Week #3: 55th Legislature, 1st Session
Zoom malfunctions and controversy over mask-wearing and in-person testimony continued this week.
House Health and Human Services met for the first time this session on Monday, Jan. 25, beginning with a moment of silence for the victims of COVID and their families. After rules adoption and intros, Rep. Butler asked if rules on masks would be enforced; Chair Osborne replied, “Look around. There are no issues here.” Kelli persisted, asking if masks needed to cover noses, and again Chair Osborne said, no issues here, though her mask is below her nose, and Rep. Chaplik is wearing a plastic face shield only, and he’s sitting next to Dr. Friese, who said nothing. Then, the chair said each meeting will begin with each member given a “Minute for Good”! And members all dutifully shared, several people mentioning the rain. Rep. Butler referenced the good work being done by PVCC, partnering with St. Mary’s Food Bank to distribute food boxes one Friday each month, and the donations of gift cards by PCs in LD28 during the holidays to be given to students for emergency needs.
The Committee considered 11 bills, most derailed last session by COVID, and most passed unanimously in committee, without much discussion, 9-0. Kelli’s 5-year effort to provide comprehensive dental care for pregnant women on AHCCCS was sponsored this year by Osborne, Butler and Cobb, as HB2291. John Macdonald provided expert testimony, saying periodontal care results in better outcomes, and telling committee members that their focus should be on healthier and less expensive outcomes, not on their concerns about the numbers. Several people disagreed on the costs, and Chair Osborne tabled the bill without a vote, ensuring that it could come back another day.
Rep. Butler was successful amending HB2299, and the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dunn, thanked her for her careful reading of the bill. The bill would provide funds for the Health Dept. to hire needed staff to investigate complaints lodged against long term care facilities. This is an issue Rep. Butler has worked on for several years, and she amended the fiscal impact from $1 million to $3.3 million to pay for 13 additional facility surveyors.
UPDATE from House Appropriations: HB2299 passed 12-1, with Rep. Hoffman voting NO; HB2291 was held.
House Government and Elections considered 11 bills. HB2039, changing hand counts from 2% to 5%, generated the most discussion. Rep. Hoffman said 2% had been a compromise, and this change would bring the system statistical significance to give voters more confidence in elections. Rep. Salman asked for further details about said compromise and who was involved. The bill mandates counting at the precinct level rather than voting centers. This would necessitate all ballots being separated by precinct, which could increase cost and delay election verification. There was oncern about the burden on smaller and/or rural counties, and questions about how to pay for these recounts and whether or not it would fall to the taxpayers. County recorders are against this bill. Kelli explained her NO vote saying it could delay results, and said recount decisions shouldn’t be at the discretion of one person, and she doubts it will increase voter confidence.
Bill passed with 7 yeas, 6 nays, 0 present, 0 absent (party lines)
There was discussion on two other bills: HB2380 would place a Mormon Migration Monument on the governmental mall and some Democrats brought up the issue of separation of church and state. The monument will be privately paid for and maintained, and proponents argued that the Mormon Migration is significant to the history of Arizona.
The bill passed with 10 yeas, 2 nays, 0 present, and 1 absent.
HB2312 would repeal the lease cost review board. Kelli and Rep. Pawlik voted NO out of concern for transparency/public open meeting guidelines.
7 yeas, 6 nays, 0 present, 0 absent (party lines)
Senate Education considered Christine’s bill, SB1227 that would form a committee to study Arizona’s large class sizes and determine ways to reduce them. Members discussed the bill and voted due pass, 6-2. Senators Shope and Boyer joined the Democrats and voted in favor. There was little discussion of 5 other bills, and all also passed out of committee: SB1178 (providing a pause in the issue of school letter grades for 1 or 2 years and a pause in using the state assessment to measure student growth since they will be using a new test next year); SB1148 (provide help to a small K-8 district while a high school is built); SB1189 (increase funding for certain special education services); SB1164 (provides more transparency of audits and financial records); and SB1165 (pause teacher performance evaluations in this unusual school year). The 7th and final bill, SB1165, was the most controversial. The bill requires schools to post on their websites all learning tools and activities that had been used during the year for parents to see. Sponsor Barto felt this would address the lack of transparency in schools and the possible politicization of materials (the New York Times 1619 Project was mentioned several times). Several educators and committee members spoke against the bill. It passed on a partisan vote, 5-3.
Senate Transportation and Technology heard a preview of the planned production of new electric vehicles and components by Casa Grande car manufacturer Lucid. The company explained their 4-phase factory expansion. Stage 1 has been completed, and engineering has begun for Stage 2. Sen. Gabaldon brought up the lack of charging stations. Sen. Steele is putting forward a bill to make all new builds EV-ready and pilot a program to retrofit existing homes. It would also allow for more charging stations, including at the Capitol. Lucid will consider government contracts in the future but at this time they’re a fully private business. The 10-year impact of Lucid projects 14,000 jobs. The 20-year impact is projected at $1.9 billion worth of tax revenues with roughly half going to the state. Sen. Otondo inquired about average salary and wages, Lucid rep said he would get back to her with that information. Christine asked for specific numbers on how many people are currently employed vs. projected (1,000 currently on-site, 6,000+ after 4-phase expansion). Lucid also gave an overview of their educational outreach, training, and diverse recruiting practices.
Two bills passed 9-0: SB1096, allowing third-party MVD facilities to handle administrative functions/testing for commercial driver licenses, amended to require compliance with applicable federal law; and SB1146: giving statutory authority (at no cost to the state) to associations of motor vehicle dealers for electronic certificates of titles.
Natural Resources Committee considered four bills. Three passed 10-0: HB 2040, establishing a dam safety study committee; HB 2388, making $5 million available for water utilities to create feasibility studies for communities that are looking at changing water policy; and HB2390, establishing a law clinic for stream adjudications.
There were lots of fireworks over HB 2248, generated by the Corporation Commission’s decision to set a new standard for renewable energy in Arizona. Commissioner Justin Olson was outvoted at the Commission, 3-2, with one Republican joining the 2 Democrats in setting the new standard, so he is now supporting legislation requiring the Commission to get legislative approval before it can regulate the type of electricity generation a utility can use, retroactive to, from, and after June 29, 2020.
Olson thinks the Commission is exceeding its role and says the Legislature should set policy, not the Corp Commission, that the Corp Commission is there to set reasonable rates and rules and regs to keep customers safe. Public health policy is to be determined by the Legislature, and carbon reduction mandates should be set by the Legislature, not the Corp Commission. He says their regulations are too expensive — we don’t want to have energy costs like CA, and he maintains 70% of AZ voters don’t want these extra, expensive regulations.
Rep. Lieberman said the Arizona constitution clearly states the Corporation Commission DOES have the authority to create rules that include public safety, but Commissioner Olson disagreed, saying the Legislature should establish ALL health policy.
The Sierra Club, represented by Sandy Bahr, is opposed and said this derails the movement toward cleaner energy in AZ. Several other people testified, mostly against, and a number of other organizations also spoke against the bill. HB2248 passed on a party line vote, 6-4. A mirror bill, SB1175, passed Natural Resources in the Senate. Stay tuned!
Jan 27, 2021: Charles Lucking
House Appropriations Committee
Jan. 27, 2021 Appropriations Committee meeting
The JLBC (Joint Legislative Budget Committee) is required to give an update on the budget that details changes and adjustments. Six Departments presented their numbers -- and flew through their explanations of what each line item meant. They all contrasted what the Governor (Executive) proposed with their own numbers of how they see the situation. Sometimes the numbers were quite far apart but most often they were the same.
Chair Regina Cobb admonished the committee members to not “grandstand” and then joked, “I’m looking at you, Dr. Friese.” Everyone laughed but it was clear she wanted the meeting to move along. At one point there was a discussion of where the members could refer to the reports and whether they had been provided before the meeting or if they were posted on the JLBC website. Chair Cobb was irritated that Democrats were asking questions and pointed out that they could have looked at their packets prior to the meeting -- but it was determined that only 2 of the 6 presenters had turned in reports prior to the meeting.
One highlight of the presentation by DES was that 46 Adult Protective Services Staff have been added to their budget. This is something Rep. Kelli Butler (and reporter Mary Jo Pitzl) have been advocating for.
During the Education Department presentation they referred to the $389 “surplus” of money that the Governor has come up with. I, personally, object to that characterization. It is not a “surplus” or a “savings.” This is money that the Governor is docking school districts for every student that spends any day in virtual learning due to the pandemic. It is a 5% deduction of that student’s allocation provided to the district by the state. In some districts it has added up to millions. This is a penalty that the Governor is assessing so he can move the money to other places in the education budget. Right now it is being tagged for “remedial learning.” Since buildings still operate and teachers are still being paid their full salaries I don’t know where the Governor believes there is a cost savings to the districts.
Dr. Friese asked if the $389 million would cover every student that would qualify for the remediation. Answer: there are 596,000 students in AZ who qualify for free or reduced lunch and they are assuming those are the kids who will need help. It will amount to $327/student.
During the presentation by the Department of Economic Security we learned there are 13,600 kids in foster care. There is a lot of concern that DES is no longer receiving reports of abuse from schools since the kids aren’t seen by teachers in school. The reports dropped by 95%. However, reports from police have increased by 25%. Currently, the overall rate is down by 60%. In one bright spot with the foster care system, there are 18 year olds who “age out” of the system but aren’t ready to live on their own. So they are encouraged to stay in the program so they can still receive direction and advice. Currently there are 850 - 1000 18+ year olds in the foster care system who are encouraged to stay until they are 21. I’m unclear as to whether there is any funding for them. Or, is this an unofficial “participation”.
Dept. of Corrections
Closure of Florence - replace w/ PRIVATE BEDS (18mm in 22, 30mm in ’23)
closure of 3700 beds, replace with 2700 private beds
and move some inmates to 2 existing facilities
Braille Transcription Expansion .3mm
Substance abuse Treatment expansion 5m (one time, backed out in ’23)
Staff Safety Equipment (2.8mm, one time) pays for new vests and radios.
Dept of Forestry/ADC fire crews - 720 inmates on crews (19mm in 22, 30 by ’24)
-Capital Funding: 26mm from general fund to refurbish Eyman Prison Fire & Safety, 22mm in Building renewal, and 3mm to demolish ADC buildings on Capitol Mall. Total 51mm in ’22
Demolition - no reason why given by exec.
Florence - there is already some beds available at current private prisons, but we’d still need an additional 2,400 beds. Also two counties said they’d take on some of the requirements
* Building Renewal for ADC is a $500mm nut
Dept of Economic Security
Development Disability funding - $88m growth in GF
Pre-18 Qualifications - $20m
Room and Board costs - about $7mm
Federal Medicaid Match rate - about $210m
Aging & Adult issues - Exec recommends $5m
Childcare funding - FYsupplemental $93mm
New Funding request - $18m
Dept of Education
JLBC $43m increase in ’22
Exec assumption is $297m less budgeted than JLBC baseline
Exec projects $390m surplus in ’21, use savings for SBE remediation programs
’22 Exec K-12 issues increase baseline by $33m
Dept of Child Safety
Backfull fed funds for group homes: 25m from GF
Medical Foster Care 44m from other funds
AHCCCS - 180m other funds
Federal Match for Medicaid - GF $15m, exec to redirect this to group homes
Child care subsidy Covid - $5m
Adoption Subsidy caseload growth - $13m
Aaron asks about caseload: 13k under 18
reported child abuse down 60% by teachers, up by 25% by law
enforcement reporting and more domestic violence reports
18-21, up from 750 youths to about 1,000. Every year 1k youths in foster care turn 18
School Facilities Board
Building removal one time funding removed (90m)
new 21 - exec adds $40m
’22 one time renewal adds $102m
New School Starts: 64m vs. exec $58m
New School starts: JLBC is $64m, vs exec $58m
exec: $35m from general fund (all sciences!!)
Aaron asks what universities have spent on Covid
NAU - excess of 17m - from IT/online improvements, testing/contact tracing/safety
UofA received 33m from Cares Act fed & 46m from state. Estimate is north of 50m for December
ASU - received 63m fed cares act, $46m from state, estimate is $31m on student aid and $55m on other (testing, safety, etc)
Aaron asks reduction in revenue
NAU - revenue down $80m (12%)
ASU - $130-$150m (11%) UofA - $50m loss, (11%)
HB 2071 2072- Repaving: 20m from general fund for Bullhead City state route 95 repaving
Two bills because route splits into NV & CA
44 years since last repaving
approx $1m per mile
2071 - fail to pass 9/5
2072 hold/not voted
HB 2142 - Agriculture workforce development program - 500k from general fund to implement program - for young people who have no support for entering an ag program
(Pinnacle Prevention - brings food to underserved communities)
HB 2299 - 1m in ’22 for DHS to hire long term health care facility surveyors
HB 2398 - named claimants - ’21 claims against the state more than 1 year old - approx $50k to clean up.
HB 2406 - $88m from Childcare Dev Fund Block Grant in ’21 to Dept of Economic Security for Childcare Services - monies can be spent for ’21 and ’22, Amendment (Udall) changes amount to $93m.
Federal money required to appropriate - spending authority expires Feb 12 unless money is appropriated so they can continue to do their job.