Housing, Homelessness & Gentrification: What Is the Path Forward?

homelessness

Where do the mayoral candidates stand on affordable housing, low-income housing, and homelessness?

I think that’s a great question, and I hope to find the answers at the upcoming Mayor and Ward 1 City Council Candidate Forum on Saturday, June 22.  The event will be held at El Rio Center, from 12 noon – 2:30 p.m. and will moderated by Nancy Montoya from Arizona Public Media. According to the Blog for Arizona Calendar, the three Democrats running for Mayor and the four running for Romero’s Ward 1 seat are expected to participate.

What is the state of housing in Arizona?

Arizona’s Housing Crisis: Has the Legislature Done Its Part?

As rents and evictions increase, housing has become a huge issue across Arizona. Housing– like prison reform and charter school reform– got a lot of lip service in the Arizona Legislature in 2019. During the session, there were many opportunities to tackle the housing crisis in a meaningful way, but those bills died.

On a high note, the Legislature allocated $10 million for the Housing Trust Fund in the FY2020 budget, which begins in a few weeks. The Housing Trust Fund used to be $40 million per year until the Tea Party Reign of Terror swept the funds and left only ~$2.5 million in it. (Of course, back then, tax cuts were far more important than helping people keep roofs over their heads.)

Continue reading Housing, Homelessness & Gentrification: What Is the Path Forward?

#AZ Republican Budget Cuts Taxes by $386 Mil & Shortchanges K-12 (video)

One of the prevailing messages from the grassroots in 2018 was: no more tax giveaways until the schools are fully funded. Republicans didn’t get that message. They also didn’t get the Invest In Ed message that we — the people– think the rich could pay more in taxes to help fund education.

The Republican budget cuts income taxes, TPT and fees by $386 million and leaves education and other needs underfunded (or unfunded).

We started the year with a $1 billion surplus to invest in the People’s To-Do List: education, infrastructure, healthcare and safety and security. The Republicans have added bits of money to these areas — just enough to make it look like they’re doing something— but the need is much greater.

Republicans are ignoring multiple crises that are brewing in our state including unnecessary maternal and child death; rock bottom education funding; crumbling roads, bridges and school buildings; lack affordable and low-income housing; the shortage of teachers, doctors and nurses; too many people living in poverty; lack of access to affordable healthcare… need I go on?

Continue reading #AZ Republican Budget Cuts Taxes by $386 Mil & Shortchanges K-12 (video)

#AZLeg Hears Competing Bills on Vaping (video)

Vaping is a hot topic in the Arizona Legislature this session. E-cigarettes (also known as nicotine vape pens) are unregulated in Arizona. Nicotine vaping is widespread, and usage is increasing, particularly among youth.

Many adults use nicotine vape pens as a way to stop smoking real cigarettes. E-cigarettes don’t have the particulates that tobacco cigarettes do, but that doesn’t mean they are safe.

We have had two competing vaping bills in the Legislature. SB1147 is a tobacco industry bill that carves out vaping and regulates it separately in the Arizona statutes; it also preempts local laws. HB2357 regulates “any product derived from tobacco or containing nicotine” the same.

Back in the 1990s, when e-cigarettes first came to the US, tobacco control researchers at the UA and elsewhere said that e-cigarettes were “drug delivery devices” that should be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The tobacco industry fought this and said e-cigarettes were tobacco and should be regulated like tobacco. They won their court case at the national level, and e-cigarettes have been regulated like tobacco since then.

HB2357 is aligned with the federal law. SB1147 puts vaping into its own category— not a tobacco product or a nicotine delivery device.

Public health advocates are backing HB2357, and so am I.

For more background about these two bills, check out this story in the Capitol Times.

What’s the News on the #AZ Budget? Check Out Video & Town Hall

Many constituents have asked me where the budget is and what’s going on– after all, it is May. On the budget, the status quo of the past month still exists. All of the budget action continues to be behind closed doors, among a closed group of Republicans.

In addition to the Democrats, there are a significant number of House Republicans who are not part of the budget process, and they’re grumbling about it. This is a state budget– not the budget for a small town church. The deacons and the pastor don’t get to decide the budget on their own in the back room. The budget should be negotiated with all parties at the table– not just a handful of those close to power. Democrats make up 48 percent of the Arizona House. When more than 50 percent of the Legislature is kept in the dark and has to rely on rumors, that is not a fair process, and it ultimately hurts the people of Arizona.

Except for the Governor’s budget, which has been public for months, and some leaked details about the Senate Republican budget, little is known about the budget, beyond a few trial balloons. What we do know is that the Senate Republican budget is far more conservative and not even close to Governor Doug Ducey’s budget.

This chasm in the GOP has left an opening for Democrats. The House Democrats will unveil our balanced budget ideas on Wednesday morning at 9:30 a.m.  We have been saying since January that we agreed with parts of the governor’s budget– like full tax conformity and more money for P-20 education. [Stay tuned for details.]

On the right, Senator J.D. Mesnard and other tax cut fans still want to zero-out the money the state could bring in from tax conformity (~$150 million) and Wayfair (~$85 million). There are multiple trial balloons about making the income tax rates flatter. One proposal is to have only two personal income tax brackets. This is a horrible idea– unless, of course, your goal is to return to austerity and Draconian budget cuts, while making your rich donors happy. Under the Republican proposals to eliminate or lower tax brackets, rich people would pay less, and the rest of us could pay more. (Think of the Republican tax bracket plan as Arizona’s mini-Me to the Trump Tax Cut and Jobs Act. Both significantly lower taxes for the wealthy by reducing the top tax rate.)

Continue reading What’s the News on the #AZ Budget? Check Out Video & Town Hall

#AZ House Debates, Passes Association Health Plans SB1085 (video)

Although we had a short floor calendar on May 1, we had some rousing debates. The highlight was a two-hour debate on SB1085, association health plans. (Watch the action here, beginning at 19:32 min.)

The Republicans have had three bills this year to lower healthcare insurance costs by encouraging people to leave the healthcare marketplace. I agree that the Affordable Care Act is too expensive, particularly for sole proprietors (like my husband who was offered a silver ACA plan for more than $1000 per month just for him.) This is why I voted for direct care contracts. I believe those are a better deal for sole proprietors than association health plans.)

Democrats debated valiantly, led by Health and Human Services Ranking Member Rep. Kelli Butler (right). Here, she does Q&A with Rep. Isela Blanc.

I get that costs are too high, but the association health plans are not the way to go. They could, indeed, lower costs for business owners, but they could be risky due to limited coverage. There are reasons why these plans will likely be cheaper. Remember the old adage “you get what you pay for”. If sole proprietor business owners want to take a risk with their own insurance and their own health, I have a mind to let them take their own risk. (Just don’t ask me to help you later with a Go Fund Me Request if it turns out I was right on limited coverage under cheap junk insurance plans.)

Where I object is when businesses are making these risky insurance decisions for their employees— just to save money.

Continue reading #AZ House Debates, Passes Association Health Plans SB1085 (video)

With ‘Wayfair’ Bill Stalled, Will Republicans Stop New Revenue Streams? (Video)

The budget is still being negotiated behind closed doors. The Republicans have passed several tax cut bills, but not all of them have been heard in Committee of the Whole (COW, where the real debates happen).

We also have not heard the “Wayfair Bill” in COW because it is stalled in House Rules (with several other bills). HB2702 passed House Ways and Means unanimously several weeks ago but never got to the Floor for debate or a vote.

South Dakota vs Wayfair Inc. is the supreme court case that said states can charge sales tax on online sales. States, local governments, and brick and mortar businesses have been losing trillions of dollars to online retailers. Just look around town, and you will see fewer local businesses, less stock on the shelves, and many vacant store fronts. Taxing in-person purchases but not online purchases is unfair to local small businesses, hurts our local economy, reduces the General Fund (thus reducing education funding), and ultimately reduces consumer choice.

Arizona residents made $1.7 trillion worth of online purchases in 2018. That is how much Arizona businesses lost in sales. On those purchases, the state lost $85 million in sales tax (TPT). Cities and counties lost more than $45 million. Prop 301 (the education sales tax) lost $10.2 million.

Continue reading With ‘Wayfair’ Bill Stalled, Will Republicans Stop New Revenue Streams? (Video)

‘Democracy in Chains’ Connects Dots on Libertarian & Republican Strategies (video)

Affordable Care Act

If you often scratch your head at the bad bills that the Republicans pass in Congress and in the state legislatures and wonder what their end game is, you should read Democracy in Chains by Nancy McClean.

What you may think are random bad ideas that have somehow gotten into law are actually part of a grand scheme that has been playing out since Brown versus the Board of Education attempted to desegregate public schools in the United States.

An academic, McClean has studied the articles, books and letters of James Buchanan, the economist not the former president. Buchanan was the primary theorist of public choice theory. In the 1950s, public choice theory was used as a rationale to close all of the public schools in the state of Virginia (rather than comply with desegregation) and is being used today to support state-funded vouchers for private and religious schools. In Virginia in the 1950s, the state gave money to white parents for private school vouchers and allowed hundreds of black children to go uneducated for years. Needless to say, this was a travesty of justice.

Continue reading ‘Democracy in Chains’ Connects Dots on Libertarian & Republican Strategies (video)

#AZHouse Democrats Force Vote on #ERA

ERA vote in Arizona House

For the third year in a row, Arizona House Democrats forced a debate and a vote on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). On April 16, I made an “emergency motion” to skip over First, Second and Third Readings of HCR2030 and bring the ERA up for an immediate vote. Predictably, the Republicans offered as substitute motion which led to two hours of rousing debate on women’s equality.

The Back Story

Earlier in the session– when the Democrats still believed that at least a few Republicans may have a tiny independent streak– Senator Victoria Steele and I both garnered signatures from a handful of Republicans and all of the Democrats for ratification of the ERA. Steele had the votes to pass it in the Senate, but  Judiciary Chair Eddie Farnsworth refused to hear the ERA in committee, and President Karen Fann stopped a real floor vote.

Arizona Senate debated, but since there was no floor vote– only a division call– the Republicans weren’t held accountable for their stance against equal rights for women. None of the Republicans who had signed Steele’s bill stood up for the ERA or spoke in favor of it.

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley calling for a vote on HCR2030, ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Pre-Game Action

Fast forward to yesterday. The House didn’t hear the ERA on the same day as the Senate because the plan was to propose the ERA in the House on a different day… unannounced. A stealthy surprise for the House Leadership. The Republicans don’t like it when the Dems surprise them with parliamentary procedures and force votes on bills they thought they had killed with parliamentary procedures. Their intransigence is the catalyst for our shenanigans.

Several weeks ago, I met with Speaker Rusty Bowers about the ERA and asked him to assign HCR2030 to a committee that would hear it. Every year, the Democrats and ERA supporters ask for a real committee hearing, a real floor debate in Committee of the Whole, and a Third Read vote on the ERA. Every year, the Republicans use “horse and buggy procedures” to stall any meaningful progress.

At the time of our meeting, the ERA had not even gone through the First Read– the very first step in the legislative process. He told me in no uncertain terms that he had “no intention” of doing anything to move the ERA forward. Initially, he declined to tell me why and said he wanted to “explain his position in a larger forum.” I pushed for a reason, and he talked about his wife and daughter and how it would negatively impact them. He also talked about more lawsuits as a result of passage of the ERA. I told him that the ERA focuses on government-based discrimination. If the ERA is passed and if the state of Arizona has discriminatory laws on the book, then, yes, the state could be sued, but the real issues are equal pay for equal work, equal protection under the Constitution, and structural sexism in our country.

Continue reading #AZHouse Democrats Force Vote on #ERA

Direct Care Contracts: Cheap Non-Insurance Plans Could Put Patients at Risk (video)

Banner University Medical Center

In the Health and Human Services Committee, we have heard a few different insurance plans that would be cheaper and less comprehensive alternatives to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

With SB1105, healthcare moves into the gig economy. SB1105 covers direct primary care agreements, a non-insurance alternative to the ACA.  In Arizona, people are already allowed to make one-on-one contracts with a healthcare provider for certain services for a designated mount of money per month.

This bill clarifies existing law and says that these contracts are not insurance and, therefore, not regulated by the Arizona Department of insurance. It also says that you can have contracts with doctors, physicians assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, dentists, and physical therapists.

If you take this to it’s illogical extreme, you could have multiple contracts with different providers for different menus of services. Unless you are really good at contract law, you could end up having several contracts, paying monthly bills to each of these providers and still not getting the care that you need. Since these plans are not insurance, you would not be able to take your complaints to a bureaucrat at an insurance company or at the Department of Insurance.

Direct current primary care agreements are supposed to fill a niche in the healthcare market. The ACA is too expensive, particularly for sole proprietors. These are business people who are their business. Professional people, consultants, artists and musicians could all be sole proprietors.

Continue reading Direct Care Contracts: Cheap Non-Insurance Plans Could Put Patients at Risk (video)

Protect Patients: It’s time for Cannabis Testing in AZ (video)

marijuana

Thirty-four states have some form of legal marijuana. Arizona is the only state that has no quality control testing for contaminants (like pesticides) or for make-up (how much THC, CBDs, etc.)

Cannabis testing died at the end of the session in 2018 during a flurry of negotiations regarding several marijuana reform bills. It is back in 2019 as SB1494, which passed the House Health and Human Services Committee last week. This is a clean cannabis testing bill with no other issues attached.

Arizona has 200,000 medical marijuana patients who purchased 61 tons of marijuana and related marijuana products, like edibles and concentrates, in 2018. Ours is the third largest program in the country… and the only one with no quality control testing.

In committee, the governmental liaison for the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) Shannon Whitaker said that they don’t know how to do quality control testing for marijuana and want more specifics on what to do. I asked if anyone at ADHS had looked at the testing standards and programs from the other 33 states, and she said, “No”. Looking at how other health departments are testing samples of marijuana could be very helpful in setting up the Arizona program. Just sayin’.

Before I voted “yes” on SB 1494, I talked with the lobbyists on both sides of the issue, medical marijuana patient and NORML representative Mikel Weisser, and former ADHS Director and current Executive Director of the Arizona Public Health Association Will Humble.  Humble, who wrote the current medical marijuana rules, said that testing is in the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA). He had planned to write testing rules back in 2011, but he was pressed for time with a 120 day window to write all of the rules. He added that he “was getting beat up from all sides” during the process. (I confessed that I was blogging about the card costs, which are the highest in the country.) Humble supports SB1494 but adds that ADHS has the authority to write rules on testing, even without SB1494.

ADHS is sitting on $60 million in card fees that can be spent only on the medical marijuana program. It’s time to protect patients. It’s time for Arizona to spend some of those AMMA funds to write the rules and set up testing.

SB1494 was debated at length in the House Health and Human Services Committee last Friday and passed unanimously. Since almost everything we do is on video, you can watch the debate on the AZLeg website. Click on Archived Meetings and scroll down to House Health and Human Services on March 29, 2018. You have time to voice your opinion on Request to Speak.

Look for amendments and a rousing debate on this in the coming weeks.