I had high hopes that this would be the last weekly Farley Report of the 51st Legislature, given the well-sourced rumors that we would adjourn Sine Die tomorrow. The word is now that we will be here at minimum another week, maybe two, to leave more room for mischief. Now that the budget is signed (less a few line items vetoed), it's full speed ahead for hundreds of bills, with quite a few land mines hidden among them. These are dangerous times, but I am on the lookout on your behalf!
More after the Farley Pledge Break:
It's that time again! If you'd like me to continue serving you in the Senate, I need to get re-elected. In order to get re-elected, I need two things from you tonight: Signatures and funding.
1) Signatures: If you live in District 9, and you like the representation I have been providing you, you can now sign my nominating petition online by clicking on this link. It's really easy and will take no more than 30 seconds of your time, so please click and sign today, and urge your friends to do the same. It costs you nothing! Thank you!
2) Funding: I need to raise money to get the word out to voters on why I should be re-elected. The more you can give now, the less I will have to bother you later!
My opponents (whoever they may be) may get more deep pockets in their corner (given the new maximum contribution of $4,000 per person!), but I feel confident I can match them stride for stride with your passion for good governance on my side. Please help me out in any way you can, starting today. Thank you!
On to the news:
--> Ending Predatory Lending in Arizona: In one of our six Committees of the Whole (COWs) today, we debated HB2526. This predatory lending comeback dramatically increases the interest for small consumer loans (while doubling the origination fees) and traps people in a cycle of poverty that many of us thought was banned after Arizona voters overwhelmingly rejected payday loans in 2008.
A few weeks ago in Finance Committee members from the majority party explained their Yes votes on the bill by saying that we needed to make these small consumer loans more profitable for the corporations that offer them to people in poverty (and too often members of our military who go broke while protecting our freedom) in order to offer better options than the horrible 204% loans being offered on nearly every streetcorner by auto title lenders.
As I stated on the floor today, that's a false choice. If Arizonans have a choice between getting hit on the head with a lead sledgehammer or getting hit on the head with a wooden baseball bat, it's not good policy to make it more likely that our constituents get hit on the head with the slightly lighter bat. Why not eliminate the threat of harm in the first place?
So I offered a solution I thought my colleagues across the aisle would support -- make the title lenders obey the same rules that everyone else in the lending industry has to obey, in the process eliminating the exception to the usury laws currently being enjoyed by these predatory lenders. This creates greater competition, lowers the top interest rate from 204% to 36%, and brings in the Department of Financial Institutions for oversight. What's not to like?
Apparently, plenty. My friends on the right protested that I had not received the sponsor's permission to amend the bill, so the amendment was "hostile" and should be rejected. The amendment was said not to be sufficiently vetted, although I was simply proposing placing these predatory lenders in the same regulatory framework in which all other lenders have successfully operated for decades.
Some said that poor people need these options to get small amounts of quick cash at outrageous interest rates, regardless of the threat to their financial future. The fact is there are many options that don't place people in a virtual debtor's prison. Lending circles are gaining ground, especially in immigrant communities, whereby 10 or 20 people agree to pay $100 a month into a fund, and each person gets the entire fund during one month to pay for big expenses. No interest is charged. If you get the money early, your $100 a month is like paying off a loan. If you get the money late, your $100 a month is like an enforced savings account. And very few people run out on these loans due to the very personal system of accountability.
In the end, my efforts to truly end predatory lending in Arizona were sadly defeated on party lines. I will continue to try. Several Republicans came up to me afterwards and said they would like to help next year. I will hold them at their word.
--> Budget signed with line-item vetoes: As I elaborated in detail last week, the budget sent to the Governor's desk failed most Arizonans, but for the most part it passed muster with the Governor. She signed the bills Friday, with a few line-item vetoes: A small-scale computer study, a backfill for counties to counteract for a tax break on electricity for manufacturers, equipment for rural JTEDs, Teach for America funding, a landing strip in Northern Arizona, and the legislative Ombudsman office.
One good bit that made it into the budget as signed was the second consecutive year of $1 million to the Arts Commission from the interest generated by the Rainy Day fund. This was the idea I developed last year that has been embraced by people from both parties and the Governor as a way to encourage entrepreneurial artists and arts organizations all over the state with direct grants to support their work in communities. This means organizational grants will stay at last year's levels, and the innovative ArtTank granting program (modeled after TV's Shark Tank) will continue for another year. This year, Senator Bob Worsley (R-Mesa) in particular deserves much credit for fighting to keep that funding.
Governor Brewer also committed to returning to the Legislature in the relatively near future in a special session to ask for more resources for the Child Protective Services crisis. I hope this time the request will include prevention programs, especially the elimination of the 6,600-strong waiting list for childcare subsidies.
--> News from the Land of the Undead Bills: As I mentioned earlier, we pumped through 70 bills in COW on the floor today so there was a whole lot to wade through, to put it mildly.
One of the least pleasant COWs was saved for last -- it included five different bills each aimed at further liberalizing our already liberal gun laws. And all will be given a Third Read vote tomorrow.
Two of them are sponsored by Brenda Barton (R-Payson). Taking the idea of corporate personhood into the world of guns, HB2338 broadens the definition of aggravated assault to include assaults against firearms. HB2339 forces private property owners to allow guns onto their property during public events, abrogating their private property rights and endangering the public.
John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) has another two: HB2483 forbids any local zoning that would restrict shooting on private property more than 1/4 mile from an occupied structure, and HB2535 limits the reasons a county sheriff can deny the transfer of a firearm (including rocket-propelled grenade launchers and bombs) to any individual.
And Steve Smith (R-Maricopa) has HB2517 which would set penalties for any city or county that tries to enforce its own gun laws on its own territory -- for example, no guns in parks, background checks at gun shows, and anything else relating to firearms.
Poll after poll has demonstrated that the majority of Arizonans, even the majority of gun owners, think that gun laws in Arizona are too liberal already and don't want them further relaxed. Already 15 other states refuse to accept Arizona's concealed carry permits because we require virtually no testing or checks to get one -- you just have to be over the age of 18.
And a new report finds that Arizona has the fourth-highest rate of gun violence in the country -- our gun death rate is 40% higher than the national average. The data also shows that the 10 states with the weakest gun laws collectively have a level of gun violence that is more than twice as high as the 10 states with the strongest gun laws.
We can support the Second Amendment while at the same time supporting common sense. It's time to strike down laws that make us less safe. It's time to change who controls the Arizona Legislature. #RememberInNovember
--> January 8 Memorial Bill passes House and Senate: We in Tucson understand all too well the terrible toll of gun violence. That Safeway where so many of our friends were killed and wounded in 2011 stands in the middle of Legislative District 9.
I co-sponsored a bill with my seatmates Victoria Steele and Ethan Orr supporting the creation of a permanent January 8 Memorial in the historic Pima County Courthouse honoring the victims of the tragedy and, in the words of the resolution, "our democratic right to participate in our own governance and our ability to have our elected representatives be accessible to us and willing to listen to our concerns free from violence or intimidation."
I read the text of HJR2002 on the Senate floor on Monday and it was adopted by unanimous consent and sent to the Governor for signature following a reading by Rep. Steele in the House and adoption there last Thursday. To find out more about the plans for the memorial and help bring it to life, please visit the Foundation's website at http://www.tucsonsmemorial.org
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley