Bill bans mask mandates in public schools

Angela Black, right, with her brother Luke Black at their home, pose for a photo Tuesday, May 11, 2021, in Mesa, Ariz. The students, a third grader and kindergartner, attend a school where mask wearing is optional. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Angela Black, right, with her brother Luke Black at their home, pose for a photo Tuesday, May 11, 2021, in Mesa, Ariz. The students, a third grader and kindergartner, attend a school where mask wearing is optional. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Republican lawmakers did an about-face on facemasks in schools in the most recent version of the state education budget bill. 

The initial language, one line of the deal Gov. Doug Ducey hammered out with Senate and House Republican leadership in May, would have codified school districts and charter schools having the final authority on face mask requirements. 

The new language does the opposite and would permanently prohibit school districts and charters from requiring facial coverings. Individuals would still be able to choose to wear them. 

The change came after lawmakers such as Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, and Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, threatened to withhold their votes. 

“And to think until I publicly exposed it, Fauci Followers in the AZ Senate Leadership along w/@dougducey were almost successful in sneaking language into the budget giving school districts the power to force students to wear masks for any reason & for as long as they want,” Michelle Ugenti-Rita tweeted on June 5.  

School districts and charters have had that individual responsibility since April. That’s when Ducey rescinded his executive order from July 2020 that required them to implement a face covering requirement for everyone over the age of 5. 

The change was met with confusion and, in some cases, outrage, as districts made individual decisions on how to handle their masking policy roughly five weeks before the end of the semester.   

While the school where Rep. Steve Kaiser’s children attend ditched its mask requirement, he accused local school boards of not listening to parents. He said the mask issue was a big one for the Republican base. 

“I believe in local control, too, but I’m not about to let local control decide what’s best for my kids medically,” the Phoenix Republican said during a caucus meeting late last month. “I should decide that.” 

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, pushed for the language to include visitors, noting an incident in Scottsdale where people came to a school board meeting to protest critical race theory but refused to wear masks, leading to the board to recess the meeting. 

Rep. Melody Hernandez, D-Tempe, said the flip-flop was to secure budget votes from lawmakers who tend to “thrive on disinformation about coronavirus, masks and the vaccine and the like.”  

Hernandez, a paramedic, said she doesn’t think such a move would have an immediate effect on public health because “hopefully we’re moving past the pandemic,” but that it seemed short-sighted. 

“If this is successful, it’s going to unnecessarily tie the hands of administrators and educators if there’s another airborne pandemic,” she said. 

Save Our Schools Arizona supports keeping mask mandate authority local. 

“We support keeping that authority at the individual district level where locally-elected board members were voted in to lead on their schools’ policies,” communications director Dawn Penich-Thacker said. 

Other states are also looking at the issue of who should be able to make mask mandates for schools. While most states either still have a state level mask mandate for schools or are allowing individual districts to make decisions, a handful are stripping that authority from the local boards. 

In May, Iowa banned mask mandates by schools and cities. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also signed an executive order prohibiting mask mandates in schools. In Georgia, there’s no outright ban, but an executive order from the governor says schools can no longer “rely on the Public Health State of Emergency as a basis for requiring students or workers to wear a face covering.” And in Idaho, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin signed a school mask mandate ban while Gov. Brad Little was out-of-state. When he returned, he rescinded it. 

CRT ban gets Senate panel’s nod


A resolution to stop schools from adopting, endorsing, or adhering to ideas known as “critical race theory” passed a Senate panel today on party lines. 

House Concurrent Resolution 2001, sponsored by Rep. Kaiser, R-Phoenix, had already moved through the House Government and Elections Committee and floor with the opposition of Democrats. It appears to be gearing up for a similar response from the Senate chamber after passing the Senate Appropriations committee 6-4.  

Kaiser told Senators in the committee he is considering some amendments which could potentially sway the votes of legislators on the floor but did not say what those amendments would be. 

Republicans are passionate about addressing the idea that white guilt is being taught in American schools, but it is not evident that this is occurring. The legislature passed a ban on CRT last year, but it was thrown out by the Arizona Supreme Court along with other legislation for being illegally included in the state budget. 

The idea of CRT in schools has been a focus of Republicans again this session.  

Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, also introduced a bill this year that would ban public school employees from using public monies to fund instruction that includes, among other things, advocating for “blame” or “judgement” on the basis of race and ethnicity. The bill passed out of the Senate finance community but has not passed the Senate floor. 

If Kaiser’s legislation passes the Senate, it will go to the ballot for voter approval. 

Before the resolution was heard, 354 people signed in to support it, including representatives from conservative organizations including the Center for Arizona Policy and the Arizona Free Enterprise Club. On the other side, 607 people signed in against the bill including, the ACLU, Arizona Department of Education, Arizona Education Association and the Arizona School Boards Association. 

Arizona Foundation for Individual Rights and Education Legislative and Policy Director Joe Cohn spoke against the bill, concerned that it could ban professors from presenting research papers or speaking at events on college campuses. 

Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, said that in supporting the legislation he thought about an article that stated 200 teachers in Arizona would teach CRT no matter what the law said.  

“Parents are pulling their kids left and right,” Leach said to the panel, although he did not provide any hard evidence. 

But he did refer to an article by the conservative media outlet AZ Free News, linking to a pledge signed by educators to teach “the truth.” The pledge is signed by teachers, librarians and other educators across the country, including some Arizonans. The pledge does not use the term “critical race theory,” but it does say that there is “structural racism” in the United States teachers don’t want to disregard and it questions how someone can teach honestly about “the nature of our society without examining how today’s racial inequality is a systemic legacy of this country’s history.”  

“The major institutions and systems of our country are deeply infected with anti-Blackness and its intersection with other forms of oppression,” the pledge states.  

The pledge does not say that one race is inherently racist, which is what Kaiser’s bill bans, however panel Democrats said that language is too vague.  

Leach has referenced this article several times throughout the session but said he couldn’t define CRT because it varies.  

“Racism is wrong but it’s wrong both ways,” Leach said, adding that he shouldn’t be considered bad just because he’s white.  

Sen. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, spoke against the resolution, arguing that the language is too broad.  

“We don’t want to go into a place where we are denying or not addressing our histories,” Terán said. She said she doesn’t want people of color written out of history books. 

The bill stipulates that teachers are still allowed to teach about, “historical movements; ideologies or instances of racial hatred or discrimination,” including slavery and the Holocaust. 

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said the opposition was shameful because the resolution does not state that history cannot be taught.  

“We’re saying that you cannot guilt a kid because of the color of their skin.” 

The resolution’s language is definitive. It mandates specifically that schools cannot teach that one race or ethnic group is inherently “morally or intellectually superior … racist or oppressive” to another, that a group should be treated differently because of their ethnicity or race, that someone’s character is determined by their race or ethnicity, that someone is subject to blame or judgement or bears responsibility for other members of their same race or ethnic group. The resolution states that schools cannot support ideas that students should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or “psychological distress” for their race or ethnicity. Finally, the legislation bans the idea that a person’s traits, including a hard work ethic or achievement, are features of racism or oppression. 


Fight to ban state benefits for lobby group dies – again

Sen. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, speaks on the floor of the Arizona State Senate at the Arizona State Capitol building in Phoenix on March 13. He has revived a long battle at the Legislature this year to block League of Arizona Cities and Towns’ employees from receiving state benefits. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE VIA FLICKR

Sen. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, revived a long-running fight at the Legislature this year to block employees of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns from getting state retirement benefits.

The league and a few other non-government groups were not allowed to get Arizona State Retirement System benefits until 2004, when the law was changed to accommodate another group, but Kaiser argues – as other lawmakers before him – that’s not an appropriate use of state funds.

He also insisted he’s not out for revenge although the League opposed some of his bills this session and got them killed, although the League thinks differently. 

“This appears to be a punitive measure targeted at the League for simply representing the interests of their residents,” said Tom Belshe, the League’s executive director.  

The issue over ASRS benefits for non-government groups didn’t begin this session, though. It spans 20 years.  

In 2003, then Attorney General Terry Goddard issued an opinion stating “associations that are neither created by state law nor designated as political subdivisions” are not eligible to receive state retirement benefits.

The Legislature passed House Bill 2049 the next year, which reclassified the league and other similar groups in such a way that they would qualify to receive ASRS benefits under the umbrella of “political subdivisions.”

Ironically, it was the Maricopa Association of Governments that lobbied to get ASRS in the first place, not the league, and the sponsor of that bill, former Rep. John Huppenthal, said that he regrets the legislation.

John Huppenthal

“In retrospect, I would view it as having been a mistake,” the former Chandler lawmaker said on April 11.

Huppenthal said “it was out of character for me” to sponsor the bill, but MAG worked hard to help him pass “significant transportation legislation,” when the group could have fought it.

“So it was sort of a moment of weakness, you might say. So, not a huge mistake but in retrospect, they needed it, and I had the clout to get it done, and they had done me some big favors,” he said.

Goddard said on April 11 that he doesn’t remember the opinion he issued, but emailed, “looks like I forced them to change the law!”

MAG’s executive director at the time, Dennis Smith, said it was to help MAG compete with the Arizona Department of Transportation for talent. Other groups like the league were just swept up in the new definition, according to Smith and the league’s executive director at the time Cathy Connelly.

“MAG prompted it because they were doing transportation planning and other activities like that and were having a difficult time either keeping or attracting really qualified people because they weren’t on state retirement, so maybe an employee would start out at MAG but go to Maricopa County or to ADOT or whatever, particularly in the transportation area,” Connelly said.

Smith said ASRS pursued MAG to join the system for many years.

MAG hired a new chief financial officer in the early 2000s, Becky Kimbrough, who said that the ASRS benefits would be better than what MAG was offering then, and pushed Smith to join in. He was surprised when an attorney told him that MAG wasn’t eligible to participate, especially since MAG’s sister organization the Western Arizona Council of Governments, was already getting ASRS benefits.

The League of Arizona Cities and Towns and a few other non-government groups had not been allowed to obtain Arizona State Retirement System benefits until 2004, when the law was changed to accommodate another group, but Sen. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix argues that’s not a proper use of state funds. PHOTO BY DEPOSIT PHOTOS

Western Arizona Council of Governments and other groups did participate in ASRS prior to 2004, which is why the attorney general’s opinion was requested to clarify the rules.

Smith said he’s surprised the battle against ASRS benefits for groups like MAG still rages. “That’s still going on? Oh, my goodness,” he said.

This year, Kaiser’s strike-all amendment to SB1202 died in the House Ways and Means Committee when Democrats and Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, opposed it.

“Should state retirement benefits be for state employees, or should they be for these quasi-groups that are lobbying against citizen interests sometimes? I feel like state retirement benefits should only be for state employees,” Kaiser said when he testified in the committee hearing March 29.

Belshe said Thursday in a text message that the League is a creation of the cities and towns, and besides representation at the capitol also provides “elected official, attorney and financial education” for cities and towns.

“With that in mind, the ability to transfer talent between state and local government and the body that supports them is only natural,” Belshe said.

Despite the bill’s failure this year, Kaiser isn’t deterred and said he’ll try the bill again next year. His legislation would only affect members hired after the bill’s effective date and would only affect league members, although other groups like MAG and the Arizona Interscholastic Association both get ASRS benefits and aren’t government bodies.

“Better to be specific than cast too wide a net,” Kaiser said.

Government agencies are subject to sunset reviews and audits, and members are appointed by elected representatives. Members of the league and similar groups are not elected nor appointed and forced to adhere to these government review processes.

Michelle Ugenti-Rita

Former lawmaker Michelle Ugenti-Rita tried to reverse Huppenthal’s law several times.

Ugenti-Rita said the league is greedy and found a way to milk the system, and she agrees with Kaiser that a non-government group shouldn’t be getting government benefits.

“The league is engaging in gross misconduct by fleecing the taxpayers of Arizona,” Ugenti-Rita said in a text. She was stymied in her attempts at change by Democrats and a few Republicans, just like Kaiser is.

As the representative for 91 municipalities, the league is one of the most powerful lobbying groups at the Legislature.

“We will continue to fiercely represent the best interests of our residents and the fluid transfer of talent to the League,” Belshe said.

Kaiser was confused by Livingston’s opposition to the bill. Livingston said one reason he didn’t support Kaiser’s bill is that it only targets the league when there are several similar groups getting the same benefits.

“The league is not the only one, so why pick on just one?” Livingston asked.

One Republican, former Rep. Rusty Bowers, opposed one of Ugenti-Rita’s bills for the opposite reason in 2016. He was worried that it was painting with “too broad a brush” and didn’t want MAG taken off the ASRS list. Huppenthal and Smith also argued that MAG is the most deserving to be on ASRS.

“One thing you can say about MAG though, if you’re going to do it for any entity, I mean they have a pretty classy track record of producing a lot of value and being as close as you can to one of these entities,” Huppenthal said.

Then-Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, said he opposed Ugenti-Rita’s bill in 2016 because MAG in particular serves a vital public function. He also cautioned that removing so many members from ASRS would increase the contribution rate for the public employees remaining in the system.

Livingston said another part of his opposition to Kaiser’s bill stems from concern over the strength of pensions. “I fight with the league all the time, but sometimes the league is right on pension issues,” Livingston said.


GOP lawmakers give business owners escape from school surcharge

Rep. Andrés Cano, D-Tucson, right, speaks with Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, during a vote on the Arizona budget Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Rep. Andrés Cano, D-Tucson, right, speaks with Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, during a vote on the Arizona budget Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Republican state representatives voted Friday to allow the owners of small businesses — and anyone who organizes their finances for tax purposes as one — to escape paying the voter-approved income tax surcharge on the wealthy to fund education.

And that would cut hundreds of millions of dollars from what is supposed to go to schools.

SB 1783, approved on a 31-25 party-line vote, creates an entirely new alternate tax category for small business, generally those now organized in a way so their income passes through to their owners. That means the owners now compute what they owe the state on their personal income tax forms, after deducting all business expenses.

Proposition 208, approved by voters by a 51.7% margin in November, imposes a 3.5% surcharge on adjusted personal income of amounts above $250,00 for individuals and $500,00 for married couples filing jointly. Under current law, that means the net earnings of the business retained by the owner.

But here’s the thing: That surcharge applies only to tax categories that existed last year when Proposition 208 was approved. And since this new “small business” classification did not exist last year, the surcharge would not apply at all to anyone opting to use that new category.

The tax relief in SB 1783 goes far beyond what the Republican-controlled legislature already did when they voted earlier this week to cap all income taxes at 4.5%.

In that case, unable to overturn what voters approved, lawmakers created a workaround: The wealthiest would still have to pay the 3.5% surcharge. But, with the 4.5% cap, they would have an effective tax rate of just 1% on their earnings.

But the voter approval of Proposition 208 also means that lawmakers have to make up the difference of what the high-income earners would otherwise have paid. So that guarantees the education programs funded by Proposition 208 would get all the money promised.

SB 1783 changes all that.

“This would create a loophole for the wealthiest in Arizona to file as a small business so they can avoid paying the 3.5% surcharge that Arizonans said they want to support education,” said House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen.

And there are fiscal implications: Legislative budget analysts figured that anyone who now is subject to the Proposition 208 surcharge and is eligible to use the small business classification will do so if it lowers their taxes. And they concluded that, out of the estimated $836 million Proposition 208 was expected to raise for education, SB 1783 would slash that by about $292 million.

Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, said the exemption is justified. She pointed out that campaign materials for the initiative said it would not affect small businesses.

And Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, said that means the proponents either were confused “or they willfully lied.”

But Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said that the campaign statement is true and that Proposition 208 is not a tax on business.

She pointed out that what’s subject to the tax is not the gross proceeds of any business. It’s what’s left to the owners after they pay all expenses

That list that can include everything from employee salaries and equipment purchases to other deductions. And it also encompasses what remains after any other deductions, like money a business owner puts into a 401(k) retirement account.

What that leaves — and what’s subject to the Proposition 208 surcharge — Epstein said, is the net income the owner pockets, and only above $500,000 for a married couple.

But Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, said that ignores how businesses operate.

He said they retain net earnings to help them weather the ups and downs of businesses. And it is those net earnings, Kaiser said, that are subject to the tax.

The measure needs final approval by the Senate before going to Gov. Doug Ducey. He is likely to sign it because he opposed Proposition 208.

That could lead to litigation.

The Voter Protection Act, a provision of the Arizona Constitution, bars lawmakers from repealing or making changes in anything approved at the ballot. The only exception is for amendments that “further the purposes” of the original law, and then only with a three-fourths vote.

Rep. Domingo DeGrazia, D-Tucson, said he believes what’s in SB 1783 runs afoul of the provision even though it doesn’t actually repeal the levy.

“The legislature cannot do indirectly what it cannot do directly,” he said.

And attorney Roopali Desai, who represents the Invest in Ed Committee that put the initiative on the ballot, has said the key is whether courts believe the change would “undermine the ultimate will of the voters.”

Half of whatever ends up being raised from Proposition 208 is earmarked for schools to hire teachers and classroom support personnel, a category that also includes librarians, nurses, counselors and coaches. Those dollars also could be used for raises.

Another 25% would be for support services personnel. That covers classroom aides, service personnel, food service and transportation.

There’s 12% for grants for career and technical education programs and 10% for mentoring and retaining new teachers in the classroom. The last 3% is for the Arizona Teachers Academy which provides tuition grants for people pursuing careers in education.

Hope dims for 3 losing incumbents as vote results trickle in

An official at the Maricopa County Recorder's Office reaches for ballots after votes were counted for the Arizona primary election Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
An official at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office reaches for ballots after votes were counted for the Arizona primary election Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Struggling incumbents in too-close-to-call races didn’t see much change as county elections officials began making a dent in the roughly 210,000 mail ballots that remained to be counted after Tuesday’s primary.

Republican Sen. Heather Carter of Cave Creek, Rep. Jay Lawrence of Scottsdale and Rep. Frank Pratt of Casa Grande still trail their challengers, and with fewer votes left to count, their odds of returning to the Capitol grow slimmer. 

In Legislative District 15, Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, leads Carter by 956 votes, after steadily increasing her slim lead with each round of results Tuesday. 

“We are waiting for the final ballots to be counted, but we have continued to extend our lead through last night and this morning and the outcome looks promising in our favor,” Barto said in a written statement Wednesday morning. 

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

House Republican hopeful Justin Wilmeth — who is running on a slate with Barto and newcomer Steve Kaiser — led Jarret Hamstreet by 1,074 votes, slightly increasing his morning lead of 1,030. 

Maricopa County still has more than 80,000 ballots left to count, and it’s unknown how many are in each district. 

Pratt trails challenger Neal Carter by just 22 votes, down from 30 earlier Wednesday. Pinal County, home of most Legislative District 8 voters, will not update results until Thursday. 

“It’s kind of nerve wracking,” Pratt said. “You’re still waiting on the last votes to be counted.”

Insurgent Scottsdale Republican Joseph Chaplik has maintained  his lead in Legislative District 23 over the incumbent Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale. Chaplik now leads Lawrence by 643 votes, or around two percentage  points— more or less the same as this morning, when he led by 647 votes. 

In the closely-watched Legislative District 26 Democratic House primary, Melody Hernandez has broadened her lead over Debbie Nez Manuel to 261 votes, a slight increase from this morning’s tally of 245 in Hernandez’s favor. Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, who ran on a slate with Hernandez and Sen. Juan Mendez, is all but ensured to get the most votes in the district. She sits comfortably in first with 9,491 votes. 

Former lawmaker Judy Burges slightly increased her lead over nurse Selina Bliss for the second GOP spot on the House ballot in Legislative District 1. Bliss trails by just over 2percentage  points. 

And former lawmaker Steve Montenegro narrowed the gap between him and Rep. Joanne Osborne since Wednesday morning, though he still trails Osborne by 392 votes in Legislative District 13.

House panel advances bill to restrict short-term rentals

Ryazan, Russia - April 16, 2018 - Homepage of Airbnb website on the display of PC, url - airbnb.com

Rejecting claims the measure amounts to little more than window dressing, a House panel voted Tuesday to give local governments more power to regulate short-term vacation rentals.

But just a bit.

SB1379 allows communities to impose civil penalties for failure to provide local authorities with information on how to contact owners. They also can be sanctioned for failing to maintain liability insurance of at least $500,000.

And three violations within a 12-month period could end the owner’s ability to rent out a house.

Foes, however, said that’s not good enough.

“This bill doesn’t really do anything to help neighborhoods,” complained Kate Bauer, speaking as a member of Take Action Phoenix.

Legislation approved Tuesday by the House Commerce Committee comes without any ability to limit the number of people who can be in a rental unit at any one time.

More significant, there is nothing in SB1379 to restrict how much of any neighborhood or community can be bought up by investors and converted into what some see as de facto hotels.

What’s left is a provision that allows communities to impose civil penalties for failure to provide required contact information or for failing to maintain liability insurance of at least $500,000.

And three violations of any regulation, including existing nuisance ordinances, within a 12-month period means the owner loses the legal right to operate a rental.

That was just fine with Airbnb whose lobbyist said he supports the measure.

Others, however, decried what they see as shortcomings.

Gone is a provision in the original measure which would have imposed occupancy limits: two adults per bedroom, up to four bedrooms, plus two additional adults for each 1,000 square feet of livable space in excess of 3,000 square feet.

A bigger problem for some is that the measure still denies local communities the ability to limit the number of short-term rentals in any particular area.

The concerns expressed during more than an hour of testimony were not with individuals who occupy their homes and rent out a room. Instead, the focus is on investors who buy up one or more homes and convert them into short-term rentals.

“I feel like I am living next door to an unmanned hostel,” said Vandana Verma.

Paradise Valley Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner said that it doesn’t address the harms that these rentals cause to neighborhoods and communities.

“It only creates the illusion of regulation,” said William Hunter.

And Karl Isenberg, a real state broker in Scottsdale, said he generally supports business and development. But he called this measure a “baby step” that doesn’t go far enough.

“I would urge you to have the courage to say ‘No,’ ” he told lawmakers.

That didn’t happen as the panel gave the measure unanimous approval, sending it to the full House.

Even Rep. Steve Kaiser, who represents an area of north Phoenix he said has been affected, said he had to go along with the plan.

“It’s just heartbreaking, thinking about where you live turning into such an issue where you can’t even walk down the street any more,” he said, reflecting complaints to committee members that the constant churn of temporary residents has made them feel unsafe. But he called the bill “a step in the right direction.”

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, also agreed to vote for the measure to advance it.

“This bill does some things,” she said. But Powers Hannley said she wants to see changes when the bill, which already has been approved by the Senate, now goes to the full House.

That, however, may be wishing for something that won’t happen.

Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, pointed out that there have been other measures offered with the additional restrictions that some people want. That includes HB2481 proposed by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, which included both the occupancy limits and the ability of cities to regulate the number of short-term rentals.

Weninger pointed out, however, that bill and others have failed to advance. And he warned colleagues about trying to add those provisions onto SB1379 “and then you don’t get anywhere.”

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, who is sponsoring the bill, rejected claims that the measure amounted to just “window dressing.”

“From my perspective, this is a scalpel to a situation,” he said.





Housing panel recommends zoning law changes

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

The chairman of the Housing Supply Study Committee is proposing to alter zoning laws and permanently fund the Housing Trust Fund to create more affordable housing in the state.  

Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, made those recommendations and others in the committee’s final meeting Dec. 20.  

Kaiser concluded that Arizona lacks housing data, zoning is a primary barrier to affordable housing, the building process should be sped up and there is too much NIMBYism blocking development. 

Committee members sent recommendations to Kaiser, which he considered and approved certain ones. 

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

The most ambitious recommendation and the one Kaiser has spoken about the most is altering zoning rules. Kaiser recommends reducing redundancies in the general plan and zoning codes, reducing the need for rezoning, expediting zoning applications, reconsidering whether city councils need to hear every rezoning request, establishing a rural community infrastructure grant plan and allowing developers to go through an appeals process if the city council rejects their proposal. Kaiser said he’s not sure who the developer would appeal to. 

Last session, Kaiser sponsored a bill that would have made some of these changes, but it was transformed into the bill that created the Housing Supply Study Committee instead. 

Following zoning changes, Kaiser recommended making it easier to build properties that are larger than single family homes but smaller than huge multifamily developments, such as duplexes and quadruplexes.  

As he has suggested several times, Kaiser said he supports allowing people to build small affordable units (like mother-in-law suites and living spaces in remodeled garages). He also recommends limiting “discretionary review of design standards” to allow more housing options and styles, including manufactured homes. 

Kaiser also recommended creating a housing data clearinghouse and charge the Arizona Department of Housing and the Arizona Commerce Authority with creating a housing needs assessment. Next, Kaiser wants to reconvene the State Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness.  

Keeping the senior population in mind, Kaiser called for allowing more small homes to be built, waiving parking space restrictions, funding senior homeless shelters and permanently funding the Housing Trust Fund.  

Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, has been trying to pass a law to establish permanent housing trust fund monies for years, but she hasn’t been able to get enough support from Republicans.  

Lela Alston

Last year, Alston and some allies got more money put into the Housing Trust Fund, but not the amount she hoped for, and that Kaiser seems to be suggesting again. The two Democrats on the Housing Committee are Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, and Rep. César Chávez, D-Phoenix, but neither of them is returning to the Legislature next session. Quezada said Alston might be interested in supporting some of Kaiser’s plans and she responded positively to his Housing Trust Fund proposal on Dec. 20. 

Going forward, Kaiser said he’s already working on housing legislation and will continue the stakeholder outreach process.  

Some of the other committee members’ suggestions that Kaiser did not support include changes to the landlord-tenant agreement to further protect renters and letting school districts build teacher housing on their land. 

Another issue that Kaiser didn’t mention is tackling the source of income-based discrimination. The Legislature recently passed a law that allows landlords to discriminate based on the source of income which Tucson and some of the housing supply committee members don’t agree with. 

Several of Kaiser’s recommendations do align with Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs’s extensive housing plan and he expects to see bipartisan support for some proposals from her as well as other Democrat legislators. 

Senate President-elect Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, issued an economic plan recently that also incorporates some elements of Kaiser and Hobbs’ ideas. Petersen and Kaiser have been communicating on the topic. 

The committee met 12 times since the Legislature adjourned, heard from more than 70 presenters, and traveled across the state to learn about housing needs. 

About 300 people move to Arizona every day, but the housing supply is down an estimated 270,000 homes according to the Department of Housing. 

Last session, bills that aimed to address the housing supply had little success but going into this upcoming session there is interest from lawmakers in both parties and chambers.  

How we can improve the probation system


As any successful business owner can tell you, incentives matter. Allow people to experiment, to be bold, and especially to share in success, and they will work harder and smarter. 

But this simple insight has too rarely been applied to our criminal justice system. One-size-fits-all, top-down solutions remain the norm, despite their frequent failure. This is especially true when it comes to probation. When probation systems underperform, they ensnare people in a cycle of supervision, crime, and incarceration, at huge costs to taxpayers. I’ve seen this firsthand while listening to some of my employees talk about their experiences in the criminal justice system. We should support our probationers as they rebuild their lives through hard work.

Criminal justice doesn’t have to work this way. This year, the Arizona Legislature has an opportunity to adopt policies that incentivize innovation and effective rehabilitation in probation. A better probation system is good for all Arizonans — more people stay in their communities and out of prison, taxpayers save tens of millions of dollars, and less crime means that the public is safer.

Between 2008 and 2017, Arizona probation departments safely reduced revocations by 31% at the same time that the state’s crime rate fell by more than a quarter. But the improvements that our probation system experienced over the past decade have all but petered out. Revocations to prison spiked by 11% in 2018 and then stagnated in 2019. And in 2020, Covid disrupted the operations of probation departments across the country, the full effects of which will not be fully understood for years to come.

The scale of the probation problem is massive. In 2019, nearly 3,000 people were revoked to prison from probation, accounting for 15% of prison admissions, at a cost of more than $100 million per year. Despite the steep costs, most of these revocations aren’t making communities safer. While some of these revocations are for new crimes, many are for so-called technical violations, which can be as benign as having a sip of beer at a barbeque. It’s time for change.

Steve Kaiser
Steve Kaiser

By introducing HB2707, my colleagues in the Arizona Legislature and I are taking decisive action to turn this deteriorating situation around. But we need not look any further than our state’s past success to find solutions. The Safe Communities Act of 2008, which empowered county probation departments to make the commendable reductions in probation revocations between 2008 and 2017, contained a provision meant to incentivize probation departments to improve outcomes. This so-called “performance incentive funding program” was supposed to reward county probation departments with a 50% share of the state’s saved prison costs if they reduced probation failure rates. Despite impressive reductions in the following years, the counties never received the funding that they were promised by the Legislature and the provision was later repealed. 

Legislators should revive this program. It’s simple – direct additional funding to county probation departments that succeed. Departments can use these reward funds to address their local needs and experiment with innovative strategies, driving even better outcomes. Departments could expand rehabilitation programs, purchase technology and replace outdated equipment, contract with online social workers to help manage caseloads, and give bonuses to hardworking officers out in the field.

Incentive-based policies have seen enormous success in other states. California’s performance-based probation reform led 53 out of 58 counties to reduce revocations by an average of 23%, saving California taxpayers over $1 billion in prison costs. Texas probation departments achieved similar results after their state adopted a voluntary incentive system. Departments that opted in had 13.4% fewer revocations, while those that opted out saw revocations rise by 5.9%.

The evidence is clear — incentives can jumpstart Arizona’s stagnant probation system and drive better outcomes for decades to come. By passing HB2707, the Arizona House of Representatives took a decisive step toward reviving a great policy that never should have been abandoned. Now, it’s the Senate’s turn to pass this bill and finally tell probation departments, “promises made, promises kept.”

Steve Kaiser, a Phoenix Republican, represents Legislative District 15 in the Arizona House of Representatives.

Incoming lawmakers, governor-elect aim to tackle housing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lifting Zoning Restrictions

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

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

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

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

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

This is not necessarily a partisan issue.

Hobbs offers some specific deregulation proposals in her housing plan.

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Katie Hobbs

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

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

Inclusionary Zoning

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

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

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

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

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

Tax Increment Financing

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

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

Income Discrimination

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

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

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

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

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

Housing Trust Fund

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




Petersen praises Hobbs for budget negotiations

Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs took major heat from many Democrats for negotiating a state budget package with Republican legislative leaders that did not include any changes to the state’s new universal school voucher program.

But Republican Senate President Warren Petersen is heaping praise on Hobbs for the deal, saying she negotiated in good faith, kept her promises and made a rare bipartisan budget happen. And he pointed out that despite Democrats’ anger over school vouchers, “that wasn’t going to get on her desk” because majority Republicans would never vote to curtail the program.

“Kudos to her,” Petersen said about the governor’s direct negotiations with him and House Speaker Ben Toma, which unfolded with direct meetings multiple times a week over two months.

“She was reasonable,” he said.

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Gov. Katie Hobbs (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

“And she would keep her word,” Petersen said. “”Whenever she would say ‘I agree to that,’ she did it.”

The deal on the $17.8 billion state budget package for the fiscal year that begins on July 1 came much earlier than many observers expected. Hobbs is the first Democratic governor since Janet Napolitano left office for a Cabinet post in the Obama Administration in 2009, a shock for Republican lawmakers who have had 14 years of working with a GOP governor.

Petersen sat down with Capitol Media Services this past week for a wide-ranging interview as the yearly legislative session takes a virtually unprecedented one-month break called by Petersen and Toma. With the budget done and the only bills remaining needing major work before votes, they called a break in floor sessions to work on those issues.

“We literally have put everything up there that was ready,” for a vote, he said. “And now I’m not going to make people come down here if I don’t have any floor work to do.”

Happy People

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He said he was the one who came up with the plan that doled out chunks of a big budget surplus to each of the 47 Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate. Minority Democrats got smaller amounts, and Hobbs also got a big chunk to control.

What that earned was individual buy-in from GOP lawmakers who for the first time had ownership of a slice of the budget, Petersen said. That’s a huge difference from the way the budget has normally been done, with Republican leaders hammering out a deal with the governor and then presenting it to rank and file GOP lawmakers as a done deal.

“It came from the difference between communism and capitalism and the way things normally go and why we always have problems,” Petersen said of his strategy.

“You normally have six people down here deciding how … all the money gets spent,” he said. “And then those six people try to convince everybody else to vote for the budget.”

Giving each lawmaker a portion of the budget — $20 million each for GOP House members, $30 million for each GOP senator – gave them control they did not have previously.

“This time when we passed the budget everyone was actually smiling and happy,” he said. “It was like literally the first time I’ve been down here where people were happy.”

Normally, he said, people are angry, having had to get “wrangled into it.”

“Everyone went in ready to vote for this budget. Why? Because I gave them all a piece of the budget. Everybody got their own piece, and they owned it,” Petersen continued.

Even many Democrats voted for the plan, although many grumbled about how it was presented to them. Petersen blamed Democratic leaders for not adopting his formula with their members and delaying giving him their budget “asks.”

Proposition 400

In this Jan. 24, 2020 file photo, early rush hour traffic rolls along I-10 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

After the budget passed and was signed on May 12, what’s left is a series of top-tier proposals that currently don’t have consensus among Republican lawmakers, with the governor having the final word.

The biggest issue is the extension of a half-cent sales tax in Maricopa County which pays for transportation projects.

The 20-year, multi-billion-dollar tax expires in 2025 unless voters extend it. But the Legislature has to give its permission for the issue to be put on the ballot; it’s the only county that requires that step to ask voters to approve a transportation tax.

Last year, lawmakers passed the tax extension proposal but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Doug Ducey. With an even more conservative Republican caucus this session, it faces tough scrutiny.

Petersen said he and others have major problems with the proposal presented by the Maricopa Association of Governments, the entity that doles out the money for freeways, major roadways, buses and light rail and clean air programs.

And Petersen has little faith in the agency.

“MAG is completely unaccountable,” he said. “They’re very, very insulated.”

He said that, on paper, the agency led by mayors who are supposed to have some oversight.

“But not really,” he said. “These mayors are overwhelmed, busy.”

Petersen said the plan’s use of 44% of the funds for mass transit — versus new highways and road construction — is a non-starter. And he said it creates what he called a $2 billion “slush fund” that he worries would be used to extend light rail despite promises that’s not contemplated.

And then there’s the part that says air quality is a consideration in what to fund.

“If they’re just saying, we can use any measures we want, they need to define what air quality programs they want to do,” he said.

Without definitions, Petersen said MAG could potentially impose limits on gasoline-powered cars or adopt cap and trade programs or who knows what. If they want flexibility for future technologies, he said a mechanism for legislative oversight should be added.

“Believe it or not conservatives want clean air,” Petersen said, including for themselves and their children.

“But they need to define what it is,” he said. “And yeah, if it’s reasonable, we put that in.”

Petersen had just left a meeting with Hobbs when he sat for the interview in his office, and said it sounds like she may want to be directly involved in the negotiations over Proposition 400, the tax extension.

Miscellaneous Issues

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Other remaining issues include a revamped proposal to ban city-imposed taxes on home rentals. Hobbs vetoed that bill earlier this session, saying there was no mechanism ensuring renters facing rising housing costs will see the money. She also opposed the $270 million appropriation to compensate cities for the lost revenue for the first 18 months of the ban, saying it came outside the budget plan.

Toma said recently that tying a signing of a rental tax ban and Proposition 400 in negotiations with the governor was a possibility. Petersen, however, said he’s not doing that.

“I don’t horse trade,” he said.

The other key battle remaining is a Republican proposal to override many city zoning laws to boost construction of lower-priced housing options.

That measure has failed once this year. And new versions pushed by Sen. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, don’t yet have the votes to pass and the powerful League of Arizona Cities and Towns is strongly opposed, calling zoning a quintessentially local issue.

Petersen said he does not know if that will get enough support to pass, and if it does not, that’s OK.

“If he doesn’t have the votes, he doesn’t have the votes,” Petersen said. “It’s really that simple.”

Another handful of bills are also in the mix before lawmakers can adjourn for the year.

“We probably have at least 10 bills that are that have loose ends on them that are really important for Arizona,” he said. “And we’re looking at if we can negotiate what to do with those by June 12, and the rental tax is one of them.”

Petersen, who became Senate President in January after a decade representing Gilbert in the House and Senate, said the unusual long break in legislative action is by design.

He recalled frustration after years of coming in to work, saying the daily Pledge of Allegiance and prayer at the beginning of floor sessions and then adjourning for the day because nothing was ready for votes.

“And so I’ve just told my caucus, and they’ve appreciated this ・ that I don’t just bring people down here to pledge and pray,” he said. “We’re not taking a month off, OK. We just don’t have floor work.”

Petersen unveils inflation reduction plan, mirrors Lake’s

Senate President-Elect Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, unveiled a new plan to mitigate inflation on Tuesday, like the one gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake presented, but the measure will likely face heavy opposition. 

Petersen’s plan would be to eliminate rental and food taxes, reduce (or eliminate) occupational license fees and increase housing supply.  

“Government has done extremely well over the last few years by adding a record amount of revenue. Unfortunately, hardworking taxpayers are reeling during this period of runaway inflation and are having a tough time paying for the most basic necessities,” Petersen said in a written statement. “There are at least four actions we can make as a Legislature to counter the effects of rising costs and help our citizens who are living paycheck to paycheck.” 

Warren Petersen

Elements of his plan strongly resemble the economic plan published by Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, which also called for cutting food and rental tax. 

“Arizonans can’t afford to wait for a change of leadership in Washington – they need relief now. That’s why I’ve pledged to eliminate all taxes on groceries and rent in the State of Arizona, putting almost half a billion dollars back into the pockets of Arizona families,” Lake stated in her plan earlier this year. 

Governor-elect Hobbs opposed Lake’s plan at the time and said it would essentially defund law enforcement by taking away revenue that cities and towns use to fund public safety. 

Petersen’ plans won’t become law without Hobbs’ support. 

Lake’s ‘plan’ would do nothing to actually put money back in the pockets of working Arizonans. Instead, Lake’s plan would get rid of the tax revenue that funds law enforcement in Arizona’s cities and towns, defunding local police,” Hobbs said in a statement at the time, citing an opinion piece by Arizona Republic writer Laurie Roberts to that effect. 

The opinion piece cites Republican Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers as opposed to Lake’s idea. City and town officials have historically opposed similar measures. 

Arizona cities and towns get hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue each year. A large portion of that goes to police and firefighters. Not all cities tax rent or groceries, but most of Arizona’s 91 cities and towns do. 


A proposal to eliminate rental tax was introduced in the legislature last session by Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, but died on the Senate floor when Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, and the Democrats voted it down.  

The bill was opposed by the League of Arizona Cities and Towns. 

Boyer said on Tuesday that the measure – Senate Bill 1116 – was a “$202M ongoing hit to cities. Essentially, defunding the police given how much cities spend on public safety.” 

“Nothing justifies poor tax policy but the good news is cities are enjoying surpluses from wayfarer and expanding state shared revenue to 18%. However we can look at delayed implementation for a soft landing,” Petersen said in response. 

Petersen argued in his statement that homeowners don’t have to pay taxes on their mortgage payments and tenants shouldn’t have to pay a rental tax. 


Bolick introduced a bill to cut food taxes in 2019, but the bill was held in House rules and never made it to a floor vote. It was co-sponsored by Reps. Leo Biasucci, R-Lake Havasu City, Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, Kevin Payne, R-Peoria, Ben Toma, R-Peoria, and Frank Carroll, R-Sun City West. The bill was opposed by the East Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona and the Arizona State American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. 

Bolick’s bill would only have eliminated food tax on groceries, not meals in restaurants. Petersen doesn’t specify his plans but writes that food is “not a luxury” and that the tax hurts “the poorest of the poor.” 

In Arizona’s largest cities, there is no food tax, and statewide, families who use federal food subsidies do not pay food taxes. 


In a proposal that could enjoy some bipartisan support, Petersen writes that he wants to “increase the housing supply,” something that Democrats and Republicans have been saying loudly for at least the past year. The question is, how Petersen wants to go about it.  

A Housing Supply Study Committee has been meeting for the past few months and will discuss possible legislation to create more affordable housing in an executive session at their next meeting on Tuesday, according to the committee’s chair Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix. Republicans on the committee, including Kaiser, want to “deregulate zoning” on housing projects to make it easier to build more homes, however nothing concrete is on the table.  

Petersen writes that he wants to shorten the window of time it takes to get approval for land development and housing projects. “One way to accomplish this is through administrative approvals for all projects that meet all existing laws and requirements,” he said. 

Kaiser will chair the commerce committee next session and said that he and Petersen have spoken and that he is on board but didn’t get into specifics. 

When asked whether he will sponsor the bills to make these economic changes himself, Petersen said that he will defer to committee chairs first. 


Petersen’s last proposal is to “reduce or eliminate occupational license fees,” which many professionals must pay to stay in business. Petersen has battled occupational licenses in the past. He sponsored two bills that Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law, one allowing professionals moving to Arizona from other states to keep their existing licenses and not acquire new ones, and one requiring state agencies to post about the occupational licensing requirements, notifying professionals of their right to petition to repeal or modify the existing regulation. 

“To create new opportunities for Arizonans, we have to make sure our economy is one of the most competitive in the country to launch or relocate a business. To get there, I plan to identify and roll back any cumbersome and unnecessary regulations that get in the way of Arizona’s appeal to attract new businesses and jobs,” Lake said in her economic plan. 

Petersen noted that the state has full coffers, pointing to over taxation. Arizona has a surplus of more than $2 billion dollars this year.  

Finance Chair J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said in a text that he’s “generally supportive” of the concepts Petersen put forward but hasn’t gotten into the details. 

Hobbs has not yet commented on Petersen’s plan. Her support will be hard to win on the removal of food and rental taxes. City and town lobbyists also likely make their opinions known. 

Senate panel OKs bills fortifying ‘parental rights’

A Senate panel on Tuesday passed Republican-sponsored bills increasing parents’ power to veto school materials and get access to more information on the lives of their children.  

The bills are part of a string of legislation introduced this year by Republicans who say it increases parental rights. Democrats in both chambers opposed the bills, which passed out of the House last month and out of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday on party lines. 

The conservative Center for Arizona Policy supports the bills while education groups such as Save Our Schools Arizona, the Arizona School Board Assocation and the Arizona Education Association oppose them. 

House Bill 2161, sponsored by Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, would ban state entities, including schools, from “interfer(ing) with or usurp(ing)” parental rights. Critical Democrats said the bill is too broad and could penalize well-intentioned teachers, coaches and librarians from making innocuous comments and suggestions such as encouraging children to try out for a sports team or apply to a college.  

Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, a teacher, said she believes the bill will scare educators away from voicing these comments to their students for fear of violating the law if a parent is upset with those ideas. 

Center for Arizona Policy President Cathi Herrod told Marsh that a lawsuit over those examples would be thrown out by any court as frivolous.  

The committee added an amendment to the legislation striking the requirement educators to report to parents anything having to do with a student’s “emotional or mental” health, which left Republicans, including Herrod, saying the bill was too watered down with amendments, and Democrats still saying the bill was too broad. 

The committee also passed House Bill 2495 from Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, banning public schools from showing students “sexually explicit material.” 

The bill’s original version banned acts of “homosexuality,” but an amendment struck the word and added language to ensure schools can still teach “classical” or “early American” literature that might have explicit content. It does not, however, define “classical” or “early American.” Marsh questioned whether books like To Kill A Mockingbird, The Color Purple or The Kite Runner would be banned from classrooms by the bill. 

Democrats were skeptical that the bill is necessary. Marsh said she’s never seen explicit materials like the ones the bill addressed being given to students.  

Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, said that just because someone doesn’t see something happening, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen.  

“Every year we have another school district or another case where a family member has brought material down to us saying somebody is using these materials,” Pace said after voting in favor of the bill.