterized that our caucus is retracting our position,” Bradley said.

Senate President Pro Tem Eddie Farnsworth cut off questions before the afternoon floor session with a “No comment. Zero comment on any of that.”

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, who was Speaker of the House during the chamber’s 2017-18 investigation into sexual harassment allegations, said it was important to remember that the lobbyist’s allegations were contained in a deposition taken by Shooter’s lawyers, using questions designed to accomplish Shooter’s purposes.

He said he stood by the House’s investigation, and that he thinks that if anyone who feels like a victim has other accusations they want investigated, they should be heard. But a Senate investigation is up to Senate leadership, he said.

“That’s really not my call to make,” he said. “I will say this. I think if somebody is feeling like a victim that they should be listened to, and I do think that their wishes for what should happen should be respected.”

Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, said a decision on an investigation was up to Fann, and that he’s comfortable  with her making a decision either way.

Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, was the only Republican senator to answer a phone call.

“I’m not going to get involved in a comment or anything on this, but thank you for calling,” she said.

And Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, said he’s avoided reading anything about the new allegations.

“I haven’t seen it, and I wasn’t planning on reading it,” he said.

Ugenti-Rita, who has refused to comment on any of the allegations, smiled and stared straight ahead when asked if she plans to resign.

Dillon Rosenblatt contributed reporting

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional comments from Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, who reiterated that his caucus’ position hasn’t changed. The story’s earlier version said Democrats are no longer pushing the issue. 

Senate plans to start budget talks around Labor Day


Republicans in the state Senate — and possibly the House — plan to start drafting next year’s budget shortly after Labor Day and have a proposal ready by the end of the year, Senate President Karen Fann told the Arizona Capitol Times Wednesday.

It’s a departure from recent history, in which the governor has presented his budget proposal during the State of the State address in January and legislators take weeks or months to come up with their own spending plan, building on the governor’s pitch and committee hearings. Fann, R-Prescott, said she’s had several senators ask to return to an older approach in which lawmakers come up with their own budget proposal at the same time as the governor.

“We are going to call a caucus meeting together with our Republican caucus Senate members and we are going to start working on our budget this fall,” Fann said. “We hope to have something pretty well put together by beginning of session that we will be able to present to the governor.”

Fann said she believed the House Republican Caucus would do the same. House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Rep. Regina Cobb, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, were both unavailable for comment.

Speaker Pro Tem T.J. Shope said he was not aware of any plan to have a budget ready before the new year, but “it would be a laudable goal.”

“Then we’d actually get to know upfront from straggler members what they’re interested in rather than waiting until the final week of session,” said Shope, R-Coolidge. “Everybody would be on the same page from the very beginning.”

And he noted it wouldn’t be unusual, considering the Ninth Floor puts together the executive budget proposal within the first week of session. If the Legislature can get a head-start on laying out lawmakers’ priorities, too, perhaps another 134-day session can be avoided in 2020.

“We need to make sure that we get a budget done earlier this next year than we did this year,” Fann said. “We should not be going into June 1 again.”

Her seatmate, Rep. Noel Campbell, said that it was critical that legislators present Ducey with a budget before the governor sets the terms of debate in his State of the State address.

Attorney Dan Barr, who advocates for open government, said a budget coming from the Legislature, not the governor, is a good start.

“The way the system is supposed to work, it’s supposed to not come from the governor’s office down but it’s supposed to come from the legislature up to the governor, having committee meetings on various things about the budget and having input going that way,” he said.

But he said having decisions made by Republican caucus members ahead of time doesn’t lead to good government. Political caucuses aren’t bound to the same open meetings laws as legislative committees and other government bodies.

“I think it’s a process where not only the public is cheated out but a lot of elected officials are,” Barr said. “Democracy is a messy process and this is trying to shortchange that.

Fann said preparing a legislative budget before the next session starts won’t prevent public input, because lawmakers will still have to hold committee hearings.

“This is no different than the governor putting his budget together when he presents it the first week of January,” Fann said. “He puts it together and we will put together our thoughts and ideas, but obviously a budget is a work in progress so from the time that we present ours to him and he presents his, obviously there will be six to eight weeks of us having hearings and budget discussions.”

Drafting a budget during the fall with only Republicans also explicitly leaves out Democrats, in a dramatic shift from how Fann promised to approach this session. This year, she repeated that she wanted a bipartisan budget deal right up until voting was underway on this year’s budget bills.

She said she plans on talking individually with Democrats again about their top priorities, but she won’t include those priorities in the initial budget because she was burned by Democrats not supporting the budget this year. It passed along party lines in both the House and the Senate.

“After what we saw this year in the last part of the session, I am reluctant to put any of their asks in right up front,” Fann said. “ It didn’t do me any good to fight for them this year.”

Sen. Martin Quezada, a Glendale Democrat who frequently criticized what he described as empty promises of bipartisanship, said he understood that Fann was upset that Democrats didn’t vote for the budget this year. He said he wasn’t surprised that Fann would decide to draft a budget without Democratic input.

“She believed that she did all that she could or should have done to involve us, and now she’s upset that we weren’t grateful for that and didn’t vote for her budget,” Quezada said. “It appears now that they’re going to just abandon that whole approach and go back to doing it on their own.”

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, meanwhile, said Fann’s choice to work on a budget before session is a “throwback” to how the Legislature used to work. When he was first elected to the House in 2002, the Legislature released its budget proposal at the same time as the governor’s, he said.

“It makes some sense to do that, especially as our folks on the other side say there’s a recession coming,” Bradley said. “They have to do some planning for what they’re thinking is going to happen. I would applaud them for trying to get ahead of the curve there, having given up most of the revenue.”

Reporters Katie Campbell and Ben Giles contributed to this story


Senate sours on lemonade as official state drink

Deposit Photos
Lemonade will not be Arizona’s state drink. 

Senate President Karen Fann was dumbfounded.

A bill to dub lemonade the official state drink of Arizona, the brainchild of a Gilbert teenager in GOP Rep. Warren Petersen’s legislative district, was about to fail a vote in the state senate.

“Members, does anyone want to change their vote before I close the board? I can’t tell if you’re being serious or not,” the Prescott Republican asked her colleagues.

They were very serious.

The bill failed today on a 12-18 vote to lighthearted applause and laughter among senators. As for why, the explanations varied.

“A lot of, I guess, the ‘opposition’ was in support of margaritas,” said Senate Minority Leader Rick Gray, R-Sun City, a callback to attempts by some Democratic lawmakers to amend Petersen’s HB 2692 in honor of an alcoholic beverage.

Not exactly, said Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson.

“I heard that rumor as well, but actually Sen. Gray brought up a good point about sugary drinks and its effects on people,” Bradley said. “If you take it seriously, and you should, water should be the choice.”

Gray did acknowledge that’s why he voted against the bill – he was one of five Republicans to do so.

“Sugar is as harmful as tobacco, and yet it’s flagrant in our society, flagrant in lemonade,” Gray said. “For me, it was just a health issue.

So which was it?

“I don’t have an answer that can explain why every person voted no. But upon reflection, I think maybe the silliness of it was part of it,” Bradley said.

Senate, fired Democratic staffer deadlock on reinstatement terms


The Arizona Senate and fired Democratic policy adviser Talonya Adams are headed back to court next week after failing to come to terms on her job reinstatement by the court-ordered deadline of Oct. 31. 

Federal Judge Douglas L. Rayes ordered last month that Adams, a black attorney fired by the Senate in 2015 after asking for a raise, must be reinstated and set a deadline of Halloween. On Friday, Adams filed a noncompliance order, saying she and the Senate’s attorney are deadlocked over “retroactive seniority, supervision and the Senate interpretations of its obligations.”

Adams, Senate Chief of Staff Wendy Baldo and Senate GOP spokesman Mike Phillipsen did not return requests for comment. Senate President Karen Fann said in a text message that she could not discuss Adams’ reinstatement because it’s an unsettled HR issue. 

Senate Democratic leadership and staff have not been involved in negotiations, Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said. 

“All I know is they haven’t reached a deal yet,” he said. “I think they’re on the verge of it.”

Adams said in court that she would accept reinstatement at a salary of no less than $100,000 — a sum significantly higher than the salaries of all other Democratic policy advisers in both the House and the Senate. 

She has expressed concerns both in court and media interviews about returning to work for Baldo and Senate Democratic Chief of Staff Jeffrey Winkler, two of the people who supervised her during her previous job at the Senate.

Adams charged, and a jury agreed, that Baldo, Winkler and then-Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, now the Secretary of State, discriminated against her based on her race and gender, and fired her in retaliation. A jury in July awarded her $1 million, though Rayes later limited the award to about $350,000 because of statutory caps on damages in discrimination cases. 

According to court documents, Adams worked for the Senate from December 2012 until February 2015 as a Democratic policy advisor, earning $60,000 per year during her whole tenure. Adams also ran for a seat in the House in 2018, finishing last in a four-way primary in Legislative District 27. 

A few weeks before she was fired, she emailed Minority Chief of Staff Jeff Winkler and then-Minority Leader Katie Hobbs with concerns about her committee workload and whether she was being paid accurately because her timesheets only reflected eight hours of work per day. Adams then met with Senate Chief of Staff Wendy Baldo, who oversees all employees, to discuss those concerns in early February.

A few days later, the Legislative Report, a sister publication of the Arizona Capitol Times, published the salaries of all state Senate employees and Adams learned that she made nearly $30,000 less than a white male policy advisor for the majority caucus who had similar committee assignments. Adams emailed Baldo the next morning to ask about protocol for requesting a raise, and Baldo told her she needed to go through Democratic leadership. 

Adams emailed all six members of the elected Democratic leadership team to ask for a meeting to discuss her position, and Hobbs told her to discuss the matter with Winkler. 

At the same time, Adams planned to travel to Seattle to care for her sick son. She was away in Washington when Winkler learned that she hadn’t completed a briefing project due that day.

On Feb. 20, 2015, Baldo, Winkler and Hobbs agreed to fire Adams, citing a lack of confidence caused by her failure to complete projects before leaving for Seattle. Adams was fired by phone later that day.

She sued in federal court in 2017, alleging that the Senate violated the federal Civil Rights Act by paying her less than white male employees and firing her in retaliation after she complained.

Senator: Dems seek campaign issue, not charter school reform

Arizona charter schools oppose more state regulation

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee this week vowed to bring back her bill imposing new rules on charter schools next year, but she said it faces a steep, uphill battle because Democrats want to campaign on the flaws of charter schools.

The Phoenix Republican’s SB1394, which passed the Senate on a party-line vote in March but died after being held in the House, would have given the attorney general more power to investigate charter schools’ purchasing decisions, limit how many family members can serve on a charter board and require disclosure if the schools contract with companies owned by board members. Democrats said the bill didn’t go far enough, but Brophy McGee contends they didn’t support it for political reasons.

“I think the system needs to be perceived as broken in order for it to remain a campaign issue,” the Phoenix Republican said.  “There’s something larger afoot. I hope I’m wrong about that.”

Brophy McGee said she has watched efforts to expand school choice in other states fail. She told fellow Senate Republicans in an April 30 caucus meeting that she sees a national movement developing in opposition not just to charter schools but to the broader issue of school choice — including vouchers and open enrollment in public school districts.

“My concern is that this is being done under the guise of reform,” Brophy McGee said. “The reforms I submitted were substantive, significant. They have been disparaged as being not that.”

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, said Democrats look forward to working on “real reform” of charter schools during the next session. They tried working with Brophy McGee this spring, he said.

“We were seeking levels of accountability she wasn’t willing to go along with,” he said. “We were negotiating and we gave her language and all of a sudden her bill appeared on the (Committee of the Whole) calendar.”

Democrats aren’t opposed to school choice, Bradley said, noting that members of his caucus have children who attend charter schools. Bradley’s wife Debra was one of the founders of an early charter school, and during his time working in the child welfare system he saw children attending both good and bad charter schools and good and bad traditional public schools.

Senate Democrats wanted greater transparency about where state money goes from the time it’s distributed to charter schools to the time those schools spend it, Bradley said.

And he dismissed the idea that Democrats were solely responsible for the fate of SB1394 this year.

“We are not in the majority,” Bradley said. “We can’t kill bills.”

State asks court to dismiss redistricting lawsuit


A lawsuit filed by top Democratic legislative leaders challenging nominations for the Independent Redistrict Commission has no merit and should be thrown out, attorneys for the panel that crafted the nominations said Wednesday.

Assistant Attorney General Michael Catlett said there’s no legal basis for the complaint by House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez and David Bradley, her Senate counterpart, that two people on the list are not legally qualified to be considered for the lone “independent” slot on the five-member redistricting panel.

Catlett does not dispute that one of them, Coconino County Robert Wilson, hosted a campaign event for President Trump in the parking lot of his Flagstaff gun store.

He also said Wilson has occasionally hosted “`meet and greets” for Republican candidates at his business. And, as political independents are entitled to do, Catlett said Wilson did vote in the Republican primary.

But Catlett said the fact remains that Wilson has been a registered independent since 2005. He said that more than meeting the terms of the Proposition 106, the 2000 voter-approved constitutional amendment creating the commission that draws the lines for legislative and congressional districts, which requires someone to be independent for just three years.

Everything else, he told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Janice Crawford is irrelevant.

“If those who drafted Proposition 106 wanted to include additional requirements to prove one’s unaffiliated status, they could have easily done so,” Catlett wrote. “The courts should not second guess that decision 20 years later.”

Catlett acknowledged that Thomas Loquvam, the other independent nominee whose status is being challenged, is registered as a lobbyist with the Arizona Corporation Commission because of his employment with utility EPCOR. And Proposition 106 says members of the redistricting commission cannot have served as a “registered paid lobbyist” in the past three years.

But Catlett contends the prohibition against lobbyists serving on the redistricting panel applies only to those who lobby the Arizona Legislature. In fact, he argues, it could never have been the intent to apply the ban to those who lobby the Corporation Commission

“The ACC’s registration scheme was not in existence when voters added the IRC process to the constitution,” he wrote, pointing out that the corporation commission didn’t create its lobbyist registration system until 2018.

Crawford has scheduled a hearing for Thursday to hear arguments.

What’s behind the legal fight is that the 2000 voter-approved system requires legislative leaders every 10 years — after each census — to choose members of the redistricting commission.

But they must select from those nominated by the separate Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, the group Catlett represents. That panel forwarded the names of 10 Republicans, 10 Democrats and five political independents.

The majority and minority leaders of both houses each pick one. Then those four name a fifth from the list of political independents.

What makes all this critical is the redistricting panel has the power to determine the political direction of the state for the coming decade. That’s because its members can draw lines that give one party or the other an edge during elections based on political registration.

Crawford needs to make at least one decision immediately: whether to bring the selection process to a halt while she considers the qualifications of Wilson and Loquvam.

The Arizona Constitution gives the first pick to the speaker of the House. But once that selection is made, each successive choice — the House minority leader, the Senate president and the Senate minority leader — has to be made within seven days or that person forfeits the pick.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers started the clock running Oct. 22 with his selection of Tucson developer David Mehl. Unless Crawford stops the clock, Fernandez needs to make her choice this Thursday or get no role at all in the process.

But Catlett is telling Crawford that delaying the process while she decides whether Wilson or Loquvam are legally nominated “would require the court to unilaterally and unfairly alter the constitutional selection deadlines.”


State’s 3 universities are powerhouses in struggle against virus

A view of Northern Arizona University campus in Flagstaff and the San Francisco Peaks.
A view of Northern Arizona University campus in Flagstaff and the San Francisco Peaks. DEPOSIT PHOTOS

Times of crisis test us in many different ways. Usually, in ways we feel like we could have happily lived without. But it is also the case that as we move through difficulties, it sharpens our focus and brings with it a unique opportunity to learn and to appreciate things we usually take for granted. The public health pandemic that has rattled the world is a crisis that is far from over and that means the window for learning and embracing gratitude extends with it.

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

The continuing contributions of doctors, nurses, paramedics and all medical professionals have been front and center since we first began seeing spread of the virus across the United States early this year. We have seen heroic efforts from health care professionals who serve us all in times of need, no matter who we are or where we come from. Less obvious, has been the work of men and women who have jobs in public transit, in grocery stores and in delivery services. The immediate needs of society have been met due to this workforce.

Quietly, and mostly behind the scenes, Arizona has had another powerhouse at work for its citizens during this crisis – our public universities.

Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona have made enormous contributions as first responders since the first case of the coronavirus was discovered in Arizona in January.

As we learn from what has happened and appreciate what we have, one of our realizations is that our public investment in ASU, NAU and UofA brings a return that we seldom fully appreciate.

Crisis brings clarity.

The contributions made to the state by Arizona’s three public universities since COVID-19 changed our lives have been nothing short of amazing.

Charlene Fernandez
Charlene Fernandez

ASU has converted its state-of-the-art research infrastructure at the Biodesign Institute into a fully FDA-approved and clinically-certified lab capable of performing thousands of COVID-19 tests per day. In May, in an effort to make COVID-19 diagnostic testing easier and more readily available to Arizonans, researchers at Arizona State University developed the state’s first saliva-based test.

Along with that, responding to the need for individuals who test positive to be rapidly isolated to prevent the spread of COVID-19, ASU has registered more than 200 students from the Watts College and Colleges of Nursing and Health Innovation to handle contact tracing across the state. In addition, ASU is working on ways to employ smartphone-enabled systems to aid contact tracing efforts.

ASU’s virology team is working to aid vaccine development efforts using wastewater-based epidemiology to monitor the spread of coronavirus. Additionally, the university has activated a personal protective equipment network that makes 300 3-D printers available to produce equipment and has delivered more than 5,600 pieces of PPE.

Shortly after Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency, Dr. David Harris, director of the Biorepository at the University of Arizona, shifted his lab’s focus and resources to create the materials needed to produce CDC-approved COVID-19 diagnostic test kits. These collection kits are crucial to detect virus presence and identify infected patients. Dr. Harris’ team worked around-the-clock to produce and ship more than 14,000 kits to health care providers and communities across the state at no cost to the recipients. Many of the kits went to rural and tribal communities, which were unable to secure kits on their own.

David Bradley
David Bradley

UofA later developed what is possibly the most accurate antibody test in the nation and partnered with the state to offer the test to 250,000 first responders and health care workers throughout Arizona. There are more than 35 testing locations across the 15 counties.

As home to Arizona’s two public medical schools, UofA made the move in early April to allow qualifying fourth-year medical students the opportunity to graduate early. These new doctors were able to enter the workforce early to help the state combat the virus. Additionally, UofA public health students volunteer their time and expertise to assist the Pima County Health Department with contact tracing efforts.

NAU has been particularly engaged in work with communities, including Arizona’s tribal nations, that have fewer health care professionals and less access to one of the most important resources available during this pandemic – broadband internet. NAU’s Information Technology Services received special permission from The Navajo Nation to install Wi-fi devices at the Navajo Nation Library and Museum property in Window Rock and the Good Shepherd Mission in Fort Defiance, the location of the NAU American Indian Nursing Program.

Rep. Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa)
Rep. Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa)

NAU’s Center for Health Equity Research has also partnered with Coconino County to assist with investigating cases, public outreach and education regarding test results. NAU professors have assembled an team to develop a new COVID-19 test technology by applying concepts from physics, rather than biochemistry. And NAU’s COVID-19 Testing Center (CTSC), part of the Pathogen and Microbiome Institute, is working with scientists at Vault Pharma, an emerging biotechnology company, to test candidate vaccines against the novel coronavirus.

From northern Arizona to southern Arizona and across the state, our three public universities have responded locally to this global public health emergency with creativity, commitment and with resources.

As a global health crisis has tested the state of Arizona in 2020, the state’s institutions of higher learning have taught all of us something – that our investment in Arizona’s universities not only serves the students who attend, it serves every single citizen who lives here in ways we can appreciate best when it is needed the most.

Sen. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, is Senate president; Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, is House minority leader; Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, is Senate minority leader, and Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, is speaker of the House of Representatives.

The Breakdown: Have you no honor?


How exactly do you work with someone you believe has betrayed you?

That’s a question some lawmakers are asking themselves about the state’s county prosecutors after what some saw as an 11th hour reversal on criminal justice reform measures.

An attorney plagiarized a significant portion of her application to the Court of Appeals, then changed it after our reporter called shenanigans.

And session may be over, but your state lawmakers are still making waves.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes and Stitcher.


Music in this episode included “Creative Minds” and “Energy” by Bensound.

The Breakdown: Just roll with it


From left, House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, House Speaker Rusty Bowers, Senate President Karen Fann and Senate Minority Leader David Bradley await the governor at the historic Capitol building on Jan. 31, 2019. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
From left, House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, House Speaker Rusty Bowers, Senate President Karen Fann and Senate Minority Leader David Bradley await the governor at the historic Capitol building on Jan. 31, 2019.

With no clear resolution ahead in the battle between the governor and Republican legislators, budget talks could take a turn toward empowering the minority party.

Republicans aren’t holding back on some of their top priorities, though. Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are back again, and the debate is every bit as fiery as you’d expect.

And we’ll have an update on where talks around protections for vulnerable adults are at this point in the legislative session.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes and Stitcher.

Music in this episode included “Creative Minds,” “Funky Element” and “Energy” by Bensound.

The Breakdown: On Wednesdays we have news

Arizona Power Supply (APS) chairman Don Brandt testifies before the Arizona Corporation Commission, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Arizona Power Supply (APS) chairman Don Brandt testifies before the Arizona Corporation Commission, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Maricopa County “top cop” Bill Montgomery’s got a new job, and while he’s trying on black robes half the lawyers in Phoenix are gunning for his old one. 

Don Brandt spent a day in a metaphorical hot seat answering questions about the literal hot houses APS created by shutting off customers’ power.

And a month after a former Democratic Senate employee won a lawsuit over poor pay, the Senate handed out five-figure raises to partisan staff.



Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes and Stitcher.


Music in this episode included “Creative Minds,” “Funky Element” and “Energy” by Bensound.

Time running out for some sex abuse victims to file suit

The depression woman sit on the floor with sexual harassment concept

Time is quickly running out for many who were sexually assaulted or abused years ago as children to try to get some justice from perpetrators or those who allowed it to occur.

An Arizona law approved last year scrapped existing statutes that required victims to sue before the 20th birthday or forfeit their legal rights. Now they have until age 30.

That portion of the law is permanent.

What is not is a temporary legal “window” that legislators agreed to open for those whose time to file suit already had expired. They have only until the end of this year to bring their claims.

But even with the new opportunity it won’t be easy.

To get the necessary votes, proponents of the change had to agree to some curbs that could make proving the case more difficult.

First, those in this second category have to prove their claims by “clear and convincing evidence.” That’s a higher standard than “preponderance of the evidence,” the balancing test used by jurors now — and still available for those who sue by age 30 — to determine whether it’s more likely than not that the incident occurred.

Any lawsuit in that group against a church or organization also must provide proof that someone in authority not only knew about the incidents of abuse but either did nothing or deliberately covered it up.

And there’s something else: Anyone bringing one of these older cases can seek only actual damages. They could not collect punitive damages, also called “exemplary damages,” which are designed to both punish an individual or organization for outrageous acts as well as make an example of them to deter similar conduct by others.

Sens. Heather Carter and Paul Boyer hug May 28, 2019, at a ceremonial signing for a bill that will expand opportunities for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to sue their abusers. The two freshman Republican senators defied party leadership and stalled the state's 2019-20 budget to seek a vote on the bill. With Carter losing her seat in the 2020 GOP primary and Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, losing in the 2020 general election, Boyer is the last of Senate Republicans who bucked their party and the Democratic caucus’ biggest hope of helping them stop GOP legislation and pass Democratic bills. (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)
Sens. Heather Carter and Paul Boyer hug May 28, 2019, at a ceremonial signing for a bill to expand opportunities for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to sue their abusers.  (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)

In fact, that issue of money was so divisive that it hung up not just the legislation but also the $11.8 billion state budget as Sens. Paul Boyer R-Phoenix, and Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, refused to provide the necessary votes spending plan until they got a change in the law they believe will help victims and provide a financial incentive to organizations to weed out the predators in their midst.

But that limit was necessary to bring foes onboard the plan.

For example, Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, said the legislation was being pushed by trial lawyers eager to collect legal fees. And he said that providing more time to sue doesn’t help victims as no amount of money can compensate them for what they endured.

But Boyer said the law is about more than getting justice. He said that, in many of these cases, the same people who had abused these victims were still in positions of responsibility — and still working with children — who need to be exposed.

The 2019 vote came with some personal stories.

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, told of going to Catholic seminary at age 13 and his “complicated seduction” by an older seminarian who would later become “one of the most notorious child sex abusers in Arizona history.”

“I kept the ship afloat, I found a way,” Bradley told colleagues. Now a therapist, he said others were not so fortunate.

“I attended their funerals, visited them in prisons, witnessed their destruction personally and the many lives that they have touched and were adversely affected,” he said. “The abused sometimes became the abuser.”

Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, told of a family member who was victimized as a child, as did Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek.

And Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, took to the Senate floor during debate on the measure to detail how had she had been raped repeatedly as a child by her grandfather.

“I didn’t know it wasn’t my fault,” she told colleagues. “It wasn’t until I was in my 40s I realized I was not his only victim.”

Advocate and abuse survivor Bridie Farrell speaks June 26, 2019, about her abuse experience during a press conference at the Downtown Hilton. Farrell, who was only 15 years old when she was abused by a speed skating teammate who was 32, lobbied for an Arizona law that expands the statute of limitations for sex abuse survivors to sue. PHOTO BY GRAYSON SCHMIDT/CRONKITE NEWS
Advocate and abuse survivor Bridie Farrell speaks June 26, 2019, about her abuse experience during a press conference at the Downtown Hilton. Farrell, who was only 15 years old when she was abused by a speed skating teammate who was 32, lobbied for an Arizona law that expands the statute of limitations for sex abuse survivors to sue. PHOTO BY GRAYSON SCHMIDT/CRONKITE NEWS

But much of the push came from Bridie Farrell, a former speed skating champion who came to Phoenix to testify about how, at age 15, she was sexually assaulted by a much older silver Olympic medalist while at a training facility. She said it took her years to come to terms with what happened to her.

Farrell said the ability to pursue not just those who committed the abuse but those who knew is critical.

“Survivors don’t want to take down the LDS church or the Catholic Church or the Boy Scouts or, my case, the United States Olympic Committee,” she told those at the 2019 signing ceremony.

“We want to ensure that no child has to go through what we went through,” Farrell said. “And that’s all this has been about from the very beginning.”

Farrell herself got to take advantage of a similar change in law enacted in 2019 by New York lawmakers, filing suit against the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and her alleged abuser, four-time Olympian Andy Gabel.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said those who opposed the initial plan were not trying to protect abusers but simply wanted a question of balance and an opportunity for those accused of abusing children years ago to defend themselves.

Fann, a former mayor, worried that someone could approach a city and claim he or she was molested 40 years ago at a community pool.

“How does a municipality possibly defend that,” she said.

“The employees are long gone, there’s no way to prove that it ever happen,” Fann explained as the bill was being debated. “What happens is the insurance companies say, ‘We’re going to settle out of court because we’re not going to spend a half a million dollars trying to defend something that we cannot prove.”

Despite the unanimous vote, the process of getting there did leave some hard feelings.

“I have been threatened personally and politically,” Carter said about her refusal to vote for the budget until lawmakers agreed to make major changes in the time limits for victims to sue. And Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, lashed out at Carter and Boyer for taking that stance, saying they were holding the Legislature hostage.

Carter conceded her role in delaying adoption of the budget. But she had no apology, accusing those who pressured her of using “school yard bully tactics.”

“Nothing that we have experienced the past two weeks comes even remotely close to what a victim of child sexual abuse experiences,” she said. “That’s why I held out.”

In the end, even Gov. Doug Ducey found the issue so important he agreed to a signing ceremony at the Capitol less than 24 hours after the final compromise was unanimously approved.

“This we know: Victims need time, time to process, time to understand what has happened and to come forward,” he said. “And they deserve the ability to come forward.”


Vets, deregulation, corrections, education top Ducey’s 2020 priorities

Gov. Doug Ducey addresses the Legislature on Monday, with House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Bowers in the background. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Gov. Doug Ducey addresses the Legislature on Monday, with House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann in the background. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday gave off his sixth State of the State address, reflecting on the last decade and calling to further his universal occupational licensing initiative, trim government and support an economy that grows with Arizona.

“As we enter a new decade, things look a lot different than when we entered the last one,” Ducey said, adding that the state has increased the amount of manufacturing jobs and has led the nation in transportation, science, technology and health care.

“We got here by doing things our way, The Arizona Way. And I’m here to tell you: You ain’t seen nothing yet,” Ducey said.

In his address to the Legislature, Ducey laid out a wide-ranging policy agenda that includes spending priorities in public K-12 and college education, infrastructure, criminal justice, water policy, tax cuts for veterans, and proposing insurers cover mental health.

“We can never repay [veterans], but we can at least do our part to demonstrate our appreciation,” Ducey said. “The government shouldn’t be taxing their service to country, it should be honoring their service to country. Our budget does this, by eliminating all state income taxes on our veterans’ military pensions once and for all.”

By doing this, Ducey hopes to make the state “home base” for veterans across the country and a place where they can get the employment and health care they need, especially treatment for mental illness to help prevent suicide. 

That’s an issue Ducey also hopes to broaden and address across the state by working with Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, and Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, to require insurance companies to cover mental health as they would physical health.

The speech serves as a rough blueprint for each chamber and will define the direction of the 2020 legislative session.

In attendance were over a dozen guests Ducey invited, including Cindy McCain, Phoenix Fire Chief Kara Kalkbrenner, residents of the Navajo Nation, students of Ducey’s teacher academy, Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill. 


Weeks before the speech, Ducey said education was his number one priority and it clearly was – taking up a significant portion of the speech. The goals Ducey set were broad and will be revealed in more detail when his budget is released this week.

Building on a promise Ducey made after the 2019 sine die he plans to expand Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program for students on the Navajo Nation so they can attend a school across the state line into New Mexico. Students in Window Rock had been using voucher money on a school not in the state and received a demanding letter from the Arizona Department of Education requesting the money back or they would lose their ESA.

A last minute bill was introduced and Ducey signed it holding the families harmless from reimbursing the state. The bill gave those students approval to keep spending at the school, which is still on the Navajo Nation, but they would have to find a permanent option for schooling after July 2020. 

“This bill is only a temporary remedy for the children and families who currently participate in the scholarship program. The impacted children will be allowed to attend a school that has served them well for years for just one more school year – all the time knowing that they will not be able to continue, unless a permanent solution is enacted,” Ducey wrote when he signed the bill. 

Ducey said in his speech the program “is truly something that makes Arizona unique.”

“Here, kids are not trapped in failing schools. And despite what you hear from some folks on the national campaign trail, school choice isn’t about charter schools versus private schools versus district schools. It’s about kids and families. “

The demand for school safety grants has far exceeded the $20 million lawmakers allotted, but the Education Department won’t request lawmakers allocate the full $97.5 million it would cost to fund all the requests next year. That is because even if the Governor’s Office and lawmakers decided to shell out enough funding to cover every school’s request, there are too many requests for schools to find people to fill. 

In total, schools requested more than 1,100 positions, 40 percent of which were for counselors, 34 percent were for social workers and another 26 percent were for school resource officers, according to the department. Richie Taylor, Hoffman’s spokesman, said that just like with teachers, there simply aren’t enough cops, social workers and counselors in Arizona to go around.

“The difficulty is even if the governor was going to give us $80 million, which isn’t going to happen, we would run into significant pipeline issues of schools not being able to find people to fill the positions that are funded,” he said. “So there’s a sweet spot in there somewhere that’s more than we have now but less than what was requested.” 

Further complicating the issue, if a district reaches a certain ratio of school resource officers to supervisors it has to hire a sergeant to manage the officers, which isn’t covered under the grant funding.

Economic growth

Part of what has sped the state’s economic progress, Ducey said, is stripping unneeded regulations and “red tape” that hinder business growth and development, which he continued to do on Monday. Ducey said he rescinded 23 executive orders, eliminating 18 boards and commissions he said were unneeded, and 2,289 regulations, the equivalent of $134 million in tax cuts.

He announced he issued a new executive order that requires any government entity that wants a new regulation to identity three it can eliminate. He also called on state boards that are “stock-piling cash and sitting on bank accounts of millions in reserves,” to freeze fees they charge, including occupational licensing fees for all veterans and their families.

Building on the completion of the 202 loop, Ducey announced he would, literally, build bipartisan bridges, namely the one that crosses the Gila River. The new bridge would be part of the state’s larger plan to widen I-10 from Phoenix to Tucson, replacing the 56-year-old one, which 62,000 people drive over every day. 

Ducey laid out earmarks that would theoretically increase economic opportunity for rural Arizonans, which still lack high-speed internet and whose business leaders are, on average, much older than urban and faster growing areas. To help, Ducey said he’s tripling the spending in rural broadband grants and $50 million in “smart highway corridors.

In addition to a $4 million grant for expanding the so-called “manufacturing corridor,” Ducey wants the state to work with Local First Arizona to survey struggling areas with aging business and community leadership to address their needs.


Ducey also said he’s pushing for a few policies that would change the way the state approaches the criminal justice system and the people in it. One change is simple: renaming the state agency that deals with that to the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Re-entry, which some of Ducey’s staff said before the speech aims to clarify the mission of the department and the values it pushes.

More tangibly, Ducey said he wants to give the department $10 million in state money to help staff counselors and start up drug rehabilitation programs to help reduce prison recidivism rates. He also said the state will, at some point, shut down Florence Prison, which is aging.

It wouldn’t be cost-effective to fix it, Ducey and staff said, so they’re going to shut most of it down, keep the death row chamber open, but move prisoners and corrections officers to Eyman Prison and a few other state prisons, and some private prisons.

Where the money for that prison and its resources will go will be detailed in the coming budget. But there was no mention of revamping sentencing laws from Ducey, and his staff said there are no current plans for any.

Child safety

The Department of Child Safety is also getting some help. Ducey is proposing $19 million in new funding for the department, which would go towards a 10 percent raise for caseworkers and more assistance, about 5% more, for kinship care, according to Ducey’s staff. 

Sanctuary cities

Ducey called for the Legislature to approve a ballot referendum, introduced by Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, to allow Arizona residents to decide whether to allow sanctuary cities in the state.  

It’s illegal across the state, but the enforcing language is not voter-protected, meaning that this vote would potentially put that decision in the state constitution, his staff said.


Despite water management being such a hot topic last year, Ducey spent little time talking about it.  

Although the Legislature fast-tracked the delicately debated Drought Contingency Plan, which they couldn’t afford to tweak or reject, its work on water is far from over. Lawmakers’ next urgent issue is managing its depleting groundwater supply in urban and rural areas.

Those who are historically against regulation and government oversight, including rural farmers, Republican lawmakers and Ducey are “open minded” to applying some of the same regulations in urban areas to ensure those places grow responsibly and sustainably.

“We will continue to protect Lake Mead, the Colorado River, groundwater, and our ag jobs,” Ducey said, adding that the state “shouldn’t be dealing with this issue one generation at a time.”

“We need a strategic ongoing effort to turn Arizona into the international capital for water innovation. Look at all  that Israel has accomplished. Why not Arizona? We’ve been a leader on water, and with this approach, we will be an even stronger leader far into the future.”

There are several bills that propose a range of solutions waiting to be heard and there are several committees formed by the Legislature that will set precedent for rural areas and prepare the state for what’s projected to be a hotter and drier future.

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said Ducey’s speech epitomized the differences in their world views. 

Bradley said Ducey focuses on the economy and sees the $1 billion rainy day fund as government running smoothly, while Democrats see it as the hollowing out of government. 

Bradley said he liked Ducey’s proposal for a stipend for people raising their grandchildren, but it’s an idea he tried to pass 10 years ago and one that a fellow Democrat tried last year. 

“It always amuses me that they abscond with our ideas after they’ve percolated for a few years,” Bradley said. 

Correction: A previous version of a caption for this story erroneously identified Senate President Karen Fann as Karen Bowers.