Several times during the tax cut debates on Wednesday, Feb. 11, in the House Ways and Means Committee, Chairman Ben Toma and other Republicans repeated the mantra that Arizona has a “budget surplus”. The only reason that we have funds that have not been allocated is because we have had decades of budget cuts and chronic underfunding of important programs like public education(!), the Housing Trust Fund, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and so forth. It’s not that there is no need in our state, and, so therefore, we have extra cash. We don’t have extra money.
Also, several times during the committee meeting, I reminded everybody that Arizona is worst in the nation for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). We are not only shortchanging our school children by underfunding education, we are shortchanging small children before they ever get to school. It is highly ironic that Arizona is the country’s #1 “pro-life” state and also #50 in ACEs, due to our stingy policies and poor treatment of￼￼ our children.
In my study of gaps and inequities in maternal and child health in Arizona, I took a comprehensive approach and looked through the lens of the social determinants of health. Two contributing factors to Adverse Childhood Experiences are housing insecurity and food insecurity.
January 15, 2020 is a red letter day for the women of the United States because the Virginia Legislature ratified the Equal Rights Amendment.
While the Arizona Legislature has been tied up in pomp and circumstance, speeches, and meetings with lobbyists during this first week, Virginia got busy and passed the ERA.￼ How did this move so quickly? The voters Virginia ousted the Republican majority from their legislature in the fall election and restored the Democratic Party to power in that state.￼ Democrats get things done.
Now that Virginia has become the 38th and final state needed to ratify the ERA, it will be sent to the Congress to be made part of the Constitution.
Drama, rumors, secrecy, backroom deals, coup attempts, flexible rules, and a bit of chaos are commonplace during the waning days of each session of the Arizona Legislature. This is the atmosphere in which our state’s budget is crafted each year.
The First Session of the 54th Legislature ended in the wee hours of May 28, 2019. The new budget took effect on July 1, 2019. New laws that had “emergency clauses” are already in place. All other laws take effect 90 days after the end of the session, which is August 27, 2019.
Here is a peak behind the curtain during the last days of the session and some high and low points in the legislation that was passed.
The Game Plan
In 2019, secrecy and chaos reigned supreme as the Republicans desperately clung to their standard game plan: hear and pass primarily Republican-sponsored bills; ignore all Democratic ideas, bills and constituents; make enough pork barrel deals with their members to get 100% of them on one budget; and ram the budget through in the middle of the night when voters are asleep and Legislators want to be.
There was more chaos than usual in 2019 because a few Republicans realized that the slim D-R margins in both the Senate and the House gave each R a lot of power. (Rep. Kelly Townsend showed the Republican leadership her power back in March when she starting voting “no” on every bill one day. Here’s the blog post and video.)
The chaos was amplified by totally random floor schedules…
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) needs only one more state to ratify it before it can become an amendment to the US Constitution. Although State Senator Sandra Day O’Connor and Arizona State Rep. Sister Claire Dunn proposed ratification, Arizona is one of the laggard states that never ratified the ERA in the 1970s.
Both Senator Victoria Steele and I proposed ERA ratification in 2019 and in past years. Now, HBO Commentator John Oliver has jumped on the ERA bandwagon. Below, you can watch his segment on the history of the ERA and why it should be ratified. Steele has a cameo appearance talking about Arizona’s opportunity to move out of laggard status and move into the history books as the 38th and final state to ratify the ERA.
Across the nation today, men and women were protesting stringent anti-abortion bills that have passed in at least eight states recently. There was an impressive rally with close to 200 people at the Capitol today in Phoenix and even more in Tucson.
Alabama’s bill is the most recent and the most stringent. It is essentially an all out ban on abortion because it does not exclude women who have been raped or who have been the victims of incest. It also criminalizes doctors. They can be charged with a felony for conducting an abortion.
Six states including Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, and Ohio have passed heartbeat bills. This means that an abortion cannot be conducted after a heartbeat has been detected. This can be as early as 6 to 8 weeks. Often women don’t even know they’re pregnant by then. Utah and Arkansas ban abortions after the middle of the second trimester.
Some states, like Arizona, still have abortion bans that pre-date Roe v Wade on the books. If one of these 2019 right-wing bills gets to the Supreme Court and results in over-turning Roe, it is unclear what will happen, but Arizona’s law could go into effect.
I was in college at Ohio State, when Roe v Wade passed the Supreme Court. I remember what life was like for young women in the time before abortion was legal and when access to contraception was limited. Everybody was on the “Rhythm Method”, and everybody in the dorm knew if somebody was “late.” I knew at least a half a dozen women in the dorm who were driven to New York for abortions. I knew a guy who got three women pregnant and drove them all to New York City. (You’d think he could figure out that he was part of the problem!) When abortions became legalized in Detroit, my boyfriend and I gave his younger sister a ride to Detroit.
To get birth control pills, I had to take a 1.5 hour bus ride from campus to the Planned Parenthood Clinic in ghetto on the near East Side. The clinic was in a dingy storefront. The waiting room was filled primarily with African-American women and children who lived in the neighborhood nearby plus a handful of white college girls like me.
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.
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.
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.
That’s all folks! After the pledge, prayer. points of personal privilege (introductions) and a couple of proclamations, the Arizona House has adjourned until Wednesday. Why? Because Rep. David Stringer resigned due to the child sex charges, and the Republicans don’t have 31 members. The Republicans’ refusal to vote or even debate on anything without all 31 of their people in their chairs has really stalled progress this year.
We have done very little on the floor for the past two weeks. Heaven forbid that we would debate or vote on something that has bipartisan support but would pass with the majority of the Yes votes being Democratic.
Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in Arizona was in the news and in the streets this week. ERA supporters launched an ambitious 38 Mile March for the ERA through the streets of Phoenix– starting at the Capitol on Monday, March 11 and ending there on Wednesday.
After the speeches, supporters filled the gallery of the Arizona Senate, and a contingent of 30 or so supporters went to the Arizona House. In the Senate, there was a motion to suspend the rules and vote on the ERA. In the House, Democrats attempted to introduce the ERA supporters in the gallery and were shut down when the Republicans decided to police the content on our speech– in addition to strictly limiting our time to one minute.
Patriarchy and suppression of speech were on full display. You can watch the whole scene here on the official video. Points of Personal Privilege start at around 2 minutes. Note the lengthy introductions that are allowed for people who are representing other groups– not the ERA.
Rep. Athena Salman starts the ERA introductions at about 10:28 minute mark. She and I both got through our introductions without interruption. Things heat up when Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez (at the 13:16 minute mark) tries to introduce an ERA marcher from Rep. Warren Petersen’s district and is gaveled down and scolded by Speaker Pro Tempore T.J. Shope. At 15:43, Shope shuts down Rep. Raquel Teran and tells the gallery to be quiet. At 17:08, Rep. Randy Friese is not shut down. At 18:14 Rep. Mitzi Epstein is shut down and protests Shope’s censorship of her speech. At 20:25, Rep. Isela Blanc is allowed to introduce her student shadow, but when she starts the ERA introduction, she doesn’t get more than a few words into her introduction before Shope stops her. At 21:17, Salman reads the rule book and calls out the Republicans for censoring our speech. The gallery and the Democrats burst into applause and get the gavel. The rules limit the amount of time we can speak to one minute but not the content.
The scene devolved after Shope ruled Salman out of order. Friese protested the ruling of the chair and called for a roll call vote (23:05). This resulted in multiple speeches about the ERA and freedom of speech– and multiple women being called out of order for speaking truth to power. I watched the whole fiasco on video, and it is shocking how many women were disrespected– House members and women in the gallery.
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.