#AZLeg, Inquiring Minds What to Know: Are We Done Yet? (video)

Arizona House

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.

Parents, How’s It Going? ADE Offers Flexibility to Parents & Students (video)

Rep. Pam Powers Hannley and ADE Chief Kathy Hoffman

Parents, how are you all doing as you shelter in place in your homes with your children? I’d like to hear your stories.

I know that many of you led busy lives before the novel Coronavirus hit our state. You were probably rushing here and there… dropping off children at school or day care, driving to work, going to the store, going out to eat, watching a soccer game at the park, taking vacations, but now you’re home with each other. You may have work-at-home obligations, while at the same time you’re trying to help your children with their schoolwork.

So, how are you doing? How are your children doing? I have talked with many moms in the past week. They seem a bit stressed out with all of the things they are now juggling, on top of what they were juggling already. Their experiences with the schools has been mixed, but after all, the teachers and schools were also thrown into this. You don’t just set up an online learning curriculum with the snap of your fingers.

On Wednesday, the Arizona House Democrats had our weekly update phone call. This week our special guest was Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, (She and I are pictured here at the 2019 Arizona Public Health Association Conference, where she was honored as public official of the year.) We are lucky to have this woman heading up our educational system. She’s smart, and she has heart.

A few days earlier, she and Governor Doug Ducey announced that Arizona schools would be closed for the rest of the school year. School is still going on, but the buildings will remain closed. Initially, when the two of them announced the shutdown, they said that students would go back to school after Easter.

According to Hoffman, there is quite a bit of variability across schools, school districts, and geographic areas in the state. Some schools are attempting online learning. Some students are meeting with teachers via video chat, but no all schools districts, schools, teachers or students have the technology at home to do this. It is my understanding that 50% of the students in TUSD– and an unknown number of teachers– don’t have the Internet or the hardware to access online classes. Hoffman said TUSD reported needing as many as 11,000 laptops or devices for students to attend classes remotely.  Some schools are distributing paper packets– particularly to younger students.

Some parents are getting creative with nature walks — even if they are around the backyard– and old fashioned, hands-on learning about plants, animals, the weather, gardening and the environment. One parent told me last week that her son’s school was gearing up slowly for online learning but that she has her son on a schedule. (Go, Mom!) He has to do one worksheet of math, do one hour of silent reading, write a few paragraphs, and practice his trumpet for 30 minutes. I encourage parents to engage their children with other types of learning activities like journaling, science experiments, research papers, poetry, music, cooking, gardening, handicrafts, art. Children and young adults need ways to express themselves … and ways to stay busy. Why now combine learning with self expression?

Children will learn lessons during this time. It might not be book learning, but they will have experiences they will never forget. Parents, consider having your children write a paragraph a day in a journal about their lives. It will give them a record and a personal history of this time and also give you a glimpse into what they’re thinking and feeling.

Since I have been talking with parents and educators, I was interested to hear about her expectations. Basically, seniors who are on track to graduate will graduate. All students who are performing at grade level will progress. There will be no standardized testing this year. Hoffman and the school board are “trying to be as flexible as possible” with the parents and students.

I agree with Hoffman’s approach. In this difficult time, we all need to be kind and patient with each other. This includes parents, children and educators.

March 31 is my daughter Alex’s birthday. In her honor, this video focuses on families.

 

With #AZ #COVID19 Cases Now at 1157: #ItsTime for Statewide #StayAtHome Order (video)

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley

The novel Coronavirus continues to run rampant across the United States and across the state of Arizona. Today, when I looked at the Arizona Department of Health Services website I saw that the number of confirmed cases in Arizona is now 1157, with 20 deaths. That’s 238 more new confirmed cases than yesterday. Remember, the state is adding hundreds of cases per day– despite low diagnostic testing rates.  You can check Arizona’s progress in the struggle against the Coronavirus here.

Last week, House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez sent a letter to Governor Doug Ducey asking him to call for a statewide stay at home order, as several mayors have done, including Tucson Mayor Regina Romero. It’s time for action.

Continue reading With #AZ #COVID19 Cases Now at 1157: #ItsTime for Statewide #StayAtHome Order (video)

Arizona’s Stumbling Response to #Coronavirus Will Cost Lives (video)

Arizona List Event in Tucson, March 7, 2020

It was Friday evening, March 27, when I recorded the video below. Governor Doug Ducey and Arizona Department of Health Services Director Cara Christ had just announced that they would de-prioritizing Coronavirus testing in a state with already dismal testing rates, a climbing infection rate, and no statewide shelter in place order. Four Democratic mayors Kate Gallego (Phoenix), Regina Romero (Tucson), Cora Evans (Flagstaff), and Ana Tovar (Tolleson) bravely bucked the governor and called for the shutdown of bars and restaurants in their cities. Now LD11 Senator Vince Leach is threatening Evans and the City of Flagstaff with an SB1487 preemption challenge because their rule is more restrictive than Ducey’s executive order. Seriously, Leach? You’re more concerned about power and politics– than you are about widespread disease and death?

This is crazy. As they say, you can’t make this sh*t up. 

Due to our country’s slow response and early denial of the pandemic’s severity, the US is now the worldwide epicenter for Covid19, and New York City is epicenter of the epicenter. Yikes. Arizona’s recent decision to downplay the lack of Coronavirus testing is troubling and dangerous to the public’s health.

Continue reading Arizona’s Stumbling Response to #Coronavirus Will Cost Lives (video)

#AZ Legislature Passes ‘Skinny’ Budget with #Bipartisan #Coronavirus Plan (video)

Leader Charlene Fernandez

With the novel Coronavirus pandemic swirling around the Arizona capital and, most likely, through the halls of the legislature, the Arizona House passed the skinny budget with the Senate-negotiated bipartisan package to address the pandemic in Arizona.

The budget includes $50 million to address the Coronavirus. Along with the emergency response funding of $55 million for the Arizona Department of Health Services, which was passed by the Legislature a couple of weeks ago, that makes $105 million, which the Legislature has earmarked for the Coronavirus reponse. The additional $50 million, which was part of the Senate plan, goes to the governor, and he has flexibility on how to spend it and IF it should be spent.

This is a good first step, but some of us think that the House Democratic amendments would have fleshed out this plan a bit more. For example, there were Coronavirus Crisis Response Plan amendments to give $10 million to the food bank system, $40 million to the Housing Trust Fund (to help with rent, mortgage payments and eviction prevention), funds to expand TANF to five years and increase the amount per month (which is now set at 36% of the 1992 poverty rate), and funds to increase unemployment compensation, which, of course, is one of the worst in the country at ~$240/week.

None of these specifics got into the budget. We will have to watch Governor Ducey and what he does with his flexibility on spending the funds we have allotted. No one knows exactly what the future will bring, so some flexibility is a good thing.

The legislature adjourned until April 13, three weeks from now. Who knows where we will be in three weeks. As of today, March 24, 2020, Arizona has 326 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and five deaths. Two weeks ago, the number jumped from six cases to nine. Almost 100 confirmed cases were added between yesterday and today.

Continue reading #AZ Legislature Passes ‘Skinny’ Budget with #Bipartisan #Coronavirus Plan (video)

#AZHouse Republicans Push ‘Skinny’ Budget with Little Attention to #Coronavirus (video)

Rep. Warren Petersen

I have had two phone meetings already this morning [March 19, 2020] about the Democratic response to the novel Coronavirus on the state and federal level.

The first call was with House Dems, and we discussed our budget amendments that address the Coronavirus crisis. The second call was with Senator Kirsten Sinema, who outlined what the Congress is doing. She strongly emphasized that we lean on Governor Doug Ducey and Legislative Republicans to take the crisis and the potential loss of life seriously.

Currently, House Republicans plan to push the FY21 budget through with no Coronavirus Crisis Response Plan attached.

I recorded this video just a few minutes ago as I wait to be joined in to the Arizona House Floor debate on the budget.

Continue reading #AZHouse Republicans Push ‘Skinny’ Budget with Little Attention to #Coronavirus (video)

#AZHouse OK’s Remote Voting for Members, #AZLeg Remains Open (video)

On Tuesday, the Arizona House passed Legislation to allow remote voting by House members who are at risk for Coronavirus and want to practice social distancing by working from home. After the House Floor session, I recorded this video, which could be the last one from my office for this session.

Most of this week I have been participating by phone due to the novel Coronavirus. On Tuesday, March 17, I went to the House for a few hours because votes were scheduled, and there was a rumor the Republicans were going to move to change the rules to allow remote voting. Remote voting sounds like a great idea, and I am taking advantage of it. The ulterior motive to remote voting is to keep former Senate President and current Rep. Steve Pierce, who said last Thursday that he wasn’t coming back to the capital, on the GOP budget and the other GOP bills that would die if we ended the session. Heaven forbid that a bipartisan budget and Coronavirus crisis response plan would be heard and passed! Two Senators– Paul Boyer and Heather Carter — said weeks ago that they were staying home due to at-risk family members.

There are a few drawbacks to the Skype voting system. The Speaker said that he wanted to make this option available for people for members who could be in an at-risk group for contracting COVID-19. There are 17 members of the Arizona House who are over 60 years old. There are at least two others who are under 60 but have medical conditions that put them at risk. Two are doctors. The remote voting system accommodates only six people.

Continue reading #AZHouse OK’s Remote Voting for Members, #AZLeg Remains Open (video)

#Arizona Steps Up #Coronavirus Response with Emergency Declaration & $55 million (video)

Arizona House

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.

Continue reading #Arizona Steps Up #Coronavirus Response with Emergency Declaration & $55 million (video)

COVID-19: Businesses… Please… Encourage Sick Workers to Stay Home (video)

Today’s video is a throwback to 2016. Jim shot this video of me testifying in front of the Tucson Mayor and City Council about the importance of paid sick leave and staying home when you are sick.

Much to my employees’ surprise when I was program director of the Arizona Smokers’ Helpline, I told everyone, “Don’t come to work sick. If you do, I will send you home.” Everybody had paid sick leave. I wanted them to use it to get well. The Helpline was a much healthier place after I gave everyone “permission” to stay home and take care of themselves.

When people come to work sick, they infect customers and co-workers. When people stay home sick, they get better faster and don’t infect everyone else. Just think of how many people a sick fast food worker, cashier, caregiver, bank teller, or customer service person can infect per day. This is how disease spreads throughout the population.

Continue reading COVID-19: Businesses… Please… Encourage Sick Workers to Stay Home (video)