The Week at the Arizona Capitol: Sine Die

This story was published on Arizona Sonora News on April 3, 2015, following the adjournment of the Arizona Legislature at 3:37 a.m.

State Capitol before Sine Die

The state Capitol at dusk on April 2, hours before the Arizona Legislature adjourned sine die.

PHOENIX — The hours dragged on Thursday into the evening and then into the early morning Friday as lawmakers moved bill after bill to reach a historic — and chaotic — early finish to the legislative session.

Sine die, Latin for “without day,” marks the end of the session for the Arizona Legislature, which is supposed to finish its work in 100 days. This year it finished in just 81 days — the shortest in decades.

Following the early passage of the budget last month, major bills remained on the calendar for the final week.

Sine die

Legislators attempted to speed bills through during the hectic final day. While the Senate began its day early and moved quickly, things got bogged down in the House with more members speaking on bills.

The Senate adjourned sine die Friday morning around 1 a.m. while their colleagues in the House still debated bills needing the other chamber’s approval.

The controversial SB 1339, aimed at stopping “ballot harvesting,” died on the House floor because it could not go back to the Senate for a final read. Attempts by House Democrats to adjourn sine die after debating SB 1339 were rebuffed by Republicans and the chamber continued passing bills until 3:30 a.m. when the Legislature officially finished.

Lawmakers still passed a bill dissolving the Department of Weights and Measures backed by Gov. Doug Ducey. HB 2480, introduced late in the session, spreads the responsibilities of the department around to other state agencies.

Democrats questioned why the process was being rushed since the proposed dissolution of the department would not go into effect until next year. The Senate approved the bill 17-8 and the House sent it to the governor on a 36-22 vote.

Several other major pieces of legislation passed, or failed, on the final day of the session:

— The Legislature voted to ban municipalities from banning plastic bags, as well as Styrofoam boxes. The House and Senate approved SB 1241 mostly down party lines as the cities of Flagstaff and Tempe consider bans on plastic bags.

— Lawmakers also passed HB 2135, which provides regulations for ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft. A previous attempt to regulate the transportation networks last year was vetoed by then-Gov. Jan Brewer.

— The House and Senate approved legislation to bring Arizona IDs into compliance with federal Real ID standards. The standards will go into effect next year and concerns were raised that Arizonans would not be able to use their IDs at airports and to get into federal buildings.

— Ducey’s proposal to create a badge-carrying inspector general failed. Changes were promised to address concerns regarding accountability and transparency in the initial legislation for the proposed office.

Vetoed

Ducey broke out his veto pen for the first time on Monday to strike down a bill that would have sealed the names of law enforcement officers involved in shootings for 60 days.

Supporters said it would provide for a “cooling off” period to protect officers and their families, while critics said it would only deepen community distrust of police. SB 1445 received bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate with nearly all Republicans and 11 House Democrats and five Senate Democrats voting in favor.

In a lengthy veto letter, Ducey said SB 1445 didn’t achieve the objectives it sought in officer safety and instead could create even more problems. Ducey cited concerns from the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, which called on him to veto the legislation.

“Under current law and in practice, chiefs have the authority to make decisions in the best interests of their officers and departments,” Ducey wrote. “Their concern, and mine, is that setting an arbitrary 60-day benchmark for release of names would limit their ability to best manage these often tenuous situations and result in unintended consequences.”

Ducey vetoed other bills this week including: HB 2150, which would have changed animal cruelty law related to livestock and poultry, and HB 2410, which would have prohibited law enforcement departments from maintaining quotas for traffic citations.

On Monday, Ducey also signed into law the abortion regulation bill SB 1318, which includes a controversial provision requiring doctors to inform women seeking medication abortions that the process can be “reversed.”

Senate kills bills

The Senate kept some of the more controversial bills this week off the governor’s desk when some moderate Republicans joined Democrats in voting them down.

The Senate killed HB 2190, which would have repealed Common Core standards, known as Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards by the Arizona Department of Education, when Democrats and Republican Sens. Jeff Dial of Chandler, Adam Driggs of Phoenix, Steve Pierce of Prescott and Bob Worsley of Mesa voted against the bill that cleared the House and the Senate Education Committee earlier.

Another bipartisan coalition of senators voted down a bill that would have allowed parents to opt their children out of statewide standardized tests.

Driggs, Pierce and Worsley also voted against HB 2320, which would have allowed concealed carry permit-holders to bring guns into public buildings and events. The bill previously cleared the House and the Senate Government Committee.

Compromise bill dies

The faction that voted down HB 2184 didn’t have to hide in the shadows. The bill, designed to settle a constitutional dispute between Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas, died in the House when the bill did not come back up for reconsideration.

House members voted down the measure last week on a 38-17 vote to clarify that the governor has authority over the state Board of Education after Douglas tried to fire two top board officials in February. Ducey responded that she did not have the power to do so at which point Douglas shot off a fiery statement saying the governor was being influenced by a “shadow faction” of Common Core supporters, among other claims.

By the numbers

This session was historic for being the shortest for the Arizona Legislature in decades. Here are some other numbers to sum up the session (as of early Friday morning):

Bills, memorials and resolutions introduced: 1,251

Bills signed and filed: 131

Vetoes (so far): 6

Number of days for session: 81

Sine die: April 3

An obituary to the bills that died this session

This story appeared on Arizona Sonora News on March 30, 2015.

PHOENIX — Concealed weapons in buildings. Ending Common Core. No texting while driving. All dead this legislative session.

These would-be bills joined many others that passed away either in the legislative chamber or by gubernatorial fiat.

The first death began with a bill to put Arizona on Daylight Savings Time. After negative feedback, the sponsor killed it before the session even started. It would be just the first in a slew of bills to perish under the Copper Dome.

Some died very public deaths on the floor. Others died without the dignity of a public hearing..

There was the controversial HB 2320, which would have allowed those with concealed weapons permits to bring guns in public buildings and events. Enough Republicans drew on this bill to shoot it down in the Senate.

Bills aimed at undoing the Common Core — or Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards, as the Arizona Department of Education prefers it to be called — found favor in the House. But the standards so detested by conservatives survived when a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Senate gave the bills a failing grade.

Some controversial bills did survive the arduous journey through the Legislature. SB 1318, designed to prohibit federal health care exchanges from providing abortion coverage, included a provision to require doctors to inform women about “abortion reversals,” which critics call quack medicine. Gov. Doug Ducey signed that into law.

Ducey did not sign all of those bills, however, and broke out his veto stamp on Monday.

He vetoed SB 1445, which would have shielded the names of law enforcement officers involved in deadly force incidents for 60 days.

Some seemingly less controversial bills did not remain standing by the end of the session.

There was SB 1102, banning texting while driving in Arizona, which suffered death by committee assignments. The bill was tripled-assigned and only managed to make it through the Senate Government Committee before stalling.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, is no stranger to death with these bills. The texting while driving prohibition bill was preceded in death by several different incarnations of the legislation Farley has introduced for nearly the past decade.

He should count his lucky stars, though, because bills with a “D” next to their title rarely make it even that far in this Legislature that always seems to have its right-turn blinker on.

A bill to ban photo radar from Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, failed to make it through again this year, but not for lack of trying. Four attempts to make speeding cameras and red light cameras a thing of the past in Arizona crashed on the floor and in committees.

Then there was Ward’s SB 1190, which would have given immunity to underage drinkers who seek medical or emergency assistance. That, too, was dead on arrival, not being put on the full Senate’s agenda.

There was the bill to move the state primary date up from the scorching August sun in Arizona to the blistering May sun in Arizona. The legislators changed the date to the early July heat, and then left it out in the sun to wither.

That bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. T.J. Shope of Coolidge, also saw his bill to give income tax credits to multimedia film productions in the state die without making a sound.

A bill that would have drastically altered the state’s open meeting laws was itself shut out of a committee room when the Senate refused it a hearing. Following a crescendo of outcry from open government advocates, SB 1435 died a quiet death.

The bill is survived by its 14 sponsors — both Republicans and Democrats.

There was a last-ditch and ill-fated effort to put a prohibition on powdered alcohol — which was recently approved for sale — from Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff. The bill drowned under a 7-2 committee vote against it.

There were many others, too.

Arizona bills typically have a low survival rates when faced with the whirlwind onslaught of floor readings, committee hearings and constitutional checks.

During last year’s regular session, more than 1,300 bills were introduced and just 280 made it into the books. The previous year’s session saw 363 of the more than 1,500 bills signed into law.

In total, 1,251 bills, memorials and resolutions were introduced this session, of which 62 have been signed into law by Ducey. The governor returned three with veto letters.

Several bills still hang in the balance during the hectic final days of the session, but by the time the sun sets on sine die (on Pacific Time this time of the year without Daylights Savings), many of the bills proposed this year in the Legislature will die without ever making a passing reference in the papers.

They will be dearly missed by their sponsors.

The Week at the Arizona Capitol: March 23-26

This story appeared on Arizona Sonora News on March 26, 2015.

PHOENIX — The Legislature is well into the homestretch with the goal to wrap up the session before Easter still in its sights. This led to busy days and long nights at the Capitol this week.

Last call for bills

The House and Senate Appropriations committees were the only committees to hold regular meetings this week. This opened many of the bills being heard to strike everything amendments to revive legislation previously killed in the Legislature.

This included legislation to bar most from collecting early ballots for elections, which lost a vote last week in the House Elections Committee. The House Appropriations Committee, however, approved this bill and others in a meeting that started at 9 a.m. and continued after the floor session into the early morning hours.

Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, and other Republicans argue that prohibiting most people from collecting early ballots to take them to polling centers prevents “ballot harvesting” and potential voter fraud. Democrats disagreed, saying the problem of voter fraud is virtually nonexistent and called the bill an attempt at voter suppression.

House Appropriations also managed to squeeze through a bill making Arizona IDs compliant with federal Real ID standards. Arizonans may find themselves turned away from airports and federal buildings by next year when the standards are set to go into effect.

The cats also came back for another life with legislation removing the minimum period pounds are mandated to hold stray cats. The bill died on the House floor last week when some members argued that it would harm bird populations by proliferating feral cats.

Abortion reversals approved

Following lengthy floor debate and a lengthier delay in taking up the bill, the House voted to approve an abortion regulation bill which mandates doctors inform women seeking abortions that they can be “reversed.” SB 1318 prohibits any health exchange operating in the state from providing coverage for abortions, as well.

Republican Representative Regina Cobb of Kingman led the charge during floor debate Monday against the abortion reversal information, which she called “non-evidence based medicine.” Others have also raised concerns that the abortion reversals lack medical evidence, which involves giving a woman progesterone to stop a medication abortion after RU-486 is taken.

“It’s only been out for a short period of time and the studies are not yet out on this,” Cobb said. “What we don’t know is what we don’t know.”

Cobb then faced off with Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Gilbert, who added the amendment with the abortion reversal provision, and other Republican colleagues, who argued that there is the potential to save life, so women should be informed of it.

“I believe the disclosure certainly falls with the scope of ethical practice,” said Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert.

Rep. Kate Brophy-McGee, R-Phoenix, said forcing doctors to inform women of the abortion reversals could open them up to medical malpractice litigation. She, however, supported the bill when it came to a vote. Cobb, too, ended up voting in favor of the bill.

The bill went back to the Senate, which approved it with the abortion reversal provision on Wednesday. SB 1318 now awaits approval from Gov. Doug Ducey.

Board of Education address

Ducey addressed the state Board of Education on Monday morning to lay out his education agenda. He reiterated his opposition to Common Core but did not call for a full repeal of the standards.

Instead, Ducey asked the board to consider reviewing the English and math standards to ensure they will serve students well. “And in any instance during your review, you find situations where Arizona standards can outperform or improve our current standards, I ask you to recommend replacement immediately,” Ducey said.

At the end of last week, Ducey appointed five new members to the board including Arizona State University President Michael Crow to fill the public university president position on the board.

A bill repealing Common Core standards in the state cleared the Senate Education Committee last week. The Senate delayed hearing it on the floor this week.

Take me to church

Should we all be required to go to church on Sundays? Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, seemed to say as much during the Senate Appropriations meeting late Tuesday night.

While explaining her vote on a bill allowing guns in public buildings, Allen said the gun violence could be blamed on moral decline in the country related to religion being taken out of society. “Probably we should be debating a bill requiring every American to attend a church of their choice on Sunday to see if we can get back to having a moral rebirth,” she said.

On Wednesday, Allen rose on the Senate floor to explain the comments, saying she was tired when she made them. Allen reminisced of the ‘50s and ‘60s when she said she and her friend could take a bus and go to the soda fountain and still feel safe.

“It was a different time,” she said. “I think it wouldn’t hurt if we went to church on Sundays to try to bring back this moral rebirth to our country.”

Bill update

The Legislature moved dozens of bills this week in its push to finish the session well ahead of its 100-day limit. Among them:

— On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill shielding the names of law enforcement officers involved in deadly force incidents for 60 days, which now moves to Ducey’s desk. Opponents staged a protest outside the Executive Tower that afternoon, urging the governor to veto the bill.

— A bill designed to resolve a constitutional dispute between Ducey and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas failed in the House on Tuesday with a 17-38 vote. HB 2184 would clarify authority over members of the Board of Education and it will come back up for another vote on April 1.

— Ducey signed into law HB 2128, backed by the conservative Center for Arizona Policy, on Monday, which would give a property tax exemption to properties leased to religious institutions. Former Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a similar bill last year.

— While SB 1120, which would exempt out-of-state sales on fine art, died in the final House Appropriations Committee meeting, the exemption made it into SB 1133 and now goes back to the Senate. Scottsdale art gallery owners are pushing to eliminate the sales tax, which they say is driving away business.

After criticism, inspector general proposal will see changes

This story appeared on Arizona Sonora News on March 26, 2015.

PHOENIX — Changes are coming to Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed state government watchdog following criticism about transparency and accountability.

HB 2420, introduced last week, would create an Office of the State Inspector General for Arizona, who would carry a badge and subpoena power with the mandate of rooting out waste and corruption across state government, a promise made during Ducey’s State of the State address. Critics said the legislation as initially written would create a position yielding power with little accountability.

Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for Ducey, said floor amendments would be introduced to the bill in an effort to assuage some of those concerns.

During his January speech on the House floor, Ducey said that he wanted to work with the Legislature to create an unbiased inspector general to find savings and “shine a light” on corruption.

“This public advocate would be equipped with a badge and subpoena power to go in, ask the tough questions and be a watchdog for the taxpayers,” he said.

The proposed watchdog is similar in many aspects to other inspector general positions throughout the country, but differences in some respects under the initial proposal prompted criticism.

The initial legislation heard in the Senate Government Committee would have allowed documents related to investigations conducted by the inspector general to be kept secret.

The bill also did not require the position to be approved by any house of the Legislature. The bill summary stated the inspector general would serve “at the pleasure of the Governor and report directly to the Governor.”

Dan Barr, an attorney with the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona, said this would have essentially created a “secret police force” for Ducey by having this badge-carrying official answer only to the governor.

Under the coming amendments, Scarpinato said, the inspector general would now need to be approved by the Senate. Also, the results of any investigations would need to be published online within 60 days of their conclusion.

These assurances for changes did not quell all criticism against the creation of the office.

The bill creating the position is part of a strike everything amendment, which allows new legislation to be introduced beyond deadlines by skipping other hearings it would receive. So, the Senate Government Committee meeting on March 18 was the only public hearing the bill will receive.

Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, said during that sole Senate hearing that he did not like that this major reform is being moved through the Legislature so quickly without a hearing in the House.

“We had time to do it earlier in the year, and we have time to do it next year,” he said.

The vote in the committee fell down party lines with its four Republicans voting in favor and the three Democrats opposed.

Barr added that it’s ironic Republicans want to create more government.

“It seems strange that some of the people who … are drastically cutting spending would then want to create a whole new governmental officer without making the argument about why there’s a need for it,” he said.

Scarpinato said with the announcement during the State of the State address, people have known about the intention to create this new position since January.

“It takes some time to get the policy together and we wanted to research what other states do, what the federal government does with this and craft a policy that works for us,” he said.

Scarpinato added that the feedback received since the committee meeting means the public hearing served its purpose with supporters now offering amendments to change the legislation to address those concerns.

Barr also said he was unaware of any need for this position in the first place, saying many of the duties listed are carried out by the Attorney General’s office. “I question what the whole purpose of this is,” he said.

Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich, the state’s top law enforcement office, came out in opposition to the initial legislation for the same reason, according to Kristen Keogh, a spokeswoman for Brnovich.

“Our thought was we already have an agency to do the work outlined for the inspector general and that’s our agency,” Keogh said.

Scarpinato said the floor amendments would clearly separate the roles of the attorney general and the inspector general. Also, criminal conduct uncovered by the inspector general would be immediately turned over the attorney general for investigation, he said.

Scarpinato also asserted that the inspector general by rooting out waste in state government, would be revenue neutral, which is supported by what the Association of Inspectors General, a national organization which represents inspectors general across the country, argues.

“A majority of inspectors general essentially pay for themselves as a result of their investigations and audits,” said Navi Johal, public relations editor for the Association of Inspectors General.

The details, duties and powers listed in the bill for this state inspector general mostly keep in line with the national standard for inspector general positions, Johal said. Eleven states have similar offices and, in addition to Arizona, Connecticut and Wisconsin are trying to create a statewide inspector general.

Johal added that the language about the inspector general serving at the pleasure of the governor did give cause for concern, since it negates the independence of the office.

Of the 11 statewide inspector generals across the country, only Massachusetts’ does not require approval from the state’s Senate or a legislative body. The inspector general is appointed to a five-year term jointly by the Governor, State Auditor and Attorney General.

Other state agencies in states have inspectors general that serve as watchdogs for that agency. Arizona’s Medicaid agency and Department of Transportation have inspectors general.

Other states have other offices that carry out similar roles to these statewide inspectors general, as well, similar to what the Attorney General’s office argued.

Scarpinato said HB 2420 will likely be heard by the full Senate next week, where the floor amendments are expected to be added. The House will then hear the final version of the bill and decide whether or not it supports the Senate’s language.

The Legislature is trying to finish the year’s session before the Easter weekend, which means action on the bill will need to be taken soon.

Scottsdale art galleries seek reprieve from new sales tax

This story appeared on Arizona Sonora News on March 20, 2015.

Scottsdale Art Auction1

Brad Richardson, owner of Legacy Gallery in Scottsdale, walks through the Scottsdale Art Auction room. Richardson is threatening to move his business out of state if a sales tax exemption isn’t passed by the Legislature.

SCOTTSDALE — Is a new tax creating another case of the struggling artist? Maybe.

Regardless, a group of Scottsdale art gallery owners say they are being crippled by a sales tax that kicked in at the beginning of this year. The new regulation adds the transaction privilege tax, Arizona’s sales tax, for fine art sales to out-of-state buyers who purchase the art here and have the seller ship it out of state.

This raises the sales tax of these out-of-state sales from the 1.65 percent Scottsdale city sales tax to 7.95 percent. Scottsdale art gallery owners say they are already losing business now that word has gotten out in the art connoisseur community and fear it could drive them out to Western art hub rivals like Santa Fe, N.M. and Jackson, Wyo.

“It really puts us in an uncompetitive position now that this is taxed,” said Brad Richardson, owner of Legacy Gallery in Scottsdale and a dealer at Scottsdale Art Auction, who added he gets more than half of his customers from out of state.

Richardson and other gallery owners are pinning their hopes on SB 1120 from Republican Sen. Debbie Lesko of Peoria, which would exempt those kinds of sales from the tax.

Not everyone is buying into the plight of the multimillion-dollar Scottsdale art galleries.

“I just can’t help thinking you’re overreacting to this,” Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, told Richardson during a Senate hearing.

Farley, who is an artist himself, pointed out that people purchasing these pieces of art — and would likely be able to afford the extra tax — could get around paying it if they really wanted.

As with many tax-related matters, the details get messy.

The issue stems from sales tax reform legislation passed through the Legislature and signed into law in 2013. Among the provisions of that TPT reform was ending the sales tax exemption for works of fine art shipped out of state that were purchased here, which had been in effect for more than 30 years.

That legislation was crafted by Lesko.

“At the time people thought, ‘Why are we doing that?’” Lesko said. “So, we put a provision in the bill to eliminate that [exemption] and nobody talked about it until Jan. 1, 2015 came around and my bill went into effect.”

For Bob Pejman, owner of Pejman Gallery in Scottsdale, that came on Feb. 10 when he received a letter from the Arizona Department of Revenue in the mail informing him of the new sales tax. “The entire month of January we didn’t know that we should be collecting this tax,” he said.

Pejman then had to pay the sales tax dollars not collected for the month out of pocket. The prices for pieces of art in these galleries range from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars. At Scottsdale Art Auction, some pieces go for more than $1 million.

Now, Lesko is seeking to rectify her tax increase on the art galleries. She said the art gallery owners contacted her, but at first she was reluctant to pursue the exemption.

“After much analysis with my staff members and talking with different gallery owners, I felt that it indeed was a worthy thing to exempt that these businesses especially the auctions do bring in tourists from all over the nation,” Lesko said.

On Feb. 16, Lesko filed the legislation as a strike everything amendment to a bill. The exemption would apply retroactively to the beginning of the year. SB 1120 already cleared the Senate on a 19-9 vote and received approval from one House committee.

Supporters of the legislation are working against more than one deadline. The Scottsdale Art Auction begins April 11 and other auctions occur during this time bringing in a great deal of business. The bill also needs from one more committee before it can be heard by the whole House and the cut off for committee hearings is fast approaching.

A main issue guiding Lesko’s reasoning behind pushing the legislation is that no other state has this tax — something gallery owners are quick to point out.

Ken Strobeck, executive director of the Arizona League of Cities of Towns, however, said it’s simply not true that no other state taxes this activity.

When someone buys a piece of art in any state that person would have to pay the use tax in the state the art gets shipped back to, if the state has that tax. For example, if someone were to purchase art in New Mexico and have it shipped to Colorado, that person would pay Colorado use tax.

“Any of those people who are out-of-state and buying art and come from a sales tax state are legally obligated to pay use tax on their purchase when they get back home,” Strobeck said.

The problem is not everyone follows that to the letter of the law, however. “About 99 percent of them never [pay] that,” he said. Arizona’s TPT on these sales isn’t as loose.

The League of Cities and Towns is against the exemption because it would compromise the uniform tax base it is trying to achieve, Strobeck said.

As Farley noted, art consumers can get around the sales tax through federal interstate commerce law by placing a hold on the piece in Scottsdale and leaving to buy it from out of state.

“They already have the break if they really want it,” Farley said. “So, why should we give them a special exemption just to make it slightly more convenient for their customers who can already afford to buy a $100,000 sculpture or painting?”

The art gallery owners insist this isn’t the way they want to do business.

Richardson said people being in the room drives up the prices for art being sold at the auctions and having people come to Scottsdale and other cities in Arizona helps drive tourism and spending.

“We want an active room,” Richardson said. “We want people to be here and see the art and they will have a tendency to spend more.”

John Marzolf, owner of the Biltmore Art Gallery in Scottsdale, said having people buy from elsewhere would make it more difficult to actually make the sale.

“If they say, ‘I want to go home and think about it,’ or ‘I’m going to come back and look at it,’ you’re lucky if you get 20 percent that come back,” Marzolf said.

“You want to be able to sell it while they’re there,” he said.

During a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the bill, Sen. Lynne Pancrazi, D-Yuma, raised concerns that this could open the door for other groups to come out to the Legislature and ask for their out-of-state sales to be tax-exempt, and “there goes the TPT reform right out the door.”

Farley also said the excess of sales tax exemptions cost the state billions in potential revenue. “I think it’s time to look at all these exemptions very carefully as they come forward and I think we should look at the ones already in place as well,” Farley said.

Legislation introduced this session would also see sales tax exemptions for crop dusters, billboard rentals and aircraft equipment. The only out-of-state sales currently exempt under the TPT reform law crafted two years ago are for motor vehicles, which is meant for car auctions.

Richardson is threatening to take his business out of the state if the sales tax exemption doesn’t get passed. He said he’s already explored Las Vegas as option for moving his Scottsdale gallery.

“If collectible cars get an exemption, then we think fine art should, too,” he said.

The Week at the Arizona Capitol: March 16-19

This story appeared on Arizona Sonora News on March 19, 2015.

PHOENIX — The Legislature is on track to finish its business early this year with this week being the final one for most committee meetings. The goal for legislators is to wrap up the session in the next couple of weeks, but the House and Senate still saw new legislation introduced.

Late changes

Keeping with a promise from his State of the State address in January, Gov. Doug Ducey may be getting an independent inspector general who would report on waste and corruption in state agencies. The Senate Government Committee heard HB 2420, which now creates the Inspector General position “to serve at the pleasure of the Governor and report directly to the Governor,” according to the bill summary.

The deadline for introducing new bills passed weeks ago, but, of course, there’s a way around that. New legislation can sneak in through strike-everything amendments — also called strikers — to bills already in the pipeline and allows it to circumvent normal hearings and reviews in both houses.

Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, argued the creation of the inspector general position is necessary. He said government is rife with “fraud, waste and abuse.”

Democrats on the committee criticized the move for not allowing the bill enough time to be properly vetted. The bill passed down on party lines and moves on to the full Senate.

The committee approved another piece of legislation introduced late this way. HB 2480 got a striker that would dismantle the Department of Weights and Measures and move its duties to different agencies. Its newly appointed director is former Speaker of the House Andy Tobin, who favors the proposal — which would leave him out of a job, again.

There could be an opening as inspector general.

Police officers

On Wednesday, the House voted to protect the identity of any would-be-Wyatt Earp after a shootout. SB 1445, sponsored by Smith would prevent police from releasing the name of a law enforcement officer involved in a deadly force incident under public records law for a “cooling off” period after the incident.

The House amended the period of post-shootout immunity to be 60 days, down from Smith’s original 90 days, so the bill moves back to Senate for approval as amended.

The bill is meant to protect police officers and their families from any potential reprisals, said Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City.

Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix, said withholding the names raises transparency and accountability issues with the police and public trust in law enforcement.

This legislation comes of the heels of national scrutiny on law enforcement following police shootings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y. Phoenix joined the fray with its own shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer in December. The House passed the bill 44-13 with 11 Democrats joining Republicans in support.

Gun bills held

Following Wednesday’s shooting spree in Mesa, which left one person dead, Republican legislators pulled a few gun bills from the agenda for that afternoon. Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, held two bills in the Senate Government Committee, one of which would allow guns in public buildings. Another GOP-backed bill that would prohibit cities and counties from placing restrictions on gun sales was pulled from the Senate floor. The House and Senate also took time on the floor to hold moments of silence for the victims of the shooting.

Judicial ruling

On Monday, the Arizona Supreme Court Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee issued a ruling stating judges could not perform only opposite-sex marriages, regardless of their personal or religious beliefs. A judicial ruling legalized same-sex marriage in the state in October.

“Because performing a marriage is a discretionary function, a judge may, consistent with the Code, decline to perform any marriages whatsoever,” the ruling read. “But because performing a marriage is a judicial duty … a judge cannot refuse to perform same-sex marriages if the judge is willing to perform opposite-sex marriages.”

This comes just a little more than a year after the Arizona Legislature passed the controversial SB 1062, a “religious freedom” bill that critics called discriminatory against the LGBT community. It’s unclear now how, or if, the Legislature will react to this ruling and it’s likely too late for a striker to sneak in this session, at least.

Powdered Prohibition averted

A House panel killed SB 1062 this year, which is a far cry from the subject of last year’s bill of the same number. This bill would have prohibited the sale, consumption, purchase or manufacturing of powdered alcohol in the state.

The House Government and Higher Education Committee heard the legislation on Thursday, which was also introduced as a striker from Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff. Powdered alcohol, marketed as Palcohol, is exactly what it sounds like: a powdered form of alcohol that comes in a package that can be poured into liquid — or sprinkled onto anything, really. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau last week approved Palcohol for use.

The committee shot down the bill by a wide margin. The wet — or powdered — legislators overwhelmed their dry colleagues 7-2 in dousing the bill.

Powdered prohibition is currently in effect in five states: Alaska, Louisiana, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia, according the bill summary.

Cat fight

Claws were out on the House floor Tuesday when members debated a bill allowing for cats to be sprung from the pound early, which deteriorated into a proxy fight between cats and birds.

SB 1198 would help animal welfare groups take the cats, neuter or spay them and return them to where they were captured. As one representative brought up, releasing the cats could have an effect on bird populations.

Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, cited a National Geographic article pinning the decline in songbirds on cats in his opposition. “Rather than put down cats we would rather have them destroy … songbirds, which are in rapid decline,” he said.

Borrelli isn’t a fan of those birds Bowers would like to protect. “Because the songbirds like to make messes on my car after I wash it, with that I vote ‘aye,’” he said.

The birds prevailed when the House put down the bill during a preliminary vote, 28-28.

Abortion bill opponents say ‘reversal’ information lacks medical proof

This story appeared on Arizona Sonora News on March 17, 2015. 

PHOENIX — An abortion regulation bill moving through the Legislature is under scrutiny for an amendment requiring doctors to inform patients about “abortion reversals,” for which medical evidence is lacking.

The House Federalism and States Rights Committee approved the amendment to SB 1318 from Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Gilbert, adding informed consent requirements about medication abortions. SB 1318 prohibits any health exchange in the state from providing abortion coverage and requires doctors admitting privileges be submitted to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Under the amendment, doctors would be required to inform women seeking abortions that the effects of RU-486, the “abortion pill,” can be reversed. It also requires the information to be accessible on the ADHS website.

“We’ve come to find out that there is an option when women have taken RU-486 and then they have changed their mind and there’s a plan and a way for physicians to help reverse their decision if they act quickly,” said Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, the bill’s sponsor.

Opponents of the bill and reproductive health professionals aren’t so sure. They argue that the effectiveness of these abortion reversals is not yet known and it could give women false hope when it may not work.

Dr. Eric Reuss, treasurer of the Arizona Section of the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said the information in the amendment can’t be supported by any data or medical evidence.

“In the absence of any evidence, it’s foolhardy for the state to be telling women this information,” Reuss said.

State law already requires doctors to inform women about the medical risks of an abortion, the probable physical features of the fetus and benefits available should they carry the pregnancy to term. Arizona would be the first state to require women seeking abortions to be informed of the possibility of abortion reversals.

Medication abortions require two pills: RU-486, also known as mifepristone, and misoprostol. RU-486 is given within the first seven to nine weeks of a pregnancy and stops the hormone progesterone, which is needed for pregnancy. Misoprostol is taken later and causes the womb to contract to create the effects of miscarriage.

“Reversing” the abortion comes in with giving the woman progesterone after RU-486 is taken to keep the pregnancy going. The SB 1318 amendment states “time is of the essence” when it comes to reversing the abortion.

Dr. Allan Sawyer, immediate past president of the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, testified before the House committee that he had helped a woman save her pregnancy by administering progesterone after that woman had taken RU-486. Other doctors have reported that they have managed to save pregnancies this way.

The Food and Drug Administration does not approve progesterone for this specific use. Administering progesterone is also not widely accepted in obstetrics and gynecology as a way of reversing the effects of a medication abortion.

Dr. Ilana Addis, chair of the Arizona section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said this protocol is not evidence-based.

After RU486 is administered, there is up to a 50 percent chance that the pregnancy will continue anyways if nothing is done, Addis said. This is about the same success percentage as administering progesterone so, she said, it works “about as well as placebo.”

Sawyer said the studies on abortion reversals are ongoing. “This is not a clinical trial, it’s looking at outcomes of pregnancies and … that’s the way those studies are done,” he said.

Addis said the reports on individual cases do not constitute research.

By requiring doctors to tell patients about the medication abortion reversal, Reuss said, they would be forced to practice on the “fringes” of medicine.

Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said this amendment also would remove “moral hazard” for women considering abortions, meaning they could take a risk they wouldn’t otherwise take.

“If we communicate or are required to communicate that she can actually start a process and then change her mind, a woman who is still conflicted could begin that process and risk losing a pregnancy that she could ultimately conclude that she wanted,” Howard said.

“We are sending a mixed message to women and risking their pregnancies,” he said.

Rep. Townsend said informing women about reversing their abortion doesn’t mean that they will assume it is totally effective.

“I think that women are intelligent enough to know that it has been used in the past successfully and there is nothing guaranteeing them that it is going to work,” Townsend said. “The potential for success exists and they deserve to know that.”

Sen. Barto also insists that the evidence on abortion reversal is “all on our side so far.”

The uncertainty of its medical effectiveness could raise legal issues, too.

Tim Fleming, an attorney for the House Rules Committee, said from case law, legislation can add information a doctor be required to give to women seeking abortions. “The test is whether [the information] is truthful and non-misleading,” Fleming said.

Fleming said he isn’t sure whether or not the information in the amendment regarding medication abortion reversal.

“There may be some question about that and that may be the source of litigation perhaps going forward,” he said.

The Senate passed SB 1318 down party lines last month in a 17-12 vote with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed. The Republican-dominated House is set to debate the bill on the floor this week.

The Week at the Arizona Capitol: March 9-12

This story appeared on Arizona Sonora News on March 12, 2015.

PHOENIX — As the budget passed by the Legislature over the weekend still awaits the governor’s signature to become law, lawmakers resumed business as usual this week.

VA testimony

Glen Grippen, interim director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, testified before the Senate Public Safety, Military and Technology Committee on Wednesday on progress being made at the VA following the scandal that broke last year revealing veterans were not getting the care they needed.

Grippen said the Phoenix VA hired more staff and is seeing more patients. More satellite clinics are being added as well to relive the strain on the main hospital in downtown Phoenix.

“You’re starting to hear some rumblings about the VA changing positively,” Grippen added. “We still have a ways to go, but we’re working hard at it every day.”

This comes as President Barack Obama is scheduled to travel to Phoenix Friday to visit Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center, the downtown hospital at the center of the VA scandal. In a PR blunder, Obama’s motorcade drove past the hospital without stopping during his visit in January.

During his testimony, Grippen said the VA staff is excited to meet Obama when he visits.

Abortion debate

Debate on a controversial bill that would further limit abortion coverage in Arizona turned heated on Wednesday.

The House Federalism and States’ Rights Committee heard SB 1318, which bans all health exchanges in Arizona from providing coverage for abortions and requires documentation regarding admitting privileges for doctors performing abortions to be submitted to the Department of Health Services.

The committee tacked on an amendment to require women seeking abortions to be informed that “it may be possible” to reverse the effects of a medication abortion.

When Rep. Darin Mitchell, R-Litchfield Park, questioned Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, on why he called legislators supporting the bill “extreme” on the organization’s website, House Assistant Minority Leader Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson, retorted that the legislators could be “extremist.” This drew a rebuke from the committee chair, Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Gilbert, who gaveled Wheeler and called a lengthy recess to calm the committee and resume debate.

Wheeler added that it “riles” his mind the Federalism and States’ Rights Committee is hearing the bill. “One would rationally assume this would be heard in the health committee,” he said.

The committee approved the bill down party lines. Last month, the Senate passed the bill 17-12, also down party lines.

Regent: Let’s sue the state

Following deep cuts to public universities in the budget, Mark Killian, chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, amplified his call for the Regents to consider suing the state over a lack of funding to colleges.

At issue is the part of the Arizona Constitution that states higher education in the state “shall be as nearly free as possible.” Killian contends the Legislature through cuts to university funding, which have triggered tuition hikes, are in violation of the state Constitution.

That clause of the Constitution has previously been considered by the courts when University of Arizona students sued the Regents in Kromko v. Board of Regents in 2003. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled the issue over “nearly free as possible” was a political squabble, rather than a judicial one.

Rising from the dead

It wasn’t quite as grand as Lazarus, but Wednesday saw some bills previously killed on the floor brought back to life upon reconsideration — or as Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, called them, zombie bills.

Bills can be brought up for reconsideration after they fail to gather enough votes on their last reading so long as a motion to reconsider from a legislator who voted against it carries. This allows the sponsor and supporters more time to try to twist arms and whip up enough votes to pass it.

A Senate bill that would put it to voters to repeal the Citizens Clean Elections Act and move that funding to education failed on its Tuesday vote, 15-13 (16 votes are needed to pass in the Senate). When SCR 1001 was reconsidered on Wednesday the Senate approved it 17-12 with Republican Senators Don Shooter of Yuma and Jeff Dial of Chandler flipping their votes. Other bills in the House on income tax reduction and empowerment scholarship accounts were revived and passed this way, too.

Not all bills were resurrected.

HB 2138, which would move up to the state’s primary election date to the second week of July, failed on the House floor on Monday by a 26-33 vote. When its sponsor, Shope, brought the bill up again on Wednesday, the House shot it down again by a narrower margin — 29-30.

Bill update

The Legislature is on track to finish its business early this year with the budget passed. Here are some bills making their way through:

— Two bills creating the office of lieutenant governor for Arizona were approved by the House this week. HB 2265 and HCR 2024 from Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, would create a lieutenant governor position to run on a joint ticket with the governor beginning in 2023, pending voter approval.

— The Senate Rules Committee cleared SB 1030, the “beer bill,” to move onto the Senate floor with an amendment after it was held last month due to constitutional concerns. The full Senate approved the bill from Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, in a 28-1 vote on Wednesday.

— On Wednesday, the House approved HB 2190, which would repeal common core standards in Arizona and have the Board of Education establish new standards and assessments. The bill moves to the Senate, which has shot down other anti-common core bills this session.

What you need to know from the budget deal

This story appeared on Arizona Sonora News on March 10, 2015.

Capitol at night

PHOENIX — By the time the sun rose over the Copper Dome of the state Capitol on Saturday, the House and the Senate passed a budget deal behind the Republican leadership’s blitzkrieg push to get the budget out and onto the governor’s desk.

Gov. Doug Ducey is expected to sign the budget this week. He lauded the Legislature’s budget as a “fiscally-responsible” way to fix the state’s structural deficit and balances the state budget. Arizona has been facing a $1 billion budget deficit.

“If we want to see meaningful and lasting improvement in our schools and economy, government must start living within its means and practicing fiscal responsibility,” Ducey said in a statement.

“This is a budget that reflects our state’s priorities and for that we should all be proud,” he said.

Democrats blasted the cuts in the $9.1 billion budget and the speed at which Republican legislators moved to pass it.

“Arizona’s Republican leaders have avoided making difficult fiscal decisions in this budget,” said Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs in a statement. “Instead, they chose to pass that burden on to counties, cities, schools, universities, hospitals and ultimately on to the backs of middle class Arizona families and the poor.”

House Minority Leader Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley, said in a statement that Republicans’ quick push on the budget made sure there was “little opportunity for public comment.”

The budget passed by the Legislature over the weekend included changes from the deal introduced into both chambers on March 4. The changes reflect concessions made by Republican leaders to win votes from members and address other concerns to get the budget passed in the shortest time the Arizona Constitution allows.

Higher Education

Despite public outcry, higher education saw just a slight reprieve from funding cuts with the final budget. State universities will face $99 million in cuts, $5 million less than the initial budget deal that came out last week, but still about $22 million more than Ducey initially asked.

The ax will fall on the universities based on enrollment numbers: $53 from Arizona State University, $28.2 million from the University of Arizona and $17.2 million from Northern Arizona University.

University presidents and the Arizona Board of Regents lashed out at the cuts.

“Much has been said about ‘special interests’ in this budget debate,” Regents President Eileen Klein said in a statement. “Our interests are the students, families, employees and citizens who are fighting for a better life.”

The amendment to the main budget bill also allots $2 million to Pinal County community colleges, restoring state funding to the district. Community colleges in Maricopa and Pima counties will still lose all state funding.

K-12 funding

K-12 schools in the state will see an increase in funding by about $102 million. Democrats, however, insist that with inflation and enrollment increases, the new funding still amounts to a net loss.

The budget also removes Ducey’s proposal as a part of his Classrooms First Initiative to shift money from outside the classroom to the classroom. Schools instead are able to spend the new funds without restrictions on where to spend it.

Teachers, students, parents and other education supporters protesting the lack of more funding for schools have become a regular feature at the Capitol in recent days.

Prisons

The budget increases funding to the Department of Corrections by $34 million, which is less than Ducey’s proposal to increase funding there by $52 million.

Ducey’s call for a contract for a new 3,000-bed private prison also got reduced by legislators to 1,000 in extra beds for prisoners.

The increased funding to prisons inspired protesters in their criticism of lackluster education funding. Some carried signs reading, “I’m worth more than a prisoner” and “Fund education, not private prisons.”

Medicaid and welfare

Arizona’s poor will also take a hit in the budget deal with slashes made to Medicaid and welfare recipients.

The budget reduces the amount of time qualifying Arizonans can stay on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which provides benefits for poor families, from 24 months to 12 months. This would be the shortest lifetime limit in the country.

During overnight debate on the floor regarding the TANF cut, House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, said he didn’t think anyone is happy with what’s in the budget, the cut will ensure there will be money in TANF in the future.

Lawmakers also cut state Medicaid reimbursements by 5 percent, which is a 2 percent increase from what Ducey proposed in January.

No fee increase

The budget scraps Ducey’s proposal to fund the Arizona Highway Patrol by increasing the motor vehicle registration fee by $8. Concerns were raised that the fee hike would amount to a tax increase.

The proposal was intended to stop the sweeps from the Highway User Revenue Fund, intended for roads, to the Department of Public Safety for the Highway Patrol and would have raised about $30 million.

Whipping the votes

House and Senate GOP leaders worked Thursday and Friday to round up votes from detractors within their own ranks.

When the vote came to the floor, Republican Representatives Chris Ackerley of Sahuarita, Kate Brophy McGee of Phoenix and Heather Carter of Cave Creek voted against the main budget bill. Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler, skipped the floor votes overnight.

In the Senate, Sen. Jeff Dial, R-Chandler, voted against the main budget bill and Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, did not show up to vote.

Republicans needed 16 “yes” votes in the Senate to get the budget through. With two members of the 17-members majority breaking ranks, the deciding vote was found in Democratic Sen. Carlyle Begay of Ganado.

The Senate tacked on $1.2 million in transportation funding for Begay’s district and he provided the final vote necessary to pass the budget.

The Week at the Arizona Capitol: March 2-5

This story appeared on Arizona Sonora News on March 5, 2014.

Budget deal protest

Arizona students attempt to enter the Senate building with their signs to protest the state’s budget on March 5 as the Senate Appropriations Committee met.

PHOENIX — Following closed-door negotiations, Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican House and Senate leaders unveiled a budget deal this week and moved swiftly to push the budget bills through the legislative process.

Late Thursday, it appeared the GOP leadership didn’t have the votes to pass the budget deal, but negotiations continued.

The new $9.1 billion budget proposal drew strong criticism from Democrats and hundreds of protesters to the Capitol on Thursday, including Arizona State University students who marched from the ASU Downtown campus against proposed university cuts.

Budget deal highlights

Lawmakers were briefed Tuesday evening about the budget deal and details began emerging on Wednesday.

Here are some highlights from the deal:

— The new proposal raises cuts to higher education to $104 million, representing about 14 percent of state support. The cuts fall to each university based on enrollment: $56 million to ASU, $30 million to UA and $18 million to NAU.

— All state funding is stripped for community colleges in Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties, Arizona’s three largest community college districts.

— K-12 schools in the state will see a net increase in funding by about $78 million. The budget still recognizes the Legislature’s settlement offer of $74 million in the K-12 funding lawsuit, rather than the court-order $336 million.

— The Department of Corrections also sees an increase in funding by about $34 million, which is less than Ducey’s proposal of a $52 million increase. The new proposal also reduces Ducey’s call for 3,000 new beds for prisoners to 1,000.

— Medicaid also faces cuts with a 5 percent cut proposed to state reimbursement payments, which would likely shift the costs onto hospitals.

The House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee met Thursday afternoon to hear the budget bills. Protesters interrupted the Senate Appropriations meeting briefly, chanting “They say cut back, we say fight back.”

Friday would be the earliest the budget could pass as the Arizona Constitution requires at least three days for the budget bills to be heard.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Would you like the carry a gun into your local library? The House passed HB 2330, which allows people with valid permits to carry concealed weapons into public buildings and events. Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed three incarnations of the legislation during her tenure.

Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, and other Democrats criticized the legislation on the floor.

“With the history of this legislation, with it having been vetoed three times before, I think we should move on to more important measures,” Friese said. He is a trauma surgeon who treated victims of the 2011 Tucson shooting.

Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, the bill’s sponsor, defended the legislation, calling it a “God-given right” for Arizonans. “This is something that we have inherently,” she said.

Rep. Mark Cardenas, D-Phoenix, voiced concerns related to the costs of the bill. An entity would be able to keep their buildings weapon-free if it provides security personnel and a screening device at entrances. The Arizona Department of Administration estimated it would cost the agency between $10 million and $16.9 million for the first year and $9.4 million to $15.7 million in subsequent years.

Revenge porn bill redux

Also giving it another try is Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, with his bill to outlaw “revenge porn” in Arizona. HB 2561 would outlaw someone who does not have consent from posting or threatening to post images or videos of someone else from a previous relationship where that person is naked or engaged in sexual acts.

Legal concerns were raised when the Legislature passed a similar bill from Mesnard last year regarding First Amendment rights.

This version passed the House unanimously and moves to the Senate for consideration.

Incentives for Apple

Ducey signed into law a bill that would provide tax incentives to Apple for bringing a $2 billion data center to Arizona.

Apple announced last month that it would be establishing a “global command center” at a facility in Mesa. The Legislature moved quickly to pass the incentives after the announcement, introducing bills in both the House and the Senate before ultimately approving the House version.

“Not only is Apple bringing significant investment and hundreds of quality jobs to our state, but its move also will create a ripple effect — boosting businesses already here,” Ducey said in a statement.

New Secretary of State website

Secretary of State Michele Reagan unveiled a revamped website for azsos.gov this week, which has been plagued with bugs in the past. Reagan said in an introduction video on the website that her office has been working for months to improve the website.

“Our goal is to reorganize the vast amount of information we provide to improve access, greater transparency and make it so you can find what matters to you most quickly and efficiently,” she said in the video.

The website, which posts vote tallies for the state on election night, had technical difficulties the last couple of elections causing frustration among those trying to report results.

Redistricting case at the Supreme Court

Top legislative leaders took Monday off to travel to Washington as the Supreme Court heard arguments in a legal dispute over who controls congressional redistricting in the state.

The case, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, centers on whether the Legislature or a voter-approved commission has the ability to control redistricting within the state. The Arizona Legislature asserts it solely has the authority in the Constitution to redraw the congressional map in the state.

In 2000, Arizona voters passed an initiative to give that redistricting power to an independent commission. Eleven other states have independent redistricting commissions.

Speaker of the House David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, and Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, made the 4,000 round mile trip and returned to Phoenix in time for the budget drama to begin.