March 26,2018 | Triadvocates
1. Friday marked the end of the second and final “Hell Week” of session—the last week for bills to be heard in committee, with the exception of the appropriations committees in both chambers, which have an extra week to consider legislation. With the window to introduce – or resurrect – measures quickly closing, Capitol watchers are on the lookout for strike-everything amendments – also known as “strikers” – for items that haven’t yet been debated. After next week, the focus will shift to budget negotiations and remaining floorwork. In the spirit of Spring Training, you could say we’re getting ready for the seventh-inning stretch. Sine Die is so close, yet so far.
2. For the past two years, many in the education community have been plotting ways to extend and expand the current voter-approved six-tenths of a cent sales tax that benefits various education programs and expires in 2020. Sen. Kate Brophy McGee and Rep. Doug Coleman – both Republicans – had the “crazy idea” to simply pass a bill that would keep the sales tax in place. However, leadership kept their bills in the bottom drawer, so to speak, the entire session, as most Capitol pundits believed this conservative Legislature would never approve such a tax. Then, with one week left to hear bills in committee, these bills found new life. Late Thursday, the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved the extension of the tax. Democrats wanted more money, while Republicans wanted reform, but those debates will be saved for another day, as this ship is sailing straight to the governor’s desk for his signature.
3. Last Wednesday, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that voters will have a say on Proposition 305, a ballot initiative that asks if they want to keep or do away with an expansion of the state's school voucher-style program. The decision is a big win for Save Our Schools Arizona—a mostly grassroots group of parents and public-education advocates that united last year 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 voters in November, but supporters of the measure waged a legal battle in an effort to keep the initiative off the ballot. The ruling deals a final blow to those supporters and upholds a lower court decision.
4. On Thursday, GOP lawmakers on the House Government Committee approved SCR1034—a resolution to overhaul the membership of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) by increasing the number of commissioners to nine from five. The measure passed along party lines, despite fierce scrutiny from Democrats who believe it will disenfranchise minority voting blocs. The sponsor, Senate President Steve Yarbrough, says the resolution is intended to ensure that the process of redrawing Arizona’s legislative and congressional district boundaries is as nonpartisan as possible. It now awaits a vote in the full House and, because it was amended in committee, will have to go back to the Senate for a final vote before it goes to the Secretary of State for inclusion on the ballot.
5. Late last week, the Legislature passed HB2005, a controversial bill driven by APS and the other large utilities. Ostensibly, the measure is aimed at protecting Arizona from ballot initiatives, paid for by out-of-state interests, that would set high renewable energy standards to mirror some of our neighboring states. However, opponents of the bill say it’s nothing more than another attempt to circumvent the will of the voters. HB2005 insulates utilities from failing to comply with renewable energy standards, now or in the future, by setting the maximum allowable penalty at $5,000. The measure cleared both chambers on a party-line vote, 16-12 in the Senate and 34-24 in the House, and was signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday.
In explaining his vote on HB2005, controversial bill driven by APS and the other large utilities, Republican Rep. Rusty Bowers offered the following:
“Mr. Speaker, I rise to explain my vote. I need to tell you a story.
Unfortunately, one day, Rep. Drew John passed away and found himself at the pearly gates. When he sought entry, he was told he needed to take the elevator, and it only went down. When the elevator door opened, he stepped out and saw a businessman in a nice office.
‘Where am I?’ said Mr. John.
‘You’re in Hell,’ the businessman said.
‘Really? This is Hell?’ asked Mr. John.
‘Yes. We have three doors and you have to pick which door you are going in,’ the businessman answered.
So Mr. John opened the first door—and there was Rep. Vince Leach, explaining his vote on a bill. [Leach, a conservative Republican, has been an outspoken proponent of the bill, urging lawmakers to “stand up against wealthy, out-of-state interests to defend the state's Constitution.”]
‘I can’t handle that,’ said Mr. John, and he closed the door.
He opened the second door, and there was fire and flames and smoke. And then he saw Bas Aja – the longtime cattle industry lobbyist – with a bunch of Future Farmers of America (FFA) kids.
‘I can’t handle that either,’ said Mr. John.
So he opened the third door, and it was beautiful and sunny and breezy. And there was Rep. Ken Clark, sipping a lemonade, lying on a lounge chair and being attended to by a flock of APS lobbyists. [Clark, a Democrat, has been an outspoken critic of the legislation, arguing that Republicans are “guaranteeing a lawsuit."]
Mr. John asked, “Mr. Clark, is this Hell?’
‘Oh yes,’ Mr. Clark answered.
‘But you look like you’re having a great time! This looks great,’ said Mr. John.
‘Oh,’ said Mr. Clark. ‘This is not Hell for me. This is Hell for the APS lobbyists.”
And, with that, Rep. Bowers voted “yes” on the bill, which passed along party lines and was signed into law by the governor on Friday.