May 08,2018 | Triadvocates
1. It is certainly safe to say this legislative session was rocked by #RedForEd—a grassroots movement that even the most veteran staffers at the Legislature said was unlike anything they’d seen in decades. The week before sine die, a red sea of more than 50,000 teachers, parents and education advocates marched to the Capitol, where they rallied for five days before legislators passed a budget that included the 20x2020 pay raise the governor promised them. The walkout shifted dynamics at the Legislature, put pressure on the Governor’s Office and will likely play a significant role in the upcoming election.
2. On Jan. 22, Gov. Doug Ducey called for a special session on the opioid epidemic. The legislation, which limits initial pain-pill fills to five days for “opioid-naïve” patients and imposes a maximum dosage limit for many others seeking new prescriptions, received bipartisan support and passed the Legislature by unanimous vote. After the four-day special session, the governor signed the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act, making it the first bill to become law in 2018.
3. On Feb. 1, the Arizona House of Representatives voted to expel Rep. Don Shooter – a powerful Republican from Yuma – from the Legislature over sexual misconduct allegations. Prior to his expulsion, Shooter was permanently and immediately removed from all committee assignments when findings from an investigation ordered by legislative leaders of his own party showed he engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment toward women. The 82-page report on Shooter verified allegations of inappropriate behavior and included interviews with roughly 40 insiders at the Capitol, including lawmakers, lobbyists and staffers. Despite the findings, Shooter made no indication that he intended to resign and, instead, sent a contentious letter to fellow lawmakers. Shortly thereafter, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard moved for a vote to expel him, making it the first legislative expulsion in decades. While legislators across the country have resigned or been stripped of their leadership posts after being accused of misconduct, Shooter is believed to be the first state lawmaker in the U.S. to be voted out of his seat since the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct began in 2017.
4. Between the special session on opioids, the budget standoff over teacher pay and the expulsion of one of its members, the Legislature still managed to alter state laws. Here are a few highlights:
- Eggs can stay on grocery shelves longer—or at least some of them. HB 2464 extends the expiration date that can be listed on eggs labeled Grade A – the second-highest grade – from 24 to 45 days after inspection. The pull-by date for Grade AA – the highest grade – will still be subject to the current 24-day pull date. House Speaker J.D. Mesnard called it an "eggcellent” bill.
- When it comes to heated debates, the war over soft drinks is one of the classics. We may never be able to reach consensus when it comes to the best-tasting cola, but at least we won’t have to pay more for it. With his signature on HB 2484, the governor barred Arizona cities and counties from joining a growing national trend of taxing soda.
- When the governor signed HB 2434, Arizona became the first state in the nation to enact legislation establishing a “regulatory sandbox” program where companies can try out innovative financial products to offer to Arizonans without having to be licensed or get other regulatory authority.
- Arizona now has an official state dinosaur—the Sonorasaurus.
- Rejoice—you no longer have to stress about the expiration date when your coworkers give you that Applebee’s gift card for your birthday every year. SB 1264 limits the ability of those who sell gift cards in Arizona from including an expiration date.
5. Just as notable as the bills that passed are the bills that never made it to the finish line. Here’s a rundown of what didn’t end up happening this session:
- Gun Violence & School Safety: In response to the high school shooting in Florida, Gov. Doug Ducey announced a proposal to enhance school and community safety in Arizona—a key piece of which was gun safety reforms. Throughout the legislative process, the proposed language was significantly modified in an effort to reach consensus among stakeholders. After more than seven hours of floor debate, SB 1519 passed the Senate on a partisan vote but ultimately died in the House. While the bill never made it to the governor’s desk, the signed budget includes investments for behavioral health and suicide prevention in schools, which were both included in the original school safety legislation.
- Water Policy: The legislative session kicked off with Gov. Doug Ducey asking legislators to identify “one voice” on water policy—a request he mentioned in his State of the State address before introducing a legislative proposal. The concept was the subject of intense scrutiny from several lawmakers, especially from Sen. Gail Griffin and Rep. Rusty Bowers, who spearheaded a legislative water policy listening tour. The Legislature introduced its own water package but, ultimately, neither the governor nor the Legislature won the battle. As a result, water policy remains the same in Arizona…for now.
- School Voucher Repeal: Last summer, Save Our Schools Arizona – a mostly grassroots group of parents and public-education advocates – united after Gov. Doug Ducey and GOP lawmakers passed legislation to expand eligibility for public students to participate in the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program. The group collected enough signatures to refer the expansion to the ballot in November, and supporters of the program were unsuccessful in defeating the effort in court. Throughout session, the ongoing rumor was that Republicans were plotting an attempt to knock Proposition 305 off the ballot and prevent voters from having a final say on the expansion of the school-voucher program. Even into the final hours, there were attempts to repeal it, however, there weren’t enough votes to get it done—largely due to the pressure the Secretary of State has put on key legislators, as well as the sweltering impact of the #RedForEd movement.
- Digital Goods: There was a lot of talk throughout session regarding the taxation of digital goods and services—specifically the parameters for determining the taxable status of digital goods and services at the state and local levels. The business community was in strong support of the proposed legislation, as it provided clarity and certainty on tax liability. However, the cities and education stakeholders strongly opposed the bill because of the possible reduction in revenue from local tax revenues, as well as the fact that it would effectively narrow the tax base.
- County Excise Tax: After several revivals throughout session, legislation to allow counties to impose their own “excise tax” on gasoline to fund road construction and maintenance needs ultimately failed.
If you’re not familiar with the #StartYourOwnRumor tradition at the Arizona Legislature, here’s the story:
Like clockwork, the Legislature is slammed every year for dragging session on too long—but, for some reason or another, the criticism in 2011 was particularly harsh. At the time, Kirk Adams was serving as Speaker of the House, but was considering stepping down from his speakership to run for Congress. While he was pushing to wrap up session in under 100 days because of the increasing public scrutiny, a rumor started flying around the Capitol that he was determined to sine die that week because he had a fundraiser in D.C. for his congressional race. In response to the rumor, he did what only the bravest of humans do when they are frustrated—he took to Twitter. He started tweeting random, funny rumors about himself and other legislators, using the #StartYourOwnRumor hashtag. And thus, a tradition was born. Each year, in the days leading up to sine die, legislators, legislative staff and lobbyists tweet out their own rumors, providing much-needed humor during long and stressful days at the Capitol.
These were our top contenders for best #StartYourOwnRumor this year: