#AZ House Republicans Continue to Hear Pet Bills & Ignore #COVID19 (video)

Rep. Pam Powers Hannley

Today was another wacky day in the Arizona House.

We are back in session and primarily debating and voting on unnecessary Republican bills, as if the COVID-19 virus had never happened.

Yesterday, I posted about the unnecessary and non-emergency insurance industry bills that were passed, primarily on a party line vote. Today, May 20, was a repeat but not quite so ridiculous.

My deciding factor in voting is: Is this bill good for the people of Arizona? For example, I voted for the bill that allows rural electric cooperatives to offer broadband to customers in their service areas. I think it’s the great way to expand Internet access to some parts of rural Arizona, and this will help rural Arizona fight COVID19 by improving communication. I also voted for the bill that offers suicide prevention training for teachers; a bill that allows crisis helpline numbers to be printed on the backs of the student IDs; expansion of teacher training for blind and otherwise impaired students; and some relief for people whose property has been foreclosed upon, a lien placed on it, and auctioned off. I voted against deregulation of drone delivery devices and a few other bills.

Everything blew up when Reps. Travis Grantham and Steve Pierce conspired to stop debate on S1397 by having Pierce call the question before Rep. Kelli Butler could propose her amendment to improve SB1397. It requires insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions in the future, if the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is repealed by Congress. SB 1397 makes no mention of all of the other benefits from the ACA. Those are included in Butler’s amendment, but she was not allowed to present it, and we were not allowed to debate it at all.

Continue reading #AZ House Republicans Continue to Hear Pet Bills & Ignore #COVID19 (video)

#AZHouse HHS Committee to Hear Experts on Opening Economy on May 14 (video)

COVID19 computer models

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 knowledgeLanhee 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.

Continue reading #AZHouse HHS Committee to Hear Experts on Opening Economy on May 14 (video)

Dump Trump. Save & Expand Postal Services (video)

Keep the post office

President Trump and Congress have been bailing out businesses with multiple Coronavirus relief packages. One business they haven’t helped is the US Postal Service. In fact, Trump has suggested shutting down the post office and privatizing the services.

I think that is a terrible idea for the American public. The US Postal Service (USPS) is the general public’s most cost-effective and convenient way to send letters and packages to other people in this country. The Postal Service was created by the Founding Fathers because they realized how important it was for us to stay in communication with each other and with the government. President Thomas Jefferson even wanted the newspaper to be delivered free to every person in the US to keep us informed.

Privatization of government services never benefits the people. I can’t think of any instance in which a service was privatized, and the people actually got better service and/or more cost-effective service. With privatization, the service always gets worse, more expensive, and less widespread and universal. It’s costs 55 cents for one first class postage stamp; that is the cost to mail a letter to anyone in the US. To send a Fed Ex letter, it costs $8.50– or $11 if the letter’s destination is more than 601 miles away. Plus, you have to take the letter to Fed Ex to mail it. Privatization is about making money. It’s not about providing quality, low-cost services in a non-discriminatory way, across the entire country equally for everybody. That’s what the Postal Service gives us. If Trump succeeds in privatizing the postal service, thousands of union workers will lose their jobs, costs will skyrocket, convenience will be lost, and people in remote areas will lose mail service or pay ridiculous prices in order to guarantee a profit.

Continue reading Dump Trump. Save & Expand Postal Services (video)

Prison & Long-Term Care #COVID19 Data Needed to Judge Virus Spread in #AZ (video)

prison

Forty percent of Arkansas’ COVID19 cases are prisoners. In a Marion, Ohio prison, more than 1800 prisoners and 100 guards have tested positive for novel Coronavirus. That is 73% of the inmates in that prison. Although prisons and jails are hotspots for the novel Coronavirus across the country, Arizona has no clue what in happening in our prisons with COVID19.

We have tested only 0.4% of the 41,594 prisoners in Arizona. NONE of the nearly 5000 women at the Perryville prison have been tested. Only six of the 5000 prisoners in the Yuma prison have been tested. Arizona is in the dark about the extent of the novel Coronavirus spread in our prison system, and Governor Ducey and the Department of Corrections  (DOC) are making no moves toward improving the situation or the lack of transparency. The DOC has a dashboard up, but the data are minimalist.

In addition to not knowing what’s going on in the prisons, there is no transparency in the Arizona data related to COVID19 in long-term care facilities. In New York, 25% of the COVID19 cases are in long-term care (LTC) facilities including the senior living centers. Arizona long-term care providers tell me they are providing data to federal, state and county governments, but those data are not on the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) website.

The people of Arizona are being kept in the dark about COVID19 in prisons and LTC centers. Many of us have loved ones in an assisted living center, a nursing home, a skilled nursing facility, a jail, or a prison– or who work there.

Until we know the extent of infection in these high-risk facilities, we have no idea what the spread of the novel coronavirus is in the state of Arizona. The caregivers and prison guards are unknowingly working with infected patients and inmates without protective gear. This situation puts prisoners, guards and all of their families at risk.

Continue reading Prison & Long-Term Care #COVID19 Data Needed to Judge Virus Spread in #AZ (video)

#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.