Usually, sine die is an orderly but sometimes drama-filled end to the Legislative session. Historically, the Arizona House and the Senate vote to sine die (end the session) on the same night and often under the cloak of darkness.
The second session of the 54th Legislature was… different… even before the novel Coronavirus hit the world. Although Democrats made up 48 percent of the House members in the 54th Legislature, the Republican leadership refused to work with Democrats and refused to put any bills up for a vote unless all 31 of their members were in their chairs and ready to vote in lock step with their party. The Republican leadership’s attempts to tightly control the action resulted in chaotic schedules (when all Republicans were present), several closed-door Republican caucus meetings, and long stretches of inaction because one or more R votes were missing. This is no way to run a government.
The Arizona House of Representatives was adjourned from March 23, 2020 to May 19, 2020, due to the COVID19 pandemic. Some of us wanted to sine die on March 23 and go back into for special session(s) focused on COVID19 public health and economic issues, later when we know the economics of our situation better. Others– mostly Republicans– wanted to stay in session and pause the action by adjourning because they had hopes that their bills would still pass during this session.
Amid the nationwide controversy regarding when it is safe for states to open up their economies during a pandemic, the Arizona House Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee will meet to hear presentations from open up experts. What about hearing from the public health experts, too?
The HHS meeting will be Thursday, May 14 at 1 p.m. The meeting was a total surprise to the Democrats on HHS. Why is this a surprise? Because the House has been in adjournment, with committee hearings paused, since March 23.
The agenda just popped into our inboxes on Tuesday and in the past 24 hours additional speakers have been added.￼ The meeting is a collection of presentations by out-of-state experts who support opening up Arizona’s economy: Aaron Ginn, who is the co-founder of the Lincoln Network; Dr. Jay Bhattacharya (Stanford Health Policy), who has developed an antibody test, conducted research on the spread of COVID19 in the community and death rates, and whose research methods have been critized; Dr. Neeraj Sood (USC Sol Price School of Public Policy), who also did research on COVID19 community spread and death rates and whose results were released prematurely and without his knowledge; Lanhee J. Chen (Hoover Institute and Stanford University School of Public Policy), a FOX commentator and former Romney advisor, who has been critical of WHO and supports bring college students back to campus; Avik Roy, who is the President of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity and who advocates for young people going back to work because mostly old people will die from COVID19; Dr. Joel W. Hay (USC Shaeffer Center), whose Twitter feed rails against state economic lock downs and cites Sweden (who has a higher death toll than neighboring countries) and sparsely populated South Dakota as success stories because they didn’t lock down their economies to stop the spread.
HHS Dems sent a letter to HHS Chair Nancy Barto asking to hear from some Arizona experts, rather than just listen to people from California tell us what we should be doing. (What happened to “don’t California my Arizona?”) For example, the HHS Democrats also would like to hear from these Arizona experts and get their thoughts on what the others have to say: Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS); Will Humble, former ADHS director and current executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association; Dr. Dan Derksen, from the Rural Health Office; and Dr. Tim Lant, from Arizona’s university-based COVID19 modeling team.
Many of you have recently asked me what the Legislature is up to. After all, we haven’t been at the capital since March 23.
Today’s video is meant to answer the question: Are you done or what?
OK. We’re not done for the year. On March 23, the Legislature passed a “skinny budget” with the Senate bipartisan plan that included $50 million to fight the Coronavirus. After that, we voted to adjourn until April 13 (or until needed or it’s safe). Legislators and their assistants are all working remotely.
There is a lot of speculation about the Legislature, now that President has given up on his prediction that everything will be back to normal by Easter and is promoting staying at home through the month of April. The Legislature could vote remotely or come back with a skeleton crew and sine die (end for the year) or extend the adjournment.
The Capital Times is reporting that if we did indeed sine die now, only about 60 bills will have passed and been signed into law this year￼. ￼Traditionally, the Legislature passes more than 300 bills a year. (More than 95 percent of these bills are Republican bills, even though the Democrats make up 48 percent of the Legislature.) As a long-time Arizona voter, I remember asking myself how in the world can they could pass so many bills every year, particularly when the Republicans promote themselves as party of small government, and they’ve been in charge for decades.￼
Now, as a two-term Democratic representative, I know that the vast majority of the new laws passed by Arizona Republicans are totally unnecessary and often harmful to segments of Arizona’s population. They are NOT the party of small government, obviously,
I relish the idea of passing ~60 bills in 2020, rather than 300. Legislation to enable pet projects, pet vendettas and sweetheart tax deals for utilities and multinational corporations seem completely irrelevant and wrong-headed during a mismanaged public health crisis.
It would be a great thing for the citizens of Arizona if the Legislature passed fewer bills. In 2020, Legislators proposed a record number of bills, more than 1700. If we end the session now, hundreds of bad bills that would have passed in a normal year will be dead! This includes ~20 voter suppression bills; >18 tax giveaways that could total a $1 billion per year of lost future revenue; a bill that allows pawn brokers to become payday lenders; a bill that criminalizes people from standing on the median; a bill that forces us to buy license plates more often just so 3M can sell the state of Arizona more reflective coating, the reefer madness ballot initiative, more vanity license plates; several one-off Republican pet projects related to education (other than public education, of course); multiple attacks on Clean Elections, the Citizens Initiative, representative government, local control, and professional credentials, and whatever else is on the Republican to-do list from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Goldwater Institute, the Institute for Justice, Americans for Prosperity, Arizona Tax Research Association, the Chamber of Commerce or President Trump. ￼
It is completely unrealistic that April 13 would be a safe return date to the capital. I think we should sine die by remote vote. We could come up with a bipartisan, mutually agreed upon short list of bills that deserve to pass. Let’s identify 10 bipartisan bills (other than Coronavirus response bills) that deserve to pass– including earned release credits, the grandparent stipend, more money for caregivers in the ALTCS system, and increased district direct assistance for schools. All the bad bills would die. We would leave a few hundred million dollars sitting on the table (because the tax giveaways wouldn’t pass).
With so little commerce going on right now because of the Coronavirus, there is little sales tax being collected. Our state runs on sales tax. We’re going to need those extra funds in the coming months, along with the billion dollars that we have in our rainy day fund.￼
The Legislature can always come back for a special session.￼
A week ago, on Monday, March 9, I urged for the state of Arizona to make a serious financial investment in prevention and control of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
On Tuesday, March 10, several House Democrats met to discuss prevention, control, treatment, and economic strategies to combat the Coronavirus in Arizona. Later that day, the House Democratic Leadership met with Governor Doug Ducey’s staff, urged appropriation of significant funds to get ahead of the outbreak, and discussed House Democratic Caucus ideas.
On Wednesday, March 11, Ducey declared a state of emergency in Arizona, hours after health officials announced the ninth case in Arizona and the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. At that point, there were three cases in Maricopa County, five in Pinal and one in Pima.
On Thursday, March 12, our first vote of the day was to suspend the rules and pass SB1051 to continue the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) and appropriate $55 million from the Rainy Day Fund to ADHS to fight COVID-19. Any funds that are unspent at the end of the fiscal year (June 30, 2021) will go back to the Public Health Emergency Fund. In addition, KTAR reported that the federal government had promised $12 million for Arizona.
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.
As in 2019, Rep. Leo Biasiucci from LD5 in Mohave County is carrying the anti-Clean Elections torch. Two years in a row, he proposed a bill to limit the independent watchdog function of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission (CCEC) by putting it under the Governor’s Regulatory Review Commission (GRRC), a political entity packed with Governor Ducey’s appointees. That bill narrowly lost in 2019 and is back again as HB2054 in 2020. It was debated in Committee of the Whole (COW) on Feb12 and will come up for a vote soon.
Biasiucci’s a second bad bill (HB2055), according to Legislative staff, would eliminate 80% of Clean Elections funding.
Why does Biasiucci hate Clean Elections? Why do Ugenti-Rita and Townsend attack voting rights… annually? Because they fear another Blue Wave in 2020. Republicans want to put roadblocks up against any Democratic paths to victory rather than compete on a level playing field of ideas.
Biasiucci is a freshman. He replaced one-term freshman Republican Rep. Paul “Lead Foot” Moseley in 2018. Biasiucci knows that his next opponent– whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat– who would likely run clean against him. In 2020, 35 Legislative candidates are running clean– 17 Republicans, 17 Democrats, and one Independent. Of those 35, only the five most Progressive Democrats run clean as incumbents: Senators Juan Mendez and Andrea Dalessandro and Reps. Athena Salmon, Isela Blanc, and me. The Legislature is fueled by big-money politics and dirty money donations; the idea that anyone would dare to buck the the dirty money system is an anathema.
You’ll remember that in 2019 as a freshman, Biasiucci proposed several bills requiring driving school because, of course, his family owns a driving school. He’s not the only one of the Republicans who proposed bills that would directly benefit their businesses.￼￼ (David Gordon of Blog for Arizona wrote about this.) He also fought to add a driving school requirement to teach people not to text and drive.
Every year when the Republicans attack Clean Elections, it’s my job to stand up and remind everybody that the citizens created the Clean Elections Commission with a Citizens Initiative. It was a direct response to corruption in the Arizona Legislature in the 1990s.￼ The Maricopa County attorney’s office did a sting operation called AZSCAM. It made national news when several Arizona legislators (from both sides of the aisle) were charged with bribery and money laundering. Then Speaker of the House Jane Hull removed them from their seats and their chairmanships. Some of them were charged.￼ The Legislature passed campaign finance reforms back then, and the voters created the Citizens Clean Elections Commission. The process to run as a clean candidate, CCEC’s voter education efforts, and the CCEC’s independent campaign finance watchdog functions were created in direct response to corruption in the Legislature. During the Tea Party Reign of Terror, some of those reforms were eliminated, campaign donations were dramatically increased, and Clean Elections was weakened repeatedly.
I’m sick of the Republican Party’s nationwide strategy of “if you can’t win, cheat” with voter suppression, gerrymandering, dirty money, and zero transparency.
Besides ignoring the will of the voters, the Republican Party is marching backwards and trying to drag the rest of us with them. Do you want our elections to be controlled by money or voters? Please voice your opinion on these bills on the Request to Speak System (RTS).
Protect Your Voting Rights by Backing the Fair Elections Act on Nov 3
If you want to protect your voting rights, make it easier to register to vote, and update Clean Elections, please support the Fair Elections Act, sponsored by the Arizona Advocacy Network. This Citizens Initiative will be on the 2020 ballot; signatures are being collected now.