Week #2: 55th Legislature, 1st Session
Quote of the Week: “Can you hear me now?”
Masks and technology challenges continued this week. During a budget presentation by Matt Gress of the Governor’s office to a joint session of House and Senate Appropriations, committee members continually struggled to hear both each other in the committee room and those who were attending virtually. Microphones, computers and unmuting zoom feeds were all causing problems. It was impossible to watch their ineptitude without thinking about teachers teaching in hybrid situations. The Governor is docking school districts for every student who is learning online, but from this performance, it is clear that teachers deserve hazard pay, and more money should go to schools for training in virtual teaching. Not less.
As Gress went through his budget presentation, it was apparent that the Governor is happy with AZ’s situation. Gress said several times, “we’re in a good spot.” Democrats pointed out the disconnect of a budget that includes an $800 million tax cut with the needs of our state. Sen. Navarette was concerned about spending too much on Corrections, Sen. Otondo mentioned not enough was going to Agriculture or Water Resources, and Rep. Fernandez mentioned community colleges and rural internet.
And this from Rep. Aaron Lieberman: “I am trying to square this budget with our current situation in AZ. The federal relief money has been helpful, but going forward do we do enough to address the pandemic?”
House Chair Regina Cobb, who wore her mask under her chin whenever she spoke, was unpleasant in admonishing him for making a statement rather than asking a question. Then she immediately allowed Sen. Leach to make a long statement.
And masks were still an issue in House Government and Elections. After Democrats heard Rep. Fillmore say his aide tested positive for COVID 7 days ago -- and Fillmore is not a reliable mask-wearer because he is “suffocating” when he has it on -- Ranking Member Athena Salman asked Chair Kavanagh if Fillmore should be quarantining. After a quick break, Kavanagh said House rules, “which were passed unanimously,” say quarantine for five days. Rep. Kelli Butler went over CDC guidelines during her next vote explanation and Kavanagh was not happy. Later, when Rep. Salman accused Rep. Hoffman of “impugning” the Democrats, Kavanagh adjourned the meeting without the required vote and without going over new rules about public participation, as promised. As Democrats protested, and before the sound was cut off, Rep. Hoffman could be heard saying, “The meeting’s over. What part of that did you not understand?”
The Democrats were all online during the meeting, but they were still able to put up a good fight on two bills that would restrict voter rights: HB2054 would require the SOS to regularly compare state death records to voter roles, something Democrats say is already being done; and HCR2001, which would make it harder for the public to qualify a citizens initiative for the ballot. A judge had weakened the single subject provision and Republicans wanted to tighten it up. LD28 PC Don Johnson testified against the bill, which passed on a partisan vote, 7-6. Re: HB2053: Kavanagh said, “It’s good policy not to let dead people vote,” though Democrats countered that there are situations when voters show up but can’t vote because they are “deceased” in the voter file. They also said that that could be easily fixed with same day voter registration.
Seems like things are a bit saner on the Senate side. Senate Education met to hear 3 bills: SB1028 (allowing alternate assessments for students unable to take standard assessments); SB1139 (providing local school boards with more site fund flexibility); and SB1097 (providing the ability to identify student absences due to mental health or behavioral issues as an excused absence). All three passed 8-0, though Christine expressed a concern with SB1139 that increased flexibility could affect teacher salaries.
Note: Next week, the committee will hear Christine’s bill SB1227 which deals with class size. Please use Request to Speak to support this bill!
In Senate Transportation and Technology, two bills were considered that would add new special plates: SB1050, creating awareness and research funding for congenital heart defects; and SB1143, advocating for veterans of overseas conflict. Both bills passed 8-0-1, despite opposition from the Arizona Sheriff’s Association. Currently, there are 72 special plates in Arizona and there is concern that the public might not be able to identify plates as Arizona plates (in cases of Amber Alerts, crimes, etc.).
SB1066 would require state agencies to submit technology plans in May instead of September. There was discussion about adding a floor amendment with input from the Dept. of Administration; the vote was 7-2-0, with Sen. Marsh voting NO, pending the floor amendment.
Ten bills were on the House Natural Resource Committee’s agenda. Most moved through quickly, including HB2038, which would allow officials other than a police officer to issue a permit on the spot after a car has hit a big game animal, allowing the person to keep the animal and salvage it (i.e., to take it home to eat).
There were substantial questions and debate on HB2057, which addressed land division, primarily in rural Arizona, and is sponsored by Chair Gail Griffin, who is a realtor in Cochise County. The basic question is whether property in rural counties where there is no subdivision and no building codes needs to be accessible by 2 wheel drive and requires a land survey prior to a sale. Rep. Lieberman voted NO saying that it seemed too broad and he encouraged further clarification of the bill’s language. Ranking member Cano said he thought this was an example of the state dictating local policy, and suggested that an issue affecting Cochise would potentially impact all 15 counties. A spokesperson for the state’s county supervisors spoke against the bill, but it passed 6-4.