Dental therapy bill regains life in Senate


A state Senate committee gave new hope March 21 to a proposal to license dental therapists in Arizona.

The Senate Government Committee approved on a 5-2 vote a bill that died a week before in the House and was resurrected in the Senate in the form of a “striker” – an amendment that strikes the entire content of a bill and replaces it with the language of another bill.

The bill’s approval marks the next step in an ongoing turf war between dentists and groups pushing for the legalization of dental therapy.

The bill would allow a person to be trained and licensed by the Arizona Board of Dental Examiners and put into use in both public and private dental care settings in the state.

Their practice is defined as an assistant who is allowed to perform simple dental procedures, such as tooth extractions and regular evaluations. They would operate under the supervision of a licensed dentist, who will have the authority to choose which procedures the dental therapist can perform and intervene whenever needed.

If it were to pass, Arizona would join Minnesota, Maine and Vermont as the only states to allow the training and licensing of dental therapists.

The bill will now need to pass through the Senate Rules Committee before being sent to a vote on the floor.

GOP lawmaker urges colleagues not to end Covid restrictions

Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey talks about an executive order as he speaks about the latest coronavirus information at a news conference, Thursday, July 9, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey talks about an executive order as he speaks about the latest coronavirus information at a news conference, Thursday, July 9, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

As a Senate panel prepares to vote on legislation that would immediately end Gov. Doug Ducey’s Covid-caused state of emergency, an influential House Republican and legislative attorneys are warning it would have unintended consequences.

In a letter sent to all 90 lawmakers Saturday, Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, urged his colleagues to hold off on any attempts to overturn the emergency order, at least until they know whether Attorney General Mark Brnovich would agree with legislative attorneys. Those lawyers told Kavanagh that an end to the statewide emergency declaration could just result in more patchwork local emergency declarations.

“Those who believe that terminating the governor’s Covid-19 state of emergency and consequential executive orders will end all restrictions and mandates on individuals, schools, organizations and businesses, eliminate mask mandates, cancel limits on public gatherings and nullify all other mitigating steps are wrong,” Kavanagh wrote in his letter to lawmakers.

The Senate Government Committee is scheduled to vote on a host of bills meant to overturn Ducey’s emergency declaration and prevent a repeat. Most pressing is Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita’s SCR1001, which would immediately terminate the emergency order declared on March 11, 2020.

According to an opinion legislative attorneys provided to Kavanagh, overturning Ducey’s executive order would just give local leaders — some of whom have long advocated for greater restrictions — more power to control Covid restrictions because their states of emergency will remain in effect.

In cities like Tucson, Phoenix and Flagstaff, mayors and city councils could close businesses, install curfews and block public gatherings. In areas like Yavapai County, where local mayors have continued to hold events and refused to mandate mask-wearing, all restrictions could be lifted.

John Kavanagh
John Kavanagh

“Were Arizona to become a mosaic of jurisdictions with conflicting restrictions ranging from nonexistent to draconian, residents and visitors seeking relief from the tedium of restricted areas would flock to the packed restaurants, bars and public events in the laissez-faire jurisdictions where they might become infected with covid-19 and, most ironically, bring the disease back to those jurisdictions that tried the most to control it,” Kavanagh wrote.

As a resolution, Ugenti-Rita’s measure would require only a majority vote in the House and Senate, and not a signature from Ducey. Ugenti-Rita did not return a phone call Monday morning. 

While the opinion Kavanagh received from Legislative Council – and the one he has requested but not yet received from the Attorney General – only gets into what cities and the governor can do if the Legislature ends a statewide emergency, there are other concerns about what such a move could mean for access to federal relief funding and free vaccinations. All 50 states now have public health emergencies in place, and ending the emergency declaration could risk losing federal aid.

Sen. Warren Petersen, one of the Republicans on the Senate committee, said he hadn’t yet read Kavanagh’s email and planned to vote for SCR1001 anyway. Petersen, R-Gilbert, is also the sponsor of another measure on today’s agenda, SCR1003, which would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment declaring that a state of emergency ends 14 days after it begins unless the Legislature extends it.

Petersen’s referendum, and a similar one from Ugenti-Rita that would set a 21-day time limit, couldn’t take effect unless voters approved them on the 2022 general election ballot, making it extremely unlikely they’d have any bearing on the current state of emergency. Nor would another resolution on today’s agenda, Sen. Kelly Townsend’s SCR1010, which, if approved by voters, would require the governor to call a special legislative session concurrent with the state of emergency.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, another Republican member of the committee, said Monday morning he hadn’t yet read Kavanagh’s email and was still dissecting the differences among the many emergency-related bills filed. For now, he said, he plans on voting for the vast majority of them in committee to advance a legislative conversation about how to handle executive power.

“We’re at this early stage, and the further these get in the process, the conversation will become more focused,”said Mesnard, R-Chandler. “Unless I’m philosophically opposed to the outcome that one of these would cause — which might be the case, I don’t exactly like what I’m hearing (Legislative) Council was saying with one of them — I probably will defer to move these along.”

The three Democrats on the committee plan to vote against the emergency measures, though they’re outnumbered by the five Republican members. Ranking Democratic Sen. Juan Mendez of Tempe said he was surprised Ugenti-Rita scheduled bills that appear to contradict each other.

“We were definitely worried about second-scale repercussions that they hadn’t anticipated,” Mendez said.”It definitely felt like they were just trying to throw everything against the wall and see what would stick, and that’s never a healthy way to do policy.”

A spokesman for Gov. Doug Ducey’s said the office does not comment on pending legislation.

Senate panel chair hot seat in 2022

Phoenix, AZ – Nov. 30, 2019: The State Senate building is directly beside the Arizona State Capitol building. (Stock/Deposit Photo

One of the most high-profile committee chairmanships in the Legislature is up for grabs. 

Senate Government Committee Chairwoman Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, created the vacancy when she resigned from the committee September 30. She has a record of sponsoring Republican election legislation, but she has also publicly criticized the Senate’s partisan audit of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County, and it’s the committee that will likely be taking up legislation arising from the audit.  

 As of October 7, Senate President Karen Fann had yet to announce who she will appoint to the committee in Ugenti-Rita’s place and who the next chairman will be. Whoever it is, they will be in the spotlight in 2022. With some GOP lawmakers calling for changes to voting laws and election procedures in response to the audit report, next year’s session, like this year’s, could be marked by bitter partisan battles over measures that Republicans say will help safeguard against fraud, but Democrats view as attempts to make it harder to vote and put the Legislature’s thumb on the scale in the wake of President Biden’s narrow win in Arizona. 

Kelly Townsend

Some conservatives who want to see the Legislature take a harder line on these issues are hoping Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who is the Government Committee’s vice chairwoman, be appointed to lead it, and pro-audit social media accounts have been urging their followers to email Fann to support Townsend. 

“Sen. Kelly Townsend has the most experience in election integrity and the most knowledgeable in Arizona’s election procedures,” said a message on the Telegram account of EZAZ, a conservative group founded by former Phoenix mayoral candidate Merissa Hamilton. “She has a great relationship with the County Recorders and is best positioned to serve the people as Chair of the Government and Elections Committee.” 

Townsend didn’t directly answer when asked if she wants the job. 

“I honestly haven’t heard anything about who is going to be filling that position,” she said in a text message. “I am sure Senate President Fann will find the appropriate person.” 

Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said he hasn’t heard anything about who will be appointed in Ugenti-Rita’s place or who the next chairman might be. He said he isn’t interested in a spot on the committee, and doesn’t know why Ugenti-Rita stepped down, beyond what was in her two-paragraph letter. 

And while Ugenti-Rita gave no reasons in writing to Fann for her departure from the committee, her views on the audit could make her a lightning rod of controversy as she runs for the GOP nomination for secretary of state. Supporters of former President Trump, who typically support the audit, also booed her off the stage at a July 24 Trump rally. The other GOP candidates for secretary of state include Reps. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, and Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, both of whom supported the audit. Trump has endorsed Finchem for the position. 

Michelle Ugenti-Rita

“My longstanding commitment to advancing real election integrity legislation is what drives me,” Ugenti-Rita wrote to Fann. “As always, I stand ready and committed to achieving success in reforming our election system and having a productive 2022 legislative session.” 

Ugenti-Rita was the chairwoman of the House Elections and Government committees during much of her tenure in that chamber, prior to her election to the Senate in 2018. This year, she was the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 1485, a bill to remove some voters from the Active (formerly called the Permanent) Early Voting List. Democrats strongly opposed SB1485, which ended up being one of the few major pieces of election-related legislation to pass this year. 

Townsend has criticized Ugenti-Rita for blocking some of her election bills this year, and the session ended with Townsend and Ugenti-Rita killing bills of each other’s that the rest of the Senate’s Republicans supported.  


Senate panel votes to handcuff cities on tenant protections


A Senate panel voted Monday to slam the door on future efforts by cities, towns and counties to enact their own regulations to protect tenants.

HB 2115 would leave untouched any ordinance that already was in place at the beginning of the year. But the measure, approved by the Senate Government Committee on a 4-3 party-line vote, says anything new would be strictly off limits.

The measure, which already has passed the House, now goes to the full Senate.

Moments later, the same committee approved, on the same party-line vote, HB 2358 which spells out that landlords are free to immediately evict tenants even after they have accepted partial payment of rent from a government program or even a church or housing assistance agency.

That came despite concerns from Zaida Dedolph of Wildfire, formerly the Arizona Community Action Association, that such a radical change from existing law will only exacerbate the state’s housing situation. She pointed out the move comes on the heels of a new report which shows Arizona is the third worst in the nation in having a supply of affordable housing.

The vote on HB 2115 preempting local regulations came over objections from representatives from various communities who urged lawmakers to butt out.

“The fact that different cities have different regulations is a good thing,” said Alex Vidal who lobbies on behalf of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.

For example, he said in places like Yuma and Phoenix it might be appropriate to have some requirement about air conditioning or other cooling and even a requirement that an apartment be kept below a certain temperature.

“But in places like Flagstaff or Sedona or up north, the snow removal or heating might be a bigger concern,” Vidal said.

The measure is being pushed by the Arizona Multihousing Association which represents landlords throughout the state.

Lobbyist Jake Hinman told lawmakers that the Arizona Landlord-Tenant Act, first adopted in 1972, is sufficient to set out the rules governing the obligations of those who own homes and apartments and those who rent them. And he said the fact that most of the state’s 91 cites have so far chosen not to adopt their own codes proves that is true.

In fact, Hinman’s group originally sought to force repeal of existing local ordinances but was forced to back down when the House refused to go along. So he has agreed to settle to allow what is in place to remain.

New regulations or changes to existing ones, however, would be strictly forbidden.

But Ken Volk, who has worked with tenants for more than 24 years and helped push for the comprehensive housing code that exists in Tempe, said the Landlord-Tenant Act is really insufficient to protect those who rent.

“State law is vague,” he said, with words like “reasonable” and “appropriate” for what landlords are expected to provide in things like climate, water temperature and water pressure; another section of what’s forbidden uses words like “unsanitary” and “faulty.”

“None of those set standards,” Volk said, standards he said are necessary for not only renters but also neighbors and the general community.

He said the experience of what state lawmakers think is appropriate convinces him that local governments need to retain their ability to enact something more.

For example, Volk noted the Legislature approved a measure several years ago dealing with what happens in cases of bedbug infestations. On paper, he said, landlords are not supposed to rent out a unit they know has problems.

“Landlords will not admit that there was a prior bedbug problem,” Volk said. “What they do is they try to blame the current tenant and get the tenant to be held financially liable.”

Hinman, however, said preemption helps remove confusion for both landlords and tenants to have multiple regulations in different communities.

HB 2358 deals with the separate issue of what happens when landlords have accepted payments made on a tenant’s behalf.

Hinman said the legislation is necessary to protect landlords following a court ruling that precluded them from evicting a tenant for other violations. The court said once the landlord has accepted at least partial payment of rent – in this case, Section 8 rental assistance for low-income residents – he or she cannot then turn around and oust them.

“We have to have that remedy,” Hinman said.

But Pamela Bridge, director of advocacy for Community Legal Services, said the language is overly broad.

She said organizations that provide housing assistance, including churches, send checks to landlords under the presumption they’re helping to keep someone in an apartment. This bill, she said, allows the landlord to take the money and still turn the person out on the street that same month.

But Christopher Walker, an attorney who is involved in landlord-tenant issues, told lawmakers the legislation actually will help low-income tenants in the long run.

He warned that if landlords can’t enforce other rules because they’ve taken a check they will simply decide to no longer participate in the Section 8 program.

“That doesn’t help the vulnerable population,” Walker said.

“Landlords are concerned they don’t have the ability to manage and oversee their properties,” he said. “They don’t have the ability to remove someone that’s a risk.”

This House-passed measure also now goes to the full Senate.