Speaker Bowers: It’s Time to Hear the People’s Agenda (video)

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The Arizona House is moving at a snail’s pace this session. In fact, Senator David Bradley has quipped that the Senate should take a one-month vacation so the House can catch up.

According to the Chief Clerk, as of Friday, the end of the fifth week of session, 744 House bills were dropped. Forth-seven percent of the bills (349)– including the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)– have not been first read (the first step in the process). Only 50 bills (7%) have been third read (the final vote). We voted on about half of those 50 on Thursday afternoon. The coming week will be NUTS because it is the final week for the House to hear House bills and for the Senate to hear Senate bills. At this point, there are a lot of bipartisan bills on the cutting room floor in the Speaker’s office.

With a 29-31 (D-R) split in the House, Speaker Rusty Bowers has been extremely cautious about what bills get to the floor for debate and a vote. Except for tax conformity, nothing controversial has made it to a “third read” vote. The vast majority of the bills we have voted on thus far passed through committee unanimously and passed the floor unanimously (or with just a few dissenters from one side or the other). We have had lively debates on ideological bills in my committees– Regulatory Affairs, Ways and Means, and Health and Human Services– but those bills haven’t made it to the floor yet. For example, Republicans on the Regulatory Affairs Committee passed a sub-minimum wage for workers under 22 who are also full-time students. Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee passed two different an income tax breaks to the wealthiest Arizonans. Republicans on the Health and Human Services Committee passed a bill labeling pornography as a public health crisis. (What about gun violence as a public health crisis?)

What has been left unheard in committee or on the floor? Plenty.

Important legislation that has wide bipartisan support and public support is not being heard– including the ERA, sentencing reform, cannabis reform, charter school reform, gun violence reform, anti-poverty legislation, etc. Hundreds of bills from Democrats and Republicans are sitting in the circular file. Why are these bills not being heard? Because they would likely pass, but they don’t fit into the Red State Playbook that has been guiding the Arizona Legislature for a decade.

The contrast is striking. We voted on a sub-minimum wage but not on equal pay for equal work. We voted on porn as a public health crisis but won’t discuss medically accurate sex education in schools to give children and teens factual information before they turn to Google to find out about sex. We heard a plethora of unnecessary deregulation bills but ignored a large collection of sentencing reform bills that were the product of a bipartisan working group of judges, lawyers, county attorneys, JPs, legislators, nonprofits, and interested parties that met for a year.

Here is a sampling of good bills that have wide support but have not moved passed the Speaker’s desk or a committee chair’s desk:

HCR2030, ratification of Equal Rights Amendment

HCR2028, ERA deadline; elimination; urging Congress

HB2270, earned release credits; prisoners; literacy. This reduces time served from 85% of the sentence to 50% of the sentence before people are eligible for parole.

HB2245, mandatory minimum sentences; judicial discretion. This prohibits judges from stacking multiple minor offences to significantly lengthen sentences.

HB2362, expungement; arrest; conviction; sentencing records. This allows the record of a nonviolent offender to be expunged from their record. (See my Sentencing Reform video below on HB2270, HB2245, and HB 2245.)

HB2578, schools; sex education. It’s embarrassing that Arizona is one of the states that doesn’t teach medically accurate sex education.

HB2607, TANF; lifetime limit; sanctions. This extends the Temporary Assistance to Needly Families (TANF) to five years.

HB2410, campaign finance; contribution limits. This reduces the maximum individual donations from $6250 to $390 for city, town, county or district office; $488 for legislative office; and $1010 for statewide office. (These limits were raised in the middle of the night by Republicans a few years ago. HB2410 takes the limits back to what they were.)

HB2411, clean elections; county candidates. This expands the Citizens Clean Elections system to county races and unpaid boards. Why should people running for TUSD school board be fundraising outside of Tucson? (FYI, the City of Tucson has it’s own Clean Elections system.)

HB2409, political signs; size requirements. I know how much you hate those giant political signs. This would cap the size at 4×4′.

HB2577, state law;local violation; repeal. HB2577 would repeal the ultimate local control preemption law SB1487. This is the statute that allows any Legislator to complain about something a city is doing and spark an investigation of the city’s actions. If the city is found to be in violation of state law, the city must stop or be threatened with losing state shared revenue. (SB1487 is the reason why Tucson no longer has a gun buyback program and the reason why Bisbee no longer has a plastic bag ban.)

At last count, there were ~30 bills related to marijuana possession and sentencing or to medical marijuana regulation. There is bipartisan consensus  and bipartisan bills on these issues: Arizona’s harsh felony marijuana possession laws (the strictest in the country) are filling our prisons and ruining lives; the medical marijuana card price being too high (the highest in the country); medical marijuana should undergo testing for purity, pesticides, and other additives; the disconnect in language between the criminal code and the Medical Marijuana Act has to be fixed. Some form of all of these bills would pass the House. None of them are being heard. There are also bills on gun violence reform and charter school reform that are not being heard in the House.

If you are on the Request to Speak System (RTS), please log on and voice your opinion on these bills using the “My Bills Position” option under the Request to Speak section of the Arizona Legislature’s website. The Legislature needs to hear your voice.

Check out some of my videos below on the topics and bills mentioned above.