As this session nears its end in swirls of confounding chaos, please indulge an astrophysics analogy.
Think back to your days watching Cosmos (the Carl Sagan version if you're my age, the Neil DeGrasse Tyson version if you're a bit younger). You may recall the intense drama surrounding the projected end of life for our sun about six billion years from now. (Say it with me now, Sagan fans, ("Billyuns and Billyuns".)
As almost all the hydrogen in its core converts to helium, that helium begins fusing together to form carbon. That releases much more energy which will push the sun's chaotically churning atmosphere dramatically outward until the sun, as a Red Giant, engulfs Mercury, Venus, and perhaps Earth in a chain of destruction. Ultimately, that much expanding chaos cannot sustain itself, and it shrinks away to a White Dwarf, leaving frozen waste where once was thriving life.
Perhaps I'm overstating it just a bit after a long and surreal night on the Senate Approps committee, but I believe the arc of life for our sun is suggestive of what we are seeing here as the decades-long reign of expanding and consolidating right-wing rule in Arizona is nearing its antonym of apotheosis.
Our Arizona elected officials, fueled by the Tea Party grassroots and Koch Brothers money have consolidated their power in all offices and the resulting energy is hurling us toward a huge, gaudy, loud, cacophonous and destructive end.
Our job is to witness the destruction and stop its worst effects until the next time we have a chance to change our course in 2016 by changing the people currently filling these elective offices.
Meanwhile, as a first-hand witness to these ugly events, here are a few things I have seen this week.
--> Today in a dark-money summit over lunch Gov. Doug Ducey introduced Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in a $10,000-a-table fundraiser for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce so they can continue their efforts to lobby for more corporate tax cuts. I can't tell you what happened because I was busy working, and the media were not allowed in the room That's why it's called dark money, I guess.
--> One of the things they might have talked about was sharing strategies for how to slash education while claiming an increase in funding. The Ducey administration has doubled down on their Orwellian public statements that his and Biggs' budget increased education funding despite the facts that community colleges were zeroed out, universities slashed to their lowest per-student funding in at least sixty years, and public schools cut by $352.4 million with additional cuts to JTEDs and another $8-18 million swiped from TUSD in particular. They have rolled out as shills several far-right school board members who don't use the word "cuts" but say in promotional videos that the Ducey/Biggs budget is good for schools because it helps them take a hard look at whether they should be funding various programs (presumably like libraries, nurses, cafeterias, etc.). The public does not appear to be buying the spin, and I think these education cuts are activating a whole range of parents and others across the political spectrum to get involved in the elections next time.
--> We have new information that explains why the Ducey/Biggs budget was rushed through the process so early and quickly in the middle of the night (besides the lack of public input that affords). The legislative Financial Advisory Committee is next meeting on April 9. This group of the state's leading economists will be presenting economic growth projections and new revenue figures that show we are doing better than expected. Which means that a budget created today would not have needed to make all those cuts that were made in the budget a few weeks ago, even if they still refused to use new revenues from closing tax loopholes.
It appears that legislative leaders and Gov. Ducey rushed the process in order to use an artificially worse deficit to advance their education-cutting agenda while they could. And it has now been revealed that Ducey's dark-money pusher, Sean Noble of the political consulting firm DC London, was working overtime on budget night to convert Republican holdouts. This is the same guy who used dark money to fund robocalls attacking superintendents who were telling people how bad the Ducey/Biggs cuts are to education.
--> Meanwhile, the #WarOnSchools continues during this striker season. You will recall that strikers are zombie bills with new language that replace an unrelated bill, designed to get through at the last minute with minimal vetting -- the Alt Fuels crisis was precipitated by such a striker years ago. As I write this, House Appropriations Committee is hearing two strikers that would attack TUSD again.
It appears that I have been successful in stopping SB1371 with your help -- a bill backed by ATRA (see the Farley Report from several weeks ago) that would have eliminated $211 million in desegregation funding from public school districts all over Arizona, including $64 million a year from TUSD and $87 million from Phoenix Union High School District. The striker on SB1120 (pushed by Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley) who is also behind the Kill Common Core bill) is another bite at that apple. It would narrow the focus to only TUSD and PUHSD, and put their funding at risk in a more bureaucratic way.
The provisions force both districts to pay for an annual "forensic audit" by the state Auditor General on the deseg spending, and would not allow them to spend any of their money until the audit is both finished AND reviewed by the House Appropriations Committee, which could take a year to be in session for that review -- thus precluding spending the funds altogether. Bear in mind that TUSD is already required by the federal judge to submit to many audits of this spending each year, so this bill is nothing but punitive.
In fact, one of the plaintiffs, Sylvia Campoy, stated this morning in the Arizona Daily Star that "the outcome of this audit won't matter for this body of mean-spirited legislators. They're trying to kill critical components of education, if not public education altogether."
The other striker, on SB1076, would alter the 1% cap language approved in the state budget in a way that makes it harder for Pima County and TUSD to sue the state to overturn those cuts. it contains long and complicated legal language that we are still parsing (just the thing for a last minute striker with no input!) that appears to lock in the previously enacted $8-18 million cut from TUSD (with the balance from Pima County) while not allowing them to replace the cuts with funding from any other source. It also appears that the language takes money from several community college districts in rural areas around the state which had previously avoided being zeroed out (unlike Pima and Maricopa).
--> Speaking of Approps, last night we had a very long meeting with lots of strikers lasting from 4pm through 10pm. First up was HB2320 from Rep. Brenda Barton (R-Payson) to force all cities and counties to allow guns from concealed carry permit holders in all public buildings (including courthouses, convention centers, stadiums, DES offices, Child Safety offices, libraries, zoning hearings, city council and county supervisor chambers, and everything else public, unless the governmental entity pays to install metal detectors, lockers, and security guards. Maricopa County alone estimated it would cost $47 million to comply.
I suggested that the Arizona CCW permit designation wasn't a very high bar to clear if your aim is to prove gun competence, since this Legislature several years ago altered the training requirements to delete any training in marksmanship or shooting judgment. At the time we liberalized the training, Nevada law enforcement decided to no longer recognize our CCW permits because they consider them inadequate. Since then 15 states have decided to not recognize our permits.
The most surprising moment of the hearing came with the explanation of vote from Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake) when she said, verbatim, "We should be debating a bill requiring every American to attend the church of their choice on Sunday to see if we can get back to having a moral rebirth. But since that would never be allowed and we would not even be debating that, I am going to vote yes that people who are responsible and have a CCW permit don't have to worry about their gun as they're out and about doing their business in whatever building they're in." She seems to have skipped over the First Amendment on her way to the sacred Second.
Today, she rose on the floor to say she was offended that I tweeted her public statement about wanting a law to require church attendance, and offended that the media was asking her for comment. She explained herself by talking about the moral decay in which she believes we find ourselves and contrasted it with her early years of moral righteousness in our country. She told a story illustrating this higher moral time about her childhood in the late 50s and early 60s when she used to take the bus with her girlfriends down to the soda fountain to have a drink all by themselves and no one threatened them.
I was not able to respond in kind when President Biggs moved quickly to third reads, but I commented to media later that had Sen. Allen been African American in the South at the same time, she and her girlfriends would have had to ride in the back of the bus and been refused service at the soda fountain. Different people see the moral standing of the 50s and 60s in somewhat different ways.
--> Later in that Senate Approps meeting we heard HB2419 from House Majority Leader David Stevens (R-Sierra Vista), seatmate of Speaker David Gowan, that would eliminate the minimal fee on gold sales through pawn shops currently being used successfully by law enforcement to fund a program to track down stolen goods at pawn shops and return them to crime victims. The only testimony in favor of the bill was an out-of-state pawn shop company called CashAmerica International. Police detectives from Phx and Mesa testified against the bill. It was defeated 4-4 on the first vote, but was forced to reconsideration and passage by Speaker Gowan who it was said "loves the bill" that would end this excellent program that helps crime victims. I will be interested to find out why he loves this terrible bill that would have failed without using his position to muscle Republican senators.
--> Today I found out that there are a number of bills that Gowan "loves", and found a list titled "The Speaker's Bills" that is being circulated among Republicans. They are not strong enough to survive on their own and have already died in some form, but are being resurrected in new and creative ways right now. I will list them (along with 2419) and leave it to you to decide what they have in common and why he might be "loving" them.
Stevens' HB2662 (speed restrictions; penalties) would eliminate felony speeding charges, even at speeds more than 20mph over the maximum speed limit, and would make speeding of less than 11mph over the speed limit a $15 ticket with no points. It was not heard in the Senate, and is being added as a striker to SB1274 in House Approps tonight.
Stevens' HB2411 (defensive driving schools, eligibility) would reduce the minimum time between tickets before derivers are allowed to clear the offense by taking a Defensive Driving course from 24 months (already one of the most lenient in the country to 12 months (the most lenient). This despite studies showing that offenders are more likely to re-offend and get into an accident if they take the course than if they pay the fine. It was not heard in the Senate Transportation Committee, but was struck onto HB2308 in a different committee and is up for third read as early as tomorrow.
Rep. Warren Peterson's HB2211 (autocycles; motorized quadricycles) allowing souped up golf carts on regular roads. Heard in Senate Transportation after armtwisting.
Stevens' HB2408 (towing contracts; DPS) a bill originated by towing companies that DPS has big problems with. Held twice in Senate Public Safety, failed in Senate Transportation, and struck onto HB2416 in Senate Approps.
--> Speaking of Speaker Gowan, the House he controls has not been assigning bills from people he doesn't like (from both parties) to committees until after committee hearing deadlines, thus assuring their death by nonassignment. His public information officer stated publicly that the Speaker would only advance bills "that advance the Republican agenda."
My SCM 1011 to urge the federal government to change underwriting standards to allow sole proprietors and small business owners to refinance their homes -- with every Republican senator as cosponsor, including Biggs, and which passed the Senate unanimously -- was unassigned to any House committee from February 16 to March 16, when it was assigned to a committee after the deadline for hearing bills the last week that committee met.
Another bill that was unassigned until March 16 and thus unheard was Sen. Bob Worsley's SB1273 which would solve a huge problem that will strike us all next January. The federal government in 2005 enacted the Real ID act that mandates a more secure form of driver's license be implemented by states in order to be used as ID for federal purposes in response to the 9/11 attacks. The deadline for completion has been adjusted numerous times since then, but the final deadline is now January 1, 2016.
This is important -- so please share with your friends to make them aware. Arizona licenses are not currently compliant, even the new ones. If you try to use them as ID to board a plane after January 1, 2016, you will not be admitted. You will only be able to board with a passport or passport card. Worsley's bill would repeal a ban on these complaint IDs enacted by the Legislature in 2008 and allow Arizonans to get a compliant driver's license for $15 so we are ready.
The bill is being added as an amendment to SB1274 in House Approps tonight, and I sure hope it gets through, although Speaker Gowan is being coy about its chances in his public statements. It's not a bill he "loves".
--> Rep. Barton's HB2150 is now on the Governor's desk. It would strip farm animals (including horses) out of the animal anti-cruelty code and put them in the weaker Agriculture code, and force law enforcement to inform the Agriculture Department about ongoing investigations which could compromise their integrity. It is opposed by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Gov. Ducey pledged during the campaign on his website, "I do not support exemptions in our anti-cruelty codes for any class of domesticated animals." For the sake of animals, now would be a good time to remind him of his pledge and urge his veto: 602-542-4331.
--> Never fear, even in all this chaos swirling around, there is possibility for positive change. I have been working with Sen. David Farnsworth (R-Mesa) to create more opportunities for growing Arizona businesses and creating good Arizona jobs. The Phoenix Business Journal just posted a good article highlighting one of the ways I have been working with Farnsworth to do just that. Our crowdfunding bill for startups HB2591 (where we joined with Rep. Jeff Weninger (R-Chandler)) is also on its way toward a gubernatorial signature, I believe.
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson