A week ago, on Monday, March 9, I urged for the state of Arizona to make a serious financial investment in prevention and control of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
On Tuesday, March 10, several House Democrats met to discuss prevention, control, treatment, and economic strategies to combat the Coronavirus in Arizona. Later that day, the House Democratic Leadership met with Governor Doug Ducey’s staff, urged appropriation of significant funds to get ahead of the outbreak, and discussed House Democratic Caucus ideas.
On Wednesday, March 11, Ducey declared a state of emergency in Arizona, hours after health officials announced the ninth case in Arizona and the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. At that point, there were three cases in Maricopa County, five in Pinal and one in Pima.
On Thursday, March 12, our first vote of the day was to suspend the rules and pass SB1051 to continue the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) and appropriate $55 million from the Rainy Day Fund to ADHS to fight COVID-19. Any funds that are unspent at the end of the fiscal year (June 30, 2021) will go back to the Public Health Emergency Fund. In addition, KTAR reported that the federal government had promised $12 million for Arizona.
On Friday, March 13, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, along with CEOs from Roche, WalMart, Target, Walgreens, CVS, testing labs, and nursing home chains addressed the nation regarding the federal government’s response to COVID-19. Trump declared a national emergency, which freed up $50 billion to fight COVID-19, and he waived some regulations in the Department of Health and Human Services. The event featured the contributions of the multinational corporations. Roche was lauded for developing a new COVID-19 text in a matter of days. Trump said there will be 1.4 million test kits this coming week and 5 million within the next month. WalMart and Walgreens agreed to allow part of their parking lots to be used for drive-through COVID-19 cheek swab tests. (People who think they may have COVID-19 don’t even have to get out of their cars; this is being done in other countries.) Testing labs are gearing up to test. Nursing homes talked about protecting elders and restricting visitation. (Oh… also… Trump announced the federal government is going to help out the oil and gas industry by buying up large reserves of fuel. This has nothing to do with COVID-19 but everything to do with the price war between Russia and the Saudis, which has caused the price of a barrel of oil to drop.)
What was left out of the press conference? None of these major employers mentioned how they will help their employees who have to stay home due to their own illness or that of a family member. WalMart is the biggest employer in the US. Nothing. Their big contribution is to allow the feds to use part of some parking lots for drive-through testing? They could have a much larger impact of the spread of COVID-19 by announcing that all of their employees will get paid sick leave if they or anyone in their family contracts COVID-19.
What are the next steps?
Last week the Arizona Legislature announced measures to curb exposure to COVID-19. There would be no more large group lobby days, no more guests in the galleries, no more in-person meetings with constituents or lobbyists at the capital, and no more in-person testimony in committee meetings. Some state Legislatures and foreign governments have shut down. Why not Arizona?
Also, last week, House Democratic Leadership called for a special session to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak and give ADHS direction on how to spend the $55 million that we appropriated. The Legislature called a special session to tackle the opioid epidemic. We set everything else aside, negotiated bipartisan strategies, focus on one task for a few days, and got it done. (This blog post talks about strategies to help workers.)
Other than COVID-19 and the budget, there aren’t that many other bills that are even necessary to pass in 2020. The Legislature has at least 18 bills that give taxes; half a dozen bills that allow business people in different professions to “train” young workers and potentially get tax breaks for it (why not fund community colleges?); more than 10 other random, perhaps overlapping education bills (what about funding public education?); countless bills designed to keep poor people poor by criminalizing standing on the median, weaponizing pawnbrokers to be payday lenders, and tinkering with liens; perhaps 20 bills that suppress the voice of the people by making it harder to vote or attacking Clean Elections or the Citizens’ Initiative; Legislative ballot initiatives designed to trick the voters; 10 or so bills that are just about scoring “deregulation” points with special interest groups; expansion of the empowerment scholarships (ESAs– something voters said they didn’t want); fake pregnancy clinics; trans-sports bans…. and more. Like I said– out of all of the pending bills, there aren’t many that actually benefit the people of Arizona. Why are even wasting time on these– let alone endangering the health of everyone at the capital to stay there and deliberate these? Even Arizona Republic pundits are saying that “the last thing Arizona needs is another tax cut.”
This weekend Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez called for the Legislature to pause its business and shut down for at least two weeks to help stem exposure to COVID-19. I think this is a good idea. The budget doesn’t have to be done until June 30, 2020. We could make quick work of the budget upon return if we dumped the ideological bills into the circular file and focused on legislation that benefits the people of Arizona.
In the meantime, if you have symptoms and want information in Arizona, you can call the Arizona Poison Control Hotline at 1-844-542-8201.
In Trump’s speech, he referred to the resources available at Coronavirus.gov.
Here is the link to ADHS information about Coronavirus.