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Arizona House to resume work despite Senate vote to adjourn

Arizona House of Representatives
Arizona House of Representatives

The Arizona House plans to return to work this week after a two-month recess triggered by the coronavirus pandemic and despite the Senate’s decision to try to adjourn for the year.
A top priority is enacting a measure that would shield businesses that reopen from lawsuits, protecting them from being financially responsible if workers or members of the public are infected, unless they are grossly negligent. Majority Republicans who control the Legislature and GOP Gov. Doug Ducey have sought such protections, saying they’re needed to prevent frivolous litigation that could damage businesses.
But a draft of the bill circulated by backers also removes criminal penalties for businesses that ignore emergency virus orders Ducey has issued. And it bars the state from suspending or revoking business licenses for violations.
It’s unclear if the governor would agree to such provisions. “We don’t comment on draft legislation,” Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak said Sunday.
Violations of the orders, most of which have been allowed to expire, are a misdemeanor and carry a potential six-month jail term and a $5,000 fine. Bars are the only major businesses still under shut-down orders.
“I think the penalties that are in the emergency declarations are just a little harsh,” Republican Sen. David Livingston said Saturday. “It still leaves a (civil) penalty in there, it just takes it down to $100.
Livingston was among a handful of Republican senators who opposed ending the session.
House lawmakers plan to introduce a bill that would authorize spending $88 million in emergency federal coronavirus cash for child care providers.
But Republicans who control the House also expect to start moving a host of Senate legislation that has been stalled since the Legislature recessed after passing an emergency budget on March 23. Senators returned on May 8 for a brief session where they voted overwhelmingly to end the session, but the House must agree.
Passing additional legislation will test the Senate’s resolve to adjourn.
The Rules Committee meets Monday, and floor sessions could start Tuesday or Wednesday,
House Majority Leader Warren Petersen said Saturday that the plan is to take up more than 60 Senate bills in the coming days. That includes holding committee hearings, floor debate and votes.
“Most people at least want to get work done — I think there’s even some of the Democrats that think it’s important to get the liability bill done,” Petersen said. “The stay-at-home order was lifted on the 15th, and we want to be safe and use best practices, but we want to finish the people’s work as best we can.
“But we’ll see — you never know what’s going to happen,” he said.
Democrats are mainly united in wanting to end the session, and — with 29 members — they only need two Republicans to vote for adjournment to upend the plan to resume regular work.
Some Republicans, including Rep. Anthony Kern, prefer to join the Senate in ending the session now.
Kern, who chairs the powerful Rules Committee and can stop all legislation from making it to the floor, said other than the liability proposal and potentially a couple other virus related bills he believes the House should close up shop for the year.
“Other than that, I don’t see a reason to stay in session,” he said.
But Kern wouldn’t commit to voting to adjourn.
Senate President Karen Fann said she would wait to see what the House actually does before taking any action.
“I can’t have people sitting around for three or four days, or three or four weeks,” she said.
Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers isn’t sure what will transpire, although he advised against holding committee hearings that some chairs insist should resume. And he said plans to send legislation to the Senate when Fann’s chamber has voted to adjourn may not end well.
“I have no shortage of people that dream big and have great plans, and I will see how many work,” Bowers said. “The point is to send over some bills; if they pass them great, if not we’ll know what the pitch of the roof is. And I hope that will temper some of the zeal of some of my members.”

Big push on ballot referrals ends with just 2 passed

The Arizona Legislature referred two measures to the ballot this year, more than lawmakers referred in 2016 when they instead focused their attention on trying to defeat several citizen initiatives.

In total, legislators introduced 37 ballot referrals during the 2018 session, up from 23 in 2017 and tied with 37 in 2016. Lawmakers did not refer any measures to the 2016 ballot, and only two measures were referred by the Legislature in 2014.

While the majority of ballot referrals failed to receive both chambers’ approval, there was a greater push by legislative leadership to send measures up to the Secretary of State’s Office this year compared to previous years.

Of the 37 ballot referrals introduced, 12 measures were given the OK by members in the chamber it originated in. Most stalled in the other chamber, and at least two never came up for a second vote in their original chamber after being amended and passed out of the other.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (Photo by Katie Campbell/ Arizona Capitol Times)
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (Photo by Katie Campbell/ Arizona Capitol Times)

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said lawmakers concentrated their efforts in 2016 on attempting to defeat the minimum wage increase and the recreational marijuana legislation. They were also ready to fight a third citizen initiative that would have asked voters to cap the salaries of hospital executives but the measure didn’t make it onto the ballot, he said.

Instead of adding to the number of measures on the ballot, Mesnard said, lawmakers decided to run a “vote ‘no’ on everything” campaign.

“We thought there was going to be so many on there that were bad that it would be easier to have a ‘vote no’ campaign,” he said. “Had we known the hospital CEO one wasn’t going to make it, maybe we would have rethought not having any others.”

He said while voters will have the opportunity to decide the fate of the school voucher expansion law in November, and possibly vote on at least three other citizen initiatives, the Legislature still felt comfortable sending its own measures to the ballot.

“2016 was a strategic decision,” he said. “This year, it was clear we weren’t going to have a ‘vote yes’ or ‘vote no on everything.’ We will just have a smorgasbord of measures.”

The final measure lawmakers approved this session was HCR2007, sponsored by Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction.

If approved by voters, the measure would effectively eliminate the Clean Elections Commission’s oversight over “dark money” spending and other independent authority and place it under the authority of the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council.

The House approved the measure, 33-24, following a robust debate in which several Republican lawmakers accused Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, of impugning the body as a whole in the final moments of the night after she said lawmakers were controlled by dark money. The Senate approved the measure, 17-12.

Earlier in the session lawmakers also approved HCR2032, sponsored by Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, which would allow for changes to the public retirement system that otherwise are prohibited by the Arizona Constitution.

Interestingly, legislators asked the Secretary of State’s Office to return SCR1023, which they approved last year and also dealt with changes to the public retirement system, and replace it with HCR2032 on the ballot.

Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

State Elections Director Eric Spencer said his agency received the Legislature’s request a few weeks ago, and the Secretary of State’s Office transmitted SCR1023 back to Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, and substituted it with HCR2032. Spencer said it’s fairly rare to supersede a ballot referral, but it has been done before.

One referral that almost made it out was SCR1007, which was mistakenly sent to the Secretary of State’s Office in March following what House Majority Leader John Allen, R-Scottsdale, called a “clerical error. The House voted to reconsider its action, however, the second vote never took place.

A notable measure that didn’t make it onto the ballot was Yarbrough’s SCR1034, which sought to overhaul the Independent Redistricting Commission.

The measure was voted down shortly before the Legislature adjourned sine die after Republicans Bob Worsley, of Mesa, and Kate Brophy McGee, of Phoenix, joined Democrats in killing the measure.

And no one was more surprised than the Senate president, he said, especially given that the resolution passed out of the chamber with 17 Republican “yes” votes the first time around.

Another measure that failed to make it onto the ballot was HCR2017, a clean energy measure backed by Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest utility, that would have competed with the Clean Energy for Healthy Arizona initiative backed by California mega-donor Tom Steyer.

HCR2006, which sought to extend the length of terms for members of the House and Senate from two to four years, resurfaced in the final week of the session. The Senate approved a floor amendment that would have left the length of terms for representatives intact, but while bill sponsor Rep. Drew John, R-Safford, said he would have concurred to the changes, the bill never went up for a vote in the Senate.

Several of Mesnard’s measures also failed to get through the Senate after being approved in the House. HCR2029 would have asked voters to amend the state Constitution to prohibit taxes from being levied on the first $2 million of full cash value of personal property that is acquired in 2019 and used for agricultural purposes or business.

This is the third year Mesnard has introduced the measure, and despite unanimous approval in the Senate Finance Committee, it never came up for a floor vote.

“Once again it got shelved here at the end,” he said.

Bill helps West Valley homeless seniors

welfare

A Senate bill could lead to converting a hotel into a shelter to cope with a growing population of homeless seniors in the West Valley. 

The bill, SB1514, would allocate $5 million to the Department of Economic Security for the creation of emergency shelter beds for homeless adults 55 and older. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, said it would create the West Valley’s first permanent emergency homeless shelter.

According to Maricopa County’s 2020 Point-in-Time report, which counts homeless populations, the number of unsheltered people counted in the West Valley increased 219% from 2017 to 2020, from 139 to 443. 

“There are no shelters in the West Valley region to support this growing need,” Livingston said in a written statement. “Thus, people are camping and more tents are popping up. A shelter will get more folks off the streets.”

The location for the proposed shelter has not been finalized, but options are being explored, including hotels that could be quickly converted into housing. The shelter would provide a safe environment for seniors year-round, helping them with the Veterans Administration and accessing medical care, Livingston said. 

Livingston’s plan for the shelter is inspired by a housing project by Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS), the largest and longest-serving homeless shelter in Arizona. In June 2020, CASS opened Project Haven, a hotel-turned-homeless shelter that houses around 85 vulnerable seniors. 

David Livingston
David Livingston

The shelter will only stay open until September 2021, and CASS doesn’t have enough beds to meet the growing demand. SB1514, however, could make the concept permanent, CASS CEO Lisa Glow told the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Senate Bill 1514 will not only help us save the lives of the growing number of seniors becoming homeless, it will allow us to begin to tackle the growing crisis for senior citizens who are becoming homeless, most for the first time in their lives, with a better model and a more cost-effective model,” Glow said.

It costs about $10,000 to shelter someone for a year, but if they remain on the streets the cost is $31,000 in public health, police and emergency room services, Glow said. Of the record number of street deaths in Maricopa County last year, one-third of them were people 55 and older, she said. 

Needs for affordable housing and shelter for homeless community members have been rising in Arizona for years. A Maricopa County report shows an 18% increase in unsheltered homeless people from 2019 to 2020.

The rise in homelessness in the Valley reflects national trends spurred by factors like rising housing costs and further impacted by Covid. A 2020 academic study projected 21,295 people experiencing homelessness – 4.5% of the national homeless population – could require hospitalization at a Covid infection rate of 40%.

The study indicated Maricopa County was one of the areas where the homeless population was highest-impacted by Covid in terms of hospitalizations, critical care and fatalities.

Arizona AARP Director Dana Kennedy said issues like affordable housing availability, transportation accessibility and rising cost of living are large contributing factors to seniors becoming homeless, and the need for assistance to seniors in the West Valley goes beyond emergency shelters.

“I think we’ve had a hard time making any leeway regarding legislation to lower the cost of prescription drugs, I think SNAP benefits, the food assistance programs, that needs to be increased,” Kennedy said. “I mean, I would like to see more services to prevent somebody from becoming homeless in the first place.”

Last week, the Phoenix City Council approved $4 million in funding from the CARES Act and other sources to support CASS and the Human Services Campus, which is a partnership of 16 organizations that offer services to people experiencing homelessness in Phoenix.

Glow said with CASS unable to keep up with demand for services, regional shelters like the proposed West Valley shelter are needed to help people get into secure housing.

Last year’s version of the bill, SB1283, passed through the Senate 27-3 before the pandemic ended the session. This year, SB1514 has bipartisan sponsorship of over 50 legislators and passed through the Senate by the same margin as last session on February 18. 

“Because this is a region-wide issue, there are on-going conversations between shelter providers and local government leaders across Maricopa County,” Livingston wrote. “This could be a first of many locations to deal with the growing homeless crisis.”

Bill proposes English as language that governs insurance contracts

A Senate panel voted Wednesday to let insurers disavow foreign-language versions of the contracts they provide, a move one lawmaker said will allow companies to “give people the shaft.”

HB 2083 would spell out that the English language version of any policy governs any dispute between insurance companies and their customers, even if a version in another language prepared by the company says something else. It would, however, require that there be a disclosure on the non-English version that it has no binding effect, no matter the difference.

Rep. David Livingston (R-Peoria)
Rep. David Livingston (R-Peoria)

The measure, approved on a 4-3 party line vote by the Senate Finance Committee, is being sponsored at the behest of the industry by Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria. He said the presumption of validity for the English version starts with the 2006 voter-approved constitutional provision measure declaring English the official language of the state.

But Livingston said the change actually will help those who don’t speak English.

“There are some words, especially technical words, in contracts that don’t translate exactly,” he said. Livingston said that can result in disputes about which version governs.

“The insurance companies are saying, ‘I’m not going to take that risk,’ ” he said, deciding to furnish only an English version even when customers don’t speak that language. Livingston said his bill would encourage insurers to provide versions in other languages knowing that these can’t be used against them in court.

But it was precisely that point that annoyed foes.

“If you’re saying that only English governs, and the customer is provided with a Spanish or any other language translation of the contract, and they sign on as a customer in good faith thinking that’s what they’re doing, and then there’s a dispute and it’s a translation problem, you’ve just transferred the risk and liability onto the customer,” said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson.

Livingston, a former insurance agent, said the alternative is having no translation at all. He said that has meant situations where a couple that does not speak English ends up bringing a bilingual child to the office of the insurance company to help a parent understand the basics of coverage.

And Livingston said that his legislation actually will help those in non-English speaking communities, providing them more opportunities to get coverage. Farley sniffed at that contention.

“If the insurance company wants the business enough, to be able to ask for the business and have that contract, they should be willing to stand behind the contract in whatever language they have translated it for,” he said.

“It sounds like a good idea,” said Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson. “But then they give the people the shaft.”

Marc Osborn, lobbyist for Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., said there are protections against insurers using a deliberately mistranslated version to defraud customers.

He said nothing in the legislation would overrule existing regulations that require insurance companies to use licensed translators who have been approved by the state Department of Insurance. And Osborn said there are laws prohibiting false advertising.

The measure, which already has been approved by the House, now needs to go to the full Senate.

Brnovich at arm’s length in election suit

In this Nov. 5, 2020, file photo, the Supreme Court in Washington. The Supreme Court has rejected Republicans' last-gasp bid to reverse Pennsylvania’s certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the electoral battleground. The court without comment Tuesday, Dec. 8, refused to call into question the certification process in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
In this Nov. 5, 2020, file photo, the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Arizona is seeking a voice in the lawsuit Texas has brought against some other states won by President-elect Joe Biden.

But exactly who Attorney General Mark Brnovich will side with remains unclear.

In legal papers filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, Brnovich said he wants to file a brief to argue the importance of “election integrity.” And he said he wants a quick decision in the case.

What’s telling, though, is that Brnovich is not joining with 17 other Republican attorneys general who filed their own brief with the Supreme Court siding with Texas. That asks the justices to back Texas in its bid to block a final vote by the Electoral College while the court considers allegations that illegal changes in laws in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin created the opportunity for fraud.

Instead, Brnovich aide Ryan Anderson said his boss wants to ensure that any ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court about laws and rules that govern election laws – in this case, in particular, about the presidential race – do not undermine Arizona’s own regulations. And Anderson said as far as his boss is concerned, Arizona does elections right, which is why it wasn’t sued by Texas as were the four other states where, like Arizona, Biden won the popular vote.

“Had Arizona been sued, that would have put our office in a situation where we would have had to decide what we would have filed and what we would have done,” Anderson said. That would have put Brnovich in the position of having to defend not only the state but the election – and Biden’s win – against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Mark Brnovich
Mark Brnovich

And Anderson left no question about what Brnovich thinks of how Arizona conducted the election.

“The Arizona attorney general will not be advocating to overturn the election results in Arizona,” he said.

Anderson said Brnovich does share one sentiment with his Texas counterpart.

“We all agree that the integrity of our elections are important,” he said. “And there are too many Americans who do not trust the outcome of the election.”

But Anderson said that Arizona’s interest in the legal fight is different than that of the other Republican attorneys general.

The lawsuit filed by Paxton charges that changes made this year to election procedures in the four battleground states, many due to the impact of the pandemic, are illegal.

In essence, he said that the changes, some enacted by courts, weakened ballot-integrity statutes. And that, in turn, has created the opportunity for fraud, though he does not allege any actual instances where that has occurred.

Courts in each of those states have dismissed similar claims. But Paxton is arguing that it is the responsibility of the nation’s highest court to intercede and declare that the procedures used in those four states were illegal and therefore the results should not be allowed to stand.

Anderson said it is noteworthy that Texas did not sue Arizona despite the fact that the election returns, which remain standing after several legal challenges, are awarding the state’s 11 electoral votes to Biden.

He said some of that is due to the fact that Brnovich has fought off various efforts to allow last-minute changes in election laws, ranging from how county election officials have to handle unsigned early ballots to extending the deadline for people registering to vote.

Anderson said it’s not clear the Supreme Court will even consider the Texas petition. But he said if the justices take it up, Brnovich wants to be sure that any ruling they issue respects the interests of Arizona.

Those interests, he said, is that the justices recognize and affirm that it is the legislature that has prime say over how elections are conducted and not courts or even officials of the executive branch.

That’s crucial because Arizona already has some of the laws that the Texas lawsuit says are lacking or were ignored elsewhere.

For example, Paxton complained that some states do not require that signatures on envelopes with early ballots be compared with records on file. Arizona requires matching of all envelopes received.

He also said that some states “flooded their citizenry with tens of millions of ballot applications and ballots,” ignoring normal controls. Arizona, by contrast, sends early ballots only to those who request them, whether on an election-by-election basis or by signing up on the permanent early voting list.

Brnovich is not the only Arizona elected official weighing in at the Supreme Court.

Ten state representatives and three senators, all Republicans, joined with counterparts from Alaska and Idaho on Thursday filed their own brief in support of Texas.

“An elite group of sitting Democrat officers in each of the defendant states coordinated with the Democrat party to illegally and unconstitutionally change the rules established by the legislature in the defendant states, thereby depriving the people of their states a free and fair election — the very basis of a republican form of government,” they charged through their attorneys.

The representatives are Nancy Barto, Frank Carroll, John Fillmore, Mark Finchem, Travis Granthan, Anthony Kern, David Livingston, Steve Pierce, Bret Roberts and Kelly Townsend. The senators are Sylvia Allen, Sonny Borrelli and David Gowan.

 

 

 

 

Budget talks stall, lawmakers consider scaled-down option

Deposit Photo

Legislative leadership is considering a “skinny budget” this year after struggling to get consensus on big projects. 

This would be a continuation of the baseline budget that the Legislature passed last year, meaning no funding would go into expensive new items that have been discussed like the border wall and an education package. 

“There are members that don’t want it. There are members that do want it. There are members that are hoping that we can get a regular budget done and they’re willing to continue a few conversations, but they’ve also expressed that if we can’t get it together, they don’t want to be here for another 171 days like last year,” Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said on Thursday. 

Karen Fann

The Senate GOP needs 16 votes to get a partisan budget through, but Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, is making that process difficult. He is not communicating with Fann and wants large investments into several projects. Rather than working with Boyer or the Democrats, Fann and Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, suggested that the chamber pass a condensed budget and go home early. 

Livingston addressed the Senate floor on Tuesday asking his colleagues to consider the idea in the name of mitigating inflation. Inflation isn’t the only driving factor behind this, however.  

For one thing, several lawmakers are in competitive races and want to get out to campaign for their upcoming primaries. 

Republicans seem to be doing very well in the early stages of campaigning, where Democrats couldn’t produce as many candidates as they did in 2020’s legislative races. This likely means a larger Republican majority next year. If the Senate passes a skinny budget now, a larger Republican body will have more money to play with next year. Fann said that’s another factor that has come up. 

Livingston said that because of the one person majorities in the House and Senate, each member thinks they can make demands, “Nobody is on the same page.”  Livingston wants members to respect the will of party leadership but says there’s no such consensus. “If you have consensus, you can do more things and more funding – that works too – but you have to have consensus.” 

Livingston commented on Boyer’s plan to create a new $900 million school funding project. 

“He doesn’t have 16 votes,” he said. “There’s no Senator that does, and that’s why you don’t do this by individuals.” 

Sean Bowie

Democrats including Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, and Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, predicted that the session will last into July. Bowie said that a holdup Republicans might have about an early sine die is that it gives the governor the power to call legislators back into a special session against their will. Another is that they might not have the votes to do it. Bowie for his part, doesn’t want to throw in the towel and pass a skinny budget. He is one of the only Democrats Republicans are willing to negotiate with and is willing to compromise on a big budget.  

Let’s all hold hands and go out on a high note,” he said. 

Some of the bills that Republicans still need to move out of the Legislature are the Prop 400 transportation tax extension, homelessness mitigation bills and legislation authorizing the expansion of I-10. 

For the past two weeks the Senate has not been able to vote on any partisan bills because various members have been absent. Boyer left the Senate floor on Monday and hasn’t been seen since, blocking the legislature from getting through their bill agendas or passing a Republican budget anytime soon. 

Gov. Doug Ducey’s spokesman CJ Karamargin suggested that a skinny budget wouldn’t be the governor’s favorite option, asking, “Do you think it’s likely that a skinny budget is even going to happen?” In January, Ducey spoke about investing $1 billion for a new water authority agency and other smaller items. 

Senate President Karen Fann brought up the possibility of a special session two weeks ago, but since then only Livingston has advocated for it in the Senate. Republican Senators Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, Paul Boyer R-Glendale and T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge are some of the members who have said they don’t want to end early.  

Democrats are also wary of passing a skinny budget in a year with such narrow margins where they could potentially get some small projects approved. Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Tempe, said that it would be a failure of Fann’s leadership. 

Ugenti-Rita argued that the “skinny budget” under consideration is a misrepresentation of what is a bloated baseline budget from last year.  

“There’s no way I’m going to vote that budget out without dealing with the $5 billion carry forward balance we have,” she said on Wednesday. “It’s our job to provide significant tax relief. … It would be irresponsible to leave that money on the table.”  

Senators aren’t the only legislators who feel this way, Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, also said he opposes passing a “skinny budget.” 

“We don’t need to push our work off,” Cook said. “We don’t need to jump through hoops or try to out-maneuver during the budget cycle. What we need to do is sit down and get the work done and have what I call clean, open, honest conversations,” about the budget. 

David Cook

Cook said his budget priorities include paying down the state’s pension debt and a six-month suspension of the state’s 18-cents per gallon gas tax, which he said would give immediate relief to Arizonans struggling with rising prices. This idea has support in Arizona from both some federal and state lawmakers; U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly has introduced a bill to suspend the federal tax, and a few Arizona lawmakers, including Sens. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, and Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, have, like Cook, said they want to suspend the state’s. However, Ducey has said he opposes it. 

“There are a lot of things to address in the state’s budget this year that can be addressed and should be addressed, and I have faith in leadership at the Legislature and the governor to put together a comprehensive overall budget,” Cook said. “I am looking forward to reviewing whatever proposal they come up with. My personal priorities are in current legislative bills. My funding priorities are well known, and the continued reduction of state debt remains one of my top issues. And the idea of suspending the gas tax, under what I’ve suggested, would put $800 million into the people, small businesses and our economy over the next six months.” 

Some of the potential budget items that are too controversial for other Senators to get on board with include appropriating millions of dollars for a border wall, a flat tax cut, and a universal expansion of empowerment scholarship accounts, or ESAs. 

Bowie said he is willing to support a budget that includes ESA expansion, but not the border wall appropriation. Other than that, his demands have bipartisan support including a bill for earned income tax credits, which he is sponsoring, and the governor supports. 

The House Rules Committee voted on April 11 to allow for the introduction of budget bills whenever they are ready, but House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, and Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, didn’t say when they expect a budget to be introduced. It didn’t happen this week – the House adjourned for the week after its floor session Tuesday. House Republican spokesman Andrew Wilder said he doesn’t know what will happen when the House reconvenes on Monday; only a few mostly noncontroversial floor votes and a conference committee meeting have been scheduled so far. 

Toma didn’t return a call from the Capitol Times on Thursday, but he told the Arizona Republic earlier this week that there have been talks there of passing a baseline budget and addressing other issues such as tax cuts, empowerment scholarship accounts and water later. He also said any deal to increase public school funding would include ESA expansion for all students, with more for poorer students and the amounts students would get staggered based on family income. 

Fann said on Thursday that although Arizona has a relatively large pool of money to draw from, only a small amount of that is “ongoing funding” which many lawmakers want to use for their projects.  

“Our dilemma right now is we have a couple of our members that are asking for a lot of ongoing money that pretty well, between them and the governor, pretty well eats up all of the ongoing money, which leaves nothing left for anybody else,” she said. One time funding can be used for one-time fixes like highway infrastructure projects, but ongoing funding is needed to give raises to people like public safety officers, which some members want. Fann said there is about $1.3 billion in ongoing funding to parcel out and with everyone making demands, that’s relatively little. “We’ve got to be able to sit down and talk through this because everybody is going to want something,” she said. 

Capitol Times Reporters Nathan Brown and Nick Phillips contributed. 

Committees advance competing car-sharing bills

House and Senate committees approved competing proposals to regulate car sharing in Arizona, with lawmakers split on how to tax the emerging industry.

Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, wants to treat peer-to-peer car sharing companies like Turo – a website and app that functions like Airbnb, but with cars instead of homes – as a completely new industry.

Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, sees enough similarities between Turo and traditional rental agencies like Enterprise Rent-A-Car to treat them equally.

At stake are the taxes and fees Arizona levies on rental car transactions.

Grantham made some concessions in his HB 2559 with an amendment that allows municipalities to tax peer-to-peer rental companies. But his bill still exempts those companies from state taxes and a special surcharge on rental cars that helps fund Arizona’s tourism industry, an effort supported by Turo executives.

“I think the industry deserves to be put into its own category because it’s new. It’s different,” Grantham said in the House Commerce Committee on Tuesday.

Livingston made it clear he thinks the Turos of the world owe more than simply municipal taxes. His SB 1305 treats peer-to-peer transactions like those for traditional rental car companies, and he’s backed by representatives for Enterprise, airport officials at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, which is owned by the city of Phoenix, and the tourism industry.

Sky Harbor officials are particularly concerned that Turo doesn’t operate like traditional rental car companies at the airport. That means they pick up and drop off customers at the arrival and departure curbs, rather than utilize the offsite rental car facility built for those transactions in order to alleviate traffic congestion.

Rental car companies also pay Phoenix for a permit to use those facilities, revenue the airport can’t afford to lose, according to Sky Harbor lobbyist Tom Dorn.

And Barry Aarons, a lobbyist for Arizona’s convention visitors bureau, told the Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee that a shift in how the rental car industry operates – from traditional rentals to peer-to-peer transactions – without a corresponding change in how those new transactions are taxed would mean a loss of tax revenue crucial to Arizona’s tourism industry.

Barb Meaney, a lobbyist for Turo, said those arguments miss the point.

Turo doesn’t own any of the cars for rent on its platform, and instead acts as a broker between private individuals who want to rent cars. Simply overlaying the tax structure applied to traditional rental car companies on car sharing companies isn’t a good deal for an emerging industry with fundamentally different operating expenses, she said.

“It’s intended to drive out the competition,” Meaney said of the Livingston proposal, which is backed by Enterprise.

Both bills advanced by committee votes with vows from Grantham and Livingston to work out their differences and establish what tax burden peer-to-peer rental companies should owe, or as Grantham put it: “How do you get this industry to pay its fair share?”

While Grantham’s bill was approved unanimously in the House committee, lawmakers on the Senate panel expressed some skepticism about Livingston’s proposal. Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, sees similarities to how Arizona dealt with past fights between Airbnb and hotels, and ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft competing with taxicabs.

Despite her reservations, Otondo still voted to advance SB 1305. Only Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, voted against the plan, explaining that he preferred Grantham’s bill as a starting point for ongoing debate.

Competing bills address new era in car rentals

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Two Republican lawmakers are at odds over what constitutes a “car rental” in the new sharing economy.

At stake in Arizona are the future of companies such as Turo, a website and app that functions like Airbnb, but with cars instead of homes. So, too, are the taxes, fees and surcharges imposed by the state and local governments on rental car transactions.

A bill backed by traditional rental services, such as Enterprise Rent-A-Car, would redefine the meaning of “rental car company” in state statute to ensure the new car-sharing companies like Turo and Getaround are treated the same as traditional rental companies.

To that end, they’ve recruited Sen. David Livingston, who sponsored SB 1305 to ensure new peer-to-peer car shares are treated the same as rental car transactions. A competing bill from Rep. Travis Grantham calls the services Turo offers sharing, not renting, and favors treating the company as something different – just as Uber and Lyft are treated differently than taxis.

Livingston, a Peoria Republican, said it doesn’t matter that it’s called car sharing, or the method by which the car is “shared.” It’s a rental transaction all the same, he said.

“Right now I think they’re a rental car company that thinks of themselves as a technology company,” Livingston said.

Grantham, R-Gilbert, said there are key differences between the Enterprises and Turos of the world, chief among them the fact that Turo and similar companies don’t own the vehicles that are being rented by the hour or day. Those peer-to-peer companies facilitate transactions between private individuals – the owner of a car or truck that wants to rent out their vehicle for a quick buck, and the renter who needs access to a vehicle temporarily.

There are more than 4,950 vehicles in Arizona that are offered for rent on Turo, according to a company spokeswoman. Nationwide, Turo users make roughly $625 a month by putting their vehicle up for rent.

So instead of redefining the meaning of a rental car company, Grantham’s HB 2559 creates an entirely new regulatory framework to guide peer-to-peer car sharing companies operating in Arizona.

Grantham’s plan also doesn’t propose applying any more taxes on the car-sharing economy, other than the income taxes on profits renters already owe.

“My bill gives them their own structure,” Grantham said. “Sen. Livingston’s bill is written by and for the rental car companies who would like to pull peer-to-peer car share companies that are part of this transportation company structure into their realm and regulate them. And I don’t think that’s right.”

Defining Rental

Both lawmakers say the disagreement is similar to past legislative debates over Uber and Lyft, which in 2014 flustered taxicab companies, airports and lawmakers trying to get a handle on the ride-sharing economy.

After the Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill to regulate ride-sharing in 2014, lawmakers went back to the drawing board and crafted a plan to regulate insurance requirements for Uber and Lyft drivers in 2015.

Livingston was a key player in drafting the 2015 proposal, and he’s again at the table to sort out insurance issues with the sharing economy. While companies like Turo offer insurance policies for renters through Liberty Mutual, they also allow are offering the car for rent, and those doing the renting, to opt out.

But if a host declines coverage, they’d need their own commercial rental insurance – a fact Livingston worries isn’t crystal clear. And renting a vehicle on Turo could also violate a person’s loan agreement, if they used a loan to purchase the automobile, he said.

Livingston wants to clarify those insurance requirements, something Grantham fully agrees with.

The two Republicans are also in sync when it comes to vehicle safety, and want to require car-sharing companies to vet vehicles listed on their websites or apps. That would ensure no vehicles subject to a recall for safety reasons are rented out.

Beyond that, Livingston and Grantham are at odds.

“What really is the driver here is the money involved and who’s paying what taxes, fees, tourism fees, airport fees and various rental car surcharge fees,” Grantham said. “Stuff that in its spirit was crafted to capture out of state tourists who arrived at the airport, maybe came to a convention center event or sporting event, maybe came to golf for a week, rented a car and utilized all those various facilities. This peer-to-peer car sharing thing has taken on a different role.”

Grantham describes the companies as operating on a smaller scale, like neighbors renting their cars to one another, offering access to a vehicle for someone who needs a ride once or twice a week, but otherwise can’t afford, or doesn’t want, to own their own car.

As for taxes, individuals who rent out their vehicles are taxed on the revenue they earn through the car-sharing service.

“This is an existing industry that’s very well established, the rental car companies, trying to regulate a fledgling industry that threatens a little bit of competition,” Grantham said. “I think competition is a good thing for the consumer.”

After doing his own research, Livingston doesn’t buy the argument that Turo is offering a sharing service, not rentals.

“That is what they’re saying. But I went to the website and looked, because I didn’t know a lot about them. … And they say ‘car rental’ all over the websites,” Livingston said. “So if I rent my car to you and you pay me, I don’t know how that’s not a rental transaction.”

Its Own Framework

Michelle Peacock, vice president of government relations at Turo, said the company is open to discussions about what taxes and fees it should pay.

But thinking only in terms of the rental transaction, as Livingston described, misses the bigger picture, she said.

“We have offered repeatedly to work with the Legislature to pay an appropriate fee, just like Uber and Lyft have negotiated different regulatory frameworks and different fees,” Peacock said. “We want the same consideration because the businesses aren’t identical.”

Peer-to-peer car sharing companies deserve their own regulatory environment, and that’s what they’re asking Grantham for, Peacock said.

Meanwhile, Enterprise is trying to snuff out competition in the rental industry, she said. Peacock counts bills in 13 states this year that, similar to Livingston’s proposal, would regulate car share companies under state laws applied to traditional car rental companies.

On their website, Turo boasts of legislative victories over Enterprise in various states, accusing Enterprise of “anti-Turo vitriol” in 2018.

“The last couple of years, Enterprise Rent-A-Car has launched a nationwide campaign to essentially regulate peer-to-peer car sharing out of existence,” Peacock said. “At least that’s the effect.”

A spokeswoman for Enterprise said the company has no intent of suppressing the car-sharing economy. In fact, they may want to enter the peer-to-peer market as well.

“That’s why laws governing car rentals not only should provide more clarity, but also should apply equally regarding taxes, airport rules, and safety, regardless of who owns the vehicle,” spokeswoman Laura Bryant said in an emailed statement. “Equal rules of the road is the only public policy that makes sense for the long term.”

Livingston said his proposal may also draw support from airport officials who’ve struggled to work with Turo, much like previous spats with Uber and Lyft.

For example, traditional rental car companies enter into an agreement with Phoenix officials responsible for operating Sky Harbor International. Those agreements guide where and how companies like Enterprise can operate on airport grounds. Even Uber and Lyft now operate as transportation network companies under agreements with the airport.

Airports haven’t had luck negotiating with companies like Turo, Livingston said, but redefining car sharing as car renting could help facilitate an agreement.

Peacock said Turo would happily come to terms with airport officials, and the company is even willing to pay to operate on airport grounds. But they also demand that airport officials agree to new rules governing those operations, much like the agreements airports reached with Uber and Lyft. At the very least, Turo wants to be treated similarly to those transportation network companies.

“We’re saying, give us the same access at the airport that you gave Uber and Lyft,” Peacock says. “We’ll pay what they’re paying.”

Grantham’s bill is purposefully silent on the relationship between the airports and car-sharing services. He said it’s an issue best left for local airport officials to sort out.

“The airports made agreements with Uber. They made agreements with Lyft. There’s no reason they won’t be able to make agreements with the peer-to-peer car sharing industry once it’s its own industry,” he said.

Officials with the Phoenix Aviation Department declined to comment.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to included statements from Turo

Ducey could have sole discretion over a large pot of state, federal aid funds

FILE - In this March 23, 2020 file photo, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, right, and Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ, left, provide an update on the coronavirus during a news conference at the Arizona State Public Health Laboratory in Phoenix. Ducey is urging Arizonans to be understanding and reasonable as people and businesses face April 1 due dates for bills such as mortgages, rent, utilities and internet service. Ducey posted on Twitter that "the world has changed since March 1" and that bills previously paid routinely "are now a struggle for many people and small businesses." (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
FILE – In this March 23, 2020 file photo, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, right, and Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ, left, provide an update on the coronavirus during a news conference at the Arizona State Public Health Laboratory in Phoenix. Ducey is urging Arizonans to be understanding and reasonable as people and businesses face April 1 due dates for bills such as mortgages, rent, utilities and internet service. Ducey posted on Twitter that “the world has changed since March 1” and that bills previously paid routinely “are now a struggle for many people and small businesses.” (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

The passage of a federal stimulus package to help state and local governments weather the COVID-19 pandemic gives Gov. Doug Ducey discretion over at least part of a $1.5 billion sum — adding to tens of millions he already had at his disposal as part of an emergency spending plan passed by the Legislature in March.

At that time, some state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were uneasy over the size of the checks they were cutting to the governor with little direction on how to spend them. Now, the amount of money at Ducey’s disposal to help mitigate the fallout of the virus has increased significantly — and Arizona, like other states, will be in the dark about how this money can be used until late April, when the federal government allocates the funding.

Already, this has created some confusion. And while the state might have to wait the better part of a month for further instruction from the feds, nonprofits, schools and other organizations that stand to receive aid say the need for more resources is severe.

“We’re seeing double or sometimes triple the usual demand in some areas,” said Angie Rodgers, who heads the Association of Arizona Food Banks. “To sustain that demand every month is going to be a real challenge. We’re going to need the government to step in.”

The Governor’s Office declined to comment on their proposed spending priorities.

DISCRETION

When state lawmakers worked a series of late nights in March in an effort to pass a pared-down budget and a pair of $50 million and $55 million appropriations to help the state fight the novel coronavirus, some on both the left and right questioned whether they gave Ducey too much discretion over emergency funds.

On March 12, Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, nearly derailed a fast-tracked bill that guaranteed the Department of Health Services continues to exist for another eight years and moved $55 million from the state’s rainy-day fund to an emergency fund Ducey or the department’s  director, Cara Christ, could use to pay for public health emergencies.

David Livingston
David Livingston

Although Livingston ended up voting for the bill, he objected strenuously to the idea that the Legislature would hurry late on a Thursday to authorize $55 million with few restrictions, other than requiring that it be spent on public health and that Ducey or Christ notify the Joint Legislative Budget Committee when they planned to spend the dollars.

“I’m literally reading this as we’re handing the governor and the director a $50 million checkbook, and (saying) ‘notify us if you’re going to use it,’” Livingston said on the Senate floor.

Democrats in the House, meanwhile, were skeptical of the second $50 million appropriation, a key portion of a bipartisan budget deal struck in the Senate. That $50 million was to be used for housing assistance, homelessness prevention, food banks and economic assistance for small businesses, but House Democrats said the budget language gave Ducey too much discretion and publicly griped about the willingness of their Senate colleagues to cut Ducey a check.

“I’m always concerned when it’s up to one person,” said House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma.

House Democrats wanted to prescribe specific uses of the fund, affixing a multitude of hostile amendments to the budget deal that would direct some of those millions to specific programs — the Housing Trust Fund, for example — and to help specific groups of people — small business owners, people who use food stamps, and so on.

Pamela Powers Hannley
Pamela Powers Hannley

“We’re getting up to the $100 million number with no plan behind it,” Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, a Tucson Democrat, said at the time.

And now that number, at least in the aggregate, far exceeds $100 million. With the passage of the CARES Act, the third COVID-19 response package to come out of Congress, the state might have more than $1 billion at its disposal, according to a preliminary estimate from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

The state is estimated to receive $4.2 billion in total, JLBC predicts. According to the bill, that money can only be used for “necessary expenditures” related to the pandemic. That $4.2 billion will be divvied  among the state and local governments, agencies and other funds and grants.

When the feds distribute the money in late April, Ducey will have some amount of discretion over at least $1.5 billion of it, which must be spent on coronavirus relief, and $68 million as part of an education stabilization fund that he can distribute at will.

When Ducey spends that money, his office will have to keep receipts for an eventual federal audit. But for now, he and other governors don’t yet have directions from the federal government on how they can spend it.

Arturo Perez, director of state services for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said governors should expect definitive guidelines, rules and regulations from the feds on or before April 24, when monies are expected to be given to states. Perez said states have been given vague categories like health care infrastructure and facilities, medical and sanitation supplies and first responder overtime — and it’s as of yet unclear whether states can use that money to offset declining
revenues.

That’s something the JLBC and other states are still working to clarify, as they could interpret “necessary expenditures” and costs incurred from the pandemic to include lost revenue that came as a result of it. Perez said if that coming federal guidance isn’t favorable to that interpretation, states dependent on general sales tax could suffer.

“There is nothing, nothing comparable to what’s happening,” Perez said. “No one knows what folks are spending it on or what they plan to spend it on.”

HOUSING

As he begins spending the money provided by the state and federal relief packages, Ducey has frustrated non-governmental organizations, local jurisdictions and even some in his own executive branch by not communicating ahead of time.

On the morning of March 30, the Arizona Housing Coalition was set to begin a conference call with representatives from the Department of Housing, the Department of Economic Services, landlords, homelessness advocates and other housing stakeholders on how best to use the       $50 million legislative appropriation.

Right before they began the call, they saw an announcement from Ducey’s office: $6.7 million of that $50 million was now off the table, allocated toward food banks and quarantine housing at homeless shelters. Nonprofit leaders who have been working on housing and food insecurity for years are frustrated by far-from-ideal coordination and transparency from the Governor’s Office, Arizona Housing Coalition Executive Director Joan Serviss said.

“We know that this $50 million has to do a lot of different things,” she said. “Fifty million dollars is a lot of money, but it has to go by so fast.”

Housing advocates would like to see more money available for the Department of Housing’s eviction prevention pilot program, which started with $2 million last spring to provide emergency grants and case management to families falling behind on their rent. Through a March 24 executive order, Ducey mandated a 120-day stay on enforcement of evictions for tenants who lose income or are forced to self-quarantine because of the pandemic.

But that order doesn’t prevent landlords from proceeding with evictions and charging tenants with associated legal fees. It just prevents constables and sheriff’s deputies from physically enforcing evictions.

“If there’s a moratorium on evictions, are we just delaying the impact for 120 days?” Serviss asked.

Nonprofit organizations serving people experiencing homelessness are seeking ways to expand temporary shelter space and ensure homeless Arizonans are able to get safe transportation to receive COVID-19 tests and treatment. Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which served as a temporary shelter for Hurricane Katrina refugees and hosts an annual resource fair for homeless veterans, could be an option if the Phoenix Suns and Mercury are willing to make exceptions in their contracts with the Coliseum.

FOOD

On March 30, Ducey announced a $1 million appropriation toward food banks across the state. The $290,000 earmarked for southern Arizona just about covers the cost of shifting the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona’s five resource centers and one farmers’ market outside and complying with new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, but doesn’t come close to covering increased demand for food, CEO Michael McDonald said.

The largest resource center in southern Arizona usually helps about 9,000 households in a month. It’s now on track to exceed 18,000, and staff who keep a database of families seeking help report that they’ve never before seen nearly one-third of the people seeking food.

“They’ve never needed to show up before,” McDonald said.

Every single dollar the state or private donors can provide helps. The organization suspended its community food drives out of caution and is focusing on purchasing and distributing frozen food provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and fresh produce from Mexico.

Government funding usually makes up about 20% to 25% of the food bank’s funding, with charitable giving picking up the bulk of the budget. As the economy worsens, food bank administrators question whether they’ll receive additional government support.

“People are really stretching and giving us funds now, but will they still be here six months from now when the economic effects linger?” McDonald asked.

And there’s more than just a need for food, said Tyson Nansel, communications director for United Food Bank. At United, much of the money that Ducey authorized March 30 will be used to pay for transportation and refrigeration — and possibly even staffing.

“We’re doing this almost at max capacity,” he said. “If our staff comes down ill from this, we are looking at hiring temporary workers to help fill the slots, in case this gets more serious. But it’s hard to find a Class A driver to take a semi out to rural Arizona right now.”

While the March 30 appropriation will help with immediate needs, uncertainty about the long-term demand for food banks — which has been astronomical since the virus began its spread — means that more money will likely be necessary, said Rodgers, of the Association of Arizona Food Banks.

“We’re grateful for the support we’ve received,” she said. “There will be more cost in the supply chain that we will look to cover.”

EDUCATION

And then there’s the matter of the education stabilization fund, around $68 million that Ducey can give to “local education agencies, higher education institutions, or other education-related entities,” according to JLBC.

That’s a broad list of recipients with no shortage of needs — schools are having to figure out how to maintain previous levels of education while delivering course materials in alternative formats, whether that means online or from school bus drivers dropping off packets to students’ houses.

Sylvia Allen
Sylvia Allen

Ducey should consider using at least of some of the $68 million in discretionary education spending he’ll receive from the federal stimulus package to pay for summer school, Senate Education Committee Chair Sylvia Allen said.

Allen, a Snowflake Republican, has been closely watching as schools in her northern Arizona district adapt to sending written packets and meals home to students, and as her grandchildren who live in the Valley begin taking classes online. It’s clear that at least some Arizona students will need extra instruction over the summer to keep pace during the next school year, she
said.

“If you had a student that was behind to begin with, I’m sure this has been quite a shock to change how you learn,” Allen said. “I’m talking about full-blown come into school half a day and do core subjects.”

These fluctuations could aggravate the state’s achievement gap, a measure of the disparity in education achievement between wealthier and poorer students, said Rep. Reginald Bolding of Laveen, the top Democrat on the House Education Committee.

“A crisis like this will only increase the gap if measures aren’t taken,” Bolding said. “We should invest in technology for students, but also for teachers. We don’t want to take for granted that teachers have laptops and WiFi in their homes.”

There’s the additional challenge of ensuring that these alternative delivery methods are up to snuff, especially if they’re coming from third-party online education providers.

“The worst case scenario for us is to dump millions of dollars into a provider that’s going to produce inadequate results,” Bolding said.

The discretion Ducey holds over how to spend hundreds of millions of dollars particularly troubled Democrats who already fear that the governor isn’t taking the coronavirus criss as seriously as he
should.

Fernandez, the House minority leader, drew a comparison between Ducey and the big-city mayors – Kate Gallego of Phoenix and Regina Romero of Tucson – who have emerged as some of the most vocal critics of the governor’s response to the
virus.

“Those mayors, they’re not making decisions based on political whims, they’re listening to experts, listening to the science,” said Fernandez, who agrees with Romero and Gallego that the governor’s response to the virus – whether that means allocating funding or shutting down businesses – should be more aggressive.

“I’d rather look back and say we did too much,” Fernandez said.

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.

 

Expect revival of pet bills that failed to survive

In this January 18, 2019, file photo, a man blows a cloud of smoke from a vape pipe. Bills to regulate vaping died in the 2019 Arizona legislative session, but lawmakers vow to bring them back next year. PHOTO BY STEVE HELBER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
In this January 18, 2019, file photo, a man blows a cloud of smoke from a vape pipe. Bills to regulate vaping died in the 2019 Arizona legislative session, but lawmakers vow to bring them back next year. PHOTO BY STEVE HELBER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Even after settling on a multi-billion spending plan for the next year, there was plenty left unsettled when lawmakers went home for the summer.

That’s because of the 1,318 bills introduced in the 2019 legislative session, only 320 were signed into law. The rest languished in the House or Senate – or were vetoed by Gov. Doug Ducey – and while many of those proposed laws are ideas that may never see the light of day again, you can bet some will be back in 2020.

The lawmakers that introduced them promise.

Vaping

Expect the debate over vaping to return in full force next session, as Sen. Heather Carter said she hasn’t given up on her legislative effort to change the definition of vaping in state law.

The Cave Creek Republican’s HB2357 maintained the current smoking age of 18, but would have defined vaping as a tobacco product in Arizona law, meaning local governments could crack down on vaping with their own local restrictions on the sale and use of vaping products.

Carter’s bill was met with strong opposition from a competing measure backed by the vaping industry that would have raised the smoking age to 21 but also eliminated some local restrictions on the sale and use of vaping products.

“The problem isn’t going away,” Carter said, that problem being teens’ use of vaping products. “It’s always difficult when you’re going up against the agenda of big tobacco. They have unlimited resources… When you put that up against a public health perspective, it’s always challenging. The work that we did this past session was critically important to raise the level of awareness of the crisis with lawmakers.”

Getting the issue on the Legislature’s radar could boost Carter’s chances of passing her bill in 2020, she said, since lawmakers can go back to their district and hear more about it.

They’ll “find out whether this is an ever-increasing problem in their own district, and I’m sure they will find that it is,” Carter said. “It’s a problem everywhere.”

Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, who supported the legislation backed by the vaping industry, did not respond to a request for comment.

Car rentals

Car sharing is another example of two lawmakers with vastly different views competing legislatively.

Neither Sen. David Livingston of Peoria nor Rep. Travis Grantham of Gilbert were able to guide their vision of regulating the peer-to-peer car sharing industry across the finish line, in part because both worked, to no avail, on a compromise rather than send each bill to the governor’s desk to let Ducey decide their fate.

Livingston’s SB1305 and later iterations of the bill would have treated car sharing companies like Turo – a website and app that functions like Airbnb, but with cars instead of homes – similarly to traditional rental companies like Enterprise or Alamo.

Crucially, that meant Turo would be on the hook for certain state taxes, and a special surcharge on rental cars that helps fund Arizona’s tourism industry.

The definition of a rental car company in statute was also important to officials at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, which has been at odds with Turo and other peer-to-peer car sharing companies about where Turo customers can exchange vehicles at the airport.

Livingston, R-Peoria, said he plans to bring back “mostly the same bill,” though he added that he’ll hold meetings with interested parties in the fall.

Grantham, a Mesa Republican who’s deployed for National Guard duty, could not be reached for comment. Though it wouldn’t be a surprise if his competing proposal, HB2559, makes a return as well.

Unlike Livingston’s bill, Grantham sought to treat peer-to-peer rentals as a wholly different industry than traditional car rental companies. By doing so, Grantham also carved out exemptions in statute to certain taxes on peer-to-peer car sharing transactions, including the rental surcharge.

Sales tax

Her pair of bills didn’t make it far, but that doesn’t mean Sen. Sylvia Allen is giving up on a proposal to raise sales taxes for education. The Snowflake Republican’s sponsorship of a measure to raise taxes also raised eyebrows, but drew the support of fellow Republicans like Sen. Kate Brophy McGee and Rep. Michelle Udall.

Even state Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward came out in support of the tax hike, or at least the plan to send the question to the ballot and let voters have the final say on raising the Proposition 301 sales tax from 0.6 cents to a full penny, with all funds earmarked for education.

Allen said she’ll “probably” bring the bill back, though she was hesitant given the cold reception the bill received in the Legislature. The measure never got out of the Senate.

Other ballot measures could play a factor, Allen said – for instance, if organizers with Invest in Ed take another shot at referring their own tax plan to the ballot, Allen said her colleagues might be convinced that her penny sales tax is a better alternative to higher income or property taxes that may be proposed via the citizen initiative process.

“I think my plan is a very good plan, a much better plan… That might play into it,” Allen said of competing ballot measures.

Few contested primaries for independents to influence

From left are Nancy Barto and Heather Carter
From left are Nancy Barto and Heather Carter

Independent voters don’t have many contested races in Maricopa County in which they can sway the outcome with Arizona primary elections roughly two months away.

With every hot race like Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, versus Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, there are at least a dozen or so uncontested primaries on both the Democratic and Republican ballots this year in Maricopa County.

In the state Senate there are only five districts with a primary challenge, including the Barto and Carter race in Legislative District 15. Legislative District 22, on the Republican side, has Sen. David Livingston, the incumbent, against two opponents – Van Dicarlo and Hop Nguyen. Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita will face Alexander Kolodin in the Legislative District 23 Republican primary. On the Democratic side, Sen. Lela Alston faces Ryan Starzyk in Legislative District 24 and Sen. Juan Mendez will be challenged by Jana Lynn Granillo in Legislative District 26.

election-logo-2020The remaining Senate races either have candidates set to win the seat come November (barring a write-in campaign) or a one-on-one race that won’t matter for the primary.

In the House, 12 of the 20 districts in Maricopa County have a contested primary, meaning more than two candidates per party, and Legislative District 29 has contested primaries for both the Republicans and Democrats. Nine races are on the Republican side and the remaining four are for Democrats.

Both Legislative districts 1 and 15 will fill two vacancies as those current representatives either are termed out or retiring and several others have one open seat.

There are positives and negatives in not having a primary challenge as seen when Fred DuVal ran for governor in 2014, but there aren’t any races of that magnitude this election cycle.

Typically, the positives of no primary challenge is the ability to save money and resources for the general election race, but the negatives, if there is a competitive primary for the opposing party, are that all the attention will be on the opposing party’s ballot instead.

Independent voters can select which ballot they want to vote on during the primaries instead of having to re-register for a specific party like they would in a Presidential Preference Election. Currently, there are 1,249,379 registered voters listed under the “other” category according to April numbers from the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.

Looking at other races on the August primary ballot, there is not a contested statewide contest, after four Republican candidates who intended to run for the Arizona Corporation Commission are no longer on the ballot. That leaves just two on the ballot with two others hoping for a write-in bid. For Democrats, only three are running for three seats.

The next major race in Maricopa County on the Democratic side is the primary for county attorney.

Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, was the last Democrat to run for that seat, losing to now-Arizona Supreme Court Justice Bill Montgomery by the slimmest margin in years for that office.

Three Democrats are running to unseat Allister Adel, the Republican who the County Board of Supervisors appointed to replace Montgomery last fall. Adel does not face a primary challenger.

Republican county candidates see challenges in the race for county assessor, county treasurer, county recorder and county sheriff, and among the few races for constable and justice of the peace. Whereas Democrats only have challenges for justice of the peace races in the Maryvale and Moon Valley precincts.

Federal races are a different story.

Arizona currently has nine congressional districts and all but the 2nd Congressional District touches Maricopa County, and of those eight the 7th Congressional District is the only one without a primary challenge for either party.

The most-discussed challenges for Congress in Arizona are the Democrats in the 6th Congressional District to see who will take on Rep. David Schweikert, who has been drowning in legal fees over what he called “an accounting error.” Dr. Hiral Tipirneni leads that pack with the most fundraising of any congressional challenger in the state, and one of the top nationwide.

She lost twice to Rep. Debbie Lesko in the 2018 8th Congressional District special and general elections. Now Tipirneni will see Anita Malik, the CD6 Democratic nominee in 2018, and relative newcomers Stephanie Rimmer and Karl Gentles.

In the 1st Congressional District, Rep. Tom O’Halleran is being challenged by the more progressive Eva Putzova, and the Republican race is between Tiffany Shedd and Nolan Reidhead.

Rep. Paul Gosar, in the 4th Congressional District, is the only remaining incumbent facing a primary challenge in Anne Marie Ward.

Then there’s the most talked about race nationwide between likely foes U.S. Sen. Martha McSally and Mark Kelly.

McSally will see a Republican challenger who has failed to raise significant money and show up in any polls nationwide. Whereas Kelly is only looking at a write-in candidate who goes by “Heir Hawkeye.”

GOP lawmakers question lack of tax conformity details in Ducey budget

FILE - In this May 8, 2018, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during an interview in his office at the Arizona Capitol. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Republican lawmakers Tuesday balked at Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan to keep tax conformity out of his executive budget and then squirrel away its potential revenue windfall into the state’s rainy-day fund.

In a joint meeting of the House and Senate money committees, lawmakers from Ducey’s own party had sharp words for the governor’s budget director on his plan to conform Arizona’s tax code to changes enacted in federal law, which would have the effect of raising state revenue, but not count the money in his budget assumptions.

Reading between the lines, lawmakers seemed suspicious that Ducey’s plans to keep conformity revenue out of the budget could thwart their attempts to use the money for other purposes, including giving it back to taxpayers.

Conformity is quickly snowballing into one of the more contentious issues this session as Republicans are divided on what to do with any funding that could come from adhering to federal tax changes.

Tax conformity revenue is not included in Ducey’s proposed budget. But the governor plans to deposit any windfall from conformity into the state’s rainy-day fund. That’s on top of the $542 million Ducey proposes putting into the reserve account to boost the rainy-day fund to $1 billion.

Republican lawmakers have other ideas, but they could be stymied by Ducey’s reluctance to count conformity revenue in the budget. Budgeting for conformity gives lawmakers the chance to refund upwards of $170 million to Arizona taxpayers.

In the committee meeting Tuesday, GOP lawmakers didn’t hold back when questioning Matt Gress, Ducey’s budget director. Most made it clear they thought any conformity windfall should either go back to taxpayers or be used more effectively than shoring up the rainy-day fund.

Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, pressed Gress on why tax conformity isn’t included in the executive budget, to which he replied the Governor’s Office didn’t count any revenue windfall from it because the number is a moving target.

Budget analysts predict conformity could generate somewhere between $170 million and $230 million, but even they admit they aren’t sure of the full fiscal effect of conformity.

“The executive is very concerned about the wide array of estimates on what conformity could produce. No one really knows,” Gress said.

Cobb fired back: “I think we’re also uncomfortable that we’re already putting $1 billion into the rainy-day fund and now we’re adding on top of that.”

The Governor’s Office wants no more than $200 million of any potential conformity windfall to go into the state’s rainy-day fund, Gress said.

Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, said he understands that it’s hard for budget analysts to nail down the effects of conformity and that lawmakers may never fully know the effect of conforming to the federal tax changes.

But any additional revenue should go back to taxpayers, he said.

“I understand that we’ll never know. I appreciate that we’ll never know. But I do know that the people of Arizona are expecting their taxes not to go up,” he said.

Arizona conforms its tax code to the federal tax law, which in the past, has been more a matter of the state Legislature acting as a rubber stamp on federal tax changes. But this year is different because of federal tax changes in late 2017 that eliminated a laundry list of deductions.

Effectively, the state could broaden its tax base by adopting the federal changes, while still keeping the state tax rates the same, and see a revenue windfall.

The Governor’s Office estimates 75 percent of Arizonans will still receive tax refunds if the state conforms.

The Legislature has a chance to do something big by conforming and issuing refunds to taxpayers, said Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria.

“It could be literally the biggest thing that we’ve ever done down here as far as me as a voting member in my seventh session,” he said. “I think we could have that big of a positive impact on citizens.

It’s unclear what happens if lawmakers and Ducey hit an impasse and do nothing on conformity.

Somewhat coming around to the idea of the state keeping any such conformity windfall, some lawmakers proposed alternatives to putting the dollars into the rainy-day fund.

Livingston questioned why, when the Governor’s Office decided to refinance the debt on buildings the state sold off during the Great Recession, they didn’t think to pay off all the buildings early, which could have resulted in annual interest savings of $85 million.

Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, pressed Gress on why the governor’s budget doesn’t contemplate paying down debt, such as a $930 million rollover of K-12 public school expenses.

Gress said that the governor is all about ensuring education funding promises can be kept.

“We prioritized the budget stabilization fund because we believe that it is the most important tool we have to protect the 20×2020 plan,” Gress said, referencing the pay raises Ducey promised teachers last year.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, agreed, adding it’s more politically palatable to pull money out of the rainy-day fund in the event of a recession, as opposed to paying down the rollover now, only to roll it back during an economic downturn.

“We should do both, but I would first get the rainy-day fund up to 10 percent or something else,” Kavanagh said.

GOP lawmakers seek to nullify Hobbs in election litigation

From left are Katie Hobbs and Mark Brnovich
From left are Katie Hobbs and Mark Brnovich

Republican lawmakers took the first steps Tuesday to strip Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of some of her powers.

Measures approved by both the House and Senate Appropriations committees would take away her power to defend state election laws and give it to Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

It even prevents her from being able to get legal advice from the Attorney General’s Office. And it also would remove her purview over the Capitol Museum located in the historic Capitol.

But they insist it’s not personal, not a power grab and not punishment for her political stance, even as several said how unhappy they are with things she’s done.

It does, however, come as relations between Democrat Hobbs and Republican Brnovich have apparently reached a new low. It was disclosed Tuesday that she has filed more than a dozen complaints against Brnovich and staffers with the State Bar of Arizona, the organization that polices attorney conduct and has the ability to punish those who violate ethical rules.

A spokesman for the Bar said he is legally precluded from providing specifics. And there is no timeline for conducting any investigation and releasing any findings.

But Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, said the move by Hobbs only adds to why the Republicans in the legislature are moving against her. And he used them to respond to arguments by Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Tempe, that the action to remove some her authority was political.

“I don’t know what’s more political than the secretary of state submitting charges against almost the entire upper echelon of the attorney general,” he said.

“I would say the unprecedented attack on the attorney general, the chief deputy and many high-level attorneys is uncalled for,” Leach said. “This is really disconcerting and should be disconcerting to the people of Arizona.”

“She’s the one acting politically,” added Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria.

A spokesman for the State Bar said he can only confirm that a complaint was filed. And neither Hobbs nor Brnovich provided any immediate details.

And with no timeline on how long that inquiry would take, that leaves GOP lawmakers making the moves it can, using the state budget as their tool.

The actions spell out that the attorney general and not the secretary of state has the sole authority to defend the state when election laws are challenged. It also precludes the attorney general from providing any legal advice to the secretary of state, instead giving her $100,000 to hire a single legal adviser.

“This is a more efficient way of doing this,” said Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, who chairs the House panel.

But Democrats noted this isn’t a permanent change. Instead, it’s only for the coming state fiscal year. And that means it will expire after Hobbs leaves office in 2023.

Cobb acknowledged that a lot of this has to do with how Hobbs chooses to defend — or not — state statutes being challenged in court.

She said there have been instances where Hobbs and Brnovich have started on the same page, defending the changes enacted by the Republican-controlled legislature.

“And during the litigation, half way through the litigation, she’s decided to go the other direction from the AG’s office, from what they’ve been helping her with,” Cobb said. Then, on top of that, Hobbs is billing the state when she hires outside counsel to make those legal arguments.

And sometimes Hobbs actively opposed what Brnovich was arguing.

That’s the case with the challenge to the 2016 law on “ballot harvesting” where lawmakers voted to make it a felony for someone to take anyone else’s filled-out ballot to a polling place.

Brnovich sought review by the U.S. Supreme Court after a federal appellate court voided the law. But Hobbs urged the justices, who are still considering the matter, to uphold that ruling and void the statute.

Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, pointed out that Hobbs, like Brnovich, is elected directly by voters.

“The secretary of state is entitled to her own opinion of the law,” he said, pointing out her role as the state’s chief elections officer. And Friese said if her views differ from that of the attorney general she should be entitled to hire outside counsel.

Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, said there’s more to the move than that.

“I really believe that this is not about policy but politics,” she said. And Sen. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, called it “politically driven.”

It also comes as Hobbs, who is expected to announce a run for governor in the 2022 election, has been vocal about what she considers a “sham audit” of ballots being conducted by Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott.

Republicans are not stopping with the question of election laws.

A separate provision takes away the authority Hobbs now has over the Capitol museum, the parts of the old Capitol building with historic displays. That would now be under the purview of the Legislative Council, essentially legal staff that advises lawmakers and helps draft legislation.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the transfer would ensure that better use can be made of the building by lawmakers. But Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, said this appears to be a reaction to the fact that Hobbs in 2019 chose to hang a “gay pride” flag from the balcony of the building.

“Oh, I have an issue with that,” Kavanagh said.

“I don’t think we should politicize government buildings,” he continued. “But that’s not what this is about.”

Cobb agreed, saying the flag incident was “done a long time ago.”

Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, said he wasn’t buying any of what he saw as excuses by Republicans for what they were doing.

“I learned a long time ago when smart people are saying things that don’t make sense there’s something else going on that’s not being talked about,” he said.

Half of this year’s bills died unceremoniously

(Photo by Franck Boston/DEPOSIT PHOTO)
(Photo by Franck Boston/DEPOSIT PHOTO)

Covid and increased Capitol security aside, this January at the Legislature started like almost every one before it.

Lawmakers and their assistants scurried between the House and Senate, passing bill folders back and forth to collect signatures and promises to support legislation. Grand ideas to dramatically change state government, tiny technical corrections fixing apostrophe placement, bills that took up two sentences and bills that ran for hundreds of pages all landed in hoppers in the House and Senate, ending with a record 1,708 bills — and another 115 memorials and resolutions — ready for hearings.

Six weeks later, more than half of them are legally dead.

Some bills gain new life, others born with ‘strikers’
By Julia Shumway and Nathan Brown

For every rule in the Legislature, there’s a maneuver to bend it. When it comes to session deadlines, strike-everything amendments buy another chance for seemingly dead bills.

This year, strikers on electronic cigarettes, unemployment and elections surfaced after deadlines for them to be heard in committee.

Vaping: For years, health care professionals and smoke shop owners have waged war over proposed regulations of vape products and electronic cigarettes. This year, Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, championed the health care side of things, with a now-dead bill that would have classified vaping products as tobacco and allowed municipalities to require tobacco retailers to obtain local licenses. Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, sponsored the now-dead vaping industry bill that would have preempted local regulations. Senate Commerce Committee chair J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, held both bills but introduced a strike-everything amendment to SB1103 with parts of both bills. Mesnard won committee approval of SB1103, which he described as a way to buy the two camps more time to negotiate. Its future depends on whether Boyer and Leach can strike an agreement.

Unemployment insurance: Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, used a strike-everything amendment to introduce a sweeping set of changes to the state’s unemployment system. Her SB1411 would raise the maximum weekly benefit to $320 from the current $240, reduce the number of eligible weeks to 20 from 26 and gradually increase unemployment taxes paid by employers. Fann said she has the votes to pass her bill.

Gambling: Gov. Doug Ducey and the state’s Native American tribes are negotiating a new gaming compact before the current one expires, and they reached agreement on allowing sports betting, as represented in a pair of mirror bills introduced by Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, and Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler. But Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, declined to hear Shope’s bill in the Appropriations Committee, which he chairs, and instead used a strike-everything amendment to attach the language to his own bill on historic horse racing. While the amended bill passed in committee, the tribes consider the historic horse racing component a “poison pill.” And it appears unlikely that Gowan’s bill could pass the full Senate.

Overturning elections: Gowan also drew national attention for a strike-everything amendment that would have asked voters to approve a constitutional amendment in 2022 to give the Legislature the sole authority to appoint presidential electors. After taking testimony near the end of a 12-hour hearing, Gowan announced that he would hold the resolution, saying he just wanted to start the conversation.

Checking Biden: Strike-everything amendments on both HB2310 and SB1119 would give the attorney general the power to review the constitutionality of federal executive orders. In 2014, Arizona voters approved an initiative that would prevent the state from using its resources to enforce unconstitutional federal laws. The process laid out in the two amended bills would allow the state to determine the constitutionality based on the attorney general’s opinion without waiting for court rulings. HB2310 passed the House on a 31-29 vote and SB1310 is awaiting a hearing in the Senate.

Conversion therapy: After fellow Republican Sen. Tyler Pace killed Leach’s bill prohibiting bans on conversion therapy or professional punishments for therapists who practice it, Leach reintroduced his bill as a strike-everything amendment to SB1325. The bill was on the February 23 Appropriations Committee agenda, but Gowan held it with no discussion, killing the bill for a second time.

Legislative consultant Beth Lewallen, who has closely tracked the Legislature for a decade, said this year’s dead bills mostly just show how a typical session goes.

Beth Lewallen
Beth Lewallen

“There were such a massive number of bills,” Lewallan said. “It’s normal for that many to die and I think it’s why we all take a deep breath and can’t wait when we get to crossover week.”

While some, such as a Senate resolution to hold Maricopa County’s supervisors in contempt, publicly failed to garner enough votes to pass, most of the bills that die in the House and Senate do so quietly. By the February 19 deadline to hear bills in committees in their chambers of origin, more than 950 measures were left to die.

Most were sponsored by Democrats, who struggle to have their ideas heard when Republicans still control both chambers. But some Republican bills also struggled to find a foothold.

Among the most notable were election bills, including ones sponsored by Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, and Reps. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, and Kevin Payne, R-Peoria, that would have overturned the 2020 election results, given legislators the power to choose future electors and ended the Permanent Early Voting List, respectively.

Lewallen, who founded her own consulting firm, Italicized Consulting, works for many clients and spends a lot of time analyzing and tracking bills. She said she noticed a larger number of duplicate bills this year, which she speculated could be why there were so many that died.

It’s a case of different people sharing the same ideas, she said, and the short window of time to be heard in a committee causes them to die.

The Pandemic and Vaccines

The Covid pandemic upended the 2020 legislative session and dominated the entire interim period through the election cycle, but most Covid bills from Democratic sponsors are now dead, as are bills downplaying vaccines.

Outside of bill sponsored by Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, to give grants to small businesses that were closed due to Covid, none of the dozens of Covid bills targeting unemployment, rental assistance, wage increases or residential eviction moratoriums from Democratic sponsors received a committee hearing.

It’s a fight Democrats have wanted since early in the pandemic, and a reason why they would have been in favor of a special session if the Republicans would have agreed to work with them on legislation. But while Democratic bills are not moving forward, efforts to raise the unemployment cap are not dead. Bipartisan efforts are making their way through each chamber.

Criticisms from the left that Gov. Doug Ducey was not effectively combating the virus or helping the people who needed it the most prompted bills like Paradise Valley Democrat Rep. Kelli Butler’s HB2788, which would increase the amount of paid sick leave for eligible employees in schools, and Glendale Democrat Sen. Martín Quezada’s SB1607, which would have prevented landlords from increasing the price tenants must pay for the duration of a state of emergency plus 30 days.

On the flipside, while Ducey and Arizona health officials push the safety of receiving one of the available vaccines that have been administered to at least 1 million people so far, at least two Republican lawmakers see the pandemic as a new reason to push an anti-vaccination agenda that has come up in consecutive sessions.

The vaccine is not mandatory, but state and federal leaders strongly encourage getting it. Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, still wanted to remove a potential condition for employment to receive the Covid vaccine. Barto has a history of anti-vaccination efforts against the advice of health experts, but has yet to get any passed — though her bill to exempt dogs and cats from rabies vaccinations is moving in the Senate. Her Covid vaccine bill SB1648 never received a hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee.

An effort from Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction would have removed school immunization requirements, though it was not limited to the Covid vaccine.

Abortion

A bill from Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, would have allowed women who get abortions and the doctors who perform them to be prosecuted for homicide, but it didn’t go anywhere after national attention at the start of session.

HB2650 would have given counties and the Attorney General’s Office the power to prosecute abortions while directing officials to enforce the law regardless of any federal laws or court rulings – such as the landmark 1973 case Roe v Wade – to the contrary. It contained an exemption for cases where the mother’s life was in danger, but not in cases when a pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. It was never assigned to a committee.

Other similar bills would legally classify abortion as homicide have been introduced in several other states over the past few years but have never gotten far. Blackman introduced another version of the bill, HB2878, a couple days before the House committee hearing deadline, which would allow abortion to be treated as homicide but doesn’t include the language directing the state to ignore federal courts that the other bill did. It died in the House Judiciary Committee without a hearing.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, introduced a bill this year to repeal the unenforced pre-Roe v Wade abortion ban still on the books in Arizona. It was left to die after being referred to two committees – usually an ominous sign of a bill’s fate.

Responding to the Ballot

In clear response to the passage of 2020’s Proposition 208 (Invest in Education) Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, introduced a ballot referral that would require voters to reauthorize tax increases every five years. Since Prop. 208 was a tax levy on Arizona’s highest income earners for the purposes of funding public education, it would go to the ballot again in 2024 – along with all other retroactive tax increases approved on the ballot. Petersen’s SCR1028 never received a hearing.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, wanted to get a bill approved to crack down on marijuana impairments on the road – a provision that was not addressed when voters approved Proposition 207 (Smart and Safe Arizona), which legalized recreational marijuana for adults. Kavanagh’s HB2084 would set a blood level limit of two nanograms per milliliter to prove impairment, which experts say is not an accurate measure for marijuana intoxication. The bill died without a committee hearing.

Cell Phone with apps

Anti-Twitter

Conservatives have long complained that social media giants are biased against them, and two lawmakers who were particularly active in using social media to push conspiracy theories about the results of the 2020 election introduced bills to do something about it. Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, filed HB2180 in early January, a bill seeking to penalize social media companies that censor content for “politically biased reasons” by deeming them a “publisher,” not a “platform,” and holding them “liable for damages suffered by an online user because of the person’s actions.” And Townsend Introduced SB1428, which would have let anyone sue Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites if they delete or minimize the reach of posts.

Neither of their bills ever got a hearing. And neither of them are on Twitter anymore. Both deleted their accounts in late January although Finchem, like many other conservatives who decry Big Tech bias, is still active on Parler and Gab.

Freshman blues

Heading into the session, everyone expected a repeat of last year’s bitter fight over whether transgender girls should be allowed to participate in girls’ interscholastic sports. Similar battles are raging in legislatures across the country, as part of a nationwide push following a Connecticut lawsuit filed by female athletes who say they lost chances at athletic scholarships to two transgender girls who took top spots at track and field competitions.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman attempted to head off the potential bills with a prominent op-ed in the Arizona Republic arguing that students should be allowed to play on teams consistent with their gender identity — which, for transgender students, is different from their biological sex.

Wendy Rogers
Wendy Rogers

Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, filed SB1637 early in the session to require only biological girls be permitted to play for girls’ teams, but Senate President Karen Fann never assigned it to a committee. Barto, the Phoenix Republican who led the charge last year, as well as ardent supporter Cathi Herrod, director of the influential social conservative organization Center for Arizona Policy, instead opted to hang back and wait for courts to rule on challenges to an Idaho law that would bar transgender girls from girls’ sports and a recent President Biden executive order that appears to require they be allowed.

SB1637 is just one of many Rogers bills that earned headlines in the national conservative media but won’t move forward. Fann also declined to assign her SCR1026, which would have removed Planned Parenthood founder and longtime Tucson resident Margaret Sanger from the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame.

Senate Transportation and Technology Committee Chair David Livingston didn’t bite at Rogers’ pitch to rename State Route 260 the “Donald J. Trump Highway.” Barto didn’t hear Rogers’ SB1511, which would classify so-called “gender-affirming care” as criminal abuse, or her SB1383 to ban abortions after a physician can detect a heartbeat – typically six weeks into pregnancy or just two weeks after a woman misses her period.

Committee chairs also declined to hear Rogers’ bills creating harsher punishments for blocking roadways during protests and defacing monuments.

Lewallan, the legislative consultant, said she thought most of the bills from Rogers died because of her different approach than the typical freshman lawmaker.

“She tackled really big, high-profile issues her first year. There was no learning curve. A lot of people come in and especially into the Senate, and take a handful of issues and really kind of learn their way through the process, and she had a very different strategy than a lot of freshmen,” Lewallan said.

 

 

Incoming lawmakers, governor-elect aim to tackle housing

New homes are under construction at the new master-planned community Reserve at Red Rock sits in Mesa, Arizona USA on November 30, 2022. Housing affordability has fallen to its lowest level in 33 years, and mortgage and home prices have surged. (Photo by: Alexandra Buxbaum/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Republicans and Democrats want to address housing in the upcoming legislative session, and some of their proposals overlap.

Everyone in and around the Capitol is aware of the housing shortage regardless of political affiliation but agreeing on solutions is a tricky issue that pits state and local control against one another.

Earlier this year, the Legislature approved a Housing Supply Study Committee that has been meeting for the past several months to learn about Arizona’s lack of affordable housing.

The committee members are now preparing documents on the issue and how they want to address it.

Rep. Steve Kaiser, House, affordable housing
Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix

Committee chair Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, will present the report within the next two weeks or so. He will also likely sponsor some legislation that will come out of the committee as he did last year.

Democrat Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs has a very detailed housing plan that includes several proposed bills. She is a former social worker and legislator with an interest in housing problems.

Land costs and building costs have increased, more people are moving into Arizona, inexpensive housing is decreasing, and new housing isn’t being built as quickly as it did in previous years, but lawmakers already have possible solutions on the table.

Lifting Zoning Restrictions

Jake Hinman, Arizona Multihousing Association director of government affairs, said, “Zoning has made it extraordinarily difficult to get through the process. NIMBYISM is a result of zoning.”

He accused cities like Scottsdale of being “downright hostile” toward affordable housing while other cities like Tempe are taking the issue full-on and ending up housing the workforce and low-income residents.

Perhaps the most commonly repeated theme in the Housing Supply Study Committee is the need to cut back on zoning “red tape” that discourages developers from wanting to build homes in Arizona.

“Twenty years ago, you could take a property from dirt and build a house within six months,” Senate President-elect Warren Petersen said in an economic proposal he released earlier this year. “Those days are long gone as a litany of hurdles have been placed in obtaining approvals for land development and housing. Now, it can take as long as four years! Let’s increase the housing supply by shortening this window. One way to accomplish this is through administrative approvals for all projects that meet existing laws and requirements.”

Kaiser has made repealing zoning restrictions a priority over the past several meetings of the Housing Supply Study Committee, but the question that remains to be tackled is which zoning regulations must go.

This is not necessarily a partisan issue.

Hobbs offers some specific deregulation proposals in her housing plan.

Hobbs, gubernatorial, election, Lake, debate, Clean Elections Commission, PBS, debate, Lake, Ask Me Anything, education, Chandler, election, gubernatorial, PBS, debate, interview, Lake, Mike Broomhead, gubernatorial, candidates, Ducey, border, abortion
Katie Hobbs

“Examples of zoning changes that lead to more housing inventory include: building an additional dwelling unit, an accessory unit or a single-room occupancy unit on a residential lot; allowing higher density zoning that can accommodate more development of moderate-income housing; permitting higher density residential projects in or near commercial and mixed-use zones, major transit investment corridors, or employment centers; reducing restrictive requirements for affordable housing projects, such as minimum parking spaces, minimum unit sizes, or common area requirements; and providing zoning and financial incentives to developers who dedicate a certain percentage of units to market or below market rate housing,” she wrote.

Increasing density and allowing non-traditional homes also came up several times in the Housing Supply Study Committee.

Inclusionary Zoning

Inclusionary zoning requires developers to devote a certain percentage of the units in a project to affordable housing and it’s banned in Arizona. Theile included the idea as a recommendation to the committee and was met with pushback from Spencer Kamps, vice president of legislative affairs of the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona.

Kamps argued that inclusionary housing essentially taxes the very developers who are trying to create needed housing. He asked where in the United States inclusionary housing has been able to fix a housing shortage, and his question wasn’t answered. Kaiser said he’s not convinced inclusionary housing can do enough to help Arizona.

The idea got a more positive reception from Tempe Mayor Corey Woods who said, “I do think an inclusionary zoning policy would be tremendously helpful.”

Glendale Community Services Director Jean Moreno asked whether inclusionary zoning funded by low-income tax credits could be a solution that keeps developers incentivized and affordable housing coming in.

In this Dec. 4, 2019, photo, the main entrance is seen of a new apartment building opened for a ceremony at the Native American Connections Urban Living on Fillmore affordable housing unit in Phoenix. Republicans and Democrats want to address housing in the upcoming legislative session and some of their proposals overlap. The legislature approved a Housing Supply Study Committee in the most recent session that has been meeting for several months to learn about Arizona’s lack of affordable housing. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Tax Increment Financing

Several states use tax increment financing or TIF, which incentivizes developers. A city sets aside the area to be developed and when property taxes in the region increase, the added revenue – separate from the base revenue stream – is diverted to the developer as a subsidy.

Arizona allows some forms of TIF but bans others. This issue has come up several times in the Legislature and is usually pushed by cities and towns that would get the benefit of more control over development.

Income Discrimination

In Arizona, developments often don’t allow people who use housing vouchers to rent at their properties. Tucson tried to stop developers from discriminating on income source, and it is now the subject of an investigation.

Speaker of the House-elect Ben Toma, R-Peoria, filed a complaint against Tucson on Nov. 16 for blocking income source-based discrimination, which he says violates state law.

“The Arizona Legislature … has explicitly prohibited municipalities from wielding their fair housing codes to continually exact more regulatory burdens on rental property owners,” Toma wrote. State law does ban municipalities with large populations from adopting fair housing ordinances.

Moreno, of Glendale, said discrimination is a problem because vouchers allow mixed income housing and so many communities won’t accept the vouchers. Cities only get a limited number of vouchers and a tight budget for them. Residents must be at the “very low” income level to qualify for them.

Blocking income source discrimination would be a good move in her opinion. “This would provide an opportunity to support households that are at a very low income,” she said.

Housing Trust Fund

Several legislators, including Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, and Kaiser have sponsored legislation to fund the Housing Trust Fund with the Arizona Department of Housing, which can be used for projects like homeless shelters. The HTF got a significant allocation in last year’s budget, but Hobbs wants to increase it even more – as does Alston.  

  

 

 

Lawmakers’ focus veers from Covid relief in 1st weeks of session

Covid 19 stock

After nearly four full weeks of session, none of the bills lawmakers sent to the governor’s desk deals with the Covid pandemic, a shift in emphasis that’s especially noticeable given lawmakers’ insistence to help residents and businesses survive the crisis.

Instead, the bulk of pandemic-related measures to clear committees so far seek to limit or overturn Gov. Doug Ducey’s emergency authorities.

Absent from the debate, for example, is the priority by Republican lawmakers to ensure businesses don’t face frivolous lawsuits. Also left to be tackled is House Speaker Rusty Bowers’ priority to accelerate the delivery of vaccines in the state. 

Indeed, the first measure the governor signed, plus the four others awaiting his signature, tackle non-Covid issues. 

The governor earlier outlined an agenda to confront the visus, which he hoped the Legislature would pass. 

In his state address. Ducey focused on Covid liability protections for businesses and expanding access to broadband internet, as well as offering laptops and wi-fi to students, a problem Covid magnified.

CJ Karamargin, Ducey’s communications director said, the governor’s office is “not going to legislate ourselves out of this pandemic,” a play on Ducey’s recent comments that the state can “vaccinate our way out” of the pandemic. 

“The legislative session is just getting underway. We’re confident they’re gonna deal with the governor’s agenda,” he said. 

To date, the virus has claimed the lives of nearly 14,000 Arizonans and infected more than 750,000. 

The only pandemic legislation to have gained any headway in the Legislature seek to chip away at the governor’s emergency authorities, which Ducey has deployed to manage the COVID-19 crisis.

Republicans and Democrats alike say they want to help Arizonans. 

Democrats want to raise the unemployment assistance cap of $240 and help Arizonans avoid evictions. Arizona’s unemployment benefits are the second-lowest in the country, and it was a hot topic throughout the summer months when federal assistance first expired and Ducey made no inclination to raise the state’s cap. He instead punted to Congress to act. 

Republicans, on the other hand, seek to protect businesses from lawsuits arising out of claims that an individual contracted the virus at a company’s premises, a priority for the majority party and an idea Ducey supports but which didn’t make it through last year.

Some, like Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, want to exempt businesses from following mask mandates. A measure from Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, would prevent businesses from requiring employees to get the Covid vaccine as a condition to return to work. And Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, wants to expand the definition of essential businesses to include those that sell firearms. 

Ducey said in an interview in early January that there’s a reason he never called the Legislature into a special session last year.  

“In a national emergency or a state emergency, action is required. And that is really not what the legislative process is famous for,” he told the Arizona Capitol Times

Absent legislation, Duecy’s administration is focusing on accelerating the delivery of the Covid vaccines. 

The state now operates two statewide vaccination sites. The second site, which opened on Feb. 1, already added 21,000 new appointments that were scooped up in a little under an hour.

The first legislation Ducey signed this session comes from Chandler Republicans Rep. Jeff Weninger and Sen. J.D. Mesnard, who introduced mirror measures at the behest of Attorney General Mark Brnovich to crack down on workplaces discriminating against pregnant women. Mesnard and Weninger also introduced the bill last year, but it died due to the pandemic. 

The other bills on the governor’s desk received bipartisan support, but none deals with the pandemic.

Among the bills lawmaker fast-tracked to Ducey’s desk is a proposal by Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Scottsdale, to close a “loophole” when disciplining non-certified teachers accused of misconduct. Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale introduced the same legislation last year, but it did not make headway before the pandemic shut down the session. 

The state previously had no way to track or discipline non-certified teachers accused of sexual misconduct, allowing them to remain in schools. 

The three other bills from Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, Rep. Timothy Dunn, R-Yuma and Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, are also awaiting the governor’s signature.

 

Livingston accuses Blanc of doctoring referendum petitions, calls for resignation

Rep. Isela Blanc (D-Tempe)
Rep. Isela Blanc (D-Tempe)

A Republican lawmaker said Democratic Rep. Isela Blanc should fully comply with any investigation into allegations she or others doctored petitions to help get a referendum of school voucher expansion on the ballot, and if she’s found in the wrong, resign from office.

But it’s unclear if anyone, be it the Attorney General’s Office or the House Ethics Committee, is going to investigate those allegations.

A spokesman for Attorney General Mark Brnovich said their office is evaluating whether those allegations, brought by an attorney for the pro-voucher group American Federation for Children, are significant enough to merit charges of a felony violation of state law. And Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, chairman of the House Ethics Committee, has not yet determined if he’ll proceed with an ethics investigation requested by Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria.

Despite the lack of a pending investigation or charges against Blanc, a first-term Tempe Democrat, Livingston said it’s not too soon to jump to the conclusion that Blanc either committed a crime, or is aware of someone with the campaign to refer a bill expanding access to school vouchers to the ballot who committed a crime.

Rep. David Livingston (R-Peoria)
Rep. David Livingston (R-Peoria)

In his complaint, filed against Blanc on August 30, Livingston cited allegations brought forward by Timothy La Sota, an attorney for the AFC, as evidence that a petition sheet Blanc was photographed with was improperly circulated in violation of state law. In his complaint, he also echoed questions from La Sota as to whether she falsified that petition sheet, leading Livingston to declare that Blanc “has unequivocally engaged in disorderly conduct” in violation of House rules.

Livingston said he’s confident the attorney general can suss out the truth, and that Blanc should be prepared to leave office depending on the outcome.

“Either she’s going to help us prosecute, help the attorney general prosecute who did it if it was not her. If it was her, she should resign. And if she doesn’t, she’ll get expelled. I just think it’s easy,” Livingston said.

House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios
House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios (D-Phoenix) (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, said Livingston’s accusations against a fellow lawmaker are premature, and she questioned the motives behind his filing of an ethics complaint.

“I can’t help but wonder how much of this has to do with sheer frustration by the Republicans at the highly successful grassroots effort to overturn their beloved ESA bill. And that’s just a question, but that is a question that immediately came to mind when I found out the basis of the ethics filing,” Rios said.

As for Livingston’s claims of Blanc’s guilt, “he appears to be putting himself as judge and jury on this issue. And the reality is, there’s a process that needs to play out,” she said.

Blanc has not returned several calls for comment.

La Sota has questioned the validity of at least four petitions sheets, including one circulated by Blanc, and questioned if someone from the SOS Arizona campaign systematically corrected petition sheets in violation of state law.

“It is hard to believe that someone who was given responsibility for handling the petition sheets did not go through and ‘fix’ legally insufficient petitions sheets on a systematic basis,” La Sota wrote in an email.

Livingston files ethics complaint against Blanc over alleged petition doctoring

Rep. Isela Blanc (D-Tempe)
Rep. Isela Blanc (D-Tempe)

A Republican lawmaker wants Democratic Rep. Isela Blanc investigated by the House Ethics Committee, citing allegations that petition sheets she gathered to block an expansion of school vouchers were doctored.

Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, filed an ethics complaint against Blanc on Wednesday, alleging that she engaged in disorderly behavior. That behavior is tied to his belief that the Tempe Democrat knowingly broke state law by improperly filling out a petition sheet as part of the referendum against SB1431, the legislation that gives all Arizona students, albeit enrollment numbers are capped, access to state money for attending private or parochial schools.

There is evidence that a petition sheet Blanc was photographed with was improperly circulated in violation of state law, Livingston wrote in his complaint, as well as serious questions as to whether she falsified that petition sheet, leading Livingston to declare that Blanc “has unequivocally engaged in disorderly conduct” in violation of House rules.

To make that claim, Livingston is effectively accusing Blanc of criminal conduct.

State law makes it clear that those who “knowingly” violate statutes detailing the signature gathering process are guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. In his complaint, Livingston encourages the chamber’s Ethics Committee chairman, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, to investigate Blanc by making a connection between committing a criminal offense and disorderly behavior as defined by House rules.

Rep. David Livingston (R-Peoria)
Rep. David Livingston (R-Peoria)

“While a violation of the House Rules is deemed disorderly conduct, so, too, should be engaging in any activity punishable as a criminal offense,” Livingston wrote.

As of now, the allegations against Blanc are just allegations. Livingston’s complaint cites a report in the Yellow Sheet Report, the Arizona Capitol Times’ sister publication, regarding a letter sent to the Attorney General’s Office and Secretary of State’s Office alleging that some petition sheets gathered by Save Our Schools Arizona, which is spearheading the referendum campaign against voucher expansion,  were doctored.

Attorney Timothy La Sota, who sent the letter on behalf of the pro-voucher group American Federation for Children, also sent photos collected from SOS Arizona social media accounts that show Blanc posing with petition sheets La Sota argued were improperly filled out. He said that signature gatherers doctored some petitions by checking a box indicating whether they were paid circulators or volunteers only after they circulated the petitions, not before, as required by state law.

Christine Marsh
Christine Marsh

La Sota said at the time he doesn’t know for sure who was involved, but Blanc, as well as Christine Marsh, a Democrat running for the Senate in Legislative District 28, were included in photos La Sota submitted as evidence.

Those photos showed Blanc and Marsh holding filled-out petitions that do not yet have the boxes checked. When the petitions were submitted to the secretary of state, the boxes had since been checked, La Sota said.

“All I know is that the law says you have to check the box before circulating, and they didn’t,” La Sota said earlier this month. “And then after the signatures were gathered, someone came along and checked the box.”

Marsh has called those allegations “frivolous” and “ridiculous,” while Blanc has yet to respond to them. She did not immediately return a call for comment on Thursday.

Assuming Blanc broke state law, Livingston wrote that “it is of criminal importance that (Farnsworth) investigate this matter further. The integrity of our elected leaders is a standard we must strive to vigorously uphold, and Arizona’s constituents deserve answers.”

Farnsworth said Thursday he hasn’t seen the complaint yet, but “we’ll take it seriously.”

Livingston takes big lead in 3-way GOP primary

Sen. David Livingston appears to be easily fending off primary challenges from a retired police chief and a Vietnamese refugee in Legislative District 22.

Livingston holds more than 68% of the vote in LD22, with Vietnamese refugee Hop Nguyen trailing at 19% and retired police chief Van DiCarlo at 12%.

Livingston was elected to  the House in 2012 and moved to the Senate in 2018. He’s part of a bloc of fiscally conservative senators who in the past two years have considered tanking a proposed budget to ensure a preferred tax conformity package and argued passionately against ending the legislative session in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

DiCarlo worked for 30 years in law enforcement, including as the chief of police in the Chicago suburb of Glenwood, Illinois. More recently, he served as the executive director of the Maricopa County Republican Party and a vice chairman of the LD22 GOP.

Nguyen left Vietnam as a teenage refugee in 1975 and worked a series of odd jobs including as a janitor, butcher, missionary teacher, church planter and computer programmer.

Livingston will face Democrat Sarah Tyree, an Army veteran and social worker, in November. Livingston and former Sen. Judy Burges before him have defeated Democrats running for the seat with more than 65% of the vote in previous elections.

Mesnard led in vetoed bills, Brophy McGee most prolific lawmaker in 2019

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, passed the most legislation in 2019. Here she advocates for a bipartisan bill she sponsored to update the state’s non-discrimination laws to add protections for the LGBTQ community. The bill did not get a hearing. PHOTO BY ARIEL SALK/CRONKITE NEWS
Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, passed the most legislation in 2019. Here she advocates for a bipartisan bill she sponsored to update the state’s non-discrimination laws to add protections for the LGBTQ community. The bill did not get a hearing. PHOTO BY ARIEL SALK/CRONKITE NEWS

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, knows how to get legislation passed. This year, he learned how to get it vetoed.

Mesnard, who led the Legislature with the most vetoes, went toe-to-toe with Gov. Doug Ducey on tax conformity and lost in February.

As they were still debating tax conformity in April – and Mesnard was making his case publicly – Ducey vetoed another of the senator’s bills, a proposal on distracted drivers.

Ducey, who wielded his veto power 11 times in 2019, rejected in June a third Mesnard bill, which would have altered the state’s sentencing code.

Mesnard said that disagreements are expected each year.

J.D. Mesnard
J.D. Mesnard

“Is it an honor?,” Mesnard said. “Obviously there was some big issues that the governor and I were on different sides of, and that’s just the way it goes.”

Mesnard said he wasn’t happy about the vetoes, but that he has been vetoed before and has moved on.

“I wasn’t happy about any of them. The distracted driving was probably the biggest surprise, just because I had been given indications that they were on board previously,” he said.

Many lawmakers avoided Ducey’s rejection this session, he signed 320 of the 331 bills passed, tied for his fewest vetoes since taking office.

Those who had the best “batting average” this session, which is the percentage of bills they sponsored that were signed by the governor, tended not to have proposed many pieces of legislation.

The top seven out of just 10 lawmakers with a batting average above 50 percent sponsored fewer than 20 bills, and Rep. Tim Dunn, R-Yuma, who had the best average this year – with 80 percent of his bills signed by Ducey – only sponsored five, four of which were signed into law.

Dunn said sponsoring only a few bills was not intentional, but that he focused on things he “knew needed to be changed.”

He also said that passing a large number of bills is not always the best way for the Legislature to function and that sometimes lawmakers need to “play defense.”

“We don’t need to make a bunch of new laws,” Dunn said. “Sometimes we just need to clean things up.”

Dunn also pointed out that his average should be 100 percent because a mirror version of his House bill allowing Hemp farming was signed by Ducey.

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, was the most prolific lawmaker this session, with 27 of her 54 bills receiving Ducey’s signature.

Brophy McGee said her process involved a lot of help, but that ultimately her decision to sponsor bills came down to whether an issue needed to be tackled.

“I try not to propose bills that don’t need doing,” she said. Brophy McGee said she tries to propose bills that will have bipartisan support.

Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, could have tied Brophy McGee’s number of successes, but Ducey vetoed his per diem increase, leaving him one shy of the mark.

Even though Ducey signed 24 percent of the bills that were proposed this session, Republican lawmakers had a much higher chance of their legislation going through.

Republicans had batting average of 34 percent after 312 of their 915 bills made it into law, while Democrats saw eight of their 504 signed, or 1.6 percent. No Democrat passed more than one bill this session.

Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, sponsored the most bills this session, 72 in all, but only 18 were signed into law. Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, sponsored the most among Democrats with 71, none of which became law.

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.
PHOTO BY ROSS D. FRANKLIN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

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.

Races for 2022 statewide offices taking shape

Republicans GOP Democrats politics parties

Arizona is sitting somewhere between keeping the 2020 election alive and preparing for the 2022 election, where all statewide executive offices will be on the ballot as well as a U.S. Senate seat. 

As an audit of the previous election dominates the headlines, candidates from both major political parties are already beginning to launch campaigns for 2022. 

In a matter of hours on May 17, two Republican women announced bids for governor and both have close ties to Gov. Doug Ducey, who terms out after 2022.  

Arizona State Treasurer Kimberly Yee launched her campaign for governor that morning, which has been widely expected since she was sworn in as treasurer in January 2019, and that afternoon developer and Ducey-appointed regent Karrin Taylor Robson also announced her bid.  

Yee is the first Republican to jump into the race and she did so with a slick campaign ad that shows she will attempt to focus on two issues that will appeal to a wide base of Republicans – the border and opposing “socialist policies.”  

The video also leaned heavily on President Trump.  

“President Trump’s America First agenda had our economy booming like never before,” Yee said. “But now, our way of life is under attack by the corrupt press, reckless corporate leaders and politicians who put socialist ideals over people, our freedom of speech and our elections.”  

Yee was seen several times on the campaign trail stumping for Trump and was front-and-center attempting to defeat a 2020 ballot measure for a new tax to fund education.  

Yee has been silent on any topic of the election, never addressing whether she thinks the election was stolen, if Biden is the legitimate president and her thoughts on the audit of Maricopa County’s ballots. 

In contrast, Robson’s video announcement was short and to the point. In 45 seconds, she took a shot at President Biden and Vice President Harris and said she’s excited to travel around Arizona to hear from Arizonans “about how we can stand together and fight the radical Biden-Harris agenda.”  

Robson and Yee will have to duke it out for Ducey’s support, as both have been close allies of the governor. 

Neither Yee nor Robson could be reached for comment.  

With roughly 18 months to go until the 2022 election, Arizona’s other statewide races are beginning to take shape, and Yee’s announcement means all but one statewide executive office will be open for the taking.  

With strong potential GOP gubernatorial contenders in Robson, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and former U.S. Rep Matt Salmon, there was some speculation that Yee might stay in her treasurer seat. But increasing rumors that Brnovich is leaning toward taking on Democrat Mark Kelly for the U.S. Senate, gave Yee an opportunity to position herself in the top tier of the potential primary candidates.  

Yee’s announcement opens up another statewide race, leaving only Arizona Superintendent Kathy Hoffman running for re-election.  

OVERSEEING ELECTIONS 

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is expected to imminently join Marco Lopez in the Democratic primary for governor, leaving the Secretary of State’s Office vacant. Lopez, the former mayor of Nogales and one-time chief of staff of the Customs and Border Protection, launched his campaign in March. Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, said he is considering a run for governor, but his current priority is passing a budget in the Legislature.  

“I do think there is a real need in Arizona for commonsense leaders who can help this great state not just recover, but thrive and grow,” Lieberman said. “I can say this: If I run, I will have a top flight team with a track record of winning statewide in Arizona and all the resources I will need to compete and win.” 

House Minority Leader Reginal Bolding, D-Laveen, and perhaps former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes could run for secretary of state against Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, who has already filed his bid. 

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who has been the prime sponsor of many election bills, is a likely candidate for the top election official, and former long-time state legislator Kate Brophy McGee told The Yellow Sheet Report the office was on a “very long list” of offices she’s looking at for a potential 2022 run.  

Bolding confirmed to Yellow Sheet last month that he was “very much exploring” running for secretary of state. 

THE TOP PROSECUTOR 

With Brnovich termed out, twice-failed congressional candidate Tiffany Shedd and former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Andrew Gould already jumped into the race for attorney general on the Republican side. Democrats also have candidate in Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, who filed last week one day after January Contreras, the 2018 candidate, announced she would not run.  

Meanwhile, there’s increasing chatter that U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton, a Democrat, may jump into the AG’s race. And for Republicans, perennial candidate Rodney Glassman, who has not won an election since he was a Tucson Democrat, is expected to jump in as is Lacy Cooper, a former U.S. attorney and Dawn Grove, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry board chair. 

The Treasurer’s Office hasn’t fielded many rumored candidates, except Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, who has been long rumored to have his eye on the office. No Democrats have been rumored thus far, but Mark Manoil, who ran in 2018 and lost to Yee by roughly percentage points, is a possibility to run again. 

Nobody has served two terms in that office since Tony West won in 1990 and 1994 and no Democrat has held that office since Bob Kennedy in 1964.  

Hoffman recently found a Republican challenger in Tom Horne, the former superintendent of public instruction and attorney general, but sources haven’t said much about other Republicans eyeing the chance to take her on yet. A couple of local school board members filed to run for the race already, though.  

Finally, Bill Pierce, a 2018 fan favorite for mine inspector, posted on Facebook earlier this year he was going to run again since Joe Hart is termed out, but Pierce has not yet filed his statement of interest. 

 

 

Republicans vote to expand voucher program, revamp oversight

school-money-620

Republican senators advanced a bill that would expand eligibility for Arizona’s school voucher program and strip oversight of those vouchers from the newly elected Democratic head of the Department of Education.

On 6-4 party lines votes, lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee approved both SB1395 and SB1320. Sponsored by advocates of the Empowerment Scholarship Account program, Arizona’s version of vouchers, the bills were criticized as a subversion of the will of the voters.

It was only months ago that voters rejected a sweeping effort to expand vouchers, Democratic senators and opponents noted.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, the sponsor of SB1395, presented the measure as needed reforms for the ESA program that would provide more certainty for the parents who are given state dollars to pay for specialized, private or parochial education for their children.

The Snowflake Republican argued that the voters’ overwhelming rejection of Proposition 305, a ballot referral to block a 2017 law expanding access to the ESA program, sent a different message to lawmakers.

Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake)
Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake)

“This debate over Prop. 305 was over the expansion, and not over the reforms in that original bill,” she said. Her bill is only about reforms, she added.

But even some Republicans on the committed conceded that the bill would certainly grant more schoolchildren access to the ESA program, both by broadening the school boundary lines that determine if a student is being served by a failing school and widening the age range at which children can enter the ESA program without having first attended a public school.

Still, Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said he doesn’t believe Allen’s legislation is an expansion bill.

“If you change a definition and it snags a few extra folks, I don’t know if that’s really an expansion,” Mesnard said. He added that the failure of Prop. 305 “should not paralyze” the Legislature in attempts to improve the ESA program.

A legion of red-clad teachers and parents testified that Mesnard and Allen’s consideration of what “expansion” means was flawed, as did the Finance Committee’s four Democrats.

“What I am opposed to, what my constituents are opposed to, is expanding vouchers and expanding this program,” said Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Chandler.

A host of parents that utilize the ESA program said there are other key provisions in SB1395 that will ensure they’re using the program’s funding responsibly and efficiently.

Dr. April Adams, a mother from Gilbert with a 6-year-old son, said Allen’s intent is to reform, not expand, the voucher program.

“One of the most frustrating things is not knowing how we can spend money for our son,” she said.

Other parents shared similar stories of frustrations with the advice they receive from the Department of Education on the use of their ESA funding. Misspending funds can result in those dollars being frozen for parents.

Dissatisfaction with ESA management was also at the heart of the debate on SB1320. Sponsored by Sen. David Livingston, the bill would place management and oversight of vouchers in the hands of State Treasurer Kimberly Yee, a Republican.

In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 photo, Kathy Hoffman, a public school speech therapist, is a Democratic candidate running for superintendent of public education, in Phoenix. Hoffman is running against three-term California congressman Frank Riggs, the founding president of an online charter school. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Kathy Hoffman . (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Livingston, a Peoria Republican, denied that it was his intent to strip oversight from the new Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman, because she’s a Democrat. It’s his intent that the treasurer’s office would hire a third party vendor to run the ESA program, he previously told the Arizona Capitol Times.

And Mesnard claimed that Livingston’s proposal was no new idea — a nearly identical bill was sponsored last year while a Republican still served as superintendent, he said.

The Arizona Capitol Times could find no record of such a bill sponsored in 2018.

Allen’s SB1395 would also strip the education department of its ESA management duties by requiring, rather than allowing, the department to hire a private vendor to operate the program.

Democrats urged Livingston to table his proposal in favor of giving Hoffman more time to begin running the program. They cited rave reviews from parents who utilize vouchers of Karla Escobar, who Hoffman hired as ESA director on January 12.

And Hoffman recently formed a task force with ESA supporters and opponents to research better ways to serve the ESA community.

Sen. Lupe Contreras urged parents that use ESAs for their children to have patience while voting against both bills.

“Let things happen. There’s positive change coming,” said Contreras, D-Avondale. “Let it take its course, and you might be very happen with what you see if you just give it a chance.”

Senate approves horse racing bill despite sponsor’s objections

horse-race-620

The Senate passed a bill Wednesday regulating horse racing simulcasts over pleas from the original sponsor to kill it.

Rep. Mark Finchem gave up his public lands management bill for a strike-everything amendment that would let one racetrack, Rillito Park Racetrack in Tucson, show simulcast races on more days than currently allowed, provided the horsemen’s organization agrees. But after the Senate approved a floor amendment that would require the Arizona Racing Commission to  approve simulcast agreements, the Oro Valley Republican texted Sen. J.D. Mesnard “Kill it there, please.”

Wednesday’s 18-11 Senate vote was the Legislature’s latest foray into an ongoing feud between the state’s three horse racing tracks: Rillito, Prescott Valley’s Arizona Downs and Phoenix’s Turf Paradise. The simulcast company that operates in the southwest provides signals for Turf Paradise at both its track and offsite betting facilities, but it doesn’t provide off-track betting simulcasts for the other two tracks’ networks.

To that end, Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, sponsored a floor amendment that would require simulcasts to be offered to each track and betting facility under the same terms. He described the amendment as prohibiting “anti-competitive or deceptive” practices.

That’s not an issue for the Legislature, Mesnard said on the floor.

“Any deceptive practices are not OK, but I think we’ve got to be careful because this amendment is injecting us into the contractual agreement between private entities,” Mesnard said. “What this boils down to for me is the state telling an entity that has an agreement, has a contract, you have to serve all or none.”

Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, agreed. He noted the horse tracks have been participating in meetings with the racing commission, and said they should work issues out among themselves and come back to the Legislature next year if needed.

“It’s too big of a stick for us to come down and do this on a bill,” he said.

Mesnard and Livingston votes against the bill.

During testimony on the bill in front of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee earlier this year, a lobbyist for Turf Paradise said they wanted to proceed with meetings.

But Arizona Downs co-owner Tom Auther said the meetings were going nowhere because Turf Paradise benefited from the status quo.

“If we go to the legislature, they say we’ve got a stakeholders meeting, work it out there,” he said. “If we go to the commission, they say ‘You’ve got a bill in the legislature, work it out there.”

Kelsey Lundy, a lobbyist who represents Turf Paradise, said the meetings did not result in an agreement because Arizona Downs did not negotiate.

Auther urged lawmakers to consider adding something like Borrelli’s amendment to the bill. So did Leroy Gessmann, president of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

The two other companies that provide simulcasts — NYRA, which handles New York tracks, and TwinSpires, which shows races in the Midwest — both provide signals to all three Arizona tracks, Gessman said.

Borrelli said the state already regulates horse racing and has anti-trust legislation, and he didn’t see any issue with addressing a monopoly through his amendment.

“Horse racing is already highly regulated,” Borrelli said. “There is a commission. This just gives the commission control of making sure everyone is playing fairly.”

And although the bill’s original sponsor, Finchem, texted Mesnard to ask that the bill be killed and sent Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, a text saying he planned to ask to retain the bill when it returned to the House, Borrelli said he was confident Finchem would come around because of new information that came to light since Tuesday night. Borrelli had not responded to inquiries about what that new information by our deadline.

Correction: The original version of this story erroneously reported Turf Paradise is the only track that receives simulcast signals from the simulcast company that operates in the Southwest. The simulcast signal is available at all three tracks, but the company doesn’t provide off-track betting simulcasts to two tracks’ networks. The corrected version also includes a statement from Turf Paradise’s lobbyist. 

Senate calls it quits, leaves House to decide what’s next

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita makes a point during a Senate session to sine die. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita makes a point May 8 during a Senate session to sine die. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end.

The Senate notified the House early Friday afternoon that it had ended its legislative work, ending the session and killing hundreds of bills. The lower chamber has yet to accede to the request, leaving senators in an indefinite recess.

Senators sat in an unusually empty chamber, surrounded by a smaller-than-usual crew of mask-wearing staff and a larger-than-usual group of reporters. There were no lobbyists, no traditional ice cream in the members’ lounge, no mad dashes between buildings to rush last-minute bills, just an ultimately vain attempt by a small cadre of Republicans to forestall the inevitable motion to recess.

And instead of leaving in triumph, the 24 senators who voted for adjourning sine die walked into a parking lot full of protesters, who jeered and shouted into the senators’ car windows as they slowly pulled out. 

But it also isn’t really the end. Because the state constitution and legislative rules don’t permit either chamber to adjourn for more than three days without the other, the Senate now stands at recess. Lawmakers will have to come back once more to adjourn, Senate President Karen Fann said.

“We’re sending a message to the House,” Fann said. “We can’t keep going round and round and round.”

Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, speaks during May 7 as the Senate prepares to sine die. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times)
Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, speaks May 8 as the Senate prepares to sine die. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times)

Fann said the lawmakers in the lower chamber need more time to learn how government works and come to a consensus. When the House does, she said, the Senate will be there ready to accept a sine die motion or pass two or three COVID-19-related bills. 

“They need more time over there to be able to come to a consensus, which we have tried to do for the last four or five weeks,” she said. “This is our way of saying, ‘We still want to work with you, but we are putting the ball in your court.’”

House leadership, for the most, support ending the session, but not if it means working with Democrats. Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, promised earlier this week to bring the chamber back into session Friday at 1 p.m. But late Thursday,  after a bruising Zoom call with his colleagues, Bowers went back on the plan, explaining in a statement that members “of the House Republican Caucus believe that there is important work for us to do on behalf of the people of Arizona. “

On that call, many members expressed frustration with both executive and legislative leadership, insisting that a return to work was the only path forward — in part to keep a check on the Governor, who some in the caucus want to override through a concurrent resolution that would terminate the statewide declaration of emergency. 

On one hand, they say that the stay-at-home order has devastated their local economies. On the other, their pushback is personal.

“What’s happened is, by and large, the Legislature feels that the governor has ignored us and never really paid any attention to us, and probably doesn’t respect us very much,” said Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott. “All of a sudden, our leadership wanted to sine die. The members feel that if we were to sine die, it would make us look like we’re impotent.”

In the Senate, six verbose Republican holdouts caused Friday’s floor session — which Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said he expected would take only a few minutes — to drag on for three hours. 

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, a Chandler Republican who pushed hard to leave the Legislature at recess to maintain the ability to come back to the floor as needed, said adjourning sends a bad message to the people of Arizona.

He pointed out that lawmakers took heat two years ago, during the Red for Ed movement, when they adjourned normally on a Thursday to come back on a Monday as they normally do, because teachers thought their representatives were skipping town. This is much worse, he said. 

“We shouldn’t shut down our work before the people of Arizona can get back to work,” Mesnard said. 

Sen. Dave Farnsworth, R-Mesa, took it a step further, saying it would be selfish to adjourn sine die and equated  ending the session to deserting the military. 

“How could we even consider walking away?” he asked. “If we were on the battlefield and we walked away, we could be shot for desertion.” 

Farnsworth, and fellow Republican Sen. David Livingston, insisted that the most important thing for Arizona now is to get everyone back to work. The more important thing is staying alive, retorted Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix.

Alston, 77, is the Senate’s oldest member. She addressed most of her comments to fellow older Arizonans who she described as being in the “special class” of individuals most susceptible to serious cases of COVID-19. 

“Please, let’s sine die, let’s stay home, stay healthy,” she said. “We’ve done a good job of social distancing. Let’s keep it up a little longer until we have data we need to make sound decisions that are good for our small businesses, people and economy.”

While every Democratic senator and all Senate employees kept masks on for the entire session, only two Republicans with health backgrounds did: Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, a Phoenix Republican who heads the health and human services committee, and Sen. Tyler Pace, a Mesa Republican who serves on the committee and owns a medical supply business. Mesnard had a mask on intermittently, Buckeye Republican Sine Kerr had one around her neck, and Sen. Heather Carter, who began practicing physical distancing a week before the rest of the chamber, watched from her office.

If Republican lawmakers can’t even agree to wear masks to the Senate floor for sine die, they definitely can’t resume the session, said Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale. Quezada, who has Type 1 Diabetes, tore into his colleagues and the protesters outside, speaking so animatedly that his own mask repeatedly slipped below his nose.

Republicans talked a lot about personal responsibility, he said, but they weren’t demonstrating it. 

“You could have been exposed, and now you’re impacting me,” he said. “That’s exactly why we need a heavy hand of government, because that lack of personal responsibility is affecting people like me.”

While a bipartisan coalition of senators elected to end the session, Senate GOP leaders insist their work is far from done. Fann plans to begin work Monday on plans for a special session to address COVID-19 issues, and she plans to form task forces after the August primary.

And come October, Fann said, she plans to ask legislative council to redraft bills that stalled during the 2020 session. If she’s still Senate President, she’ll ask committee chairs to hear those bills and finish them during the first two weeks of session. 

And for now, Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray said, constituents need lawmakers to be helping with unemployment issues and connecting them with government services, not on the floor passing bills.

“We don’t have to be really on the floor to help solve those constituents’ problems. We can be recessed, we can be adjourned, and we still continue to work to protect and help anyone in our district. As far as I’m concerned, the workload that we have since we’ve been recessed has been tremendous.”

 

  • Staff writer Arren Kimbel-Sannit contributed to this report

Senate panel approves hike in drivers’ liability insurance coverage

Rebuffing claims it will harm some low-income individuals, a Senate panel agreed yesterday to increase the amount of liability insurance that motorists must purchase to drive on Arizona roads.

The 6-1 vote by members of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Technology came over the objections of Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, who said the more extensive coverage will increase costs.

Sen. David Farnsworth (R-Mesa)
Sen. David Farnsworth (R-Mesa)

“There are a lot of folks that live paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “There are people out there right now that are faced with either a permanent or probably a temporary situation, where they have to choose between paying the electric bill and paying their mandatory insurance.”

The result of S1075, Farnsworth said, would be that more people would simply choose to flout the legal requirement to have liability insurance. And that, he said, would mean more motorists on state roads with no insurance at all to compensate those they kill, injure or whose property they damage.

But Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, said it is precisely those at the bottom of the income scale that her measure is designed to help. She said these are the people with the least amount of personal resources to call on when they are injured or their car is totaled by someone else who does not have sufficient insurance to cover the damages they have caused.

Wednesday’s vote in no way assures the measure will become law. Similar legislation was approved by the full Senate last year, only to be held up when Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, refused to give it a hearing in the House Banking and Insurance Committee, which he chairs.

Current law requires motorists to carry so-called 15/30/10 liability insurance: $15,000 to cover injuries to any one person in an accident, $30,000 for all injuries from the same mishap, and $10,000 for property damage, normally what happens to the other motorist’s vehicle.

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee (R-Phoenix)
Sen. Kate Brophy McGee (R-Phoenix)

Brophy McGee said those limits were enacted in 1972. She said there was a presumption that they would be adjusted to keep pace with the cost of medical care and even the increasing price of vehicles.

That, however, has not happened, with the insurance industry in opposition amid concerns that the higher premiums will mean fewer people buying coverage.

Brophy McGee’s measure would boost the minimum to $25,000 for injuries to one person, $50,000 for all injuries, and $25,000 for property damage.

David Childers, who lobbies for the Property and Casualty Insurance Association of America, argued there’s no reason to believe the higher limits are necessary. He cited figures showing that the average liability claim for injuries is about $13,700. For property damage, Childers said the figure is in the $3,000 to $4,000 range.

But attorney Geoff Trachtenberg told lawmakers that figure is misleading.

He said it represents the amounts for which a claim was settled. And, by definition, if someone has only $15,000 worth of insurance, the claim will settle within those limits.

Brophy McGee said actual figures gathered by the Arizona Department of Transportation put the actual losses in a motor vehicle accident resulting in death in excess of $1.5 million. For other injuries, she said, the figure approaches $93,000.

And Brophy McGee said the typical property damage done exceeds $11,500 – all more than what motorists need to carry.

Trachtenberg acknowledged the cost of increasing liability coverage to the new limits should be in the range of about $91 a year for motorists who now buy the minimum coverage. But he said lawmakers should consider the trade-offs.

For example, he said, if at-fault motorists have more insurance, that will enable the health insurance companies of those they injure to recoup some of their costs from the at-fault motorist – or at least that person’s insurer. That includes the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, which provides health coverage for those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $28,700 for a family of three.

And Trachtenberg said if people have more insurance, that should lower the premiums for underinsured motorist coverage. That is optional insurance that motorists can buy to protect themselves if they are in an accident with someone whose coverage does not cover their full medical costs.

The measure now goes to the full Senate.

Senate Republicans introduce budget bills

Deposit Photos

The Senate completed the first step towards passing a budget on Monday while the House hit a snag.  

Republican leaders in the Senate introduced budget bills on Monday that would continue funding to state agencies for the next fiscal year, but not add new monies. 

This is a far cry from the $17.1 billion dollar budget proposal Gov. Katie Hobbs put out Jan. 13. Republican legislators called elements of Hobbs’ proposal non-starters.  

Now, it seems that Republican leadership is making its own move for a budget that has non-starters for Hobbs and her staff. 

“The governor has been very clear that her door is open for anybody who wants to work to find solutions for the people of Arizona, and a continuation budget is not working for the people of Arizona,” Bones said on Jan. 13. 

The Republican budget is a continuation of fiscal-year 2023 funding with a handful of small changes. 

Hobbs may not veto the entire continuation budget as soon as it hits her desk. Her spokeswoman Josselyn Berry said on Monday that Hobbs will use “all tools at her disposal, including line item vetoes if necessary.” 

Republican leadership argues that in a long session with split government, the Legislature and the governor could take many months to work on their bills and won’t get to a finished budget for some time. They say that passing a continuation budget now ensures that the government won’t shut down later on and will alleviate state agencies of the anxiety of waiting to see whether they’ll have funding.  

Democrats say that if Republicans get their continuation budget now, they’ll have no reason to work with Democrats on anything else for the rest of the session. 

The bills were read on the Senate floor on Monday afternoon during a committee hearing recess. Only a handful of members attended the first reading, and none of the Democrats were present.  

The House tried to read the mirror budget bills on Monday afternoon but were held up by technical difficulties and the absence of one of the members. 

House Majority Leader Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City, made a motion to suspend a House rule that limits representatives from being the prime sponsor of more than seven bills introduced after the fourth day of the session to allow Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, to sponsor measures related to the budget.  

None of the House members’ microphones were working on the floor, which forced members to either shout or approach the speaker’s desk to speak into the only working microphones on Monday.  

Democrats requested a roll call vote, and Biasiucci then withdrew his motion. House Speaker Pro Tempore Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, explained to members the House didn’t have the technical capacity to go through the vote and have members explain their vote.  

“We can either attempt to do that or we can let him withdraw and we won’t deal with it today,” Grantham said.  

Rep. Beverly Pingerelli, R-Peoria, was also absent Monday. Her absence cut the slim one-member Republican majority in the House, leaving them without enough votes to suspend the rule against a unified Democratic caucus. No other House members filed budget bills by Monday evening. 

The Senate scheduled a meeting of the appropriations committee for Tuesday morning where the budget bills will be heard.  

Senate Democrat spokeswoman Calli Jones said that the argument between Republicans and Democrats over the bills will likely happen at tomorrow’s appropriations meeting.