Howdy, Friends O'Farley…
There are many caucuses in the Arizona Legislature besides the Republican and Democratic caucuses, including the Children's Caucus, Native American Caucus, Tourism Caucus, Animal Caucus, and others organized around important issues.
There is one glaring omission, especially for a state with as many older citizens as Arizona -- a Senior Caucus. So I set out to create one and find members of both parties to help.
Living with my mother's four-year struggle with dementia (which ended in her death last April) made very clear to me that we need to work together in a bipartisan way to educate ourselves and develop policies that confront the very real issues associated with aging.
The first expression of this nascent caucus is a trio of bills I introduced yesterday, each of which was co-sponsored by Republicans Kimberly Yee (Phoenix), Rick Gray (Sun City), and Cecil Ash (Mesa):
HB2713 establishes the Arizona Long-Term Care Trust, a program whereby taxpayers can set aside funds from their paycheck into a savings account that can accrue tax-free interest and be withdrawn for long-term care expenses when needed. Increasing numbers of us are needing long-term care of some kind, and we are going to face a major financial crisis as a society due to increasing costs unless we find a way to pay for it. This trust makes saving for long-term care more attractive to all of us.
HB2714 requires that financial institutions with reasonable suspicion that an elder is a victim of financial abuse must report that suspicion to the Attorney General's office for possible investigation. Elder financial abuse has become an increasing problem across the country as more vulnerable adults are depending on others for their financial decisions, some of whom do not have the elders' best interests in mind. Door-to-door and other financial scams that take advantage of trusting seniors would especially be targeted.
HB2715 establishes a registry of caregivers of seniors and the developmentally disabled in both institutional and at-home settings who have a substantiated history of abuse toward their clients. Currently abusive caregivers are hard to track in a business that has high employee turnover rates. This would enable seniors and care facilities to find out any past history of abuse before any hire.
These are strong, bipartisan bills that help seniors and those who love them. They deserve a fair hearing. Sadly, the Speaker of the House Andy Tobin (R-Paulden) appears to be making Democratic bills' road to passage very difficult this year through unfavorable committee assignments.
A little civics refresher: After a House bill is introduced, the Speaker assigns each bill to the committee in which it will be eligible to be heard. That committee chair then has the power to either hear or hold the bill. If the latter, the bill is dead, and can only be brought back as a strike-everything amendment to another bill being heard elsewhere, a difficult task over the objections of a chair who wants it to stay dead.
A favorable committee assignment would be placement in one committee with a supportive chair. The speaker also has the power to assign bills to two or more committees. Double or even triple-assigning a bill dramatically reduces the chances of a bill's success because that bill must be heard in each committee to which it is assigned, in the order in which it is assigned. In short, the Speaker will double-assign a bill that he does not want to proceed.
I decided to do a little statistical analysis of how often bills are being double-assigned based on the party affiliation of the bill's prime sponsor. The results are really instructive:
Out of 456 total House bills so far introduced by Republicans (an average of 11.4 bills per member), 21% have been double-assigned.
Out of 135 total House bills so far introduced by Democrats (an average of 6.75 bills per member)…
wait for it…
70% have been double-assigned. So much for letting bills stand or fall on their own.
I have the distinct honor of being the prime sponsor of the only bill in the House to have been TRIPLE-assigned: HB2645, which would sunset all the special-interest corporate tax loopholes in our sales tax code. It has 22 co-sponsors, but will not be able to make it to floor debate except as an amendment to another bill.
This is more than coincidence. Bills with a Democratic name at the top are three-and-a-third times more likely to be doomed from the start with a double committee assignment, thanks to the decision of one man, the Speaker.
This isn't the only less-than-democratic activity Speaker Tobin has been pursuing in the past week. He introduced five bills last Thursday that would unilaterally destroy the Independent Redistricting Commission and cast aside their hundreds of hours of public meetings and all their work. In their place would be maps drawn up by one man -- the Speaker.
Interestingly, the Speaker's own district on his legislative map would guarantee his re-election for as long as he wants to run -- it has a 20% Republican registration advantage. The maps would pack minority voters into fewer districts, resulting in less minority representation and clear violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.
Mr Tobin is asking us to spend $8.3 million in taxpayer money to hold a special election on May 15 to ask voters to approve his map, literally drawn by two people in a windowless room in the House basement. Even Senate President Steve Pierce, the Speaker's seatmate, knew nothing about it. Mr Tobin has already declared in public that he will not entertain any amendments to the maps from anyone, and will move them forward "as-is".
His actions are so brazen, it takes your breath away. Many of his own caucus members have already moved into and started campaigning in the new districts. No one is likely to step up to say they would fund the campaign in favor of the Tobin map. And what happens in the unlikely event that voters agree to adopt one legislator's secret self-perpetuating dream map on May 15, given that the petition signatures needed to run in those districts are due two weeks later?
I am presuming that this plan will not get very far, but anything is possible in this place, so I will watch this very carefully and report to you any opportunity for you to get involved in stopping this travesty.
Meanwhile, the legislative sausage factory grinds on in other ways, as we proceed through our third full week of hearing bills…
--> Passing through the Higher Ed committee was HB2383 from Judiciary Committee Chair Eddie Farnsworth (R-Gilbert). A constituent of his approached him with a problem. That constituent wanted to go to a local community college, but was informed that Arizona requires the usual regimen of vaccinations in order to attend universities and community colleges in order to ward off major outbreaks of dangerous diseases that could otherwise use college campuses as outbreak vectors.
The constituent did not believe in vaccinations, so he did not want to get them in order to go to college. Rep. Farnsworth decided to introduce HB2383 to solve his problem by prohibiting universities and community colleges from requiring vaccinations from any student.
Encouragingly, every single medical and public health organization in Arizona signed up in opposition to the bill when it was heard in the Higher Ed committee last week. Discouragingly, their united opposition -- combined with the lack of even one member of the public in support -- failed to sway Republican committee members who all voted in favor of the bill, which is now headed for the House floor.
--> Passing through the Ways & Means committee was three different bills (HB2133, 2488, and 2597), each aiming to repeal the Capital Gains tax in Arizona. You may have heard about how Mitt Romney is paying an effective rate of less than 15% on his taxes -- much less than most middle class families have to pay. That's because his income is almost entirely from investments, which are subject to the federal 15% capital gains rate instead of the usual 38% for his income bracket.
Sponsors say that reduced rate is aimed to spur capital investment in businesses. But as I pointed out in committee, it also applies to investment in luxuries like jewelry, yachts, and private islands, none of which will help create jobs in Arizona.
The biggest problem is the cost, and who pays for it. Eliminating the Capital Gains tax in Arizona would cost us more than $420,000,000 a year, taking up nearly all of this year's surplus. Remember, that surplus came primarily from cuts to our kids' education, healthcare for kids and adults in poverty, and foreclosed homeowners who no longer can take their home mortgage interest tax deduction.
So what these bills would do is take money from our kids and foreclosed homeowners and give it to millionaires -- reverse redistribution of wealth.
And for what reason? Economists agree that what we need now is not more capital investment -- we need more consumer demand. We need to find more ways to get money into the pockets of the American middle class, not to the 1% who are getting by just fine.
You can read excellent coverage of the hearings on the Cap Gains bills in this Howie Fischer article: http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/arizona/article_7e9517aa-4bba-11e1-8a08-001871e3ce6c.html
These bills are also headed to the floor with only Republican support. I will keep track of their progress as well.
As you know, the only special interest I report to is you. Please consider helping out my campaign for the State Senate as I carry out my leadership duties to recruit, support, and elect a new generation of Arizona leaders. I can't do this alone. I need your support right now.
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Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Representative.
Arizona State Representative, District 28
Assistant Minority Leader
Ranking Member, Transportation Committee
Ways & Means Committee
Capitol office: 602-926-3022
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