‘Gatekeeper’ Rep. Griffin thwarts groundwater bills

Rural Arizonans are growing increasingly frustrated with Rep. Gail Griffin’s inaction on groundwater regulation.

Griffin, a Republican from Hereford who chairs the House Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee, has repeatedly withheld groundwater management bills supported by rural stakeholders from being heard.

Rep. Gail Griffin

There are currently no groundwater regulations in rural areas, which cover 80% of Arizona.

“We don’t have that same level of balancing or management protection for our finite rural groundwater supplies that they have in urbanized communities,” said Travis Lingenfelter, chairman of Mohave County Board of Supervisors. “Representative Griffin does not want any balancing tool or any regulation of rural groundwater aquifers.”

Regina Cobb, a former lawmaker from Mohave County, fought for legislation to establish Rural Management Areas (RMAs) for three years, a program allowing rural communities to directly manage their water.

However, each time Cobb presented her bills, Griffin stopped them.

“Representative Griffin is a good lawmaker, but she is a gatekeeper as far as water issues in the House,” Cobb said. “She has pretty much shut her mind to any kind of regulation at all on groundwater.”

When Cobb first started out as a legislator, she approached the more experienced Griffin for help about her burgeoning water policy ideas.

“She was very nice and said ‘let me look at it’ and then didn’t move it anywhere,” Cobb said. “As the years have gone on, I realized that’s her way of putting [groundwater] in the jar and not addressing it.”

Lingenfelter echoes that sentiment. He has worked with county boards of supervisors across Arizona to recreate and bring back RMA legislation.

“We think it’s a really good tool, and it’s a great starting point,” Lingenfelter said. “But we haven’t even been given the courtesy of one committee discussion or debate at the state level because if the chairman of the committee doesn’t want to hear it, they won’t hear it.”

Griffin’s voting record shows the representative’s disinclination for imposing water regulations as a whole.

In June, Griffin voted against SB1432, legislation establishing updated water regulations for Arizona. In 2016, Griffin sponsored SB1400 and SB1268, which would have eliminated water supply stipulations in Cochise and Yuma counties and exempted cities from following their counties’ assured water supply guidelines.

Griffin also penned an op-ed in August characterizing rural groundwater regulation as “bad policy,” enumerating several reasons why she thinks they are bad, from unelected appointees running water control districts to creating additional layers of government and giving “additional taxing, zoning, planning, and condemnation authority to a small group of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats to decide the community’s economy and “tell you what you can and cannot do with your private property.”

“‘Local control’ (in this context) is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, designed to trick voters into thinking the bills do something other than what they actually do,” Griffin said in the article. “All of these are fraught with abuse and are unworkable for Arizona.”

Ron Doba, the executive director of the Northern Arizona Municipal Water Users Association, sits on the governor’s water council with Griffin and respects her approach.

“I think she really favors individual volunteer conservation efforts, and I support that completely,” Doba said. “But we have to have some controls in how our groundwater is being used so that folks don’t come in and drill a well, pump the water level down and then leave.”

Doba said that while he has confidence in Griffin’s leadership, he is also aware of rural stakeholders’ desire to be heard in committee meetings.

“Both sides of the argument should be put on the table so that the members of these committees can make the decisions that are in the best interest of the citizens of the state of Arizona,” Doba said.

Griffin, who did not respond to a request for an interview, wrote in her column that she is committed to working with anyone who is willing to work with her “and others to find reasonable solutions.”

“Until then, I will continue to fulfill my duty to the public to support good legislation, and oppose bad legislation, on rural groundwater management in our state,” she wrote.

Cobb said that she hopes rural groundwater regulations are passed in the near future.

“We should have addressed [groundwater] probably 10 to 15 years ago, or longer, before it became a problem,” she said. “Something needs to be accomplished, and I hope somebody else can do it now that I’m not in the office any longer.”

According to Lingenfelter, the stakes are high, as a lack of groundwater regulation “is starting to cause problems and will eventually lead to even worse water public health crises for rural communities”.

“Rural Arizonans deserve water security every bit as much as urban Arizonans do,” he said.

Bill limiting electricity competition gets Ducey’s OK

Gov. Doug Ducey signed two bills this week making big changes to energy policy in Arizona. 

On April 26, Ducey signed House Bill 2101, which repeals language passed in 1998 that was meant to increase competition in the electricity sector. 

The day before, Ducey signed House Bill 2411. Sponsored by Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, the bill authorizes the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to create its own program that, if the federal government approves, will take over coal ash regulation in the state from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. 

“We should be working at taking care of things here at the local level, the state level, (not) somebody sitting in California or Washington, D.C.,” Griffin said during a committee hearing on the bill in January. “We can do it better.” 

HB2101 divided Democrats and Republicans, with supporters and opponents in both caucuses, while HB2411 passed on a series of party-line votes. HB2411 was supported by utility companies, a fact that worried its opponents. 

“We are concerned about ADEQ being too cozy with the utilities on this program, which could risk protection of waters and public health,” the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter said in an email to supporters last week. 

Some also pointed to last year’s DEQ audit, which found the department wasn’t fulfilling some of its water quality monitoring responsibilities and questioned whether it was wise to put more on DEQ’s plate. 

“It is clear that while the folks at the agency are doing good work, they are not following state law,” Rep. Andrés Cano, D-Tucson, said during the House vote on the bill. 

Lawmakers’ attempt to create a competitive electric market in Arizona in the late 1990s mostly stalled in 2004, when a court ruling in the case Phelps Dodge Corp v Arizona Electric Power Cooperative threw out some of the Arizona Corporation Commission’s deregulatory rules. 

The state’s big utilities supported repealing the 1998 law, which Ducey called “outdated and unused” in his signing letter. Supporters said it would protect consumers and help Arizona avoid the power crises some nearby states have experienced and which they blamed on deregulation. 

At the bill’s House committee hearing, Brandon Blake with AARP Arizona, said, “Quite simply, we don’t support deregulation in any way, shape, or form across the country. … We believe that no matter how many protections you put for consumers, it’s simply not enough and they continue to see problems with reliability, with predatory behavior, things like that.” 

Ducey called the repeal a first step but said lawmakers still need to “identify new solutions that actually increase retail competition and encourage the development of new energy sources.” 

“Arizona will not follow the path of California, Texas and other states that have mismanaged their grids and continually experience rolling brownouts and blackouts,” Ducey wrote. “We must build an approach that maintains strong reliable energy grids, drives down costs, and secures our energy future.” 

The bill’s opponents included a mix of Democrats and, particularly in the House, more libertarian-minded Republicans. The Sierra Club said last week HB2101 “could negatively affect community choice aggregation of electricity which allows cities to purchase or generate electricity for their residents, as well as rooftop solar in Salt River Project territory.” 

Others worried it would stifle competition from smaller electricity providers, limit consumer choice and kill Green Mountain Energy’s pending application to sell solar power. Mark Parson, the vice president and general manager of Green Mountain, said the bill would remove the company’s legal basis to get a license in Arizona. 

“Some have suggested that HB 2101’s passage, which leaves a policy vacuum in this space, would simply allow the Arizona Corporation Commission to adopt whatever rules about competition it desires, and that this may nevertheless provide Green Mountain an entry into the state,” Parson said. “Simply put, it is not reasonable for Green Mountain to invest in a business model exclusively built around a majority vote of the Arizona’s elected utility regulator, without a statutory pathway to licensing, but that is what HB 2101 would in essence require us to bet on.” 


Committee proposed to study shift of county lines in southern Arizona


State lawmakers took the first steps Thursday to what eventually could lead to putting portions of eastern Santa Cruz County into Cochise County.

Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, said residents of the Sonoita area believe their taxes are too high and their services, like access to the justice of the peace court, have been cut. They also have complained that county officials do not promote the developing wine industry in the area.

Gail Griffin
Gail Griffin

“This is strictly a study committee to address the issues that they feel that they’re not treated fairly and not getting the attention that they would like,” Griffin said. But she made it clear that one purpose of this committee being created by HB 2486, given preliminary approval by the House, is to explore what it would take to simply move the line that divides the two counties, making the eastern section of Santa Cruz the new western part of Cochise.

“They seem to think that they have more in common with the adjoining county,” Griffin said of the residents who are complaining.

Griffin told colleagues that the complaints are largely coming from residents of the Sonoita area.

They are unhappy because the justice of the peace court, formerly located in the community, was moved to Nogales in what county officials said was a money-saving move. Griffin said roads also are an issue and increasing taxes.

“And not being able to communicate,” she said.

Griffin also said that a meeting she attended was standing room only, with everyone there apparently agreeing with the idea that the area should be split off from Santa Cruz County.

All that left Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, unimpressed.

“Folks could certainly address their issues related to the JP court, the roads, the taxes by speaking to their local elected officials and addressing the concerns that they have,” she said. And Blanc said the ultimate power of the residents is to vote for who they want on the board of supervisors.

Isela Blanc
Isela Blanc

Blanc also said her own inquiries lead her to believe that the real issue is that the residents are unhappy with their taxes.

“Are we going to ask for study committees every time a resident of a certain county is dissatisfied with their responsibilities as community members, having to pay taxes?” she asked.

“I don’t think it’s an appropriate response addressing people’s concerns when those people can go straight to their elected officials in those counties, in those communities to ask for information,” Blanc continued. “Do we really need a study committee every time somebody throws a fit because they’re paying a little bit more or less in taxes?”

But Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, objected to the characterization that the Sonoita taxpayers were “throwing a fit,” saying the residents are doing exactly what they’re entitled to do.

He pointed out that counties, under the Arizona Constitution, are administrative arms of the state.

“When we have a collection of constituents who don’t believe they’ve been treated fairly, who else are they to turn to?” he asked.

While Griffin said the committee is going to address the issues of the residents, that’s not the way HB 2486 sets it up.

It requires several of the public who would be appointed by legislative leaders to be “knowledgeable about county boundaries.” And the panel is charged with researching and reporting on “the fiscal and related impacts of a change in the county boundary line,” with a report due by June 30, 2020.

Those issues are complex, including how to deal with existing debts and obligations of each county. Ultimately, a county line can be moved only with an act of the Legislature.

If the Sonoita residents think they’re taxes will drop by suddenly becoming Cochise County residents they may be in for a rude surprise.

The Arizona Tax Research Association reports the current primary property tax in Santa Cruz County is $4.85 per $100 of assessed valuation, with a secondary rate of 88 cents. For Cochise County the primary rate is $5.55, with a 50-cent-per-$100 valuation for secondary taxes.

The measure now needs a roll-call vote before going to the Senate.

Democrats discouraged despite getting more bills passed

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Quezada
Martin Quezada

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

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

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

Some of her members found success through other channels.

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

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

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

Richard Andrade
Richard Andrade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ducey signs bill to address dwindling water supply

Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation Wednesday to provide $1.2 billion to fund grandiose projects to find new water for Arizona and smaller ones to conserve what the state already has.

The governor is particularly excited about the idea of the state being involved in construction of a plant to desalinate water, likely from the Sea of Cortez, providing fresh water that can be used for not only domestic use but also for the agriculture industry which consumes 70% of what Arizona now uses.

“We are in the second decade of the worst drought in recorded history,” Ducey said.

Doug Ducey

“We continue to experience shortages on the Colorado River,” he continued. “And the forecasts are not getting better.”

What the new law does is enable Arizona to come up with a new source of water from outside the state. And what that particularly means, he said is “the largest desalination project in history, anywhere around the globe.”

What that also will be is expensive – more than the money in the legislation. But House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, said the state won’t be picking up the entire tab.

“There are already groups, businesses that want to partner with the state,” he said, calling what’s in the legislation “leveraging money” to make the state “a partner in larger operations,” including with Mexico. And there are other options, Bowers said, like finding a way to get the floodwaters in Kansas to places where water is needed, like Arizona.

That, however, then leaves the question of how much more Arizonans may have to pay for water.

Tom Buschatzke, director of the state Department of Water Resources, has put the cost of desalinated water in the neighborhood of $2,500 an acre foot, about 326,000 gallons. That’s the amount of water that, depending on the community, can serve about three homes for a year.

And any new costs would come on top of what’s charged now for delivery.

The governor, however, said he doesn’t believe Arizona water users will be in for sticker shock.

“We’re going to be the big boy of the lower basin states,” he told KTAR on Wednesday.

“Right now we’re the little brother,” Ducey said, with Arizona having the lowest priority to take water out of the Colorado River. “We’re going to have water to sell to other states to supplement and bring out costs down.”

All that, however, is years off. So the legislation also includes more short-term answers – and $200 million specifically set aside for them. And many of them involve doing more with less.

Gail Griffin

“We have funding to address best management practices in our counties and our cities,” said Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford. That includes everything from recharging rainwater and use of more efficient plumbing fixtures to changing landscape practices to convert to more drought-resistant plants and replacing grass with artificial turf.

“I did that about eight years ago and it still looks great,” she said.

“It’s green, the dogs love it,” Griffin said. “And I haven’t used any water on it.”

And there’s potable water reuse — something that eventually could lead to what has been dubbed “toilet-to-tap,” where effluent is treated to the point that it can go immediately back into the drinking water supply.

“It’s not just one project,” she said. “It’s all of the above.”

But it was only the Democrats who spoke at Wednesday’s press conference where Ducey signed the legislation who mentioned the controversial issue of why Arizona is hotter and dryer.

“Our state is confronted with the reality of climate change,” said Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix.

That, she said, comes in combination with the fact that the Colorado River has been “over-allocated,” with the agreement on the amount of water each state was entitled to take set half a century ago. Only thing is, the flow of the river now is far below when those agreements were set.

And that already has forced mandatory cutbacks, with future reductions possible to keep Lake Mead from become a “dead pool” with no water flowing over the Hoover Dam.

That rapid decline was noted by the governor who pointed out that he was signing the new legislation in the same location as he signed the 2019 “drought contingency plan.”

That move provided cash to help farmers who would be getting less water from the river to instead construct new wells and water delivery systems. It also paid money to tribes, who have higher priority claims to the river, to reduce their own use to keep more water in the river.

The plan was supposed to take care of water shortages through 2026, complete with some hopes that the drought would abate.

But that hasn’t happened. And Ducey said that the state’s financial surplus provided the opportunity to act now to shore up those supplies.

The governor has a mixed record on the issue of climate change.

In 2015, Ducey said that, after being briefed by experts, he was convinced the climate is changing.

“It’s going to get warmer here,” he said at the time. “What I am skeptical about is what human activity has to do with it.”

By 2019 he was willing to put aside that skepticism. Ducey said it only makes sense that people and what they do are having an impact.

“Humans are part of the earth, the environment and the ecosystem,” he told Capitol Media Services at the time. But the governor has shown no interest in his now nearly eight years in office in changing Arizona laws and regulations to reduce greenhouse gases.






Ducey threatens veto of water bill that ignores his principles

Lingering drought and demand from growing cities have lowered water levels on Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam. The U.S. Interior Department could declare a shortage on the Colorado River as early as 2017. (U.S. Geological Survey Photo)
(U.S. Geological Survey Photo)

Gov. Doug Ducey threatened Tuesday to veto any drought contingency plan that does not equitably divide up the pain of Arizona having less water in 2020 and eventually leads to lower water use in the state.

The vow, the governor’s strongest statement to date on the issue, comes as the key players in crafting a plan appear to be circling around an agreement of who loses water when the state is forced to reduce the amount it can draw from Lake Mead and the Colorado River.

“Several details need to be worked out,” Ducey told those attending a water conference here. “But we are very close.”

But Ducey also acknowledged that there are diverse interests who have their own ideas about how to allocate the water and who should be forced to take a larger share of the cuts, deriding them as “other, more simplistic plans.” And the political reality is that any plan and the funding to support it has to be approved by the Legislature with 90 members each beholden to certain constituencies.

Those, the governor said, would be dead on arrival at his office.

“I will reject any plan or policy that comes across my desk if it fails to adhere to the principles I’ve outlined,” he said.

Those, he said, include protecting Lake Mead and balancing the interests of all water users.

And there’s something else. Ducey said any plan, to be acceptable, has to acknowledge this isn’t just a stop-gap measure. He said a key element of the plan has to be the state “transitioning to a dryer future.”

Ducey also defended one key element which would have the federal government provide at least $30 million to drill new wells in Pinal County and the ditches and pipes to deliver the water to farmers.

The governor acknowledged that one of the key goals of the state’s historic 1980 Groundwater Code was to reduce groundwater pumping in several areas of the state. That included establishing several “active management areas.”

For the Phoenix, Tucson and Prescott areas, that goal is “safe yield” by 2025, with the amount of water being pumped out equal to what is replaced.

In the Pinal AMA, however, the aim is to preserve agriculture for as long as possible while also ensuring there is enough groundwater for future residential development. Ducey said it makes sense to give farmers access to more groundwater now to make up for them having to absorb much of the loss of Colorado River water.

“It’s a balancing act,” he said.

“Pinal County has been growing,” the governor explained, with 70 percent of current water use going to agriculture. At the same time, Ducey said, the county is experiencing “a very robust net growth of individuals who are building homes.”

“And there’s a water need there as well,” he said.

The long-term plans for Pinal County had always envisioned farmers getting and using less Colorado River water.

That, however, was not supposed to take place for years. But if Arizona is allowed to draw less water from Lake Mead, the farmers would end up taking the brunt of the burden if they do not get access to new supplies of groundwater, at least for some period into the future.

But even with the new wells — assuming the federal funds develop — the amount of farmland in the area still could be cut by 40 percent.

At the root of the issue is that Arizona, under long-term deals with other states, gets about 40 percent of its water from the Colorado River.

That did not become a problem until it became evident that the plans were crafted in years of abundant supply. Now, with a drought, Lake Mead is virtually certain to drop below 1,075 feet above sea level in 2020, the point at which those deals require Arizona to cut its use.

What’s different now, said Ducey, is how the states and Mexico, which are entitled to allocations are dealing with the problem.

“Historically, issues surrounding the Colorado River were resolved through conflict and litigation,” the governor said. “We’re attempting to do something different today, and that’s work collaboratively.”

That, then, leads to crafting a drought contingency plan that Ducey said is designed to be acceptable to all the “stakeholders” who have a claim on the water. More to the point, the governor said once those stakeholders reach a plan they have to be united in urging lawmakers to ratify it, without alterations.

Ducey conceded this could prove difficult with each of the water users having its own wants and needs. But he said those needs “must be balanced with the overall needs of the state.”

The goal now — after putting the finishing touches on the plan — is that unified front which is necessary if Arizona is to have a plan that it can then present to the other states and Mexico, which also has agreed to leave water in Lake Mead if a deal can be reached.

Ducey has used his veto stamp before on water issues.

In 2016 he rejected two measures that could have allowed some developers to get around requirements to show they have enough water to sustain their projects.

The governor said the bills, sponsored by Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, would have undermined provisions of Arizona laws designed to protect the state’s water supply going back more than three decades. That, he said, made them unacceptable.

“We’re not going to allow bills that get in the way of the 1980 Groundwater Management Act or take away from the work of the people that have come before I came into office in protecting Arizona’s water,” Ducey said at the time.

“Ensuring the certainty and sustainability of Arizona’s water is a top priority” the governor said. “I will not sign legislation that threatens Arizona’s water future.”

Few lawmakers achieve perfect attendance, voting records


Among the accomplishments retiring Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, can list on his résumé is a nearly impeccable attendance and voting record during his 16 years in the Arizona Legislature.

Yarbrough attended all 64 days lawmakers were required to work during the 116-day 2018 legislative session, and also punched in a vote for every measure the chamber voted on.

The 2018 session marks the ninth consecutive year that Yarbrough has had perfect attendance. He has only missed two days since 2004, when Legislation Online Arizona began tracking attendance records — once that same year and another day in 2009. Data was not available for 2003, Yarbrough’s first year in office.

But most of his colleagues can’t boast such a perfect record.

Only 19 state lawmakers, or 21 percent, made it to work every day and also registered a vote on 100 percent of the measures that went up on the board during the 53rd Legislature’s second regular session.

In total, 26 members attended work on all of the days they were required. Thirty-four pushed their buttons each time there was a vote.

The Legislature only calculates attendance on days the chambers actually do work, which is typically  Monday through Thursday. And a day at the Legislature starts when the chambers gavel in and ends when the chambers adjourn for the day, even if work spills over to the next calendar day. For example, budget discussions, which members began on May 2 and which extended into the early morning hours of May 3, only counted as one day, as did the last day of the session, which ended at 12:26 a.m. May 4.

Some days lawmakers vote more than once, and some days there are no bills up for a vote at all.

Of the 15 House and Senate leaders, only four members, House Majority Leader John Allen, R- Scottsdale, Speaker Pro Tem TJ Shope, R-Coolidge, Assistant Minority Leader Randy Friese, D-Tucson, and Senate Majority Whip Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, had perfect attendance and voting records.

All but two members managed to attend at least 85 percent of the required work days. Only one member cast a vote on less than 80 percent of the measures that went up for a vote.

For the second year in a row, Rep. Wenona Benally, D-Window Rock, had the worst attendance record out of all of her colleagues. Benally only made it to 75 percent of her required work days. However, the freshman lawmaker still managed to vote 85 percent of the time.

The disparity between lawmakers’ attendance and voting records can be attributed to members showing up for attendance, but leaving early to attend other meetings or engagements and missing votes later in the day. Sometimes members are late and marked absent, but are there to vote.

Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix, wasn’t far ahead of Benally, showing up for 76 percent of her work days and only pushing a button for 78 percent of floor votes.

Republican Reps. Heather Carter, of Cave Creek, and Tony Rivero, of Peoria, tied for the third worst attendance record, each attending 85 percent of their required work days.

Rivero also holds the third worst voting record of the 2018 session, voting on 86 percent of all floor votes. He was in Israel during the final week of the session and missed the vote on the budget bills, but returned for the final day of work.

The worst voting record goes to Rep. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix. While he attended 87 percent of the required work days, he only voted on 78 percent of measures that went up on the board.


Governor’s Office immersed in drought talks, water policy do-over

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

Gov. Doug Ducey is all in on Arizona efforts to stabilize water levels in Lake Mead.

The governor and his staff are playing an integral role in bringing Arizona water interests together to reach an internal state agreement on the drought-contingency plan.

The Governor’s Office’s heavy involvement in the process comes after Ducey had high aspirations of making strides on water policy during the 2018 legislative session, but his push for far-reaching water reform quickly dried up.

As he campaigns for a second, four-year term, Ducey has committed to completing a drought-contingency plan to leave more water in the Colorado River in order to conserve water levels on Lake Mead. The drought planning comes as the federal Bureau of Reclamation predicts a shortage could happen on the lake as soon as 2020.

Although he is still campaigning for a second term, Ducey appears poised to win re-election.

Ducey sees his role in the drought talks as protecting Arizona’s water interests. He has also been in communication with Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke over the drought-planning discussions. The Department of Interior has been heavily involved in drought-contingency plan negotiations between the states, said Kirk Adams, Ducey’s chief of staff.

“Our state is growing. We‘ve been a leader on water management for decades, and we’re in a position where we’ve brought our constituencies together to talk about the plan going forward,” Ducey told the Arizona Capitol Times in an October interview.

The Lower Colorado River Basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California and the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are negotiating water conservation agreements as water levels in Lake Mead continue to decline. The states released draft agreements to implement drought-contingency plans in the Upper and Lower Basins to boost water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the Colorado River’s largest reservoirs.

But putting together a plan to detail water cutbacks for Arizona is a complicated balancing act of spreading out the shortage impacts among municipalities, various agriculture districts, developers, Native American tribes and other groups that depend on water deliveries from the Colorado River that will inevitably be lessened.

A steering committee made up of more than 35 members aims to hammer out details of the proposed drought plan this month. If all goes according to plan, the Legislature would sign off in early 2019. The plan would then go to Ducey for approval.

While the Governor’s Office is playing a critical role in the talks — two Ducey staffers sit on the steering committee — representatives for the executive branch are not dictating the terms of the drought-contingency plan, Adams said.

“Ultimately, this is not a decision that can be forced upon the water community by the Governor’s Office,” he said. “This will require the water community to give and take with each other to make this happen. If we were to say the Governor’s Office demands that you do X, it would fail.”

Ducey took flak from key lawmakers and conservation groups for conducting a series of closed-door meetings on a water policy overhaul last year. He did and still does think Arizona should speak with one voice on water, which further strained the relationship between the Central Arizona Project and the Department of Water Resources.

But the process in which Arizona water interests are negotiating the drought-contingency plan this year is notably different from last year’s behind-the-scenes approach led by the Governor’s Office.

For one, CAP and DWR, clearly recognizing the severity of the situation in Lake Mead, are working hand-in-hand to move along drought-planning talks. Key lawmakers such as Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, and Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, were tapped to sit on the drought-contingency plan steering committee.

But Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, criticized the drought-planning process as lacking transparency.

“I think the way the governor and the governor’s representatives are going about this is almost as bad as last year,” she said. “This drought-contingency steering committee does have meetings that are in public, but the discussions are happening in these smaller meetings that aren’t open to the public.”

No Sierra Club representatives sit on the steering committee. Bahr also criticized the steering committee for focusing solely on the drought-contingency plan and not talking about other conservation efforts.

Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University, said the behind-the-scenes conversations are necessary to have honest negotiations that position the parties closer to an agreement.

“You probably don’t cut deals in a room with 40 people at the table and 200 people in the audience,” she said. “It’s not where you actually cut the deal. That’s where you announce the deal.”

The steering committee has bimonthly public meetings.

It’s also hard to pinpoint what would happen if Arizona can’t come to a deal on where cutbacks would occur, Porter said.

She hopes it doesn’t come to that, but if it does, Porter said she thinks the other Western states and water users would recognize Arizona’s earnest attempts to come to agreement.

“If we weren’t successful, my hope would be that the other states and water managers would give Arizona credit for having made very sincere efforts and would try to figure out some kind of interim management arrangement,” she said.

Meanwhile, the states’ 2007 agreement that established shortage allocations among the Lower Basin states and guidelines for operation of the two lakes under low-reservoir conditions still stands, she said. The parties are set to renegotiate those guidelines in 2020.

Ultimately, Adams said the reason Ducey and the Legislature didn’t make any prior progress on water reform was because of the steep learning curve lawmakers faced on water issues. Now, legislators and the public are far more educated and engaged on the issue, which bodes well for getting lawmakers to sign off on the drought-contingency plan, Adams said.

Adams said he is “cautiously optimistic” about where the negotiations currently stand.

But he also said there is one cardinal rule when it comes to water: “Thou shall be flexible.”

Hobbs puts veto stamp to work again – 119 measures rejected

Arizona counties won’t get state approval to start counting ballots by hand.

Gov. Katie Hobbs on Friday vetoed a proposal by Rep. Gail Griffin to allow whatever official who is in charge of elections to do a hand count rather than use automatic tabulating equipment. The governor said that was unacceptable.

“Hand-counting ballots is unquestionably less accurate and more time consuming than machine tabulation,” Hobbs wrote. “Arizona voters deserve to know that their votes are being counted accurately and efficiently.”

The veto is unlikely to end the legal fight.

Griffin, in crafting the measure, insisted that state law always has allowed for hand counts. She said all her legislation did is “clarify existing law.”

Rio Verde, Senate, House
Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford

But Griffin acknowledged she worked with Cochise County Recorder David Stevens, a fellow Republican, to craft the measure. And it was Cochise County that sought to do a full hand count of the 2022 general election after the two Republican supervisors questioned the accuracy of machine counting and wanted to count all the ballots by hand.

That ended only when a judge blocked the move. He said state law allows election officials to take only a 2% random sample of ballots from the entire batch, count them by hand, and then compare the result with what the machines tallied.

But the issue has not died.

Earlier this month the Mohave County Board of Supervisors voted to explore doing a hand count of the 2024 election.

That came after backing by Senate Majority Leader Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City. He told the supervisors that electronic tabulating machines are vulnerable to being hacked.

And Borrelli, who called it a “national security issue,” argued that the state cannot block such a hand count.

That’s not the position of Secretary of State Adrian Fontes. In a letter to the board, he said that a hand count could increase the risk of error.

More to the point, Fontes said a full hand count would put county officials “in serious legal jeopardy, including possible criminal liability, for violations of state law.”

During committee debate on the issue, Sen. Anna Hernandez said she had a more basic reason for voting against the measure. The Phoenix Democrat said she could not support anything “pushed by those who advance conspiracy theories.”

Separately, Hobbs vetoed a proposal by Rep. Justin Heap, R-Mesa, which would have given parents access to all the materials that school districts used to train teachers.

Heap showed colleagues what he said was a list of subjects in training sessions that teachers from the Mesa Unified School District were required to attend. They included anti-racism, non-binary, unconscious biases, restorative justice and equity.

All those, he said, are issues with which parents may disagree.

Rep. Judy Schwiebert, D-Phoenix, asked him what is wrong with teachers learning about some of these issues like equity.

Heap said it would be fine to provide instruction on issues of equality. But equity, he said, is different, dealing with issues of being fair rather than being equal.

“Who decides what’s fair and what’s not?” Heap asked. He said equity gets into things like whether some group that has been historically marginalized should get special treatment.

Heap also said what is in his bill is no different than existing laws that already give parents access to the curriculum being used in classrooms.

Hobbs, in her veto message, said her objection was more basic. She said making these training materials available to the public would put schools at risk of violating copyright law.

The governor also rejected a proposal by Sen. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale to prohibit government agencies from refusing to contract with private firms unless they have or adopt environmental, social or governance standards policies.

“I do not believe that tying the hands of the state’s procurement and investment professionals is in the best interests of the people of Arizona,” Hobbs wrote.

And she vetoed a similar proposal that would have barred the state treasurer, whose investments include buying corporate stocks, from using the voting right that come with those shares to support proposals that would advance social, environmental, political or other goals. Nor could the state in any way use its investment funds to boycott any company involved in fossil fuels or nuclear energy.

“Politicizing decisions based made by the state’s investment professionals can harm our state’s long-term fiscal health,” Hobbs wrote.

The governor has now vetoed 119 measures approved by the Republican controlled Legislature.


Hobbs vetoes bill to regulate renewable energy

Calling it a potential barrier to renewable energy, Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed legislation Monday which would have imposed new requirements on solar and wind generating plants.

HB 2618 contained a list of what cities, towns and counties could adopt in zoning standards, site-specific conditions and permitting requirements on such facilities.

Potentially more significant, it would have required owners to not only have a decommissioning plan in place but also to post a bond – essentially insurance – to cover the costs if the company goes bankrupt or otherwise tries to walk away. And it would even mandate restoring and re-establishing soils and vegetation using native seed mixes.

It also included requirements for liability insurance to protect the community from any financial obligations due to injuries or other damages caused by the plant.

Rio Verde, Senate, House
Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford

Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, said counties already have some oversight of such projects. What this would do, she said, is provide some basic standards.

The governor, however, said all that is too much.

“HB 2618 encourages an inconsistent statewide patchwork of regulations for renewable energy projects and would have a deep chilling effect on renewable energy development in Arizona,” Hobbs wrote in her veto message. “It creates additional regulatory confusion for businesses, negatively impacting Arizona’s ability to attract, retain, and grow a renewable energy ecosystem in our state and create good-paying jobs for everyday Arizonans.”

Other measures rejected by the governor on Monday include:

– Requiring that school board members have unrestricted access to administrative facilities and staff without having to first get permission from the district superintendent. Hobbs called it “an overcorrection for an issue that is occurring in a limited number of school boards across the state.”

– Expanding the ability of taxpayers to get dollar-for-dollar credits for contributing to organizations that provide scholarships to have students attend private and parochial schools, in this case, for foster children. Hobbs said taxpayers already are diverting $272 million a year away from the general fund and she will not support expansion.

– Allowing private companies access to information from the state Department of Revenue on taxpayers in the name of helping return lost property. The governor said that is “an abuse and misuse of public records.”

– Permitting the Department of Environmental Quality to have its own legal counsel. Hobbs said the agency already receives “effective and efficient legal representation from the attorney general.”

The veto of HB 2168 came at the behest of the Interwest Energy Alliance composed of major developers and manufacturers of large-scale renewable energy projects.

Lobbyist Stan Barnes said his industry is not opposed to some oversight, including assurances that there are plans for what happens at the end of the life expectancy of a plant. But Barnes said Monday he asked Hobbs to veto the measure because the legislation piled on new requirements above and beyond what local communities already can do.

Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr, testifying against the bill had a similar outlook.

Sierra Club, ADEQ, Bahr, ozone, pollution, NO, NOx, EPA, Maricopa County, carbon-hydrogen bonds, Covid, heart attacks, strokes, asthma
Sandy Bahr

“We think it includes overly prescriptive decommissioning requirements for these entities,” she said. And Bahr said counties already have broad zoning authority.

“Why the Legislature continues to single out solar and wind is beyond me, especially when this is an industry that provides over 8,000 jobs in Arizona and is about a $16.1 billion investment,” she told lawmakers.

Bahr also said there is an inconsistency in lawmakers saying they want to protect communities against having abandoned solar and wind farms when they specifically preclude counties from imposing similar requirements on sand and gravel operations. And she called the state cleanup requirement the weakest in the West.

Sen. Priya Sundareshan, D-Tucson, saw similar contradictions and said she could not support the “extra hurdles” being imposed only on renewable energy projects.

“This bill is unfairly singling out and targeting solar and wind power producers for requirements of decommissioning standards without similarly providing those standards for other types of power production, namely oil and gas and coal,” she argued during Senate floor debate on the issue. In fact, she tried to amend HB 2618 to include those facilities, only to have the proposal rejected after Republican supporters were told that Griffin did not support the change.

“Decommissioning is a very important topic,” Sundareshan said. But she said it is equally important to include other any other form of power production “that does leave a mark on our landscape.”

Griffin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

House passes bill to cut red tape on border wall construction on private land

In this April 5, 2019, file photo, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicle sits near the wall as President Donald Trump visits a new section of the border wall  with Mexico in El Centro, Calif. A federal judge has denied a request by the U.S. House of Representatives to prevent President Donald Trump from tapping Defense Department money for a border wall with Mexico. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
In this April 5, 2019, file photo, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicle sits near the wall as President Donald Trump visits a new section of the border wall with Mexico in El Centro, Calif. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Calling it a matter of property rights and security, the state House voted Thursday to let those living along the border to construct walls without first getting local permission or building permits.

The 31-29 party-line vote came a week after it fell one vote short when Rep. Tony Rivero, R-Peoria, refused to go along with the Republican majority. Rivero, who has led trade missions to Mexico and elsewhere, told Capitol Media Services at the time that he was “not sure this was the right way to go.”

Tony Rivero
Tony Rivero

On Thursday, Rivero did not explain his change of heart.

But Democrats, in opposing the measure, said HB 2084 sends precisely the wrong message as Arizona seeks to build ties with its southern neighbor.

Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, specifically mentioned a trip by state legislators to Guanajuato that Rivero recently organized.

“We were welcomed with open arms,” he said.

“We were treated with respect,” Rodriguez continued. “We were treated with friendship.”

This legislation, he said, does the exact opposite, sending the message “that we prefer a wall to friendship.”

But Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, had a different take.

“We respect our neighbors to the south,” she said.

“This is not about race,” Griffin said. And if there’s someone these walls are aimed at, she said, it is the drug cartels that operate along the border.

And she also said it has nothing to do with the wall being built by the federal government along stretches of the border, construction that already can take place without state or federal permission. What’s at issue, Griffin said, is what landowners living along the border build on their own property.

“This is an issue of private property and private money to move forward with safety of your property, of your and your family’s ability to keep people out,” she said.

Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said she has “a firm conviction” to protecting private property rights.

“I also have a firm belief that building permits help us to keep buildings safe, help us to make sure that a plan for a building is a safe building,” she said.

“It is about building anything safely and not going around the permitting process,” Epstein said. “If there’s going to be construction it needs to be safe construction.”

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said there’s a safety reason for exempting privately built border walls from local permitting. But she said it’s about the safety of local officials who, threatened by cartels that want open borders, would be loath to grant the necessary permits.

The proposal by Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, is in direct response to problems faced by We Build the Wall, a private group that accepts donations to build barriers on private land along the border in places where there is no federally constructed fence.

That group ran into problems last year while building a 1,500-foot fence on private property in Sunland Park, N.M., near El Paso, Tx., without first getting city permission. That brought construction to a halt until We Build the Wall agreed to comply with city ordinances.

HB 2084 is designed to eliminate that possibility from occurring here.

Facing questions about safety, Petersen did agree to language requiring that the property owner must provide the local government with a statement by a professional engineer that the wall “was built according to the plan and safety requirements.” That filing, however, does not need to come until two months after completion.

But Rep. Kristen Engel, D-Tucson, said this is less about security than politics.

“This is obviously an ideological bill,” she said. “It’s designed to reach out to the base, the base of the Republican Party on immigration issues.”


House unwittingly approves ballot measure

The House majority leader said a “clerical error” led the chamber to prematurely send a ballot referral to the Secretary of State’s Office last month.

Sen. Gail Griffin (R-Hereford)
Sen. Gail Griffin (R-Hereford)

Members unwittingly approved SCR1007, a legislative ballot referral sponsored by Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, on March 22. The referral would ask voters whether to amend the Arizona Constitution to exclude the amount of original investment recovered in a transaction for the purposes of calculating the property tax exemption for people 65 and older.

The ballot referral was unanimously approved in both chambers.

However, after representatives realized that their vote effectively sent the ballot referral to the Secretary of State, Majority Leader John Allen, R-Scottsdale, made a motion to reconsider SCR1007 within 14 days.

The House has yet to vote on the measure again, but representatives discussed the bill in committee of the whole on April 5.

“It should have been held so that we can put it in the basket with all of the other (legislative ballot referrals) and make that decision,” Allen told the Arizona Capitol Times.

Leaders typically decide which referrals to send to the ballot as the end of session nears. This session, 44 ballot referrals were introduced in the House and 38 were introduced in the Senate. Of those, nine, including SCR1007, are still alive. Another two were approved in the House and in Senate committees, but haven’t yet been given the OK in the Rules Committee.

Allen said House and Senate leadership will usually discuss with the governor which referrals should be sent to the ballot. He said they then come up with a “theme that fits the ballot in a way that moves our agenda forward.”

“Then we put what we’ve agreed to up to the members to ratify and send to the ballot,” he said. “(SCR1007) got out of order. It happens occasionally. We all make mistakes. It’s like when you press send all on your email but you didn’t mean to.”

Allen said he’s unsure if the governor’s office and members will want the measure to ultimately be referred to the ballot, but if they don’t, that means members will have to kill the bill when it comes back for a vote.

If it’s something the governor’s office is interested in seeing on the ballot, Allen said members will have to again approve SCR1007, and the Legislature can send it to the Secretary of State’s Office on it’s own before approving other ballot measures.

“I haven’t been involved in discussions with the governor’s office on how they want to handle that. They might say ‘Let it go. We love it,’” he said. “We’re still waiting to see.”

Lawmakers to look at shifting Santa Cruz, Cochise county lines


Despite being rebuffed by her colleagues, a Southern Arizona lawmaker has found a new way to pursue her plans to see if parts of Santa Cruz County should be merged with Cochise County.

Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, has convinced legislative leaders to form a special committee to study what would happen if the line between the two counties was moved. Griffin has specifically been interested in moving the Sonoita and Elgin areas of Santa Cruz County into Cochise.

The goal of that committee is exactly what was behind Griffin’s HB 2486 which she shepherded through the House earlier this year on a 31-29 party-line vote.

But the measure died when Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Green Valley, convinced several Republicans to join with Democrats and oppose it on financial grounds, citing what could happen to what would remain of Santa Cruz County if part of its tax base was stripped away.

Gail Griffin
Gail Griffin

“The remaining ranchers in the rest of the county, who are mostly Republicans, will be paying more property tax,” she told colleagues.”Ditto, she said, of the produce industry that is centered in Nogales and Rio Rico.”

But Griffin told Capitol Media Services on Tuesday she still believes the study is necessary “to surface the issues the local community has so they can be addressed.”

“Lots of discussion will take place to help provide solutions for the citizens in the area,” she said.

Dalessandro, for her part, said she was “disappointed” in the decision of the Republican legislative leadership to form the study committee, particularly in the wake of the defeat of legislation that would have done the same thing.

In proposing the original legislation, Griffin said that residents of the eastern portion of Santa Cruz County “feel that they’re not treated fairly and not getting the attention that they would like.”

“They seem to think that they have more in common with the adjoining county,” she said.

Many of the complaints, Griffin told colleagues, are coming from residents of the Sonoita area.

Among the issue is that the justice of the peace court, formerly located in the community, was moved to Nogales in what county officials said was a money-saving move. Griffin said roads also are an issue as are increasing taxes.

“And not being able to communicate,” she said.

Dalessandro, however, questioned whether there really are such widespread problems to pursue the unusual step of moving a county line.

“I suspect that it is just a small group of vocal people that want this annexation,” she said.

Dalessandro said she is looking to survey the resident of her district – both inside the area that might be split off and what would remain of the rest of the county – to gauge their feelings.

But Griffin said she thinks the idea is more popular than does Dalessandro.

“The meetings I attended were standing room only,” she said. And Griffin said that area residents “feel they have more in common with Cochise County.”

That, however, raises another question: Does Cochise County want to take in all of those people and be responsible for providing services to them.

Several of the non-legislative members of the committee appear to represent those who have been actively pushing for county boundary realignment. That includes both the chair and a member of the Sonoita-Elgin Community Group.

But the committee does include Dalessandro along with some what would generally be considered neutral participants. One of those is Jennifer Stielow, vice president of the Arizona Tax Research Association, which tends to lobby against any measure that will increase property taxes, particularly for businesses.

The committee is supposed to report its findings back to legislative leaders at the end of 2020.

Even if the majority supports changing the county boundaries, that, by itself, is legally meaningless. Only the Legislature can authorize such a change.

And even if there is a sentiment for such a move, there are a host of other issues that need to be resolved.

The most significant of these would be financial, ranging from who gets possession of what pieces of Santa Cruz County equipment and property to how to divide up any debt.

Griffin said there are other issues to be considered, including whether a change in county lines will lead to increased economic opportunities and improved marketing of agricultural products.

In a statement released Tuesday, Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce Bracker, whose district includes the affected area, said he doesn’t believe that realigning the county boundaries is the answer.

“A tremendous amount of effort and resources are being spent by those that would have us be divided,” he said. “I would prefer to see that attention and resources focused on addressing the issues of our community to find solutions that are a benefit to all and unite us, not divide us.”

Bracker said that “constructive criticism is always welcome” with a promise to address the concerns of all parts of the county.

“We have so much going for us at this time and we could use the help in leveraging our economic development to attract new and diverse investment, create permanent jobs and help our local businesses grow,” he said.

The decision to form the legislative committee actually was made last week without publicity. But Matt Specht, press aide to Bowers, said there was no attempt to hide it from the public.

“We typically don’t put out press releases on ad hoc committees until the details of the first meeting have been set,” he said. And Specht said that it appears that the committee won’t convene until sometime in late October.

Lawmakers want end to archaeological commission

Ned Norris Jr., chairman of the Tohono O'odham tribal council, addresses a special legislative session Tuesday on tribal affairs. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Ned Norris Jr., chairman of the Tohono O’odham tribal council, addresses a special legislative session Tuesday on tribal affairs. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

A spat between ranchers and Native American tribes is threatening to torpedo a special panel which seeks to keep construction projects from damaging tribal remains and antiquities.

On Jan. 14, members of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Energy and Water refused to recommend that the Arizona Archaeological Advisory Commission be allowed to remain in existence for another three years. That followed complaints from ranching interests that the council was needlessly holding up projects and requiring landowners to do more than required under federal law.

Without affirmative action of the Legislature the council will cease to exist later this year.

By Jan. 15, somewhat cooler heads prevailed, with Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, introducing legislation to allow the council to continue – but for only one more year. Griffin said that will give lawmakers a chance to see if the commission can change the way it operates to better take into account the concerns of rural landowners.

The dust-up has created concerns among some Native American leaders who fear what might happen with any effort to interfere with what the commission does.

Ned Norris Jr., chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, said while tribes are now confined to reservation lands there are “ancestral remains” throughout the state. He said changes would have “a very detrimental effect on our ability to ensure there is a process, and to ensure there is a requirement for the protection of those archaeological artifacts and human remains that may be identified as a result of someone plowing through or constructing on a piece of property.”

At the heart of the fight is the commission, created by lawmakers in 1985 to combat what was seen as rampant looting.

Part of its job is public education. But in its role as advisory to the State Historic Preservation Office it works to ensure that all state and federal laws are followed when it comes to construction and digging in places likely to turn up antiquities.

Frustrations by ranchers affected by the ccommission boiled over in 2018 when the Legislature voted to require a “streamlined” procedure for dealing with what happens when someone wants to dig for things like water lines and fences, and, more important, when something turns up.

David Cook
David Cook

That proposal by Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, would have allowed reports to be prepared by someone who has “completed a national culture resources training program.” And it would have established buffer zones to allow work to continue outside of that.

It ended up being vetoed by Gov. Doug Ducey.

In his veto message, the governor said he agrees with the goal of reducing regulatory burdens and correcting wasteful activities, “especially if it will bolster our state economy.” But Ducey said his administration already took “significant steps to improve the process.”

But Cook said that problems remain.

It starts with the makeup of the commission.

“They were all from Phoenix or Tucson,” he said, and all archaeologists. And Cook said there was no representation from those in the agriculture industry who have to live and comply with any requirements.

“Don’t you need the people there that has the side of the problems of what they’re causing?” he said.

Cook also said what the council has said needs to be done to search for and remove any findings is excessive.

He cited a rancher who wanted to build a corral on Forest Service land. To get the necessary clearance, Cook said, would have run $1 million for a corral with a $14,000 price tag.

Griffin said there are other problems with the way the whole system of historic preservation has been run. She said that includes the failure to keep data in the system of what land has been surveyed for remains or objects in the past, essentially requiring an entirely new survey to be performed for any new projects.

And she, like Cook, questioned the makeup of the commission.

Griffin acknowledged the prior promises to make necessary changes.

“It’s still not fixed,” she said. And Griffin said she didn’t want to simply renew the council for another three years based on promises that this time will be different.

Granting a one-year extension of the commission’s lease on life, she said, ensures that lawmakers will have to revisit the issue next year and see if progress has been made.

Norris said the focus has to be on protecting the remains against incursions made by relative newcomers.

“Many of the tribes have lived in this state for centuries, since time immemorial,” he said. More to the point, Norris said, they were occupying all of this land long before European settlers arrived.

“Although we’re secluded on our current existing tribal reservations, we still have an obligation and an interest to ensure the protection of any of our ancestral remains, regardless of whether or not they’re on or off our tribal nations,” he said.

Norris also appeared unimpressed by complaints that the process of identifying and removing antiquities takes too long.

“It’s a government,” he said. “And sometimes a government doesn’t move as fast as people would like them to move.”

Rep. Andres Cano, D-Tucson, said if the concern of some Republicans is that the council is not inclusive enough, there’s a simple solution. He pointed out that Ducey, who makes the appointments, is a Republican, with both the House and Senate in GOP hands.

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously named the panel in question as the Archaeological Advisory Council. 


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.


New law gives more money for water projects


Gov. Doug Ducey on April 21 signed a bill that provides larger grants for developing water projects in rural areas, but questions linger on whether there will be any money for them.   

 House Bill 2388, sponsored by Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, expands the amount of a single grant from the Water Supply Development Revolving Fund from $100,000 to $250,000. 

The recipient water provider must be located in a county with a population of fewer than 1.5 million people.  

While Griffin said the fund isn’t just meant for rural areas, some experts who work with water believe the benefits can greatly help many rural communities.  

 Chris Udall, executive director of the Agribusiness and Water Council of Arizona, said funding for water projects is a job provider and can help communities prosper.  

 “I come from rural Arizona myself, and there are some areas that could use an economic shot in the arm,” Udall said. 
Changes made are to broaden the definition of water providers to include all municipal water delivery systems and adding a public water system.  

The fund dates back to 2007 as part of a legislative package that allowed municipalities and counties to enact ordinances to require a sufficient water supply for lands before they could be offered for sale or lease.  

The Arizona Finance Authority Board administers the fund to provide financial assistance to water providers for constructing water supply projects and obtaining additional water supplies to meet demands. 

 Also, the bill expands the definition of water supply development to include planning, designing, building, or developing facilities and adding structures that actively or passively recharge stormwater to a list of qualifying facilities. 

The fund, however, is currently empty. The fiscal-year 2015 General Appropriation Act enacted a one-time $1 million appropriation to the fund that was exempt from lapsing.  

That amount was swept the following year, and the fund has not received any money since. 

As Arizona faces a potential water shortage for the first time next year because of a 20-year drought that is shrinking the Colorado River, there are calls to do more regarding water infrastructure and getting more sources of water for Arizona.  

Patrick Bray, executive vice president of the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association, said: “I think it’s just solid policy to invest in those water infrastructure projects, and we think that anywhere we can invest in our future of water that’s what we should be doing when the opportunity arises.”  

Bray said that because of the state budget surplus officials should be thinking bigger in terms of developing Arizona’s water infrastructure.  

The river operates in a “tier zero” status where the state contributes 192,000 acre-feet of Arizona’s 2.8 million acre-feet annual entitlement to Lake Mead coming entirely from the Central Arizona Project system. 

Cities and tribes are considered a high priority, so they will not be affected by the cuts during a possible “tier one” shortage when it comes to Colorado River water.  

As for whether the fund will get more usage given chances of future storages, Griffith said she’s pushing for the fund to be used in conjunction with another bill to study the water supply.  

“We do have a bill this year to look at this issue, HB2577, a water supply study. It’s a money bill so we have to come to an agreement on the budget before this bill moves forward,” Griffin said in an email statement. 

The bill would appropriate $5 million from the state General Fund in fiscal year 2022 to the Department of Water Resources to study potential sources of water for Arizona.  

She said that other funding has been prioritized in the past and that she will be looking to secure funding soon.  

New law targets wildfires, rehabs prisoners

The Coconino County Sheriff's Office blocks off a U.S. Forest Service Road outside of Flagstaff, Ariz., on Monday, June 21, 2021. Dozens of wildfires were burning in hot, dry conditions across the U.S. West, including a blaze touched off by lightning that was moving toward northern Arizona's largest city. (Brady Wheeler/Arizona Daily Sun via AP)
The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office blocks off a U.S. Forest Service Road outside of Flagstaff, Ariz., on Monday, June 21, 2021. Dozens of wildfires were burning in hot, dry conditions across the U.S. West, including a blaze touched off by lightning that was moving toward northern Arizona’s largest city. (Brady Wheeler/Arizona Daily Sun via AP)

As wildfires rage across Arizona and threaten numerous communities, legislators and forestry officials have had to come up with innovative ways to combat the problem. 

One such solution is deploying prison inmates on forest clearance crews. There are currently hundreds of inmates working on fire crews across the state, with 700 more slated to join in the near future.  

The infusion of new workers comes as several major population centers in Arizona are threatened by large wildfires, including Flagstaff and East Valley communities like Gilbert and Mesa. Last year, wildfires destroyed just shy of 1 million acres of land across the state, and this year’s blazes have the potential to be even more destructive. 

 The idea of enlisting inmates to help fight wildfires was initially devised by Republican legislator Gail Griffin, who represents District 14 in southeastern Arizona. With the support of Gov. Doug Ducey, Griffin sponsored House Bill 2440, which called for the establishment of partnerships between the Department of Forestry and Fire Management and various public agencies, with the goal of simultaneously preventing recidivism in inmates and more effectively protecting Arizona communities and landscapes from the threat of wildfires. 

“The program is there to help the inmates to have a trade,” Griffin said. “To gain experience, to be able to get a job when they get out. It’s on-the-job training, more or less.” 

The bill began its life in the House Natural Resources Energy and Water Committee, where it was widely supported. A Senate version of the bill was subsequently introduced, approved by a 27-3 margin, and signed into law by Ducey in March as part of his larger Healthy Forest Initiative. In addition to bolstering joint programs between the Department of Forestry and Fire Management and other agencies, the bill also disbursed $23.8 million in grants to the forestry department and its partners.    

“We at the DFFM certainly support this bill and appreciate Governor Ducey’s leadership with this Healthy Forest Initiative,” said Forestry Director David Tenney. “We believe there are several agencies and organizations out there who would be willing to partner with us.” 

Of the agencies that have partnered with the department in its effort to limit fire damage across the state, the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry has been one of the most proactive. The department has supplied small numbers of inmates to handle both fire suppression and vegetation cleanup duties, producing promising results so far.   

“Last year, we deployed 12 inmate crews of up to 22 inmates working in these programs,” Deputy Director Frank Strada said. “The overall program has been very successful, both for us and the [Emergency Operations Centers]. Inmates selected for this program are among the lowest risk offenders in our custody.” 

Inmates who have taken part in the program have praised its reformative potential, and a few success stories have already materialized in the year since it was put into place. Krista Countryman served on the all-female fire crew at Perryville Prison, and managed to parlay her experience into a job at the forestry department. Prior to joining the Perryville crew, Countryman had battled drug addiction for years and landed in the correctional system on three separate occasions. She insists that the program can help other drug offenders achieve a similar turnaround. 

“I had no home, no job, no car, no kind of life at all,” she said. “The fire crew changed that. This program helps people change their lives and I am just one example. The inmate fire crew program is the most valuable form of rehabilitation that the Arizona Department of Corrections has to offer.” 

While the 720 new inmates who will be included into the program will have an opportunity to turn their lives around, forestry department spokeswoman Tiffany Davila says that they will not be involved in fire suppression. Instead, they will handle “fuel mitigation” duties, cleaning up potentially flammable vegetation, while the responsibility of fighting the fires will be delegated to inmates on existing crews.  






Passing legislation requires moderation, tricks of the trade

Arizona state Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, left, R-Gilbert, and sponsor of the anti-human trafficking House Bill 2454, talks with Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, at the Arizona Capitol on Tuesday, April 15, 2014, in Phoenix. The bill was unanimously passed by the Senate, and toughens penalties for trafficking adults and targets businesses such as massage parlors and escort services that advertise online, and increases the minimum penalties for a child-prostitution conviction to 10 years to 24 years in prison. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Arizona state Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, left, R-Gilbert, and sponsor of the anti-human trafficking House Bill 2454, talks with Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, at the Arizona Capitol on Tuesday, April 15, 2014, in Phoenix. . (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

After 16 years in the Legislature, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth said he knows what it takes to get measures through both chambers and up to the Governor’s Office.

The Gilbert Republican attributed a large part of his success to understanding the legislative process. But his strategy also includes sponsoring legislation that addresses problems he or his constituents have observed, working within the confines and scope of the state Constitution, and working with others who are willing to go to bat for the bill, he said.

Farnsworth said the most important trick, however, is ensuring that the language is “good language.” He said the bill language has to be tight and should spell out exactly what the bill intends to do. It’s something he said he spent much of this year helping his colleagues with.

“I understand a comma in the wrong place changes the entire meaning of a bill,” he said. “You look at some of the bills that tend to be thrown together and it’s more difficult to get them through, and sometimes there’s unintended consequences if they pass. I really think having the right language is critical.”

And his methods have paid off.

Farnsworth had the highest percentage of his bills signed into law of any lawmaker. Seventeen of his 20 prime sponsored bills, or 85 percent, were approved by both chambers and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey.

Lawmakers passed 369 bills, 30.6 percent of the 1,206 bills introduced in the 2018 session. Of those 369 bills, Ducey signed 346, or 93.8 percent of all the bills that were approved. The governor vetoed 23 bills, about 6.2 percent of those sent to the Ninth Floor. However, 10 of the bills he vetoed were later re-introduced by the Legislature and he signed them.

They also introduced 122 memorials and resolutions, ranging from death resolutions to commemorations of holidays and awareness days to ballot referrals. Of those, 28 were sent to the Secretary of State’s Office, including two ballot referrals.

Five lawmakers tied for the second-highest batting average with 66.6 percent of their measures being signed by the governor.

The batting average is calculated by dividing the number of bills signed into law by the number of prime sponsored bills for a legislator.

Rep. TJ Shope (R-Coolidge) (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)
Rep. TJ Shope (R-Coolidge) (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)

One of those lawmakers, Rep. TJ Shope, R-Coolidge, had 10 of his 15 bills signed into law. The governor vetoed another. And Shope noted that while one of his bills, HB2482, which would have required the Arizona Board of Regents and community college districts to provide tuition waivers to Arizona residents who were in foster care, didn’t make it to the governor’s desk it was included in the budget.

Shope said he tries to run a moderate amount of bills each session, and he added that 15 was one of the “heftiest loads I’ve carried.”

“I’m not a big fan of running a lot of bills. If I’m going to run something I want it to be meaningful and I want to be able to get it passed,” he said.

One bill he’s especially proud of, he said, is HB2154 because of how difficult it was to get across the finish line.

Shope said he worked with the Attorney General’s Office on the bill, which made several changes to statutes relating to data security breaches. He said there was initial opposition from the business community and he had a hard time bringing everyone to the negotiation table to discuss the bill.

“It’s by far the most difficult bill I’ve brought forth in my time down here,” he said. “There were many, many times where I thought this thing was dead.”

Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, and Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, tied for the most prime sponsored legislation, each introducing 65 measures, almost 10 percent of all bills, memorials and resolutions introduced. Of the bills introduced, Ducey signed 32 Carter bills and 29 Griffin bills.

Carter said as chairwoman of the House Health Committee, several of the bills she introduced sought to clean up bills from prior years, extend the life of various agencies, and update state statute to conform with new federal laws.

She also introduced several education-related measures, like a bill that would clean up teacher certification requirements for teachers working in Arizona on a visa, one dealing with teaching certificates for substitute teachers, and another that would require schools districts to disclose to parents when a student is bullied, intimidated or harassed and by whom.

She noted that in her first year in office she ran four bills and all four were signed into law.

“I was so proud and everybody was like, ‘That’s not a big deal,’” she said. I thought you introduced bills and they all got signed into law.”

She quickly learned that’s not the case and that it takes a lot of effort to get a bill across the finish line, which is why she tends to introduce bills that seek to solve problems brought to her by a constituent or issues she’s noticed herself as a parent and former educator, she said.

Twenty-nine lawmakers were unable to get a single bill up to the Governor’s Office, including two House Republicans, Reps. Becky Nutt, of Clifton, and David Stringer, of Prescott.

Reps. Macario Saldate, D-Tucson, and Tim Dunn, R-Yuma, didn’t introduce any bills this year. Dunn was appointed to the Legislature after the deadline to introduce bills in the House had passed.


Ducey’s 2018 veto count comes with asterisk

By Carmen Forman

In the last year of his first term, Gov. Doug Ducey wielded his “veto” stamp more liberally than he had during previous legislative sessions.

Part of that stems from Ducey taking a scare tactic approach to force lawmakers to finish the budget. Ducey vetoed 23 bills this session — a record high for the Republican governor. But that number takes into account 10 House GOP bills Ducey swiftly vetoed one afternoon, believing House Republicans were dragging their feet on the budget.

The message included in each of the 10 veto letters read the same.
“Please send me a budget that gives teachers a 20-percent pay raise by 2020 and restores additional assistance,” Ducey wrote. “Our teachers have earned this raise. It’s time to get it done.”

After Ducey’s veto rampage, lawmakers reintroduced the bills toward the end of session and successfully got them across the finish line. On the last day Ducey could take action on this session’s legislation, the governor approved all 10 of the reintroduced bills.

While on paper, Ducey vetoed more bills this session than any of his previous three sessions, some of the vetoes were temporal and meant only to pressure lawmakers into passing his teacher pay raise plan, not to strike down legislation he opposed.

Rep. Griffin says she won’t push passage of her porn-tax bill

revenge porn guy computer dark620

How much do you like obscenity?

Are you willing to pay $20 to get and keep your access?

And what if you knew that money could help build a wall with Mexico?

That’s exactly what is in HB 2444.

Introduced by Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, it would require that all devices sold or leased in the state that can access the internet to have a filter to block obscene materials. That includes a specific definition of those items that appeal to the prurient interest, depicts sexual activity in a “patently offensive way” and, taken as a whole “lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”

What also would have to be blocked are web sites that facilitate prostitution and those that allow people to view “revenge porn,” essentially naked pictures of someone put online without their permission, often by a jilted lover.

All that would have to be blocked with “active and properly operating” software that makes it impossible to view materials defined as obscene.

But here’s the thing: HB 2444 would allow those who still want to view those materials could pay a one-time $20 fee to the Arizona Commerce Authority. Those dollars would go into a newly established John McCain Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Fund.

And that fund would provide grants to help victims of sex trafficking, ranging from employment and education training to actually building a wall along the state’s border with Mexico.

Griffin, questioned Tuesday about the bill, said it was not her idea but came from a constituent who was not identified. And now, with media scrutiny, Griffin said as far as she’s concerned the measure isn’t going anywhere this year.

Senate to vote on taking power from regulators

Solar panels and wind turbine against blue sky

Rejecting arguments about economic development, clean air and even constitutional issues, a Senate panel voted along party lines March 31 to strip the Arizona Corporation Commission of its power to set energy policy for utilities. 

The 6-4 vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee followed arguments by Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, that it was wrong of the independently elected utility regulators to propose that half of the state’s energy be generated by carbon-free sources by 2035 and have power be totally carbon free by 2050. She said the commissioners failed to consider the cost implications for consumers of having to give up on coal- and gas-fired power plants. 

That contention was questioned by several witnesses, some of whom represent those involved in solar technology, who said that wind and solar are now less expensive. 

But the real question is whether lawmakers have the power to wrest from the regulators the authority to set energy policy. 

Griffin is relying on a ruling last year by the Arizona Supreme Court dealing with a fight over control of Johnson Utilities. 

In that ruling, the justices said the Arizona Constitution gives commissioners absolute power to set rates. But they said that authority over health and safety questions is shared with the Legislature. 

HB2248 amounts to the Legislature asserting what it says is its right to overrule the regulators. 

That legal conclusion, however, may not be entirely correct. 

Amanda Ormond, a consultant who used to run the state Energy Office, said th2020 case did not directly challenge the authority of the commission to determine renewable energy standards. She said that was specifically addressed in a 2011 ruling of the state Supreme Court which concluded that the regulators were free to require utilities to buy or generate power from solar, wind and other sources – even if that costs more for ratepayers. 

And Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, said she has an opinion from legislative lawyers who say that this particular bill – pre-empting carbon-emission standards enacted by the commission – would be unconstitutional. 

Of note is that none of the state’s major investor-owned utilities, the firms that have to live under the commission rules, have testified in support of the measure. In fact, Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest electric supplier, is actively opposing HB2248, saying that it would create “legal and regulatory uncertainties” and arguing that “energy policy is within the purview of the Arizona Corporation Commission.” 

And in a formal statement of opposition, the company agreed that the 2020 Supreme Court decision – the one on which Griffin is relying – is ambiguous. 

What is also true is that APS already has plans to be carbon-free by 2050. That includes nuclear.  

And Tucson Electric Power, which has no stake in a nuclear power plant, said it will have 70% of its power from renewable sources by 2035. 

But Griffin was undeterred. 

“Nowhere does it give the Corporation Commission the authority to make energy policy,” she said. 

What’s worse, Griffin said, is her contention that the commissioners ignored key issues in adopting their latest goals. 

“The commission adopted energy rules without producing or evaluating proposed financial impacts the proposed rules would have on its ratepayers,” she said, something she called “unacceptable.” 

“That’s who we represent, the ratepayers,” Griffin said. 

JoAnna Struther of the Arizona Lung Association said she sees the legislation through a different lens. She said the measure “will set back clean energy programs that will improve air quality and create a healthy climate for all Arizonans.” 

“This bill would reverse progress towards cleaner air and can have serious consequences on air quality standards and our health,” Struther said, saying it “endangers public health.” 

Griffin’s measure pretty much leaves in place the original standards adopted by the commission more than a decade ago. Her bill would require utilities to have 15% of the energy from renewable resources by 2026. 

And Shelby Stults with Advanced Energy Economy, a trade group representing those involved in new technology, said scrapping the new standards will put more than 41,000 jobs at risk. 

Griffin’s measure leaves in place the original standards adopted by the commission more than a decade ago. They require utilities to have 15% of the energy from renewable resources by 2026. 

But it would leave any further adjustments in the hands of future legislators. 

Unadjusted, it also would put Arizona behind many other states in the region, according to information from the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

In California, for example, utilities are supposed to reach 100% clean energy by 2045. 

New Mexico’s goal is to has a zero-carbon standard by 2045, with Nevada having that same goal in 2050. 

But Utah has a renewable portfolio goal, essentially a voluntary target, of 20% by 2025. 

The measure, which already has cleared the Arizona House, faces an uncertain future when it goes to the full Senate. 

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, has publicly questioned the wisdom of having the Arizona Legislature, which has no full-time staff devoted to energy policy, in charge of reviewing future changes. With all Democrats opposed, Republicans would need all 16 of its senators to support the measure to have it approved. 


Slew of newcomers fill empty seats in Legislature

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, is sworn in during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol on January 11, 2021, in Phoenix. The House and Senate will see a slew of new faces when the the Legislature convenes in January – nine in the House and two in the Senate as lawmakers resigned and switched chambers for a variety of reasons. PHOTO BY ROSS D. FRANKLIN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The House will start 2022 with nine new members who were appointed to fill spots that opened due to a slew of resignations after the 2021 session. And that means new faces will be heading a couple of powerful committees. 

Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, will head the House Judiciary Committee next year, replacing Rep. Frank Pratt, who died in September. And the committee’s purview will be expanded to include the sort of bills Blackman pushed during the 2021 session as chairman of the House Criminal Justice Reform Committee. The latter panel is being dissolved and will have its responsibilities folded into Judiciary. 

Walt Blackman

And House Speaker Pro Tempore Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, will have his portfolio expanded to include the chairmanship of the House Rules Committee, replacing longtime Rep. Becky Nutt, a southeastern Arizona Republican who resigned a month ago. 

“The last time we had this many resignations was, I think, in 1991, and that’s when AzScam occurred,” said veteran lobbyist Barry Aarons, referring to the gaming scandal that resulted in seven lawmakers being convicted of bribery. 

This year’s resignations have mostly come for more pedestrian reasons – only one, former Sen. Tony Navarrete’s departure, was due to criminal charges. Three lawmakers have left for personal reasons, while two House members left that chamber after being appointed to the Senate, one left to take a job in the Biden administration, and three resigned to focus on bids for higher office. 

(See related story) 

Travis Grantham

Republican lobbyist and former lawmaker Stan Barnes said, “This is, in my 32 years, the rarest of situations, really, and I’m still surprised when I consider the amount of people resigning simply for a job opportunity or for some other reason that wasn’t compelling in time. To resign to run for another office when you don’t have to is a new phenomenon. The whole thing is one giant surprise to me.” 

Barnes said he doesn’t know what has changed in the Capitol’s culture to prompt more members who are seeking higher offices to resign. He said it “does not make sense to me in the name of fundraising or living up to our obligation to voters who put you in the original office in the first place, or maintaining profile. … There’s not a part of it I understand in terms of strategy.” 

Having so many new members, Barnes said, will make what is already expected to be a tough session even tougher. 

“The problem isn’t so much new members,” he said. “The problem is new members with an attitude. And with an overconfidence. And with a lack of understanding of how things actually work not deterring them from talking too much or engaging in ways that are detrimental to the process.” 

Aarons, who believes lawmakers running for higher offices should resign their current positions, doesn’t think having so many new members will be as disruptive as Barnes does. 

“New members tend to be kind of still finding their way and will tend to rely more on their leadership as far as positions they’re going to take,” Aarons said. 

Aarons thinks a bigger factor in prolonging the 2022 session will be the presence of so many legislators who are running for higher office. Among the legislators expected to return in 2022 are two who are running for Congress, four who are running for secretary of state, three running for state treasurer and one running for state superintendent of public instruction. 

“I think they’re going to have a lot of things that they’re going to want to do so that they can raise their profile, and that’s not necessarily going to make for an easier session,” Aarons said. 

There will be three new Republicans for whom 2022 will be their first session – Lupe Diaz, who was named to Nutt’s seat; Neal Carter, who replaced Pratt; and Teresa Martinez, who was appointed after Bret Roberts resigned.  

Democrats will have six new House members – Christian Solorio, who was appointed when former Rep. Raquel Terán was named to Navarrete’s Senate seat; Brian Fernandez, who was named to his mother Charlene Fernandez’s seat when she left for a job in the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Sarah Liguori, who was appointed to Aaron Lieberman’s seat when he resigned to focus on his gubernatorial run; and two yet-to-be-named members from vacant seats in Tucson and Phoenix. 

Grantham will serve as a key gatekeeper in his new role as Rule Committee chairman. All bills pass through that committee before going to the House floor, effectively letting the GOP leadership which holds the majority on the committee decide whether a bill should move forward or be killed. Barnes said the importance of the Rules chairmanship has grown greatly in recent years. 

“Decades ago, it was somebody that would salute leadership when needed in the way of holding bills, but it was generally just a perfunctory rubber stamp,” Barnes said. “That’s changed in the ensuing time, and different members in the past have exercised tremendous gatekeeping … autonomy, apparently unchallenged by leadership. And, dependent on the personality, that phenomenon remains.” 

Speaking briefly before Grantham’s appointment was announced, Barnes said he expected the GOP leadership to take this into account when naming Nutt’s successor. 

“Speaker (Rusty) Bowers understands the changing dynamics of the role of the Rules chairman, and no doubt will choose someone that he considers a close ally that is cooperative with general majority issues support,” Barnes said. 

There has also been some notable committee reshuffling among the House Democrats, who lost a couple of long-serving members to the wave of resignations and have had to name new ranking members to some committees as a result.  

Reps. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix, and Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, will join House Appropriations to replace three members who resigned, with Butler as the new ranking Democrat. Another notable change is that House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, who is running for secretary of state, is joining Government and Elections. 

And if this seems like a lot of changes, just wait a year. Of the House incumbents who are returning for the 2022 session, six have already filed to run for state Senate; eight are seeking higher offices such as Congress or statewide posts; and at least three have publicly announced they plan to leave the Legislature for other reasons after the upcoming session. Others could be squeezed out when redistricting forces them into difficult primaries. 

The picture in the Senate is similar, with several senators running for higher offices, several others who have said they don’t plan to run again and a few who could be forced into primary elections with current colleagues. And even if Republicans keep the majority, the House and Senate both will have new leadership in 2023 – Bowers is term-limited, and Senate President Karen Fann plans to retire. 

“The turnover at the Legislature for the 2023 session is going to be among the largest ever, at least in my 50 years down there,” Aarons said. 

Veteran tax cut passes on second vote of Senate

It took two tries, but Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposal to cut taxes in 2018 was approved by the Arizona Senate.

The chamber voted 18-11 to approve a tax break for certain military veterans, days after the same measure failed on a 15-13 vote — one shy of the 16 needed in the Senate for approval.

Sen. Gail Griffin (R-Hereford)
Sen. Gail Griffin (R-Hereford)

Sponsored by Sen. Gail Griffin, SB 1167 would increase a tax exemption for military retirement pay to $6,250 in 2018 and $10,000 by 2019, up from the current $2,500 exemption. It would have applied to approximately 52,000 veterans out of roughly 600,000 veterans in Arizona.

The bill still needs the approval of the House.

Sen. Warren Petersen, who voted against the bill twice, made a motion Monday afternoon to reconsider the bill, despite the Gilbert Republican’s opposition to it. That allowed his colleagues another chance to vote yes.

It only would have taken one more “yes” vote to approve SB 1167, and that was supplied by Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, who was absent during the first floor vote on Feb. 1.

But Sens. David Farnsworth, R-Chandler, and Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, switched from “no” to “yes,” allowing the bill to easily pass.

If approved by the House, the bill would fulfill Ducey’s campaign promise to lower taxes every year he’s in office. Budget analysts estimate the tax break would cost the state $15 million.

Water overhaul bills would extend pumping, ease use limits

Long-awaited legislation overhauling Arizona’s water management policies includes proposals to waive some restrictions on overuse contained in a landmark 1980 state law.

Proponents called it a long-needed update, while an environmental activist said it just shifts a coming water crisis to the next generation.

The proposals introduced by Republican Sen. Gail Griffin of Hereford would allow over-pumping in some areas to continue 10 years longer than current law allows.

The proposal also reintroduces workarounds to water use restrictions for Cochise and Yuma counties that Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed in 2016.

Other provisions include a ban on water exports, studying desalination as a new water source and exemptions to current pumping rules for greenhouses.

The Republican governor and his staff have been working with lawmakers for months to craft the first major changes since the 1980 Groundwater Management Act. Griffin said Jan. 30 that Arizona water policy has long been ahead of California and other states and the new proposals continue that advance.

Sen. Gail Griffin (R-Hereford)
Sen. Gail Griffin (R-Hereford)

“We want everybody to know that Arizona is not sitting on our hands and doing nothing on water,” Griffin said. “We have sufficient water but we want to continue good water policy, and that’s what this bill does.”

One of the major proposals would benefit Griffin’s home county, Cochise, by making it easier for the county to ease requirements that developers show they have a 100-year supply of water. Griffin sponsored similar legislation in 2016 that was vetoed by Ducey.

She said in an interview that her county has plenty of water from the San Pedro River and the new law would encourage conservation.

“It adds additional requirements that are not even in active management areas but are good water conservation policies,” she said. “And it allows them to move forward in making a plan.

That explanation didn’t fly with Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter, who said the legislation removes important protections for the San Pedro River in Southern Arizona and the Verde River north of Phoenix.

“We’re already struggling to keep Sierra Vista from pumping the San Pedro dry, so this is a step backward,” Bahr said. “There’s really nothing in the package that helps rivers. There’s actually provisions that further the harm.”

The proposal eases an existing requirement that groundwater pumping operations meet “safe yield” requirements by 2025, extending it until 2035. It also strips the Central Arizona Project of the ability to raise a common defense to lawsuits by state entities and moves oversight of some water conservations districts from the state Land Department to the Forestry and Fire Management Department.

The proposal is contained in one overarching bill, while eight others break out individual items contained in the larger proposal. Griffin said she wanted to ensure that interested parties understood their individual concerns had been well thought out.

The maneuver does, however, make it easier to remove a specific provision.

A spokesman for Ducey, Daniel Scarpinato, didn’t immediately comment Jan. 30 on the proposal.

Bahr said her quick take on the proposal is that “it defers the keys issues with water to another day — it’s not really addressing them.”

Water policy push dries up for Ducey

Hikers make their way along the banks of the Colorado River in Black Canyon south of Hoover Dam, Sunday, April 14, 2013, near Willow Beach, Ariz.  (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Hikers make their way along the banks of the Colorado River in Black Canyon south of Hoover Dam, Sunday, April 14, 2013, near Willow Beach, Ariz. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Gov. Doug Ducey drowned under his own ambitions this legislative session.

Ducey made gains on several  issues — most notably K-12 education funding — this session, but his plans for far-reaching water reform quickly dried up.

After conducting months of closed-door meetings on a water policy overhaul last year, Ducey also lacked significant legislative support for his proposals that faced some resistance from the beginning.

With a goal of the state speaking with one voice on water, the Governor’s Office came up with a list of water priorities, including the creation of  a “Colorado River Conservation Program,” enhanced groundwater metering and increased oversight of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District.

“At the beginning of the session, expectations were high,” said David Iwanski, AZ Water Association director. “By the end of the session, they were zero.”

After significant build up, Ducey didn’t put forth any legislative recommendations this year, but that didn’t stop lawmakers from taking matters into their own hands. But Ducey’s administration said the legislation lawmakers introduced lacked key provisions to protect the water level at Lake Mead and fend off future water shortages.

During any session, there are priorities and issues that fall to the wayside, Ducey said. But he has high confidence that progress will occur on water policy next year. Ducey is up for re-election this year.

“Whenever we finish a legislative session, we don’t have everything done that we would like to have done,” Ducey said. “There’s always going to be more that we want to accomplish.”

Some lawmakers, like Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, initially took issue with Ducey’s water policy process. He contrasted Ducey’s process to that of former Gov. Bruce Babbit who, nearly four decades ago, convened a years-long stakeholder process to craft what would be known as The Groundwater Management Act of 1980.

Conducting meetings in secret and not including more lawmakers was not an effective way to do water policy, Bowers said of Ducey. But closer to the start of session, the chairman of a House Environmental Committee was more involved in water policy discussions.

Not including lawmakers in the decision-making process from the beginning played a role in killing Ducey’s water priorities this session, said Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club.

“If you’re going to take something to the Legislature, you need to talk to the legislators,” she said.

But those paying close attention to water issues this session weren’t surprised nothing panned out this year, she said.

The governor’s methodology in developing the proposal was off from day one, Bahr said. The stakeholder meetings weren’t open to the public, which was his first mistake, she said.

In response to the governor’s actions, Bowers and Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, introduced a slate of their own water bills.

The omnibus legislation would have allowed counties to vote to get rid of water supply laws and limited the Central Arizona Project’s ability to negotiate interstate agreements. The legislation also would have required legislative approval for transporting water out of state, creation of a new water management area and called for a desalination action plan.

What some predicted would be a major battle this legislative session fell to the wayside because Ducey didn’t think Griffin and Bowers’ legislation went far enough. Some of the legislation also included provisions that would have weakened groundwater laws — measures Ducey vetoed last year. The lawmakers’ bills ended up going nowhere.

“If we had said we’re going to do x, y and z this session something would have probably happened more quickly, but we didn’t want to cram it through,” said Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato. More work was needed for lawmakers to fully understand the issue, he said.

The Governor’s Office got a late start on the issue, which made addressing a major rewrite of the state’s water laws difficult to achieve this session, Scarpinato said. The stakeholder process butted up against the start of session, he said, dismissing criticisms that Ducey’s meetings did not include a diverse group of stakeholders.

Meanwhile, long-term planning for Arizona’s water resources has become ever more important for the state and its neighbors. The Bureau of Reclamation predicts there is a 50 percent chance of water shortage in Lake Mead by 2020, with the the chance of shortage conditions growing more likely in later years.

Water policy has been a contentious issue as of late because of high tension between CAP and the Department of Water Resources. Ducey’s proposals didn’t help. CAP called the governor’s proposals political and feared they would strip some power from its elected board.

But last month, the two groups pledged to put aside their differences and work together to complete the Drought Contingency Plan — an effort to stabilize water levels in Lake Mead.

Meanwhile, Bowers and Griffin started a listening tour to hear about water issues across the state. And Ducey has no plans to give up on overhauling the state’s water policy.

Iwanski is hopeful that Ducey stays true to his word, and addresses water issues soon.

“We hope that it continues to be a priority,” he said. “We really do need to put and keep water issues as a legislative priority because those challenges are immediate.”