Bad handwriting could lead to criminal probe


So how has your signature changed over the years? 

And is it different when you’re not feeling well? 

All that could mean a call from state or county investigators and possibly a criminal probe. 

Legislation being pushed by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, would alter state laws on early ballots. 

Those statutes now say that when a ballot comes in by mail, election workers compare the signature on the envelope with what they have on file, whether from prior elections or other records. If they appear to match, that’s the end of it and the ballot is tallied. 

If they don’t, election workers attempt to contact voters to find out if they actually cast the ballot and any reasons why the signature has changed. The most common reasons include age or illness. 

An affirmative response from the voter cures the ballot and ends the process. Otherwise, the ballot is not counted. 

What Kavanagh wants in SB1241 is all those unmatched signatures and “uncured” ballots to be referred to state or county attorneys who then would launch their own investigation. 

“We’re just having somebody else follow up with a check in the event that the elections people have no way of contacting this person,” he said. 

That alarmed Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, who said it would have a “chilling effect” on the disabled and the elderly, the people whose signatures on the ballot envelopes are most likely to have changed. 

Kavanagh, however, said that doesn’t automatically mean a criminal probe. 

“If they also can’t contact them, then it goes nowhere,” he said. “If they suddenly discover, though, that the individual, say, doesn’t live at that address any more, then maybe they’re going to want to take the original ballot and iodine-fume it for prints and see who was handling it.” 

And Kavanagh insisted that individuals who ignore an inquiry will not end up being investigated. 

“The case is dropped,” he said. “You can’t open a criminal probe when you have no evidence and you can’t even find the person.” 

But lawmakers on May 26 defeated a more far-reaching measure that would have required Arizonans to provide more information to get their early votes counted. 

On a 29-31 margin the House on May 26 rejected a Senate-passed measure that would have added identification requirements for mail-in ballots. Republicans Michelle Udall of Mesa and Joel John of Buckeye joined with the Democrats to quash the measure. 

The vote drew an angry reaction from Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City. 

“In places like Afghanistan to vote, they require a biometric technology, retinal scans and your fingerprint on each ballot,” he said. “So the fact we’re voting ‘no’ on simple ask to put your birth date is quite mind boggling.” 

But the foes said it’s more complex than that. 

Under current law the only thing required on an early ballot envelope is a signature. Election workers then compare that with what they have on file from other sources, including previous election information and other records. 

If they match, that’s the end of it and the ballot is counted. If they do not, an effort is made to contact the voter and find out whether they did, in fact, cast the ballot and why a signature might not match. 

Usual reasons include age or illness. If election workers are satisfied, they submit the ballot for processing. 

SB1713 sought to add a new requirement that those voting early fill out and submit with their early ballot an affidavit that includes their date of birth and then either their driver’s license number, non-operating state ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number. 

The change crafted by Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, comes on the heels of historic turnout and record early voting in the 2020 election. 

“There is some feeling that signature verification, while a good thing, is not enough to establish a level of confidence that I think we need,” Mesnard said when he pushed the measure through the Senate. 

But it also follows highly publicized claims by then-President Trump prior to and even following the last election that early voting leads to widespread fraud. 

Trump lost Arizona to Joe Biden by 10,457 votes. And Rep. Raquel Teran, D-Phoenix, said Arizona should not be changing laws because of “the fact that he didn’t like the outcome of the election.” 

“It will disenfranchise voters,” said Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley. And Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Glendale, called it “just another form of voter suppression.” 

Kavanagh said the new requirements hardly present a hurdle. 

“Everybody knows their date of birth, so I don’t see how there could be a problem here,” he said. And for those who don’t have – or don’t know – their driver’s license number, there’s the alternative of the last four digits of the Social Security number “which everybody has since childhood.” 

But Rep. Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren, D-Red Mesa, said it’s not that simple. 

Take her grandmother, who she said was not born in a hospital and has no birth certificate. 

Her driver’s license lists November 15, an arbitrary date only because the family says she was born in the fall. By contrast, she is listed as born on November 17 on her Indian Health System documents and November 16 on her Social Security card. 

And Rep. Jennifer Jermaine, D-Chandler, said many Native Americans are unaware of their Social Security number as the ID they need on reservation is their tribal identification card. Yet that is not one of the permissible pieces of information that can be included to verify a ballot. 

Rep. Lorenzo Sierra, D-Cashion, said SB1713 by itself won’t kill democracy. 

“Democracy will be killed by thousands of cuts,” he said. “This is one of those cuts.” 

Bill says doctors can go to prison for incomplete medical marijuana exam

State lawmakers are moving to make felons of doctors who don’t follow all the rules when recommending that a patient be allowed to use marijuana.

The 6-3 vote Thursday for HB 2067 would impose prison terms of up to a year for medical professionals who fail to conduct a full medical exam before issuing the required state certification to buy and use the drug. That same penalty also would apply to doctors who do not review at least a year of the patient’s medical records.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who chairs the campaign against Proposition 205,says its approval would make Arizona roads more dangerous and "endanger Arizona's children,'' saying Colorado has suffered "a whole host of negative consequences." (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

That vote came on the heels of complaints by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk about “pot docs,” people she said who are in the business of making as much money as they can providing the required certification patients need to be able to legally purchase and use the drug.

Polk has made no secret of the fact that she opposes medical marijuana. But with voters having approved the program in 2010, she is powerless to do anything about that.

What Polk said she can do, however, is ensure as much as possible that doctors follow the certification process already required by state regulations. That, she told lawmakers, is not happening.

As proof she cited billboards which say that people can get a medical marijuana card without having any medical records.

Thursday’s vote is the second victory for Polk in her fight against medical marijuana.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, said lobbying by Polk has forced him to abandon his effort to slash the $150 annual fee the state Department of Health Services charges to patients.

Borrelli had shepherded his SB 1420 through the Senate Government Committee late last month after pointing out that the amount of money being collected is far greater than the cost of running the program. He pointed out that there is more than $40 million sitting in an account that, by law, cannot be used for other purposes.

But that was before Polk argued to lawmakers that lower fees would make it easier for young people to get medical marijuana cards.

Borrelli told Capitol Media Services that Polk’s opposition threatened to quash the entire bill. By dumping the fee reduction, Borrelli preserves the other key provision he thinks is crucial: having the state test what’s being sold as medical marijuana, both to verify the content of THC, the psychoactive element, as well as to determine whether there are residual pesticides or chemicals.

The 2010 voter-approved law allows those with certain medical conditions and a doctor’s recommendation — it’s technically not a prescription — to get a card from the state allowing them to purchase up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. The most recent reports show more than 156,000 Arizonans have been issued these cards.

What’s behind Polk’s efforts on both bills is her belief that it’s just too easy for people — especially newly minted adults — to get the cards.

“I hear a lot from the parents who are very frustrated because their son has turned 18,” she told lawmakers. “They visited what we call the ‘pot docs’ and 30 minutes later they walk out with that recommendation.”

But it isn’t just teens.

“This is a de facto recreational marijuana program,” Polk says of the 2010 law.

She cited figures from the state which show fewer than 3 percent of medical marijuana patients got the certification for cancer and fewer than 2 percent for post-traumatic stress disorder. Conversely, Polk said, about 85 percent of certifications fall into a catch-all category of chronic pain, with the bulk of patients being males between 18 and 30.

That suggestion that many patients really have no legitimate need drew a sharp reaction from Rep. Pamela Powers Hanley, D-Tucson. She cited information which shows that the largest users of opioids for pain among men was that same age group.

“So I don’t think you should discount the idea that because a man is young that he does not have chronic pain,” she said.

Powers Hanley said there are studies that show marijuana is a viable alternative to opioids and being a less expensive alternative to other pain medications.

“I see this bill as an attempt to overregulate a medicinal plant that has been used for centuries safely,” she said.

Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, said she’s not a fan of recreational use of marijuana.

“But I do think there is a serious medical need for it,” she said, saying she does not want to “criminalize physicians who are doing their job.”

Polk acknowledged that existing law already allows the medical boards that license and regulate doctors to discipline those who do not follow state laws and rules and even revoke their ability to practice. But she did not see that as a substitute for criminal penalties.

HB 2067 now needs approval of the full House.

Challenge to LD28 candidate’s petition signatures alleges forgery

The husband of Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, is seeking to kick independent challenger Mark Syms off the general election ballot for having insufficient signatures to qualify for the ticket.

In a complaint filed June 11 in Maricopa County Superior Court, attorneys Kory Langhofer and Joseph Kanefield listed 20 reasons for why the majority of the 2,156 signatures Syms collected must be disqualified.

Langhofer and Kanefield, who represent Robert McGee, alleged that 914 of the signatures, which Syms collected in just 10 days, according to staff at the Secretary of State’s Office, appear to be forgeries. The attorneys said after visually comparing the signatures on the nominating petitions with voter registration records, none of the 914 signatures collected bore “reasonable resemblance” to the signatures on file.

“Not only are the affected signatures void, but this apparently concerted effort among multiple circulators to manufacture a critical mass of fraudulent signatures irretrievably taints the integrity of the nomination petition as a whole and requires its invalidation,” the attorneys wrote.

Langhofer and Kanefield called the alleged forgeries “the most extensive and pervasive petition fraud scheme in recent Arizona history.”

Mark Syms
Mark Syms

The attorneys also alleged that there were several missing or illegible signatures, some signers did not list their address or a complete address, and in other instances the date the person allegedly signed the petition was missing. Some of the signers were registered to vote outside of Legislative District 28 or weren’t registered to vote at all in Arizona when they allegedly signed the petition.

The attorneys also seek to invalidate entire nominating petition sheets because the circulator failed to sign the circulator verification accompanying the petition sheets they circulated, or because they didn’t completely fill out the circulator information on the back of the petitions.

Syms, a doctor and the husband of Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, is running as an independent for the Senate in Legislative District 28. His candidacy is viewed by many as political payback for Republicans running a second candidate, Kathy Petsas, in the House.

Some Republicans believe Petsas is more likely to take out Maria Syms than Democratic Rep. Kelli Butler. And Republicans also worry that Mark Syms’ appearance on the ballot could split valuable votes for Brophy McGee and throw the race to Democrat Christine Marsh.

Syms did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the complaint, the attorneys alleged that four circulators collected the majority of the signatures, about 1,330. Of those four circulators, three listed their address at a homeless shelter in Phoenix.

Langhofer and Kanefield said the signatures collected by the four circulators appeared in consecutive, or nearly consecutive order, based on numbered addresses, and the addresses were written in the same handwriting.

The attorneys argued that it was “highly unlikely” that this could occur given that during the course of signature gathering, circulators will often encounter people who will refuse to answer the door or decline to sign the petition.

They alleged that the circulators likely filled out the nominating petitions using voter registration rolls and then forged the signatures themselves, adding that many of the signatures were similar in size, spacing and had the same slant.

Langhofer and Kanefield argued that two of the circulators reportedly collected 200 signatures each in one day, which far exceeds the average 12 signatures per day other circulators collected, they wrote.

And one of the circulators, who listed his name as Anthony Garcia, is thought to have impersonated the real Garcia, “an experienced career circulator who has collected petitions signatures in Arizona for years,” the attorneys wrote. Not only will the real Anthony Garcia testify he never circulated nominating petitions on behalf of Syms, the attorneys said, but GPS data maintained by his employer will show that he was outside the boundaries of LD28 on the dates the circulator purporting to be Garcia collected signatures for the nominating petition.

Langhofer and Kanefield argued that once the signatures are invalidated, Syms will have fewer than the 1,250 valid signatures he needs to qualify for the ballot.

Child abuse investigation backlog soars

Once again, the Department of Child Safety has fallen behind on child abuse and neglect investigations. 

The latest department report reflects unfilled staff positions, a high number of open cases, and many children in out-of-home care. DCS has set benchmarks for the number of employees and the number of cases they manage. Currently, the number of cases far exceeds these benchmarks, and the number of workers falls short. 

At the beginning of this year, DCS had 95 backlogged cases, which are open and inactive investigations. Now, the number has shot up to 1,879 cases, exceeding the benchmark of 1,000 set by the Legislature. 

Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, said it’s extremely troubling to see the department fail to meet benchmarks.  

“Those are children whose lives are potentially at risk because they are not investigating the way we expect them to,” Butler sad. “It’s extremely scary because we saw this happen before and we know that these numbers could creep up.” 

The benchmark was brought about by a backlog that reached more than 16,000 cases from 2013 to 2015, which were not cleared for two years. In 2017, the backlog finally fell below 1,000 with the help of outside contractors and even bringing caseworkers out of retirement to assist employees.  

The Legislature also set benchmarks on the number of its workers, the number of children in out-of-home care, and the number of open reports. All the benchmarks are exceeded except for the staff numbers. The staff is 164 below the benchmark and 343 of the employees are still in training. 

Mike Faust

Department Director Mike Faust attributed understaffing to a nationwide shortage of workers. He also emphasized the difficulty of casework and a high volume of incoming reports of abuse and neglect. The department previously requested and received money from the Legislature to pay their employees more, but the compensation has not been enough to retain those caseworkers.  

Faust said of increasing reports of abuse and neglect that the department expects to see another spike in cases next month as children return to school after the holidays and mandatory reporters – those who are required by law to report such cases, including police officers and teachers – begin to see them. He also said the reports are especially “egregious” with a high number of murders and suicides. 

Open reports are about 3,000 cases over the benchmark and the number of children in out-of-home care is about 861 cases above the benchmark. 

Faust anticipates shuffling resources into Maricopa City, Pinal County, and the West Valley.  

“Where you see huge amount of tract homes going up invariably, you’re going to have needs that arise.” 

Former Republican legislator Kate Brophy McGee pointed to a shortage of foster parents and caseworkers, and to the steady stream of people moving to Maricopa County as issues outside of the department’s control.  

“You talk to any employer across the country and they can’t find people to do these jobs, and in this case, you’ve got an influx of reports that far exceeds capacity.”  

In 2014, former Gov. Jan Brewer and the Legislature restructured the child safety system by moving the agency formerly known as Child Protective Services from the Department of Economic Security to directly reporting to the Governor’s Office. The agency then became Department of Child Safety and the Legislature infused it with funds to hire caseworkers and chip away at the backlog.  

Brophy McGee sponsored legislation that formed DCS and said she has confidence in Faust and the transparency of DCS. 

Faust said that Covid has affected abuse and neglect reporting negatively.  

“Mandated reporters make up a large part of our reporting, so law enforcement is number one, educators are number two,” said Faust. “Now when kids come back in person you see those concerns are now manifesting and they may have gone longer without being addressed so, they’re needing us to intervene.” 

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee gave the DCS report a unanimous favorable review of the statistics at their last meeting on December 14.  

Democrats kill bill to fund school supplies


Democrats killed a bill March 11 that would have put money in the pockets of teachers.

Democrats and the Arizona Education Association said the proposal, which would have given each teacher in the state $200 to spend on school supplies, was not enough money and not a permanent solution to the state’s funding crisis.

Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said he thinks teachers are tired of fighting for crumbs.

Joe Thomas
Joe Thomas

“We didn’t walk out of our classrooms last year, which was incredibly hard for educators to do, we didn’t take that principled stand so someone would create a $200 grant reimbursement scheme. We took that stand so people in the state would understand that educators would take that greater risk to have fully-funded schools,” he said.

Under the bill, the Arizona Department of Education would have conducted a one‑year teacher school supplies pilot program.

A teacher who is employed by a school district or charter school and who provides classroom instruction for at least three hours during a regular school day would have received $200 to be used to purchase school supplies for use in the teacher’s classroom at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year.

The bill would have appropriated $12 million from the state General Fund in fiscal-year 2020 to the department.

The bill first failed on a 27-30 vote March 4 and was brought back for another vote on March 11, when it failed 29-31.

Twenty-five Democrats voted ‘no’ during the bill’s second House vote while four voted ‘yes.’ Twenty-five Republicans voted ‘yes’ while six voted ‘no.’

“My understanding for the second time around is that we had the votes to get it passed,” Rep Ben Toma, R-Peoria, the bill’s sponsor, said. “What I didn’t expect was that the Democratic leadership and specifically the Democratic staff would actually actively pressure their members on the floor while the vote board was open to try to get them to switch their votes so they could kill it.”

Toma said his bill was an opportunity to get 100 percent of the money into teachers’ hands.

Ben Toma
Ben Toma

“It’s just confusing to me that the Democratic caucus who say they’re for teacher pay would deliberately withhold $200 from every teacher,” Toma said.   

Rep Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, introduced similar legislation last year that got bipartisan support and passed out of the House Education Committee, but it died without making it to the floor for a vote.

Rep Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, voted against Toma’s bill. She said she thinks the legislature owes teachers more than $200 dollars and there’s very little legislation to increase funding for public education.

“We’ve definitely underfunded them for the past 20 years as we continue to cut taxes. We continue to fund things like charter schools with no reform where they’re spending taxpayer dollars with very little transparency and accountability, so you know we do have a revenue problem,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez said those topics will have to be addressed.

“But we need to increase the revenue in schools,” Fernandez said. “Looking at tax credits that we continue to give out so we can adequately fund public schools.”

Fernandez said she doesn’t think these topics will be addressed this session or next session.

Fernandez said she is thankful that the governor gave a raise to teachers but added that Arizona is still 46th in the country for education performance.

“That’s not good enough,” Fernandez said. “You can’t just keep giving [teachers] a little piece of the bread. You need to give them the whole loaf.”

Rep Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, switched her vote the second time after originally voting for the bill.

“It was a really difficult decision, because I want to make sure that we get money to teachers, and I know that this is a big problem,” Butler said.

Butler said the money should be kept in the General Fund to use it more broadly to help all of the K-12 needs.

“The educators who I talked to thought that this was just a Band-Aid for a very big problem of teachers having to spend money out of their own pockets. There was the feeling that this would make it seem like that was okay if we passed this bill,” Butler said.

Butler said she thinks what needs to happen is fully funding K-12 education.

Thomas said he would prefer per-pupil funding.

“It’s about new revenue streams, dedicated permanent funding coming into our schools, going into our classrooms and supporting our educators and our students,” Thomas said.


From tragedy comes a bill to save lives

From left are Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley; Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley; Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix; and Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear, during the final House vote of a bill Marsh sponsored to prevent people from unknowingly ingesting fentanyl. Marsh’s son, Landon Marsh, 25, died of an accidental fentanyl overdose. PHOTO FROM TWITTER
From left are Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley; Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley; Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix; and Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear, during the final House vote of a bill Marsh sponsored to prevent people from unknowingly ingesting fentanyl. Marsh’s son, Landon Marsh, 25, died of an accidental fentanyl overdose. PHOTO FROM TWITTER

Exactly one year after 25-year-old Landon Marsh died of a fentanyl overdose, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill Marsh’s mother drafted to prevent other young people from unknowingly ingesting the drug.  

Freshman Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, said she knew she wanted to do something to honor her son and help other families avoid the pain her family has endured for the past year.  

“He was very practical, so I think he would be pleased with the idea that something good will come of his death,” Marsh said.  

Her bill, which passed the Senate unanimously and the House with wide bipartisan support, will legalize the use of fentanyl test strips, which are now banned as drug paraphernalia. When applied to drug residue, the strips can detect fentanyl, a lethal substance frequently mixed with street drugs and pressed into pills. 

Marsh has described the night her son died as “one night of stupidity.” He was newly married, getting his degree in mechanical engineering and agreed to take a Percocet, an oxycodone-based pain pill, during a night with a friend.  

In 2018, the most recent year for which the National Institutes for Health published data, 522 Arizonans died from overdoses on fentanyl and similar synthetic opioids. That was nearly double the number of fentanyl-related deaths from the prior year. 

Supporters of Marsh’s legislation say it won’t necessarily help people who are extremely dependent on drugs. But someone like Landon Marsh, who opted to recreationally use a drug once and had the misfortune to take one laced with fentanyl, might rethink drug use if he saw proof that the pills contained fentanyl, Sonoran Prevention Works executive director Haley Coles said at a February news conference commemorating nine months since Landon’s death.  

“We know that people are using drugs, people have used drugs for a long time, and, despite all efforts, people continue using,” Coles said. “So while prevention is incredibly important, while treatment is incredibly important, we have these tools that can try to prevent a death.” 

Ducey alluded to that in a statement about signing the bill.  

Landon Marsh rides an off-road unicycle in Moab, Utah. Marsh died May 18, 2020, and exactly a year later Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill his mother, Christine Marsh, sponsored to prevent accidental overdoses of fentanyl. PHOTO COURTESY CHRISTINE MARSH
Landon Marsh rides an off-road unicycle in Moab, Utah. Marsh died May 18, 2020, and exactly a year later Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill his mother, Christine Marsh, sponsored to prevent accidental overdoses of fentanyl. PHOTO COURTESY CHRISTINE MARSH

“We want everyone who is using drugs to seek professional treatment,” he said. “But until someone is ready to get help, we need to make sure they have the tools necessary to prevent a lethal overdose.”  

Melody Glenn, a Pima County emergency physician who testified in support of the bill in February, said the test strips can accurately identify fentanyl, which is to blame for a rise in overdoses. If her patients knew ahead of time that they were about to take drugs laced with fentanyl, many likely wouldn’t try, she said. 

“As a physician, I would like to give my patients fentanyl test strips, but currently this would count as giving them paraphernalia and would count as a felony,” she said. “I can’t provide the level of care that I deem important.”  

Marsh’s new law follows legislation five years ago that allowed pharmacists to give naloxone – which counteracts overdoses – to opioid userstheir family members and community groups who can help them, without a prescription. 

On May 18, as Marsh and her surviving son drove back from a ziplining excursion in the Rockies  an adventure fit for Landon, who excelled in trail unicycling – they talked about what more she could do as a state policymaker to help other families affected by substance use.  

“I don’t know what that looks like, but definitely next session I would like to expand on either this bill or something new,” she said. 


GOP infighting in LD28 gives Democrats hope of trifecta

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, and Kathy Petsas
Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, and Kathy Petsas

The Arizona Republican Party would have you think there’s nothing wrong in Legislative District 28.

In an email blast sent on June 4, state GOP officials touted a slate of candidates — Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, and Kathy Petsas — as “three strong conservative women” who would sweep the three seats available in the district.

Even the candidates themselves know nothing could be further from the truth.

Republicans are already worried that a wave of Democratic enthusiasm in a post-presidential election could sweep Democrats into office. And Brophy McGee was already expected to face a difficult race against Christine Marsh, a Democrat who was the state’s 2016 “Teacher of the Year.”

Mark Syms
Mark Syms

Her path to re-election is made trickier by the emergence of Mark Syms as an independent candidate. The husband of Rep. Maria Syms, Mark is viewed by many to be running as political payback.

Some Republicans believe Petsas is more likely to take out Maria Syms than Democratic Rep. Kelli Butler.

And some Republicans worry Mark Syms’ appearance on the ballot could split valuable votes for Brophy McGee and throw the race to Marsh.

Republicans hold a strong voter registration advantage in LD28, but the district has a moderate streak. For more than a decade, its two representatives have hailed from opposite political parties. That could make it difficult for both Maria Syms and Petsas to get elected to the House, especially as Petsas bills herself as a moderate while Syms has struck a much more conservative tone.

Even before the GOP kerfuffle, Democrats were already ramping up their efforts in LD28. For the first time in years, they’re abandoning their “single-shot” strategy in the House.

Instead of running two candidates for both possible House seats, a single candidate — a single-shot — in a district where the conditions are right can result in one win where two candidates might have produced two losses. The goal for a single-shot candidate is to get core supporters to cast only one vote in the race and persuade others to split their votes between the candidate and an opponent. That maximizes the candidate’s own numbers and dilutes the opponents’ numbers.

Butler, a Paradise Valley Democrat, ran single-shot as a Democrat in 2016. This fall, she’ll be joined on the ballot by Aaron Lieberman, who’s touting his born-and-raised ties to LD28 and his education background. Butler said she’s excited about the possibility of Democrats taking another House seat, which she said could “really change our state.”

“We could have a lot more opportunities at the Legislature to really advance the causes that we believe in,” she said. “I think a lot of people in my district are very excited to start knocking on doors and talk about how transformative having another candidate can be for LD28.”

Former LD28 Rep. Eric Meyer, who used the single-shot strategy to win in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014, said the dynamic in his old district has changed.

“Our district has slowly gone from strongly leaning Republican to just barely leaning Republican now,” he said. “All of this will help our candidate.”

Jonathan Lines, chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, has declined to address the intraparty schism in LD28, and has publicly insisted that all is well. He recently told the Arizona Capitol Times that he “absolutely” thinks the three Republican candidates can go three for three in the district.

“We intend to win all three seats and we’ll do whatever it takes in the Senate to ensure that Kate Brophy McGee is re-elected,” Lines said on June 4.

That may be possible if the candidates worked together and supported one another, Petsas said. But that would mean that Maria Syms would have to throw her support behind her fellow Republican candidates in LD28, including Brophy McGee, and not her husband running as an independent.

Maria Syms initially demurred when asked if she would endorse her husband, and claimed that any issues between her, Brophy McGee and Petsas are all in the past. Maria Syms noted that she signed Petsas’ nominating petition to qualify for the ballot.

“I am glad we can put all this third party gossip behind us. I look forward to a robust general election campaign,” she wrote in an email.

Petsas said it’s telling that Maria Syms would not say whether she would support her fellow Republican candidates because it indicates that they haven’t gotten past whatever issues existed. And Petsas hasn’t held back in blasting Maria Syms for throwing her support behind her husband, Mark.

Their actions are not in line with Republican values, Petsas said.

“Maria Syms’ husband has filed for the Senate to run against Kate Brophy McGee and Maria Syms is a Republican? I don’t think so,” she said. “People who are experienced and people who are wise realize this is not the time to play games.”

Maria Syms later confirmed she can’t support the all-Republican slate, given that her husband is in the race and running as an independent.

“It’s silly to expect me to endorse someone over my husband,” she wrote in a text message on June 5.

Brophy McGee said she’s unclear about Mark Syms’ motivations for running against her. And Mark Syms has yet to speak for himself on the matter.

He was briefly approached by the Capitol Times when he filed his nominating petitions to run for the LD28 Senate seat on May 30, but his wife cut off the interview after one question. He’s also declined multiple requests for comment.

Brophy McGee noted that she’s won every race she’s run in LD28, going back to her school board days, and that she’s confident she’ll prevail again, even with an independent and a Democrat running against her in the general.

“It’s not something I had anticipated. I would not be human if I did not say I was disappointed. But I’m running, and I plan to win,” Brophy McGee said. “I do not understand. But anyone is free to run in any race, and this is certainly no different.”

Brophy McGee also said it was a “complete shock” to her that the Arizona Republican Party would tout her among a slate of GOP women running in the district. As to how that works with Mark Syms in the mix, Brophy McGee said she’ll leave that up to Maria Syms.

“It is a very, very tough campaign regardless of how this whole situation works out … and that is consuming every bit of time that I have,” she said. “I think focusing on [the intraparty fighting] at the moment when there’s so much that hasn’t been sorted out is a total waste of my time.”

GOP lawmakers quash Dems effort to boost jobless benefits

Arizona’s jobless rate spiked last month to 12.6%, a figure that may be a record.

And it’s certain to go higher as the figures reflect the number of people out looking for work in the second week of April. Since that time, there have been an additional 230,000 first-time claims for unemployment insurance.

The news comes as Republican legislators quashed efforts by Democrats to increase the benefits available to the more than 577,000 people who have applied for unemployment insurance since the COVID-19 pandemic and the orders by Gov. Doug Ducey shutting down many businesses. GOP lawmakers also blocked a vote on a proposal to allow people to get unemployment payments if they leave their jobs due to unsafe working conditions.

Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, made the proposals as amendments to bills being considered May 21 by the House Committee on Health and Human Services.

Kelli Butler
Kelli Butler
The first of those bills, SB1439, would require that women who want to get breast implants to be given more information about the side effects. Robyn Towt, who had implants following a double mastectomy in 2017, told lawmakers about the health problems that developed from her silicone implants, none of which she was told about ahead of time.

SB1027 would allow medical boards to suspend or revoke the license if a doctor or nurse performed or supervised a pelvic exam on an anesthetized or unconscious patient without first getting the woman’s “informed consent” to the procedure. Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, said it’s a practice used by some hospitals to train medical students.

And SB1570 would allow certain people to provide behavioral health services at a private office or clinic.

Republicans balked, noting that the amendments would have killed the underlying provisions of the Senate-passed bills because they were unrelated to the original subjects.

Butler acknowledged the importance of those bills. But she argued there are more pressing issues, like worker safety.

One proposal would create an exception to Arizona law which generally says that people who quit work voluntarily are ineligible for benefits. It would permit people to collect if an employer “failed to cure a working condition that made the work environment unsuitable for health or safety reasons.”

“What is more important is addressing the public’s concern about their health and well-being, and their ability to go to work and be safe,” Butler said.

But she was outmaneuvered in turn by the Republicans who used procedural motions to prevent the amendment from even being offered.

Butler had no better luck with a proposal to increase the maximum benefit.

Arizona law says people who are fired or laid off due to no fault of their own are entitled to half of what they were making. Payments come from an account funded by a tax employers pay on the first $7,000 of each worker’s salary.

But the law caps benefits at $240 a week, a figure not adjusted since 2004. Only Mississippi pays less.

Her proposal would have set the maximum at $490.

By comparison, the cap is $450 in California, $492 in New Mexico, $560 in Utah and $597 in Colorado.

John Allen
John Allen
Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, who led the successful effort to block consideration of the Democrat amendments, accused the Democrats of “grandstanding.”

“All it is political posturing,” he said. “It’s tears for votes.”

Butler said her efforts to amend the bills would not have been necessary had the Democrats been able to get the Republican majority to hear the issues through the regular process. And she said that the problems they address have only become more important as hundreds of thousands of Arizonans have lost their jobs.

“It’s not theatrics,” Butler said, citing the high jobless rate and the problems that the Department of Economic Security has had handling the crush of applications for benefits.

Whether that 12.6% is a record is unclear.

Doug Walls, the Office of Economic Opportunity’s market research director, said that comparable data goes back only to the beginning of 1976. And in all that time the highest unemployment rate recorded was 11.5% during the 1982 recession.

Walls said the rate did hit 13% in 1956. But he cautioned that the methodology used at that time was different than it is now.

What’s behind the sharp increase in unemployment last month is that the private sector shed 276,300 jobs from the prior month. By contrast, the state normally adds 7,800 workers in April.

The biggest loss, not surprisingly, is in the leisure and hospitality industry. That includes the bars and restaurants that Ducey in late March ordered shuttered except for take-out.

It also includes hotels, motels and resorts which, while not closed down, have suffered both from the governor’s stay-at-home order as well as the unwillingness of people to travel, particularly by air. That is reflected in data from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, which found tax revenues from these businesses had dropped 57.5% from March.

Finally, the category also includes movie theaters, amusement parks and sporting events, also shut down by Ducey’s orders.

Other sectors of the Arizona economy also have been hard hit.

Retail trade shed 43,800 jobs – about 13.4% of total employment – as shops also were affected by the governor’s directive allowing only “essential” businesses to operate. There also was the loss of 27,800 jobs in professional and business services.

Even the state’s health care industry shed 16,800 jobs, something Walls said is likely due to Ducey barring hospitals from performing elective surgeries and procedures.

Still, for the first time in years, the situation actually is better than the rest of the country, with the United States posting a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 14.7%.

Walls said this is due to the fact that the employment losses in the state’s construction and manufacturing industries were minimal. He said that is because Ducey’s directives did not shut down those sectors of the economy while governors in other states had far broader orders.

GOP senators have doubts about tourism bill

One of the Welcome to Arizona signs unveiled by the state in 2019 that the Arizona Office of Tourism wants legislative permission to market to raise money.

A measure to let the Arizona Office of Tourism sell goods and services to raise money is drawing opposition from some Republican lawmakers who see it as “a scandal in the making.” 

HB 2381 is being pushed by Debbie Johnson, the agency’s executive director. 

She said her office gets inquiries by people wanting to buy some of the artwork produced to promote Arizona tourism. Only thing is, Johnson told lawmakers, there is no legal authority to do that. 

Debbie Johnson

What the legislation would do, she said, is give the go ahead. More to the point, Johnson said it could raise $10,000 to $20,000 a year “to start,” with the dollars raised being focused on getting people to visit rural and tribal areas. 

But it is that “to start” issue that Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, said gives him concerns. 

His concerns and those by Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, were enough to at least temporarily derail the legislation which had been set for Senate floor debate on Wednesday. Whether it comes back — and in what form — remains to be seen. 

Leach said during floor debate this isn’t the first time government agencies have come to the legislature looking for new ways to raise money. 

Consider, he told colleagues, that they gave the go-ahead years ago for universities and local governments to enter deals to erect commercial development on public property. That means the development is exempt from property taxes for some period. 

Leach said that what was supposed to be a targeted economic development tool has ballooned, to the point where many buildings in downtown areas of many cities and those built on university property are not on the tax rolls. 

And he said that HB 2381 is “that nose under the camel’s tent” for unchecked expansion of the powers of the Arizona Office of Tourism. 

“This is a very dangerous bill,” added Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert. 

“I don’t think people really grasp what’s happening with this,” he said during Wednesday’s Senate session in terms of what he sees as giving unchecked authority to the agency. “But, folks, this is a scandal in the making or future scandalous headlines in the making.” 

That’s not the way that Johnson presented the issue to lawmakers during hearings earlier this year. 

She said her agency has created various pieces of art about Arizona. Perhaps the best known was the 2019 unveiling of a series of colorful Welcome To Arizona signs that were erected on state highways. 

“We’ve had so many people reaching out to buy posters and promotional items we’ve had made,” Johnson said. “But, unfortunately, we’re not able to sell those right now.” 

The problem, she said, is that there is no dedicated fund into which to put the money. What HB 2381 would do is clarify that the agency can not only produce, own, sell and license artwork but that any cash generated would go into a newly established “tourism development fund.” 

But the verbiage in the measure has been creating questions. 

Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, openly wondered why the Office of Tourism needs permission to sell not just goods but also services. Johnson assured her that was simply to be able to arrange to have an outside firm print up things like T-shirts. 

And Johnson said that allowing her agency to own the “intellectual property” simply would allow it to license its use by others. 

Butler ended up voting for the measure when it went through the House. But Leach said he’s not quite ready to provide such broad authority to a state agency, not after he believes lawmakers were burned by universities saying they need just a little bit of leeway for commercial developments on public property. 

What’s needed, he said, is to “tighten this up a little bit.” But, as currently crafted, Leach said it’s not acceptable. 

“You could drive all the Penske rental trucks through the gaping hole here,” he said. Leach said he wants “guardrails” before voting for it. 

Petersen said the language in the measure, at least as it stands, is unacceptable. 

“Basically, we’re going to give somebody taxpayer dollars and allow them to purchase, buy things, run businesses,” he said. But Petersen said it’s not like a business. 

“They don’t have the risk that a normal taxpayer has when they’re using their own money,” he said. “They’re using the taxpayers’ money to do this.” 

All that, Petersen said, is “not appropriate use of government funds.” 

There was no immediate response to the Senate’s decision to shelve the issue for the time being either from Johnson or Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, who is the sponsor of the measure. 




Half of this year’s bills died unceremoniously

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beth Lewallen
Beth Lewallen

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pandemic and Vaccines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Responding to the Ballot

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

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

Cell Phone with apps


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

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

Freshman blues

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

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

Wendy Rogers
Wendy Rogers

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

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

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

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

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

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



House approves bill to ban abortions for genetic reasons

Medical Concept: Black Chalkboard with Abortion. Medical Concept - Abortion Handwritten on Black Chalkboard. Top View Composition with Chalkboard and Red Stethoscope. 3D Rendering.

After more than two hours of impassioned and at times acrimonious debate, the House voted 31-29 along party lines Thursday to advance a bill that would put several new restrictions on abortion in Arizona. 

SB1457 will, among other provisions, ban abortions performed due to a non-fatal genetic abnormality and ban the mailing of abortion drugs. It also contains “personhood” language, declaring an unborn child has “all rights, privileges and immunities available to other persons, citizens and residents of this state, subject only to the Constitution of the United States and decisional interpretations thereof by the United States Supreme Court.” Cathi Herrod, president of the influential socially conservative group the Center for Arizona Policy and a backer of the bill, watched from the gallery as lawmakers debated. 

Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, said the provision prohibiting mailing abortion-inducing drugs would prevent needed medication from being delivered to women having a miscarriage. This led Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, to object that Butler’s comments weren’t related to the bill. 

“There is nothing in that part that says anything about a miscarriage,” Cobb said. “It says they cannot give the abortion pill.” 

House Speaker Pro Tempore Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, ruled in Cobb’s favor. The Democrats objected, but the House upheld Grantham’s ruling on a party-line vote. 

“Nothing the member said was out of line,” said Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe. “It was germane. She believes that this will be the effect of the legislation.” 

Regina Cobb
Regina Cobb

Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, then “called the question,” which meant that, after brief debate where one person on each side could speak for three minutes, the House voted along party lines to advance the bill out of the House’s Committee of the Whole and onto the third reading calendar for a final vote. 

Democrats accused the Republicans of trying to limit debate on the bill, bringing up shades of last week when they made similar complaints about committee chairmen limiting both testimony and comment from Democratilawmakers on several controversial bills that advanced on party-line votes. 

“I protest the process that we just went through today while we were debating 1457,” said Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson. “I protest that our debate was shut down. We had yet even to begin debate on the bill as amended. I protest that I was not able to make my point and explain to my constituency why I opposed 1457.” 

The bill will have to return to the Senate now to see if the chamber agrees to an amendment Cobb, who said in March that she was opposed to the bill in its form then, proposed. Cobb’s amendment would allow abortion in cases of life-threatening genetic abnormalities, as well as making it a Class 6 – instead of a Class 3 felony – to perform an abortion due a genetic abnormality, race or sex. This reduces the penalty in current law for a race- or sex-based abortion, while adding the criminalization of ones performed due to non-fatal genetic abnormalities. The bill will go to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk if the Senate concurs with the House’s changes. 

Both supporters and opponents of the bill spoke at length as the House cast its final votes, with each side at times breaking into loud applause in support of someone’s point. Democrats said the bill would unacceptably intrude on the doctor-patient relationship. Rep. Melody Hernandez, D-Tempe, said she felt fear, not joy, when she got pregnant, because she was barely scraping by, didn’t have health insurance, and had recently been sexually assaulted and didn’t know if the rapist was the father. 

Melody Hernandez
Melody Hernandez

“We don’t seek (abortions) because we hate children, we seek them because we are scared to bring them into this world,” Hernandez said. She added that some people say “all lives matter,” but the Legislature has debated whether people should have to wear masks during a pandemic and don’t want to adequately fund public schools. 

“It is very clear that only some lives matter and they tend not to be Latinas like me who grew up in poverty and without health care,” she said. “Give us the resources to live with dignity and then maybe, maybe I would feel blessed to be pregnant in this world.” 

Rep. Jacqueline Parker, R-Mesa, said when a woman gets pregnant there are two patients – the woman and the unborn child – and that she believes it is reasonable, and even “quite generous,” that a doctor who intentionally kills one of those patients should only face a class 6 felony. 

“I have not been blessed to have children yet, but I cannot imagine anything more selfish than terminating a life out of convenience,” she said. “We have far too many women who are literally fighting for the right to kill their own kids. That’s outrageous to me. I believe as women we are capable of being responsible with our bodies without terminating the life of another person.” 

S1457 is one of two major bills to restrict abortion working its way through the legislative process. On Wednesday the Senate Appropriations Committee voted along party lines to advance HB2140, which would ban abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected. However, this bill would still need to pass the full Senate before making it to the House, and Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, expressed concern about the bill’s language during the committee hearing and suggested it would need some changes for her to support it. Either bill would almost surely result in a court challenge were it to pass. 

House approves easier access to birth control for women

Medicine health care contraception and birth control. Oral contraceptive pills, blisters with hormonal tablets
Medicine health care contraception and birth control. Oral contraceptive pills, blisters with hormonal tablets

Women in Arizona may soon find it a lot easier to get to get birth control.

On a 32-24 vote, the House on Monday approved allowing pharmacists to dispense certain kinds of contraceptives without getting a prescription. More to the point, it would eliminate the need to first go to a doctor.

SB1082 would have Arizona join more than a dozen states that already have eliminated the requirement for a prescription.

But the change, which still requires Senate ratification, does not mean women could simply march in to a pharmacy and demand birth control of their choice.

Pharmacists would first be required to screen would-be recipients to determine if they are candidates for the kinds of contraceptives that use hormones. That includes not just the birth control pill but also other hormone-infused devices like a vaginal ring and patches.

And only those 18 and over are eligible.

At the heart of the debate is how difficult it should be for women to avoid conception.

“Pregnancy should be the decision of the woman,” said Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe.

“Right now women face barriers in our community because they don’t have access to doctors for a variety of reasons, one of which is because health care premiums keep going up,” she continued. “We should be making it as accessible as possible for women who want to plan their pregnancies to be able to do that.”

No one spoke against the idea of easier access. But several wanted more guardrails.

Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Buckeye, said she has no problem with women getting up to two years of refills without having to go back to a doctor.

She proposed, however, that any initial prescription require an order from a physician. And there would need to be new medical assessment performed by the woman’s primary care physician every other year.

Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, who is a dentist, said that is designed to ensure that the chemicals in the contraceptive devices are not causing problems. She noted a link between certain types of birth control, particularly those using estrogen, and potentially fatal blood clots.

“Prescribing without actually doing a complete exam and questionnaire from a medical professional I think is irresponsible,” Cobb said.

But Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, who is a doctor, said he doesn’t see that as necessary.

He pointed out that SB1082 still requires patients to fill out self-assessments. Those would have to be reviewed by a pharmacist before dispensing any form of birth control.

Friese said, for example, a pharmacist would not prescribe a form of birth control with estrogen to someone who is a smoker or over a certain age, both of which he said are risk factors for clots. But he said they may be good candidates for contraceptives with progesterone.

He said the questionnaire also would point up other risk factors that would cause a pharmacist to decline to provide hormonal birth control, like pregnancy. It also would disclose other conditions like breast feeding or diabetes that might be affected by hormones.

Cobb said that’s hardly enough.

She said her own patients, filling out questionnaires at her office, might answer one way in writing. But when questioned in person, where more detail can be solicited, Cobb said sometimes the answers change.

And that, she said, makes what’s in SB1082 inappropriate.

“We’re taking about medications here that could be life threatening,” Cobb said.

“And yet we’re taking it lightly as if it’s taking an ibuprofen or an aspirin,” she continued. “And that’s not what this is about.”

Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, agreed that every women should see a doctor every two years.

“And that would be better,” she said. But Butler said it doesn’t match reality.

“In fact, many, many people in Arizona don’t have insurance, don’t have the opportunity can’t afford to go see a physician, don’t have the time,” Butler continued. “Of course we want people to take the time for their own health but the reality it sometimes it doesn’t happen.”

Butler also suggested that foes of birth control without a prescription were not being consistent.

“That is more than is required for taking a drug like Viagra, for example,” she said.

“For Viagra, there are serious side effects including cardiovascular problems, heart attacks,” Butler said. “I mean, people could die and we’re not so worried about that.”

But Butler conceded after the debate that it remains a legal requirement to get a prescription for Viagra.

The measure still needs approval by the Senate. That’s because the version previously approved there had something the House found unacceptable: immunity for pharmacists from civil suits for damages resulting from their decision to dispense contraceptives.


House approves measure to govern ‘controversial issues’ in class


Republican lawmakers voted today to punish teachers who don’t present both sides of controversial science or events, a move that some lawmakers say could force them to seek out and present contrary views on everything from climate change and slavery to the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the Holocaust – and even whether Joe Biden really won the election. 

The measure approved along party lines requires that any “controversial issues” discussed in the classroom must be done “from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.” 

Michelle Udall
Michelle Udall

“Propaganda has no place in our classrooms,” said Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa. She said there have been complaints by parents that their children are being taught things that some people do not believe to be true. 

Much of what is in her amendment to SB1532 is aimed at precluding instruction that one race, ethnic group or sex is “inherently morally or intellectually superior to another.” Udall’s measure also would bar teaching that any individual bears responsibility for actions committed by others of the same race, ethic group or sex. 

“It simply prevents teaching our students that their race determines their character, treatment or worth,” she said. “Biased, unbalanced teaching hurts children.” 

But Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, said the measure is based on a false premise. 

“It is not propaganda that our country enslaved people for 400 years,” he said. “It is not propaganda that native tribes had their land taken by our forefathers.” 

Udall insisted that nothing stops that from being taught. 

“We all acknowledge that these things happened,” she said. 

But Udall’s legislation contains no definition of what is “controversial” and, under her proposal, could not be presented as fact but instead would require a teacher to provide an alternate view – or face discipline. Friese suggested that might only be defined in retrospect after a parent objects to something that already was taught. 

And that lack of definition alarmed some legislators who pointed out that any teacher who violates the law is subject to not just a $5,000 fine, but would be forced to reimburse the school for any “misused monies.” 

Udall brushed aside some of the examples of what might land a teacher in trouble. For example, she said, a teacher would not have to present alternate theories about whether the earth is round. 

She said an “accurate portrayal of historical events” would be permitted. And she said that “largely discredited” theories do not need to be presented as fact. 

But then legislators started asking about specific examples. 

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said there are those who believe there were positive aspects of slavery and that some slaves were treated better than others. 

“Suppose that a teacher were to teach, and believed was an accurate portrayal, that all slavery was bad, that all masters were bad?” she asked. 

“If the sources are well understood and if it’s well-cited, that would be considered an accurate portrayal,” Udall said. “If it’s not something that has been discredited, it would be considered an accurate portrayal.” 

But Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, said Udall’s measure makes issues where there should be none. 

“It is not a controversial statement to say slavery was the cause of the Civil War and not an issue of states’ rights,” he said. Ditto, Rodriguez said, would be a statement in a current events class saying that Joe Biden was elected in a fair and free election. 

“And now we’re going to have to ‘both-sides’ to this?” he asked. 

And what of climate change, Salman said, where there is a small group of scientists who contend either it is not occurring or that humans play no role. Does that, too, she asked, require equal time? 

“If they’re working on controversial topics, they should teach them from diverse and contending perspectives without giving preference to either side and let students draw their own conclusion,” Udall responded. 

Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, asked about the 9-11 terrorist attacks. 

“There are ample conspiracy theories as to whether that happened, how it happened,” she said. Butler wanted to know if a teacher who believes the attacks occurred and who caused them would then have to bring in someone with an alternate viewpoint. 

“Because there are a lot them,” she said. 

“You can just Google it,” Butler continued. “There are all kinds of videos. It’s a pretty established conspiracy theory.” 

Udall said she wasn’t concerned. 

“Largely discredited arguments don’t need to be presented as fact,” she said. 

But Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, said even local issues can fall into the same category. 

She told colleagues about Felix Longoria who died during World War II, came home in a flag-draped coffin but was denied a wake at a Texas funeral home “because white people would be upset.” 

“Our teachers should be allowed to speak about Felix Longoria,” Fernandez said. “But they can’t teach it unless they can talk about why his family was denied a place to honor their father, their son, a husband, a friend and a neighbor.” 

Rep. Frank Carroll, R-Sun City West, said he sees the legislation as simply an extension of existing law, which declares that parents have a right to direct the education of their minor child “without obstruction or interference from this state.” 

“So this is for the parents and this is for the children to be able to stand up against the bad actors,” he said, meaning teachers who don’t honor that law. 

And Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, compared all this to the move by some to remove monuments because of what they represent. 

“That’s called rewriting history,” he said. “Whether you like that monument or not, that monument exists as a marker in time to provoke thought which, of course, provokes critical thinking.” 

Even the method that Udall used to bring the issue to the full House for a vote was itself controversial. 

Rather than going through the full process, which would have guaranteed at least one public hearing, she attached it to a semi-related measure which would make it illegal for teachers to use school resources to “organize, plan or execute any activity that impedes or prevents a public school from operating for any period of time.” 

That followed a decision by some teachers in the Peoria Unified School District to stage a sick-out in January after the board decided to reopen schools for in-person learning despite the fact that the “metrics” of the level of infection showed it was not yet safe to do that. Heather Rooks, a parent in the district, testified at a hearing that she had evidence that teachers were sending emails from school servers during school hours to organize the event. 

The now-amended version of SB1532 returns the bill to the Senatewhich approved it without that language. And it, like the House, can approve it without a public hearing. 

House Republicans kill attempt to expand insurance program for children


The House voted along party lines Thursday to defeat a Democratic attempt to expand KidsCare eligibility by amending a bill funding the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Scottsdale, proposed increasing the KidsCare eligibility threshold from 200% to 250% of the poverty level, raising it from under $53,000 to under $66,250 a year for a family of four. She said the expansion would cost the state $12.5 million a year and bring in $47 million in federal matching funds.

“We have an exciting opportunity today to help 30,000 Arizona children access quality health care that is affordable for their families,” Butler said.

Butler said Arizona has, or at least had before the Covid pandemic, the third-highest rate of uninsured children in the country. Butler has been pushing KidsCare expansion for several years but has been unable to get a committee hearing on a standalone bill; she tried to add the same amendment to the bill in committee earlier this year but it was rejected on a party-line vote. 

SB1096 will provide a supplemental appropriation to the tune of $27 million in spending authority for KidsCare as well as authorizing the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System to spend $3 billion for adjustments in funding formula requirements and implementation of 2020 legislation to collect an assessment on hospital revenues and increase Medicaid reimbursement payments.

Republicans said making changes to the bill could put its passage at risk, and that if it doesn’t pass, then  the more than 2 million Arizonans who rely on the state health care program now, including the 50,000 insured under KidsCare now, could see their coverage put in jeopardy as of April 1.

“Unfortunately this is one of those situations where we have a budgetary issue that we are asking for expenditure authority for the $3 billion that will be going to AHCCCS and to our hospitals,” said Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear. “This is not the time or place for policy changes with a budgetary situation.”

Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, said that Butler’s amendment had an emergency clause and the House could suspend rules to get it on Ducey’s desk as quickly as possible.

“The sky is not falling,” he said.

After the Committee of the Whole rejected Butler’s amendment on a voice vote, she tried to amend the committee report to include the expansion, but the House voted 29-31 against this. The House then voted 34-26 later Thursday to pass the bill, with three Democrats joining the Republicans to advance it and the rest voting “No.”

Republicans said they found it “perplexing,” as Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, put it, that the Democrats were voting against funding the existing health care program for children and the poor. Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, told his colleagues that a “No” vote was the equivalent of voting against coverage for poor and minority children in his district and that they shouldn’t have the mentality that they will “take your marbles and go home” if a vote doesn’t go the way they want. The Democrats said they support the underlying program but were disappointed that the House was refusing to expand it.

“We had an opportunity to add to this bill, to improve this bill to provide health care for 30,000 Arizona children, and we failed to do that,” Butler said. “We failed to act in a pandemic when we had the financial ability to do so. We simply said no.”

House sends bill to help Uber to Ducey

A requirement for regular safety inspections of rideshare vehicles could soon be a thing of the past.

A measure headed to Gov. Doug Ducey would carve out an exception from existing laws that require anyone driving for a “transportation network company” to get their brakes and tires inspected at least once a year.

HB 2273 says that would no longer apply to vehicles that are less than 10 years old. Instead, it would be replaced by the owner simply attesting once a year that the vehicle meets safety standards.

The proposal would affect all companies that have online platforms linking vehicle owners with riders. But the measure, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, is being pushed solely by Uber.

At a hearing in February, company lobbyist Shaun Rieve told lawmakers that the cost of having a mechanic check the brakes or tire tread could deter some people from signing up to become Uber drivers.

“The cumbersome TNC (transportation network company) inspection requirements are cumbersome and create bottlenecks for Arizonans who want to earn more money on Uber’s platform,” he said. Rieve said that Uber has fewer drivers on the road in comparison to states “without such onerous requirements.”

Not everyone was convinced that scrapping the annual checks was the best thing for safety.

“We have bad ideas, very bad ideas, and Uber-bad ideas,” said Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, during floor debate when the House gave the measure final approval earlier this week. “I worry very much about the safety of consumers.”

Rieve said it’s not like it would just be the vehicle owners who would be saying the car is safe.

He pointed out that the app gives customers the option to comment on the ride, including not just the driver but also the vehicle. And Rieve said if someone reports an unsafe condition, the company will take that vehicle out of rotation for new riders.

Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, scoffed at the idea that was a substitute for inspections by a mechanic.

“I want you to picture yourself leaving a bar at night,” she told colleagues.

“How many of you walk all the way around the car, check all the tires, make sure there’s enough tread,” Butler continued. “You don’t know anything about the brakes til you’re in the car and they’re not stopping.”

That sentiment was echoled by Aaron Flannery who said he has driven for Uber for seven years. He told lawmakers that in all those years no customer has checked the tread on the tires of his vehicle, the one visible thing they could see.

Flannery said the need for annual safety checks is important given the wear-and-tear on these vehicles.

He told lawmakers he averages about 50,000 miles a year driving for Uber, more than three times what a typical motorist will rack up. And one year Flannery said he hit 88,000 miles.

Rieve told lawmakers there appears to be no difference in accident rates between states like Arizona with annual inspection requirements and those which do not have them.

“And this is because the vast majority of incidents are driver error and not necessarily dealing with the vehicle,” he said.

There is a price tag.

Rieve put the figure at anywhere between $50 and $150. But Flannery said it costs him about $30 to take the vehicle to a mechanic to have the safety check performed.

But he also said — and Rieve did not dispute — that once people are driving for Uber they can get the annual check performed for free by the company.

Flannery also worried that if a driver does a self-certification and then the brakes or tires fail, that would shift the liability for an accident from the company to the vehicle owner. Rieve, however, said the insurance coverage that Uber has for its drivers remains the same.


House, Senate remain under Republican control — again

Maricopa County elections official Deborah Atkins hangs "vote" signs outside a polling station prior to it's opening, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Maricopa County elections official Deborah Atkins hangs “vote” signs outside a polling station prior to it’s opening, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Arizona’s Legislature will have only a tinge of more blue.

For all the talk that 2018 would finally be the year Democrats would either split or gain majority in the Senate, the chamber will remain under GOP control, likely with a 17-13 split.

At least three Republican incumbents did fall to Democrats in the House, and depending on the outcome of one race, that chamber’s split could narrow to 31-29 from 35-25.

Republican Nora Ellen was behind Democrat Jennifer Pawlik as of November 8 in Legislative District 17, which includes Sun Lakes and parts of Chandler and Gilbert. Pawlik, a Chandler teacher attempting to ride the fervor around education to victory, was ahead by just about 400 votes.

House Republicans are preparing for the worst. When the GOP Caucus voted for House leadership on November 7, 31 current and presumed members voted.

Missing from those ranks were the three Republicans whose defeats were certain. Republican Reps. Todd Clodfelter of Tucson, Jill Norgaard of Phoenix and Maria Syms of Paradise Valley all were ousted incumbents, but the circumstances of their defeats don’t quite match the narrative of a Democratic resurgence and rejection of the status quo in the GOP.

Clodfelter has lost before in Legislative District 10, which was represented by two Democrats in 2012 and 2014 before he was elected in 2016. He fell behind incumbent Rep. Kirsten Engel and Democratic newcomer Domingo DeGrazia.

Norgaard’s district swung in favor of Democrats back in 2016, when two of Legislative District 18’s three seats at the Capitol were won by the minority party.

Newcomer Jennifer Jermaine continued that trend. The Chandler Democrat and Rep. Mitzi Epstein of Tempe defeated Norgaard by a comfortable margin.

Syms likely sealed her own fate in Legislative District 28 when she stirred up tension in her own party.

She was accused by fellow Republicans of sowing conflict when her husband, Mark Syms, sought to run against Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee as an independent. And she clashed with fellow Republican Kathy Pappas Petsas in a four-way campaign where the top two vote-getters are elected to the House.

Syms landed in third behind Democrats Rep. Kelli Butler and Aaron Lieberman.

Former Arizona teacher of the year Christine Marsh could give the Democrat’s some consolation with a victory in the LD28 Senate race.

But that would mean closing a sizeable gap between her and the incumbent, Brophy McGee.

The Phoenix Republican has always been a strong candidate in the competitive district, and could hold her lead, if not watch it grow thanks to a strong showing among day-of GOP voters in Maricopa County, where votes were still being counted as of November 8.

Elsewhere, Democrats will look back at opportunities lost.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, once again won re-election in northern Arizona’s LD6, where Democrat Wade Carlisle trailed by more than 1,000 votes.

And Democrat Steve Weichert failed to ride the anticipated blue wave in LD17, where House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, handily won a race to succeed as the Republican senator from the East Valley.

The 54th Arizona Legislature will be a mix of old and new faces. The composition will include current lawmakers who cross the lawn at the Capitol to join the other chamber, 20 true freshman who won election to the Legislature for the first time, and former members who left office and will return.


Crossing over from House

Sally Ann Gonzales (D)

Vince Leach (R)

Eddie Farnsworth (R)

Heather Carter (R)

J.D. Mesnard (R)

Paul Boyer (R)

David Livingston (R)

Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R)

Lela Alston (D)

Rebecca Rios (D)

Tony Navarrete (D)



Victoria Steele (D)

David Gowan (R)


True Freshman

Tyler Pace (R)


Crossing over from Senate

Warren Petersen (R)

Gail Griffin (R)

Nancy Barto (R)

John Kavanagh (R)

Robert Meza (D)



John Fillmore (R)


True Freshmen

Andres Cano (D)

Alma Hernandez (D)

Leo Biasiucci (R)

Walter Blackman (R)

Arlando Teller (D)

Myron Tsosie (D)

Domingo DeGrazia (D)

Bret Roberts (R)

Joanne Osborne (R)

Jennifer Pawlik (D)

Jennifer Jermaine (D)

Lorenzo Sierra (D)

Shawnna Bolick (R)

Frank Carroll (R)

Jennifer Longdon (D)

Amish Shah (D)

Diego Rodriguez (D)

Aaron Lieberman (D)

Raquel Teran (D)

Lawmaker seeks more oversight of Southwest Key

Southwest Key (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
Southwest Key (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

A Republican lawmaker wants the state to have greater oversight of Southwest Key facilities after the shelters for migrant children were thrust into the national spotlight following reports of sexual abuse at some Arizona shelters.

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee wants to add additional background checks for employees at residential care facilities after an investigation by Arizona’s Department of Health Services found some Southwest Key employees hadn’t completed mandatory background checks.

The Phoenix Republican introduced SB1247 this week, which would mandate employees at licensed residential care facilities that don’t contract with the state, but that serve children, submit to central registry background checks by the Department of Child Safety.

Typically, employees wishing to work with children or other vulnerable populations are checked against the confidential central registry — a confidential list of people with a history of mistreating children — before getting the go-ahead to begin work.

Southwest Key employees don’t currently have to be vetted by the central registry because its facilities are regulated by the federal government, not the state.

Under Brophy McGee’s bill, employees would still be required to obtain fingerprint clearance cards — cards issued by the Department of Public Safety after a thorough background check to disqualify people with certain crimes on record — within seven days of being hired.

But Brophy McGee said the central registry background checks are more comprehensive and quicker than the fingerprint clearance cards. Regardless, it’s a necessary added layer of security, she said.

Brophy McGee’s bill would also tweak existing law to grant ADHS additional leeway in inspecting residential facilities like Southwest Key.

Currently, ADHS can only conduct routine facility checks or an inspection following a specific complaint. But Brophy McGee’s bill would allow ADHS to inspect the facilities anytime.

The department inspected all of Southwest Key’s Arizona facilities on the call of Gov. Doug Ducey after reports of sexual misconduct at some facilities made national headlines.

A report ADHS released in August showed some Southwest Key employees did not have the required background checks on file.

“I think the biggest issue is that the kids are in the custody of the federal government and the state cannot take custody so you kind of have to reform around that. But there is stuff we can do,” she said.

Southwest Key paid a fine and closed two of its programs as part of a settlement with ADHS.

Brophy McGee’s not the only lawmaker interested in reforming residential childcare facilities following the incidents at Southwest Key over the summer. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been eyeing legislative fixes to boost oversight of residential facilities that care for children, making a bipartisan push for reform likely this session.

Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, is pushing for the state to be able to conduct unannounced inspections of Southwest Key facilities and met with representatives from ADHS and Southwest Key to discuss the issue.

“There is a broad acknowledgement that this is a big problem,” she told the Arizona Capitol Times in early January.

Southwest Key — a Texas-based nonprofit — has unaccompanied minor facilities in Arizona and Texas.

Lawmaker strives again to insure more kids

Cute little boy with pleasure visiting pediatrician, scheduled checkup of a baby health, appointment with the family doctor, healthy lifestyle

When Rep. Kelli Butler found out a couple of years ago that the eligibility threshold for Arizona’s child health insurance program is among the lowest in the nation, she decided to try to do something about it. 

“I thought we should go to the U.S. median,” said the Paradise Valley Democrat. 

Butler has proposed legislation for the past two years to raise the eligibility threshold for KidsCare, a program that covers some poorer children whose families make too much to qualify for Medicaid, from 200% to 250% of the poverty level, raising it from under $53,000 to under $66,250 a year for a family of four. 

“It’s a big priority for us, we know that,” she said. “It’s comprehensive health insurance for children. It’s mental health coverage, it’s physical health coverage, it’s vision, dental, hearing. Especially following the pandemic, it’s a huge priority to get children the comprehensive health care that they need.” 

So far, these efforts have stalled. None of Butler’s bills to expand KidsCare have ever gotten a hearing. She has also tried other procedural moves to force the issue  last year, she proposed it as a budget amendment, and this year she tried to propose expansion as an amendment to another health care funding bill in the Health and Human Services Committee and again on the House floor, but was defeated in party-line votes both times. The expansion is part of the budget proposal House and Senate Democrats released on May 12, and Butler said she plans to give it another try as a budget amendment this year as well. 

As of 2019 there were 160,000 uninsured children in Arizona, said Kelley Murphy, vice president of policy for the Children’s Action Alliance. This is one of the highest rates in the country – a 2019 Georgetown University study said 9.2% of Arizona children didn’t have health insurance, the fourth-highest rate in the nation. The national average was 5.7%. Only Alaska, Texas and Wyoming had a higher percentage of uninsured kids than Arizona. 

“I expect that that number is actually higher (now) because of the number of people who were unemployed during Covid,” Murphy said. 

Part of this, Murphy said, is that Arizona has a lot of low-wage jobs in fields such as hospitality and the restaurant industry, and many of those workers earn just too much to qualify currently. Another factor, she said, is that KidsCare has a lower eligibility threshold than similar programs in other states. 

Kelli Butler
Kelli Butler

“I’m sure there’s a host of factors, but to me it’s just obvious if our eligibility limit is set really low, (fewer) people can qualify,” Butler said. “Thirty thousand additional children being able to get this insurance their families can’t afford would make a huge difference.” 

According to a Joint Legislative Budget Committee analysis of Butler’s proposal, expanding eligibility to 250% of the poverty level would cover 30,000 additional children, at a cost of $12.5 million yearly to the state. It would also bring in $47 million in federal matching funds. Murphy said her group has seen other, lower estimates that expansion might cover 16,000 to 26,000 children. 

Having a lot of uninsured children has consequences, Murphy said. Like uninsured adults, uninsured children are less likely to receive preventive care. And when they get sick enough to seek out care in a hospital emergency room, they often won’t be able to pay for it, either passing on that cost to the hospital system and by extension everyone else or struggling to pay out-of-pocket. 

“Having them stuck with medical bills already perpetuates that problem and keeps them in a poverty situation,” Murphy said. 

And some problems are specific to children. 

“Kids that are sick miss more school,” Murphy said. “That’s also setting up this sort of achievement gap in education. When young children are ill, they’re not at school learning. 

Republicans objected that attaching something controversial such as KidsCare expansion to an Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System funding bill, as Butler sought to do, could put the passage of the bill at risk, threatening existing coverage for children and the poor. 

But Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear, said, “Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where we have a budgetary issue that we are asking for expenditure authority for the $3 billion that will be going to AHCCCS and to our hospitalsThis is not the time or place for policy changes with a budgetary situation.” 

Murphy’s group had supported Butler’s bill and a couple of other measures this year to expand coverage for pregnant women and women who recently gave birth, but all of them stalled. Part of the resistance, she said, is cost concerns, and part of it was that some lawmakers had hoped to undertake a more comprehensive review and overhaul of the state’s health care programs this year, although this isn’t happening. Murphy said her group will be back next year to push for these measures. 

“It’s very frustrating honestly, because there’s bipartisan support for most of this stuff,” she said. 

Butler said she has had conversations with individual Republicans about her idea and a few have said they support it, but the caucus as a whole doesn’t. 

“I just keep hearing from Republicans that they don’t want to expand government programs and they view this as a program that the government is involved with, so they just totally do not seem willing to consider it,” she said. 



Political newcomer among leaders in campaign fundraising for legislature

Political newcomer Aaron Lieberman, a Democrat running for the House in Legislative District 28, far out raised the competition in just 30 days.

Lieberman, a first-time candidate, reported raising $127,284 from more than 180 contributors since he started collecting campaign contributions on June 1, according to his campaign finance report filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.

Not only is that more than what the three other candidates in the LD28 House race raised during the second quarter of 2018, it’s also more than what was raised by any other legislative candidate during the same time period.

To date, only incumbents Kate Brophy McGee, Heather Carter, Sean Bowie, Karen Fann, Vince Leach, and House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, who all launched their campaigns months before Lieberman did, have raised more money than him.

Aaron Lieberman
Aaron Lieberman

Campaign finance reports for the second quarter of 2018, which spans April 1 to June 30, were due July 16.

Lieberman’s campaign coffers were heavily bolstered by out-of-state contributions from a large built-in national fundraising network of people in the education and health fields in which he used to work.

Lieberman, whose background is in early childhood education, started an early childhood education nonprofit called Jumpstart with three others during his time at Yale. The organization provides language and literacy programming to preschool-aged children in underserved communities in 14 states and Washington, D.C.

Following his time at Jumpstart, Lieberman started his own company, Acelero Learning, which helps communities run Head Start programs.

He also served as the CEO of the Phoenix Spine Surgery Center, which his brother owns, for two years, and he now works as a consultant for various education organizations.

Lieberman said the relationships he built during his time at these organizations helped boost his fundraising numbers.

“I spent 20 years working closely with a broad group of people to help improve the lives of underserved families. I reached out to that group, close friends and relatives, told them this is what I’m working on now and they were more than willing to help based on my track record,” he said.

Out-of-state contributions include a $5,100 contribution from Melissa Polaner, executive director of iMentor NYC, a volunteer mentoring organization, and a $5,000 contribution from Steven Dow, executive director of CAP Tulsa, an early childhood education group.

Lieberman also received sizable contributions from valley contributors, including $5,100 from Matthew Pittinsky, CEO of Scottsdale-based Parchment Inc., which provides transcripts, diplomas and certificates digitally; $4,000 from relative Amy Lieberman, a social worker at a local school district, and $2,550 each from physicians Yara Vargas Ortiz and Tutankhamen Pappoe.

He also raised $18,700 through personal and family contributions, including $5,100 he self-funded.

Lieberman moves into the next reporting period with $119,041 on hand after spending $8,242.

Kathy Petsas, a Republican candidate for the House in LD28,  who began collecting campaign contributions just a few weeks before Lieberman, reported raising $53,965, including $10,600 she funneled into her campaign coffers, during the second quarter.

Petsas reported receiving $2,750 from political action committees, including $500 each from the Cox Political Action Committee, Realtors of AZ PAC and the Arizona Chapter of NAIOP Inc AZPAC.

Her biggest contributions came from family members John Pappas, who contributed $5,100, Angeline Pappas, who contributed $4,500, and Nicholas Petsas, who contributed $1,000.

After spending $8,104, Petsas is left with $45,860 on hand.

Incumbent Reps. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, and Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, reported raising $30,031 and $20,105, respectively, during the second quarter of 2018.

To date, Butler has raised $103,749 while Syms has raised $87,011. They move into the primary election with $76,772 and $64,048 on hand, respectively.

Republican aims to limit lawmakers’ conflicts of interest

Arizona lawmakers get paid $24,000 annually. Most have full-time jobs beyond the business of sponsoring and voting on bills for four to five months out of the year.

It’s inevitable, then, that a realm of conflicts exist for these “citizen legislators.”

“You’re never going to be able to limit conflicts altogether as long as you have a part-time Legislature. That’s impossible,” said Chad Campbell, a former Democratic member of the House of Representatives.

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

Fueled by reports of a state representative profiting from the sale of a public charter school, Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, wants to limit conflicts more than they’re limited now.

“We can’t have legislators voting on bills that directly impact them or their families’ finances. Period,” Brophy McGee said in a written statement on her campaign website.

But there’s a fine line between a lawmaker who’s benefiting financially from legislation and a lawmaker who brings their real world experience to the Capitol as a subject-matter expert on topics like education, business or water issues.

“It is imperfect, yes, like most everything else in self-governance,” said Stan Barnes, a former Republican senator. “But as long as we imagine ourselves as having a citizen Legislature, we are going to have many members with many conflicts if the standards are widened and deepened.”

Under House and Senate rules, members are considered to have a personal financial interest in any official duty that will provide a material benefit to them, their spouses or their minor children.

However, no personal financial interest exists if lawmakers are part of a “class of persons” and their legislation or other actions will affect the “total membership” of that class, which includes individuals outside the Legislature.

That class is often known as the “rule of 10.”

Arizona statute bars lawmakers from taking actions in which they have a substantial interest. But the law states that they have only a “remote interest” if they belong to a class of at least 10 people throughout the state, and their interest is no greater than other members of the class.

“The current rule is too weak,” Campbell said. “It allows people to claim there’s no conflict, even though the average person on the street, if explained the situation, would say, yes, that person definitely has conflict.”

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth (R-Gilbert)
Rep. Eddie Farnsworth (R-Gilbert)

Brophy McGee’s recent push for accountability comes amid reports by The Arizona Republic about Rep. Eddie Farnsworth’s financial gain from the sale of several East Valley charter schools, but there are countless bills where potential conflicts could arise and blur the line between a lawmaker with real-world experience and expertise and a lawmaker who stands to gain financially from the passage of a certain bill.

For example, Brophy McGee’s seatmate, Rep. Kelli Butler, runs a dental practice with her husband. Butler was also one of dozens of co-sponsors, Brophy McGee among them, of a bill that sought to provide insurance coverage through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System for dental care for pregnant women.

Does that constitute a conflict of interest for Butler?

“I don’t know,” Brophy McGee said. “Would it be? Is it something that should just be declared? It’s something I’ve always questioned. That is just one example of any number of bills that go through and you sit there and ask, is it a good policy or is it a conflict of interest?”

Butler, a Phoenix Democrat, said there’s no financial conflict – her dental practice doesn’t accept payments through AHCCCS, so she didn’t stand to gain financially if the bill was approved.

It was up to Butler to research the issue and determine whether a conflict existed. That’s how it’s always been, said former Democratic Rep. Theresa Ulmer, who served in 2007 and 2008. There was no training, she said, and issues didn’t arise unless “somebody brought something to your attention or you took it to an attorney,” Ulmer said.

With the current set of rules, lawmakers are self-policing, and often that means making a political calculation about whether it’s worth voting on a certain bill if there’s a conflict, or even the appearance of a conflict, Barnes said.

That was the case earlier this year, when Reps. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, and Michelle Udall,R-Mesa, who both work as teachers, abstained from voting on a bill that would give teachers a tax credit for purchasing classroom supplies. But it wasn’t against the rules to vote since they’re a part of a class of persons, teachers, far greater than 10.

Boyer said at the time he chose to abstain to be above reproach and avoid the appearance of a conflict.

“It has always been a judgment by the individual who is casting the vote,” Barnes said. “In my experience, it has been a political calculation by the elected House or Senate member: Will this reflect poorly on me or will it not reflect poorly on me? “

By that standard, elections every two years serve as the “ultimate enforcement” of ethics rules, and it’s arguable that voters are fine with the way things are, Barnes said.

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

Senate President Steve Yarbrough’s work with the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization, one of the largest STOs in the state, has routinely been documented as an example of lawmakers gaining financially from legislation they support.

The Chandler Republican has sponsored and voted for bills to expand STOs throughout his 16-year tenure, and it’s legal thanks to the “rule of 10.” And Yarbrough has been re-elected over and over again.

“As frustrating as it can be for some of President Yarbrough’s detractors, there is a transparency about his actions,” Barnes said. “And all efforts by his political opponents to cause agitation in his re-election have failed. The only conclusion you can draw from that is, voters don’t seem to care as long as they approve of the overall actions of the Legislature.”

To eliminate conflicts entirely would take a dramatic overhaul of the Legislature’s functionality, Campbell said. It would mean electing legislators to serve at the Capitol full time, and paying them a salary to reflect that, though he acknowledged that such a proposal is politically unrealistic.

Barnes said the current system has served the state well, and there’s value in having lawmakers come to the Capitol with life experience from their work.

“The kind of people I want in the Legislature are going to have potential conflicts because they are people of action who do things, are involved in things outside the Legislature,” Barnes said. “I find that positive and not negative.”

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. 

Sweeping abortion bill passes on party lines

Close-up of stethoscope and paper on background of doctor and patient hands

Acting under the banner of protecting disability rights, the Republican-controlled legislature on Thursday voted along party lines to impose a new restriction on a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy by making it a crime to abort a child because of a fetal genetic defect.

SB1457, which now goes to Gov. Doug Ducey, says any medical professional who performs or aids an abortion in those cases can be sentenced to up to a year in state prison. Ducey has not said whether he will sign or veto the measure.

The measure also:

– Allows the husband of a woman who seeks such an abortion or the woman’s parents if she is younger than 18 to sue on behalf of the unborn child;

– Outlaws the ability of women to get otherwise-legal drugs to perform an abortion through the mail or other delivery service;

– Declares that the laws of Arizona must be interpreted to give an unborn child the same rights, privileges and immunities available to anyone else.

“We must stand for those at risk, the children with Down’s syndrome and other genetic abnormalities, through no fault of their own, who are being snuffed out in Arizona and throughout our country, and need to stand up for their life,” said Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, the sponsor of SB1457.

“What this bill is about is about giving a child the right to live,” said Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert. And he pointed out that Arizona already has laws against discriminating against those with disabilities.

“If we take actions to protect those with disabilities outside the womb, we should also protect them from discrimination inside the womb,” Petersen said.

But Rep. Rosanna Gabaldon, D-Green Valley, said those claims ring hollow.

“This bill is an attempt by anti-abortion groups to co-opt the mantle of disability rights,” she said. And Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, said the measure is not being backed by any organization that lobbies on behalf of the disabled.

In many ways, the arguments by some of the supporters confirmed that the measure has less to do with disability than is a way for those who are opposed to abortion in all forms to find ways to chip away at the historic 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision which says women have a right to terminate a pregnancy prior to the viability of a fetus.

“Abortion is not health care,” said Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale. “Abortion takes the life of an innocent child every single time.”

And Rep. Jacqueline Parker, R-Mesa, whose grandfather was an obstetrician, said she sees nothing wrong with criminalizing abortion.

“A doctor who intentionally kills a patient should be charged with a felony,” she said.

Less clear is whether the measure is constitutional.

In the years since Roe v. Wade the justices have allowed states to impose some restrictions on the procedure. In general, though, these have been limited to questions of protecting the life of the mother.

Petersen pointed out that five other states have similar laws. That includes Ohio where the statutes say a doctor can be punished for performing an abortion after a patient says that a fetus having Down’s syndrome is part of her decision.

Earlier this month a divided federal appeals court agreed to allow that law to take effect, with the majority concluding that it furthers the state’s interest in affirming that individuals with the genetic disorder “are equal in dignity and value” with others. And the judges said that it does not impose an absolute ban on abortions.

None of these laws, however, has yet to get to the Supreme Court.

Swing-district Dems use divergent vote tactics in Legislature

The following story is the first of five to be published over the next two weeks based on voting data the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting pulled for the 2017 legislative session. The nonprofit group analyzed the number of floor votes that each lawmaker cast the same as every other lawmaker. The result is a first of its kind look at voting patterns between Arizona legislators, revealing alike votes and disparities – some known anecdotally, others not seen before – between lawmakers, at times regardless of party affiliation. Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting set a minimum threshold of 230 alike votes in the House of Representatives and 435 alike votes in the state Senate to gauge how often lawmakers vote alike with one another.

The threshold could be expanded or shrunk, but think of the analysis like a microscope: zooming in too far, or not far enough, won’t reveal anything of interest. Finding the right magnification, or in this case, the right threshold of alike votes in each chamber, produces significant results and visualizes alike votes among legislators.

No legislative votes are picked apart come election season quite like those of lawmakers from Arizona’s swing districts.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle must consider the repercussions at the ballot box on controversial votes when they serve a district with roughly even splits among Democrats and Republicans, or a strong base of independents.

In a state as conservative as Arizona, it’s still rare for Democrats to hold those seats. Conventional wisdom is for such a lawmaker to vote in a pattern slightly left of center – reliably with Democrats on most issues, but they will sometimes vote with lawmakers across the aisle when it comes to policies that divide the electorate in a given district.

First-term Sen. Sean Bowie is a perfect example of that wisdom. The Phoenix Democrat won a competitive race in Legislative District 18, where GOP voter registration outpaces Democrats by nearly 5,000 voters.

[Use the interactive data tool created by AZCIR to discover the alike votes between each senator HERE.]

So it comes as no surprise that Bowie voted alike with Republican senators more than any other Democratic lawmaker, according to the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting’s analysis of votes during the 2017 legislative session. Whether it’s because his votes are politically expedient, or achieve the goals of his more conservative constituents, Bowie’s voting pattern fit the model for an Arizona Democrat in a swing district: play to both sides of the aisle.

Reps. Mitzi Epstein, D-Phoenix, and Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, don’t play by those bipartisan rules. Epstein, who represents the same district as Bowie, and Butler, who represents a district where registered Republicans outpace Democrats by nearly 11,000 voters, cast no alike votes with Republicans at a threshold of 230 alike votes, according to the analysis.

Find the interactive data tool below. (Data by the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting; Graphic by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Find the interactive data tool below. (Data by the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting; Graphic by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

[Use the interactive data tool created by AZCIR to discover the alike votes between each representative HERE.]

Voters in those swing districts will have the final say in 2018 on whether they prefer a bipartisan voting record like Bowie’s or a solid blue streak like Epstein and Butler’s.

“That is what they both will be held to, not only the fact that they are both Democrats, but what is your actual voting record?” said Janie Hydrick, chair of the LD18 Democratic Party.

Independent streak

In LD18, Bowie and Epstein both boasted of their efforts to meticulously analyze bills, meet with stakeholders and arrive at independent decisions to cast votes on bills. While their methods were similar, the decisions they made were far different.

Sen. Sean Bowie (D-Phoenix) (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)
Sen. Sean Bowie (D-Phoenix) (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

Bowie said his votes often hinged on thinking what’s best for his entire district. Sometimes that meant ignoring calls to vote with his own caucus, and instead joining Republicans to approve bills.

“There were a couple of bills, especially toward the end of session, that were bills that were going to impact my district,” he said. “Something like the university bonding bill, which I know every Democrat in the House voted against it. I worked in higher education before getting elected, I’m very aware of the cuts to higher ed by the Legislature, and I thought that was a very important bill, not just for the universities, but for my district.”

Bowie’s district is full of ASU employees, himself included. Bowie worked at ASU in an administrative role prior to his election, and now serves as an adjunct professor. The fact that so many of his constituents also work at the university made his vote to approve more funding for the state’s three public universities a no-brainer, Bowie said.

So, too, was a vote on the final day of session to offer a manufacturing tax credit that would apply to Intel and Honeywell, two of the largest employers in LD18, he said.

“They were looking to expand their facilities in my district, and we had a lot of pressure from Democratic groups to not support that, but at the end of the day, I knew it was going to help my district,” Bowie said.
Epstein voted against the university bonding bill as part of a show of force by House Democrats, all 25 of whom opposed the bill.

She gave preliminary approval of the tax credit bill in a committee vote, but she missed the vote on the floor when it was narrowly approved in the House by 32 votes.

Epstein said her business experience provided crucial insight when researching bills and considering their economic impact. Her decisions to vote against bills that most Republicans support comes from a fierce independent streak, she said, not towing the Democratic Party line, and that voters in her district “should be dancing in the streets that I don’t bow to somebody else’s prior decisions.”

Find the interactive data tool above. (Data by the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting; Graphic by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Find the interactive data tool above. (Data by the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting; Graphic by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

“It’s not about whether I voted with the Democrats or Republicans. It’s about, was I willing to stand up to power and say, ‘Hold it. You have to actually give me a good reason to vote for this, or I’m not going to vote for it,’” Epstein said. “And if Democrats were in the majority, I’m that person who’s going to stand up to them, too.”

For Bowie, representing his constituents means sometimes voting with the Republican majority.
“It’s a moderate, high income, well-educated district, and I think they’re looking for legislators who care more about what’s best for the community and what’s best for the cities there than necessarily what’s best for the party or ideology,” Bowie said.

Pragmatic wing

The LD18 election will be a perfect test of disparate voting patterns of the district’s two Democrats. Darin Fisher, himself a former legislative candidate, is now a Democratic precinct committeeman in the district. He said Bowie fits the mold of LD18 Democrats and has the voting record to prove it.

“We’re not the hardcore progressive wing, we’re the pragmatic wing. People call us blue dogs, people call us all sorts of things – DINOs,” Fisher said. “But the reality of it is, particularly when you’re in the minority, you have to understand that you still have to govern. Sean understands I think so much better than Mitzi the nuances of governing, and how things actually work, particularly in a state like Arizona.”

Governing means being willing and able to cross party lines when you vote, and Bowie’s got a reputation that proves he’s capable. Even Republicans have taken notice, Fisher said, giving Bowie support from moderate Republicans in LD18.

At the other end of the voting spectrum, Epstein is “a little bit too beholden” to the hardcore progressive Democrats of the district, Fisher said.

“Mitzi, she’s just not a policy wonk, so rather than digging into the details, she takes more direction from leadership as opposed to actually staking out her own positions,” he said.

Hydrick, the Democratic Party chairwoman in LD18, said Epstein’s well-versed in the subject that matters most to voters in the district: public education.

Rep. Mitzi Epstein (D-Phoenix)
Rep. Mitzi Epstein (D-Phoenix)

“There were a lot of votes this session about education, and Mitzi is absolutely firm – she’s always been an advocate, outspoken for public education. And that’s what she ran on. That’s what she promised people she would do. And that’s what she did when she got into the Statehouse,” Hydrick said.

Bowie, on the other hand, is “looking at it not as, particularly as a Democrat who will vote down the line on what Democrats hold, but what the district, as a whole district, would favor,” she said.

Bowie’s varied voting record will help him gain bipartisan support in the 2018 election, Hydrick said, while Epstein will be leaning on her votes on education policy to cut across party barriers, Hydrick said.

“There are a lot of moderate Republicans who support public education, there are a lot of independents who support public education. Of course, that’s one of the tenants of the Democratic platform,” Hydrick said. “So she has a broad base.”

To Fisher, Epstein’s base is not as broad as Hydrick believes. Epstein will have to rely on overwhelming support from Democrats to overcome a voting record that shows little deference to GOP interests.
Bowie likely won’t find as strong support as Epstein among Democrats, but given his penchant for crossing the aisle, he has appeal with centrist Republicans and conservative independents, Fisher said.

Bad ideas

When Butler won in 2016, she continued a trend set by former Rep. Eric Meyer of a single-shot Democratic candidate winning a seat in Legislative District 28, where Republicans hold a healthy voter registration majority.

Despite her lack of alike votes with Republicans, Butler said her votes “absolutely” represent her district’s values.

Rep. Kelli Butler (D-Paradise Valley)
Rep. Kelli Butler (D-Paradise Valley)

“I got elected to go down there and fight for education and for the economy, and I was focused on those priorities,” Butler said. “And when there was something that was not going to create a good solution that was going to help our schools and our teachers and our students, I had no problems voting against it.”

In a Legislature where Republicans decide which bills get through the legislative process, a Democrat must cast more votes on bills sponsored by Republicans. And Republicans had a lot of bad ideas, Butler said.

“I was not down there to play games, and I had absolutely no trouble voting against bad ideas. And so I saw far too many things that were bad ideas, and I was not going to support those,” she added.

Butler’s voting pattern is contrasted by the district’s senator, Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix. She was one of a handful of GOP senators who voted alike with Democrats most frequently, according to the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting analysis. So while even a Republican in a swing district fits the conventional wisdom of spreading out votes across the aisle, those bipartisan votes Brophy McGee took were often related to education, an issue that plays across party lines in LD28, Butler said.

As for how her voting pattern will affect her campaign in 2018, Butler said that never came up during the legislative session.

“I wasn’t thinking about my re-election strategy when I was voting. I literally was doing my best to understand the issue and vote the way I thought I will be able to talk to, answer to my voters for,” she said.

Meyer, the former representative Butler replaced, said Butler’s voting pattern may have something to do with post-presidential election pressures from the progressive left – an influence that can be significant on a freshman lawmaker.

But like Epstein, Meyer argued that Butler’s strong support of public education will play well in an issues-based campaign in LD28. Democrats, independents and Republicans in LD28 with kids in Arizona’s public schools will all favor a candidate who took votes to ensure as much money as possible is available to public schools, he said.


Find out more about your lawmakers’ voting patterns below:

House Dem leader crosses aisle more often than party colleagues

Moderate GOP lawmakers exist in name only, study finds

Small group of Republicans buck their party, vote their conscience

Some GOP lawmakers vote solid red, support caucus bills

Syms ousted as Butler, Lieberman win LD28 House race

Rep. Kelli Butler (D-Paradise Valley)
Rep. Kelli Butler (D-Paradise Valley)

Democrats abandoned their single-shot strategy in the Legislative District 28 House race this year, and it paid off.

Incumbent Rep. Kelli Butler and fellow Democrat Aaron Lieberman pulled ahead of Republicans Rep. Maria Syms and Kathy Pappas Petsas early on and maintained their lead.

Syms sparked controversy early in the cycle when her husband, Mark Syms, challenged Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee as an independent, a move many saw as jeopardizing Republican control of the Senate. And she didn’t redeem herself in the eyes of fellow Republicans. During a debate in September, Petsas said Syms sowed disunity among the Republicans seeking to represent LD28 in both chambers.

In the midst of the Republican infighting, Lieberman pulled ahead of the pack in the money race, raising about $236,000 in total contributions as of the latest campaign finance reporting period. Butler was never far behind.

Some Democrats worried that abandoning the previously successful single-shot strategy and not focusing on protecting Butler’s seat was the wrong move. Those in the party seem to have called it wrong.

But Republicans may have found some redemption in Brophy McGee, who was leading her Senate race against Democratic challenger Christine Marsh by just about 1,500 votes Wednesday afternoon.

Lieberman was one of at least three Democratic newcomers who overcame Republican incumbents in the House. Domingo DeGrazia topped Rep. Todd Clodfelter in Legislative District 10, and Jennifer Jermaine ousted Rep. Jill Norgaard in Legislative District 18. Those outcomes narrow the party split in that chamber to 32-28.

And Dems could gain a fourth seat. Rep. Jeff Weninger won his re-election bid in Legislative District 17, but the race for the second seat was too close to call. Weninger’s fellow Republican Nora Ellen was behind Democrat Jennifer Pawlik by 1 p.m. Wednesday, but just about 400 votes separated the two.


LD28 House by the numbers

Early votes


Maria Syms 24 percent

Kathy Pappas Petsas 24 percent


Kelli Butler 27 percent

Aaron Lieberman 25 percent