#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.

#AZLeg Should Include Healthcare in Workforce Development (video)

The Arizona House has begun debating HB2657, a high-tech workforce development bill which would funnel money through the Arizona Commerce Authority to community colleges to train workers in “high-demand” fields. The CEO of the Commerce Authority would manage the fund created by this bill, and they would determine what to fund.

As it is currently written the bill would “support career and technical education programs and courses that prepare a capable workforce for manufacturing in information technology and related industries.”

Why are we focusing only on manufacturing, financial services and technology? Previously, we saw this with CTED (formerly JTED) classes. In the last session, proposed legislation would have funneled 9th grade students into select industries like machine tooling, aerospace, and automotive services, while they left healthcare, coding and other careers by the wayside.

To meet the needs of our state, workforce development could and should go beyond tech. Why is healthcare not included in HB2657? We have a need for expanded access to care particularly in rural Arizona, and we do not have enough medical and health professionals to fill the gaps. We could train rural Arizonans to be community health workers, certified nursing assistants and home health aides. When I taught health education at the University of Arizona, I had many students from rural Arizona, particularly tribal lands, who were studying in Tucson and planned to take their new skills back to rural Arizona to help their people. How can we foster this?

Arizona has five rural counties — Cochise, Gila, Graham, Santa Cruz and LaPaz– that are considered maternal and child health deserts because of lack of medical personnel and health services in those areas. The face of premature birth in Arizona is young, brown and rural. Every preemie birth that is funded by AHCCCS costs the state between $500,000 – $1 million.

We could improve access to care, foster workforce development, save money and tackle urban/rural health disparities if we put as much effort into the healthcare workforce as we do into tech.

[In the photo, I am posing with the doctor of the day from Banner Univerity Medical Center.]

Why Does AZ Need 60+ License Plate Designs? (video)

Republican Legislators love specialty license plates. The House has bills for six new license plates in the queue. My big question is: Why are we doing this?

Specialty license plates are a way to funnel taxpayer dollars into designated charities or pet projects with seemingly innocuous bills for a license plate with a great-sounding name and a cool design. Any organization– or corporation– can get a specialty license plate. All they need is around $33,000 to design the plate and a Legislator who will propose it.

Once the plate has been approved and placed on the ADOT website, motorists can choose your design and pay an extra $25 a year to have that plate. Of that $25, $17 goes to the cause or charity that got the plate through the Legislature.

A charity can rake in $250,000 per year on a specialty plate, and the plates exist forever.  This is the ultimate in picking winners and losers. Why should one charity be on the state gravy train– forever– and not another? Why are we using license plates to funnel money to charity anyway? What groups are making the most from the plates?

Continue reading Why Does AZ Need 60+ License Plate Designs? (video)

#AZ House Republicans Pass $7.25/hour Minimum Wage for Students (video)

The worst vote of the 54th session has to be the Republican passage of the sub-minimum wage on Thursday. Rep. Travis Grantham’s HB2523 would allow employers to pay full time students, who work part time and are under 22, the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour, instead of the voter-approved minimum wage of $11/hour.

Republicans and Democrats debated HB2523 for more than one hour the day before during Committee of the Whole (COW) and again when we explained our votes on Thursday. It passed on a strictly party line vote.

After mulling over the speeches from both sides of the aisle, I think there are some of the Republicans who truly believe paying $7.25/hour to full-time students is good idea. I wonder how many of them own restaurants, farms, retail stores, or other small businesses that would benefit from cheaper labor. Hmmm…

This vote needed 3/4 on HB2523 because it is an attempt to change the voter-approved Prop 206 Citizens Initiative that raised the minimum wage in 2016. During the COW debate, I proposed an amendment to add a Prop 105 vote to HB2523, but Republicans said it was not necessary. (The Rules Attorneys said it was necessary. Who are you going to believe?)

Continue reading #AZ House Republicans Pass $7.25/hour Minimum Wage for Students (video)

John Nichols of ‘The Nation’ Returns to Tucson (video)

John Nichols

For many years, author and historian John Nichols has been coming to Tucson for the Festival of Books. In addition to his popular appearances at the Book Festival, Nichols has a tradition of speaking on Saturday evening at a free event hosted by Progressive Democrats of American (PDA Tucson) and the Pima Area Labor Federation (PALF).

2019 is no exception. Nichols will appear at the IBEW Hall on Saturday, March 2, with doors open at 6 p.m. and the event beginning at 6:30 p.m. Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley will warm up the crowd with local political news from the Arizona Legislature. Powers Hannley was recently named “most valuable state Legislator” by The Nation magazine.

Nichols is a consummate storyteller and political historian. He writes for The Nation and is a frequent commentator on MSNBC and Democracy Now. He is the author of Uprising, Dollarocarcy, and more recently Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guid to the Most Dangerous People in America.

If you have never heard Nichols speak, I urge you to take advantage of this free event– away from the crowds and parking hassles of the University of Arizona. Here are a few video clips from past years. The 2019 event is sponsored by PDA Tucson, PALF, and Our Revolution- Arizona for Bernie Sanders. Facebook event here.

Continue reading John Nichols of ‘The Nation’ Returns to Tucson (video)

Republicans Push Ideological Bills through House in Late-Night Agendas (video)

This is the last week to hear House bills in the House and the Senate bills in the Senate. This means that despite the fact that the Democrats hold 48% of the seats in the Arizona House, we are spending this week hearing hundreds of nonsense bills from the Republican Party. How many rights can they restrict or how many taxes can they cut for the rich in just a few days?

Although we have had several weeks with very little action on the floor of Arizona House, like college freshman facing a big exam, the Republicans are going to push forward in after- hours meetings.

In Ways and Means on Wednesday, we heard another Republican run at “almost revenue neutral” tax conformity (which would generate $10 million instead of $0. The $0 plan was vetoed by Governor Ducey.) HB2526 passed along party lines with Chairman Ben Toma calling full tax conformity (which would generate $150-200 million for the state’s general fund) an “illegal tax increase.” When I explained my vote, I reminded everyone that the Legislative Council ruled full conformity was not a tax increase. If HB2526 passes, everyone who has filed their income taxes already will have to do an amendment; it also decouples our tax forms from the feds, which makes filing less convenient. The Republicans also passed HB2703 to delay the filing date for state income taxes to June. This just gives them more time to push their tax cut agenda.

In the Health and Human Services Committee today, we are hearing three anti-vaccine bills: HB2470, HB2471 and HB2472. Similar bills were killed in the Senate Health Committee. I’m not sure of the outcome in the House committee.

You can still make your opinions known on social media and on the Request to Speak System. Pro- and anti-vaccine people are running neck and neck on RTS when I looked yesterday.

The Republican and Democratic Caucuses are scheduled to meet from 3-9pm on Thursday. What bills are so important that we have to be there at 9 o’clock at night— when no constituents are present? Are the Republicans intending to force us to vote after 9 o’clock to pass some of their legislation? I’m going to take issue with that if that happens. We have accomplished almost nothing on the House. Only 50 bills have voted on and passed in six weeks. Only two of those 50 bills were democratic bills, although we control 48% of the House.

What bills are they leaving behind in the rush to pass their ideological measures? The Equal Rights Amendment, for one. Speaker Bowers told me in a private meeting that he would do *nothing* to advance the Equal Rights Amendment. That means we have to do it on our own. Tell them you want HCR2030 passed in Arizona!

Are Unregulated Health Insurance Plans Good for #AZ Consumers?

Healthcare forum

In the Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday, Feb 14, we are hearing a long list of bills including two about health insurance.

HB2375 would extend short-duration insurance to three years. This insurance is currently capped at one year because it is seen as a stop-gap measure for people who are between jobs or disconnected from insurance for some reason.

HB2376 relates to association health care plans for small businesses and sole proprietors. This bill allows them to band together and buy insurance as a group. A concern with this idea is regarding the quality of insurance that will be purchased and how that will impact workers who will be included under these plan.

Will association health plans cover essential health benefits, like the Affordable Care Act does? Will they cover people with pre-existing conditions? Will they have lifetime insurance caps? Will coverage be determined by the employer’s “deeply held religious beliefs”?

These association health insurance plans will NOT be regulated by the Arizona Department of Insurance. I fear that this will be Wild West Health Insurance, which will be cheap but not comprehensive.

We still have a problem in this country with medical bankruptcy. People buy the insurance they can afford, rather than the insurance they need. Cheap plans don’t offer full coverage and can leave patients in dire financial straits.

On the macro-economic level, these plans could lure people out of the Healthcare Marketplace and weaken the system.

If you are on Request to Speak at the AZLeg website, please offer an opinion on 2375 and 2376.

Request to Speak Update: #JustSayNO to Sub-Minimum Wages (video)

HB2523 is on the agenda for the Regulatory Affairs Committee for Monday, Feb. 11. This is a terrible bill for younger workers who are under 21 years of age, employed in the gig economy, and full-time students.

This bill allows employers to pay you less than Arizona’s current minimum wage of $11 an hour. They can go as low as the current federal minimum wage which is $7.25 an hour.

You have until 2 o’clock on Monday to voice your opinion on the request to speak system. Tell the Republicans loud and clear that this is not fair to younger workers! Why are we saddling college students with enormous debt and then forcing them to work for slave wages?

Go to RTS as the AZLeg website. I am ranking member on the Regulatory Affairs Committee. We have heard many bills about dumbing down qualifications for professions and other bills that are bad for workers.