Week 4: 55th Legislature, 1st Session

Week #4: 55th Legislature, 1st Session

 

Quote of the Week: “I know that the only time politicians are interested in the poor, and the people of color and the minorities is when there is money to be made somewhere in the process.” -LD7 Sen Peshlakai addressing SB1452, the voucher expansion bill.

 

Senate Education Committee -- Marilyn Duerbeck

 

Senate Education Committee members spent over 4 hours discussing SB1452, and most of the questions came from Democratic senators: Marsh, Gonzalez and Peshlakai. Despite over 1,200 people showing a thumbs down via RTS and many expressing a desire to speak to the committee in person, Chair Boyer, sponsor of the bill, allowed only 4 speakers for the bill and 4 against. It was apparent that he did not fully understand the bill; he argued that the bill extended eligilbility to students on free and reduced lunch, when in fact, it includes, as Sen Marsh said, all students who attend a Title I school, even for just 30 days. This could mean an expansion of up to 700,000 students. Many of the speakers against the bill noted the possibility that it may increase property taxes for some constituents. To address this concern, Sen. Marsh offered an amendment requiring ⅔ approval in both houses for passage of the bill. The amendment failed. During final comments Democrats reminded the committee of the need to fully fund public schools. The bill passed 5-3 on a party line vote. For more information: https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/legislature/2021/02/02/arizona-bills-expand-eligible-students-school-vouchers/4347400001/

 

From the Arizona Republic article:  Boyer said repeatedly during the hearing that his bill would only cover low-income students who qualified for free or reduced lunch or if the student received Title I funding. He insisted the students themselves needed to receive the funding and they wouldn't qualify from just attending a Title I school…. But the bill plainly says that it applies to a "child who receives federal Title I services for low income students" and defines that to mean "a student who receives targeted assistance services or attending a school that qualifies for schoolwide Title I program funding."

 

Other bills passed unanimously: SB 1376 directed that mental health instruction be included in school health curriculum; SB1302, SB1311 and SB1179 dealt with Career and Technical education districts; and others appropriated funding -- SB1174 (STEM internships), SB1295 (advanced placement courses), and SB1342 (Maricopa County Community College District ACE program).  

 

Senate Transportation and Technology -- Laura Terech

 

Nine bills were considered and all passed unanimously. Four referenced special plates:  SB1157, Empowering today's youth special plates; SB1310, Support cancer victims special plates; SB1312, Veterans; special license plates; design; and SB1081: Wishes; critically ill children; license plates.

 

Make-A-Wish foundation supports SB1081. It passed the Senate last year but stalled in the House due to Covid. Working with the Arizona Sheriff's Association to address concerns about bystanders being able to identify plates. This plate would raise money for Make-A-Wish, which was founded in Arizona 40 years ago. The Sheriff’s Association spoke out against further specialty plates as they move towards standardized customized plates. 

 

SB1019: Dependent children; nonoperating identification; photograph.  

Attempt to get a handle on who is in foster care with an identifying photograph or a non-operating state ID within 90 days of placement. This would help track vulnerable children. Sen Gabaldon had a question about why the fingerprint requirement was removed, the sponsor Sen Barto said she was working with the agencies in question and it might be added at a later date. Generation Justice supports this bill. Will be free for children and is linked to law enforcement sites, particularly relevant for children in group homes.

 

SB1345: Neighborhood electric shuttles

Creates a statutory definition for electric shuttles. Complies with federal safety standards for low-speed vehicles. This would allow for electric vehicles for up to 8-14 people (like golf carts with additional safety measures). Could support tourism, downtown areas, hotels, retirement communities, etc. You’d have to be licensed as a vehicle for hire with special commercial insurance with a minimum policy of $750,000. This lifts the gross weight vehicle limit so more people can ride. Can’t drive on roads with speed limits greater than 35mph.

 

House Health and Human Services Committee -- Jane McNamara

 

Controversial crisis pregnancy centers are back, sponsored this session by LD25’s Michelle Udall as HB2404 (mirror bill, SB1251, by LD15’s Barto in the Senate). It is clear: right-wing Republicans want to “help women in crisis” by “providing resources”; while Democrats push back, saying this bill would allow religious, anti-choice, anti-science groups to beam ads at vulnerable women who have used search engines to seek information on pregnancy options. Speakers included a spokeswoman from StongFamiliesAZ.com, a network of free home visiting programs already available through the state, and CAP’s Cathi Herrod, who said the $3 million price tag to contract with a service (in Texas?) over the next two years was a “pittance” compared to what the Legislature spends on these other programs. Rep Butler pointed out the contradiction in holding her bill last week, over concerns that it could cost $3 million, knowing it would provide real services to pregnant women, by adding dental care to those on AHCCCS. The bill passed on a party-line 5-4 vote.  

 

Eleven other bills were considered. Most passed unanimously. An exception was HB2620, prime sponsored by LD24’s Amish Shah, to “prevent assault on health care workers.” Reps Butler and Friese voted NO because of concerns that the bill mandates felony charges for most incidents, taking discretion away from judges.

HB2454 is a pandemic-related bill. Last year, the governor issued an executive order, allowing doctors to utilize telehealth appointments and to charge the same fees as for in-person appointments. This puts the executive order into legislation, but opens up the system to out-of-state doctors. The governor, Goldwater Institute, insurance companies and the Arizona Medical Association all support; Democrats supported the bill in committee but are now taking a second look.

 

House Government and Elections -- Devin Bansal

 

The House Government and Elections Committee discussed 19 bills, with most passing unanimously. Masks were once again an issue as the meeting began with two Republican members (Reps Fillmore and Rep Burges) not wearing masks. Rep Salman asked them to wear masks, and they grudgingly agreed. Some Republican members wore their masks under their noses for the rest of the meeting. 

 

HB2030 passed with 11 yeas and 2 nays. The bill prevents homeowners’ associations from being able to stop people from putting up flags that represent first responders. Rep Salman and Rep Teran voted NO, because they believe that the bill should have allowed people to put up any flag that they wish and that the Legislature should not be able to decide which flags are acceptable or not.

 

HB2357 gives the attorney general civil subpoena power to investigate and prosecute voter fraud. Several people testified against the bill arguing that the current voter fraud unit in the attorney general’s office is already sufficient and that this bill would simply promote more false and damaging allegations of voter fraud. The bill passed on party lines, 7-6.

 

HB2358 mandates that people who are deemed by the US Postal Service to have changed their address to outside their county or state will have their voter registration cancelled. Several people testified in opposition to the bill, raising concerns that it could restrict people’s voting rights and cause people to falsely have their voter registration taken away. Chairman Kavanaugh decided to table the bill.

 

House Appropriations Committee -- Charles Lucking and Ann Wallack

 

Committee considered 12 bills. A few passed unanimously, but most passed with one dissent, from a new House member, LD12’s Rep Hoffman, representing Gilbert and Queen Creek. He is a hard right, conservative who has started a pattern of never voting for anything that costs money except for border control and possibly some law and order type legislation. His twitter and facebook accounts were banned in October of 2020 for violating the platforms’ rules.

 

As we watch this committee, it is clear that Chair Cobb tries to run a “tight ship” and that there are too many bills to discuss in one committee meeting. It isn’t possible for us to clearly understand the implications of the bills and we wonder if the legislators themselves understand what they are voting on since questions and discussions are cut short. 

 

HB2048 - repeal committed youth cost sharing fee, transfers revenues to general fund for appropriations back to counties. County Supervisors Assoc speaks: repeals a fee charged on counties to fund juvenile corrections - put in place in 2016 and counties have been trying to terminate the fee. In ’20, legislature eliminated fee for rural counties, and one-time relief for large counties. Last year, bill to fix this passed the house, but got interrupted by Covid. This bill cleans it up for Pima & Maricopa county. Question: Majority of juveniles in the system come from the larger counties, so why shouldn’t the counties share the costs?  A: State controls and pays for it even at county level, also Maricopa and Pima are NOT the majority of population in the system.  

     Passes:  All ayes

 

HB2127 - $10m appropriations for State Parks, heritage fund.  Originally funds from the state lottery, but in 2011 Legislature swept monies from the fund then closed it.  Fund was recreated in 2019 but without a dedicated revenue source. Aaron: “This will be jobs jobs jobs”

     Passes: 12 ayes 1 nay

 

HB2133 - $150k from the general fund to ADOT to study expansion on/offramps Grand Ave/SR 303.  Lots of concern about city cost-share skin-in-the-game, or if 150k will be enough, especially with the extent of the problem. Passes 11-2, with Reps Fernandez and Friese expressing reservations expressed about process and voting NO. 

 

HB2157 - $5m from gen fund to ADOT to help with Loop 101 slip ramp.

     Passes: 12 ayes 1 nay

 

HB2166 + Amendment - criminal justice commission $300k to collect data/complete a report.  Amendment eliminates the appropriation but retains requirement. Dept will pay. (It wasn’t said, but Ann is guessing that the information collected will be on race/ethnicity of suspects and other info that may reveal trends in how law enforcement treats citizens.)

     Passes: 13 ayes

 

HB2182 - 1.2m dollars from gen fund to DPS to purchase/deploy DNA testing devices throughout the state & adopt rules for rapid testing. AMENDMENT:  Modifies def. of rapid testing and etc.  Hoffman totally went after the guy presenting the bill. He insinuated that the rapid results devices would not be used often enough to justify the expense. But it sounded as though he was indicating how many times the rapid results were used in court.  Kavanaugh made the point, repeatedly, that the rapid results were most often used to help law enforcement exclude suspects and save time investigating bad leads.

     Passes: 7-6

 

HB2288 -  $5m from general fund to Yuma County for military installation improvements: relocate county fairgrounds - it’s in the accident potential zone, half is owned by the DoD.  Three sites located before we can work with feds to relocate.

Passes: 12 ayes, 1 nay

 

HB2379 - $1.1m to DPS for border enforcement/camera systems & other equipment for tracking drug smuggling. Rep Friese voted against. Hoffman took the opportunity to emphasize “the dangerous agenda” coming out of DC. 

 Passes: 12 ayes, 1 nay

 

HB2405 - Board of Ed directed to establish a continuing charter school high school program, for adults without high school diplomas. (Good Will?) Aaron: “I totally believe in John F. Kennedy’s statement that the best social program in the world is one that helps someone get a job.  Ann’s 2 cents:  There are 700,000 adults in AZ without a high school diploma. Pro argument:   Goodwill will be able to reach these adults through their regular course of business. It will be easier to sign these adults up for classes.  Con arguments: This is essentially issuing a charter school status to Goodwill Industries.  There will be no accountability and their state cost per student is high. Some legislators, Kelli Butler included, would rather see this money allocated to the Community College system.

     Passes: 11ayes, 2 nays, with Reps Hoffman and Friese voting NO.  

 

HB2407 - $8.5 million from general fund to ADOT to widen/drainage on 67th Avenue

     Passes: 11 ayes, 1 nay

 

HB2562 - housing tax credit/affordable housing against insurance premium & income taxes - requires tax credit be at least 50% of the level of the federal low income tax credit requires Az Dept of housing to issue $8m in any calendar year, tax payer to submit eligibility statement along with return, and repeals previous statutes and stipulates the program does not create certain limits, creates a review committee. This was presented last year, consensus

Aaron: Asks what this bill will make different ‘on the ground’

A: this will more than double the production of these kinds of projects over what is possible under federal credits

Arizona Free Enterprise Club speaks in opposition - concern over fraud, but could not identify a single example of fraud in Arizona when Aaron asked. There was an AZ Republic article about this bill.  It explained that with all of the new building in Phoenix, very little low-income housing exists.  This incentivizes developers to address this need that is otherwise not very profitable. 

Passes: 12 ayes 1 nay

 

HB2669 - $4.5m from general fund to Az Dept of Ed to distribute for elementary school district for additional space - low income district that has been approved for construction of two new schools but a bond would never pay for them.

     Passes: 13 ayes 0 Nays

    

House Natural Resources Committee -- Larry Berle 

 

Director Tenney,  Director of Forest management, gave a wildfire report. Since 2005, the amount spent on fire suppression was far greater than what was appropriated.

2020 was the 2nd worst year for fires on record with 2,500 fires covering 978,000 acres. For 2021 they are expecting a very active fire season. We now have 10-20 times the number of trees that we should have in our forests. This is partly (not entirely) due to the decrease in the lumber industry. Thinning would help greatly. A request was made for a study about the ratio of fires started by humans compared to nature.

 

The Committee considered 11 bills; two were held until next week.

 

HB2440 would appropriate $$ to remove hazardous vegetation to help with fire mitigation, as part of the governor’s “healthy forest initiative.” It would increase the current budget almost tenfold. Frank Strada from the Dept of Corrections spoke in support, as inmates help fight fires and help keep the forests clean. The DOC has 12 fire crews, 20 to 22 per crew. This seems to be good community involvement for inmates and good training in preparation for being released from prison.  (Mr. Strada emphasized the care they take in assessing what inmates are eligible for this program, primarily drug offenders who are not in for any violent crimes.) Several others spoke in support, including Emily Countryman, who was an inmate for several years. She had struggled with drugs, unable to take care of her own daughter. She was despondent with no hope until she signed up for this inmate fire . She talked about how this program gave her hope and some purpose in life. She now has been released from prison and has a full time job as a wildfire fighter. The bill passed, 10-0. In response to Ms Countrymans testimony, Rep Lieberman said, we all do better when we are helping others.

 

HB2814 would affect biomass products and forestry and environmental technology. This was passed the House last year but stopped in the Senate, along with many other bills due to the pandemic. Passed 7-3.

 

HB2333 would allow school districts and any public entity to initiate energy conservation efforts without going to the taxpayers. Passed 10-0.

 

HB2388, affecting the water supply development fund. Heard last week, passed 10-0.

 

HB2580: Environmental omnibus bill, mostly repealing portions that are no longer applicable without making any substantive changes. Passed 10-0.

 

HB2441 considers flood damaged acreage and the water rights that are usable for fallow land. Agriculture water rights are specific to a land parcel. If a farmer stops irrigating land (maybe because it becomes flooded or not productive for some reason), the farmer loses his water rights. This bill would make it possible to transfer those rights to another parcel that is contiguous and owned by the same farmer. Passes, 7-3.        

 

HB2577 appropriates an unspecified amount of money (maybe $5 million?) to determine possible water sources other than the Colorado River— the amount will be determined in the

appropriations committee. Passed, 9-0, with Rep Lieberman voting present because there is no amount of money specified.