FY2020 Budget & #AZLeg Session Wrap-Up: What Just Happened? (video)

Arizona House

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.

The Chaos

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…

Continue reading FY2020 Budget & #AZLeg Session Wrap-Up: What Just Happened? (video)

UPDATED: Multiple Bills Look at Housing, Homelessness (video)

I published this original blog post and video on March 30, 2019– back when I thought the Arizona Legislature would take some serious steps toward solving the state’s housing crisis.

The original article focused on five housing-related bills that passed the Senate and passed through my committees (SB1471, SB1336, SB1539, SB1383, and SB1098) and on the issue of restoring full funding to the Housing Trust Fund.

Early last Tuesday morning, May 28, 2019, was sine die, the last day of the session. The Housing Trust Fund was not restored to full pre-recession funding ($40 million of designated funds from unclaimed property), but it did get $10 million. The only bill from the above list that made it to the Floor of the House was SB1539, but it was changed dramatically, which resulted in a party line vote.

I really regret the demise of SB1471 (help for homeless youth and families) and SB1383 (property tax assistance for widows and the elderly).  The community groups backing SB1471 came up with a procedure to collect capitol gains tax on sales of Arizona property by out-of-state sellers. The Legislature said “thanks for the collection idea”. That procedure was adopted and put into the budget, but the earmark for homeless youth and families was eliminated. (Grrr…) SB1383 is a Maricopa County only program that helps widows and the elderly pay their property taxes; I think it should be expanded to statewide to help these people age in place. Instead, it was no heard in House Appropriations or Rules.  On a bright note, the affordable housing tax credit bill– which would have costs the state over $90 million in the coming years– died again.

Continue reading UPDATED: Multiple Bills Look at Housing, Homelessness (video)

#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)

#StopTheBans Pro-Choice Rallies Draw 100s in #AZ (video)

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.

Check out this article about Romania’s 20-year experiment with a total abortion ban. It turned into a public health disaster. More than 10,000 women died unnecessarily. Many children with birth defects were born. The state set up huge orphanages for children whose parents couldn’t take care of them, including many with severe disabilities. Romania tried this because they wanted to boost the birth rate. The birth rate almost doubled initially, until women figured out how to get around the band. Rich women could get abortions; most of the burden of this law fell upon middle class and poor women, who didn’t have the money or connections to get abortions.

If people really want to reduce the number of abortions, we should make contraception and the morning after pill cheap or free, and we should teach medically accurate sex education in the schools. They are not protecting the lives of the unborn. They are protecting the patriarchy. In Arizona, pious, pro-life Republicans are fighting hard to protect child predators— rather than supporting the victims of child sexual abuse.

If Arizona were truly a “pro-life” state, we wouldn’t force thousands of Moms and their children to live in poverty. We would provide food security, housing security, financial security and a quality public education system.

We can’t be complacent. We have to push back and protect our rights.

#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

‘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)

In #AZ, Maternal & Child Health Is in Crisis (video)

Maternal and child health is in crisis in the state of Arizona. Too many infants die. Too many new

Maternal and child health is in crisis in the state of Arizona. Too many babies die. Too many new Moms die. Too many babies are born prematurely. Too many babies are born with birth defects. Too many pregnant women don’t get adequate prenatal care.

Some Arizona counties have been labeled maternal health deserts because of lack of medical care. Cochise, Graham, Gila, La Paz, Santa Cruz and Yuma are the worst off. Around 50% of the babies born in Arizona are born to unwed mothers (which makes them more likely to live in poverty with their Moms.) And around 50% of the live births are funded by AHCCCS (Arizona’s Medicaid program).

Arizona’s lack of attention to maternal and child health and our stingy social safety net policies have exacerbated the situation and cost the state lives and money. Each premature baby born under AHCCCS costs the state around $1 million. How many of these one-million-dollar babies are accidents due to lack of access to affordable birth control and the scarcity of women’s health clinics, particularly in rural Arizona? We should be funding women’s health and well baby clinics in rural Arizona and should be hiring community health workers to do outreach with pregnant women and new Moms. You can hire an army of community health workers for the cost of one or two premature babies.

Continue reading In #AZ, Maternal & Child Health Is in Crisis (video)

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.