We are starting to really get moving this week as committees are swinging into action, and we consider an emergency supplemental appropriation for Child Protective Services (CPS).
On to the news:
--> CPS Emergency Supplemental Appropriation: WIth the support of the Governor, I helped to sponsor an emergency bill (SB1224, and its House version, HB2496) to immediately hire 126 new CPS caseworkers, 20 supervisors, 4 assistant program managers, 30 case aides, and 12 additional support staff. This will help a great deal to get through the backlog of uninvestigated cases of abuse and neglect that were discovered in October, and get on top of the cases that have come into the agency since then. It is not the solution, but it is a good start. The bills are slated to come to the floor tomorrow or Thursday for a final vote and then the Governor's signature.
--> The Senate will lose a man of integrity: Let me tell you a story about my first encounter with Senate Majority Leader John McComish (R-Ahwatukee), who was at the time House Majority Whip. When I originally related this story in my twelfth-ever Farley Report, I was not able to name names. Now I can. This story says a lot about why I am honored to consider John not just a colleague, but also a friend, and why Arizona is lucky he decided to serve.
On the first week of my first session in the House of Representatives in January 2007, I had a problem.
The IRS Conformity Bill is heard and passed every year and is crucial to all taxpayers and accountants in the state. It conforms Arizona tax law with new federal tax laws enacted in the previous year, basically so that taxpayers can enjoy the same tax credits, bracket adjustments, and rules on their state taxes as on their federal taxes. This bill needs to pass for everyone's sake.
The Chair of my Ways & Means committee, Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) attached a very controversial amendment to this IRS bill that would require all employers to withhold school tax credit contributions from employees and then distribute them to the individual schools every two weeks--a huge burden on small business. His bill had previously been vetoed and would likely be vetoed again by Governor Napolitano, so he tacked it onto a bill that must pass.
In March of that year, I called my accountant asking why my tax return hadn't been finalized yet, and she told me that she had been waiting with all her clients for this IRS Conformity Bill to pass. So had accountants all over the state. But it hadn't yet been heard in caucus, COW, or third read in the House, much less Senate.
So I went and talked to House Whip John McComish, where this was news to him. His leadership team had been trying to get Yarbrough to agree to withdraw that amendment on the floor so it could proceed unencumbered to passage, but there was not yet an agreement. They were not aware that accountants are all waiting for this consensus public-interest bill.
Even though I am a Democrat, John suggested that I run a floor amendment to add the unencumbered Conformity Bill language to another germane bill in order to get it moving to the Governor for signature. John didn't care about what party got credit, he just wanted to do what was right for the people of Arizona, and I was simply a colleague providing a solution to a problem. That's how John thinks. We need more legislators who think like John.
With John's help I did a bunch of shuttle diplomacy with Republicans in the House and obtained the support of Rep. Rich Crandall (R-Mesa), himself a CPA, who agreed to speak in favor of my amendment. Yarbrough spoke against. The amendment passed by a voice vote over Yarbrough's objections, so the IRS Conformity Bill became part of SB1157, and the old IRS Conformity Bill--trapped in Rules Committee by the Yarbrough amendment--became moot.
The next day, SB1157 passed unanimously in Third Read by a 55-0 vote (with Yarbrough voting yes) and passed with an emergency clause back to the Senate, where the original bill's sponsor Republican Senator Jim Waring concurred with the amendment, it passed final read, and it received the Governor's signature. I received congratulatory phone calls from CPAs for days for helping to engineer the first bill signed in the 2007 session. No one knew John's role.
I have since worked with John on many issues, and most recently he was the first person I approached about allocating the interests from the Rainy Day fund to Arts and Parks. Thanks to his enthusiasm for the idea, and our work together behind the scenes, we were able to obtain $1 million for the Arts Commission and $1 million for the State Parks Board in the most recent budget, and hope to obtain $2 million each this year.
Yesterday, John McComish announced he was not running for re-election to the Senate. He has been battered by the right wing of his own party for having the guts to introduce the groundbreaking bill to restore Medicaid coverage to 350,000 people in poverty against the will of his party's legislative leaders. The extremist former chair of the Arizona Republican Party, whom John had considered a friend, last week announced he would challenge him in the primary, saying about John's bipartisanship, "When you lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas."
I know John, class act that he is, could have beaten this guy, but I understand that he feels it is time to move on to bigger and better things, where he will not be attacked for his integrity.
John, after you leave I will miss you each day I serve and beyond. I only hope I can live up to your inspirational model of community service beyond partisanship.
--> My first bill this session gets a hearing next week: Senator Judy Burges (R-Skull Valley), the chair of the Transportation Committee, next Tuesday afternoon at 2pm will hear my bill SB1032 to force all future specialty license plates to have a standardized design so that they are easily recognizable to law enforcement and witnesses to crimes as Arizona plates. I will tell you more about the bill along with the outcome in the next Farley Report.
--> Six more bills I have filed: I now have 17 bills in the hopper so far, and plan to file my remaining two bills by Thursday. Here is a brief rundown of the numbers they have been assigned so you can follow their progress at azleg.gov as they move forward (or don't).
SB1169 tax credits; rate reductions; suspension (By a simple majority vote (not the 2/3 majority usually required for increasing revenues to the state) this bill would suspend certain non-job-creating corporate tax cuts until we meet certain reasonable goals in achievement and funding in our public schools. Even many business leaders are now saying we need a better-trained workforce more than we need more tax cuts.)
SB1170 bicycle equipment (Requires bike helmets for kids under 18)
SB1233 infrastructure financing authority; transportation projects (Sets up a state infrastructure bank, capitalized by money from our surplus, as a revolving loan fund for transportation projects all over the state, including border trade infrastructure, passenger rail, and roadways. Was just assigned to three committees by President Biggs, a tough path to victory, despite strong support from the business community and local governments.)
SB1262 task force; gas tax replacement (Creates a diverse 24-member task force of transportation system users from all over the state who will recommend options to replace our dying gas tax as a source of funding for our transportation system, then empowered to have ADOT run pilot programs based on their suggestions.)
SB1263 financial abuse of elders; reports (Supported by the Attorney General's office, the bill would require financial institutions who suspect fraudulent transactions regarding seniors' accounts to report this activity to local law enforcement for possible investigation. Would crack down on scams aimed at seniors; supported by the Senior Caucus, newly formed by Rep. Victoria Steele (D-Tucson), Rep. Kate Brophy McGee (R-Phoenix), Sen. Kelli Ward (R-Havasu), and I.)
SB1264 county motor vehicle fuel taxes (Would allow county supervisors to institute a 3% local gas tax for transportation projects in the counties in which the taxes are collected, an immediate fix for our transportation funding crisis. Clark County, Nevada, just did this.)
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley