View from the Left Side

Legislators Should Stand with #RedForEd: No New Tax Giveaways (video)

The Arizona House Ways and Means Committee is like an extended game of tax giveaway wack-a-mole. I have lost count how many tax giveaway bills Republicans have passed since January.

This week, we heard SB1027, which dramatically increases a tax credit that currently benefits only poor children with chronic diseases or physical disabilities.

Tax credits take money out of the general fund. SB1027 would dramatically expand this tax credit from helping poor children with certain medical conditions to helping *anyone* of any age and any income who has a chronic illness or physical disability.

This bill is overly broad, and it has an unknown cost and no sunset date. Most of the committee testimony focused on one physical therapy center and gym in Tucson that serves clients with Parkinson’s disease, but there are many chronic diseases, most notably diabetes. More than 600,000 Arizonans have diabetes, and another 1.8 million have prediabetes.

The public health problem of helping people lead healthier lives with chronic disease goes far beyond what would be fiscally responsible to fund through tax credits. Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial insurance cover some services. If more is needed, the Health and Human Services Committee should look at it– instead of going to Ways and Means for a tax credit.

Continue reading Legislators Should Stand with #RedForEd: No New Tax Giveaways (video)

#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)

Townsend Shows Bowers The Power of 1

Crossover Week in the Arizona Legislature is always hectic, but Crossover Week 2019 was also full of drama.

Besides rousing debates on the sub-minimum wage, wineries as agritourism, water, license plates and fake meat, there was a Republican tiff brewing between two conservatives– Reps. Kelly Townsend and Anthony Kern– last week.

On Wednesday, Townsend started voting NO on every Republican bill because Kern wouldn’t let one of her Elections Committee bills out of his Rules Committee. It is rare to see any Republican defy their leadership so publicly and effectively. Speaker Rusty Bowers depends on all 31 Republicans voting in lock step to pass their ideological bills — like the $7.25/hour minimum wage, tax cuts for the rich, deregulation of occupations, and risky water deals.

After Townsend voted NO on several Republican bills, the House recessed. Republicans went into closed caucus to figure out what to do, and Democrats went to our conference room to strategize.

When we went back into session about an hour later, Townsend was gone for the day. This left the House Republicans without vote #31. The 29 Dems killed the bills we didn’t like— thanks to Townsend’s absence— before the leadership stopped all voting. The rest of the day was spent in COW debate. (The Republicans will likely try to bring these dead bills back as zombie bills. In the photo above, you’ll note that GOP Whip Rep. Becky Nutt voted no. Since she voted on the prevailing side, she can bring it back as a zombie bill.)

Townsend’s protest shows the Republicans’ vulnerability. If one of their members doesn’t get what they want or decides to take a stand on a bad bill, that one person can easily throw a wrench into the Republican machine.

The House has moved at a snail’s pace this session because Bowers won’t bring bills for a final vote without all 31 of his members present. In the 53rd Legislature, members floated in and out, took vacation days, and missed votes. Not so in the 54th Legislature. Attendance is everything– for both parties.

As of Wednesday during Crossover Week, we had passed only 100 bills out of the House. There are easily another 100 House bills waiting for us on Monday. Since many of the bills that the Legislature passes are unnecessary or just benefit one corporation, passing way fewer bills is not a bad thing.

Thanks, Kelly, for showing us the power of 1.

#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!

Speaker Bowers: It’s Time to Hear the People’s Agenda (video)

Arizona Flag

The Arizona House is moving at a snail’s pace this session. In fact, Senator David Bradley has quipped that the Senate should take a one-month vacation so the House can catch up.

According to the Chief Clerk, as of Friday, the end of the fifth week of session, 744 House bills were dropped. Forth-seven percent of the bills (349)– including the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)– have not been first read (the first step in the process). Only 50 bills (7%) have been third read (the final vote). We voted on about half of those 50 on Thursday afternoon. The coming week will be NUTS because it is the final week for the House to hear House bills and for the Senate to hear Senate bills. At this point, there are a lot of bipartisan bills on the cutting room floor in the Speaker’s office.

With a 29-31 (D-R) split in the House, Speaker Rusty Bowers has been extremely cautious about what bills get to the floor for debate and a vote. Except for tax conformity, nothing controversial has made it to a “third read” vote. The vast majority of the bills we have voted on thus far passed through committee unanimously and passed the floor unanimously (or with just a few dissenters from one side or the other). We have had lively debates on ideological bills in my committees– Regulatory Affairs, Ways and Means, and Health and Human Services– but those bills haven’t made it to the floor yet. For example, Republicans on the Regulatory Affairs Committee passed a sub-minimum wage for workers under 22 who are also full-time students. Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee passed two different an income tax breaks to the wealthiest Arizonans. Republicans on the Health and Human Services Committee passed a bill labeling pornography as a public health crisis. (What about gun violence as a public health crisis?)

What has been left unheard in committee or on the floor? Plenty.

Continue reading Speaker Bowers: It’s Time to Hear the People’s Agenda (video)

RTS Alert: Republicans Are Attacking Clean Elections… again (video)

Clean Elections

Arizonans love Clean Elections and the Citizens’ Initiative because these two statues allow the voters’ voices to be heard. That is exactly why these two rights of Arizona voters are under continuous attack by the Republican Party.

HB2724 is a direct assault on the autonomy of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission and is the natural next step for right-wingers after the passage of the anti-Clean Elections Prop 306 in Nov. 2018.

HB2724 is politically targeted and costly over-regulation of a popular commission. HB2724 allows every rule created by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission to be challenged by anyone in the state and thus start an official investigation. This bill could spark multiple unnecessary investigations by the Governor’s regulatory agency. No other state agency suffers from this oppressive oversight. This is heavy-handed regulation aimed at suppressing the voices of candidates who choose to say no to big money politics.

If you backed the Outlaw Dirty Money Citizens Initiative, if you want to get money out politics and if you want your elected officials to answer to you — instead of answering to big money donors and lobbyists — just say NO to HB2724 on Request to Speak (RTS).

HB2724 is on the Regulatory Affairs Agenda for Monday, Feb. 18. Yes, this is the same committee that passed the sub-minimum wage last week.

You all stood strong on RTS against the sub-minimum wage. The RTS commenters helped LUCHA, who showed up in person, to speak against poverty wages. Let’s stand up for Clean Elections. Elected officials should answer to the people, not to corporations, lobbyists, or big money. HB2724 is being heard, but my bill to expand Clean Elections (HB2411) has been double-assigned to two hostile committees (Elections headed by Townsend and Government headed by Kavanagh).

My constituents have told me loud and clear that they don’t like the power of money in politics. Please go to RTS and say NO to HB2724 and YES to HB2411. Yes, I am a Clean Elections candidate. That means I am free of big-money politics.

There are many wild eyed right wing bills that will be heard in committee or on the floor in the coming week. Please stay vigilant in addition to commenting on agenda items. On RTS you can go to “my bill positions”, search for bill numbers, and enter multiple positions on bills even if they are not on an agenda.

Medical Marijuana Patients Arrested, Jailed Due to Glitch in Criminal Code (video)

Activist county attorneys and judges are jailing medical marijuana patients in rural Arizona. They are using a disconnect between the criminal code and the Medical Marijuana Act to jail patients.

Why isn’t the Arizona House hearing bills that would protect patients who are legally buying cannabis concentrates?

Recently, a stage 4 cancer patient was jailed in Yavapai County for two weeks because he had a cannabis concentrate on his person. He missed his chemotherapy because he possessed a medicine that he purchased legally! The case of Rodney Jones, who was jailed for 2+ years for possession of a vape pen with cannabis concentrate, will be heard by the Arizona Supreme Court.

Overall, across the state of Arizona, marijuana laws are being enforced differently. You’re much more likely to get arrested and charged for possession in certain counties than you are in other counties. That’s not fair. Your rights should not depend on your ZIP Code, but they often do.

Rep. Tony Rivero and I have both proposed bills to fix the language in the criminal code. Neither of these bills has been heard– despite broad public support for fixing the legal disconnect that is causing innocent patients to be jailed.