Thursday, February 28, 2019

Butler grateful for veto promise, Ducey's strong support of vaccines, public health

PHOENIX, State Capitol – Gov. Doug Ducey's promise to veto any anti-vaccination bill that reaches his desk is a strong stand for public health, Rep. Kelli Butler said today. Butler, ranking Democratic member on the House Health and Human Services committee, thanked Gov. Ducey for his opposition to a trio of House bills that could greatly increase the number of unvaccinated Arizonans and lead to a public health crisis.

"It’s a relief to see Governor Ducey’s support of proven public health policy in his commitment to veto these dangerous bills," said Butler, D-Phoenix. "As many states are currently dealing with crisis-level disease outbreaks, it is important that Arizona send a strong message that vaccines are safe, effective and save lives. Health experts warn that many areas of our state are already below safe levels of immunization, and these harmful bills would have made this very serious public health problem even worse."

Ducey was quoted this week saying he is "pro-vaccination and anti-measles," referring to a trio of bills sponsored by Republican Health and Human Services Chairwoman Nancy Barto that she forced through her committee last week. Butler and other Democrats on the committee argued the bills would put Arizona residents, especially school-age children, at risk of contracting and spreading previously eradicated diseases, such as measles, polio, and smallpox.

House Bill 2470 would add a religious exemption from vaccinations on top of the existing personal exemption.

House Bill 2471 would require doctors to give an inches-thick packet on each vaccination's research and ingredients. During committee, an infectious disease researcher testified that even she has a hard time understanding the information packet, let alone parents.

House Bill 2472 would outline notifications and potential exemptions that health care professionals must provide to patients who are receiving immunizations.


Thursday, February 21, 2019

Chávez Appointed Vice President of Membership for NHCSL

PHOENIX, State Capitol – Rep. César Chávez was appointed on Wednesday as Vice President of Membership for the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators. NHCSL includes Hispanic state legislators from both parties who communicate and advocate for Hispanic communities in the United States and territories. Chávez was appointed by Senator Carmelo Rios, the Puerto Rico Senate Majority Leader and President of NHCSL. Chávez's position will deal with recruitment for NHCSL.

"NHCSL has always been a voice for Latinos on numerous controversial issues that have surfaced in the United States. They have always taken the bold position of doing what is right for our communities," said Chavez, D-Phoenix. "It is an honor that I will be serving in the capacity of Vice President for Membership. Thank you, President Carmelo Rios, for your trust. I will serve our organization with the utmost respect and dignity.”
Chávez also the Co-Chair of the Arizona Latino Legislative Caucus and the first formerly undocumented member of the Arizona Legislature.


Friday, February 15, 2019

Democrats stand with Gila River Indian Community opposing Speaker's bill that blows up drought plan

PHOENIX – House Democratic Leader Charlene Fernandez released a statement today regarding the Gila River Indian Community's potential withdrawal from last month's negotiated Drought Contingency Plan. The Tribe has objected to a bill sponsored by House Speaker Rusty Bowers that threatens the GRIC's water rights. The bill would also upend more than a century of Arizona water law. Bowers' placed his House Bill 2476 on the agenda for Tuesday's House Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee, which prompted GRIC Governor Stephen Roe Lewis on to announce on Thursday that his community could not play its vital role in the DCP if the legislation advances.

"It is absolutely unfathomable that the Speaker would go out of his way to provoke one of our most vital partners in a delicately negotiated Drought Contingency Plan and threaten to undermine Gila River Indian Community water rights that were settled over 15 years ago. Governor Lewis was crystal clear that undermining the Community's water rights in another region would negate its ability to participate in the DCP. I don’t know what the Speaker hopes to accomplish with this. But if it's federal control of our drought contingency measures and the destruction of our Central Arizona agriculture economy, it looks like he's on the verge of getting it."


Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Democrats win court challenge to GOP effort to weaken minimum wage law, micromanage cities

PHOENIX, State Capitol The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled today that a 2016 effort by Republican legislators and Gov. Ducey to weaken Arizona's voter-approved Minimum Wage Act was unconstitutional.

The Court upheld a challenge by Democratic lawmakers, UFCW and several local city council members to House Bill 2579, which would prevent cities and counties from regulating nonwage benefits like sick leave, vacations and severance pay.

"Arizona voters have said more than once that they want a decent minimum wage, and they want to keep that right – and other voter-approved laws -- beyond the reach of legislators who seek to take us backwards," said House Democratic Co-Whip Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen. "This ruling is a win for working families and voters. It was also a message to our Republican colleagues to stop micro-managing local governments."

Under Proposition 202 (the Minimum Wage Act), which voters approved in 2006, Arizona employers must pay employees at least the current minimum wage. A group of Arizona Democratic lawmakers, including Bolding, filed suit, arguing HB 2579 violated Arizona's 1998 Voter Protection Act, which requires the Legislature to have a 75-percent majority to undo any voter-approved initiative.

A Superior Court judge agreed with the legislators and enjoined enforcement of HB2579. The State appealed, but on Tuesday, the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's ruling.

From the Court's opinion: “The Minimum Wage Act specifically empowered counties, cities, and towns to regulate benefits, which we have found to mean nonwage benefits. H.B. 2579 explicitly prohibits what the Minimum Wage Act permits, and thus, the two statutes cannot be harmonized. Because H.B. 2579 impliedly amends and repeals a portion of the Minimum Wage Act, it violates the [Voter Protection Act’s] express limitations on legislative changes to voter-approved laws.”


Friday, February 01, 2019

House Democrats unanimously back landmark Drought Contingency Plan

PHOENIX -- House Democrats voted unanimously on a historic Drought Contingency Plan late Thursday. The interstate agreement between Arizona, California and Nevada, and the negotiated multi-part implementation plan will help the state adjust to using less water from the Colorado River to preserve levels in Lake Mead and adopting conservation measures to help secure our long-term water future.

The Drought Contingency Plan resolution passed the House 60-0, as the implementation bill 59-1 with one member not voting. Gov. Ducey immediately signed the legislation into law to beat the Jan. 31 deadline to reach agreement set by the United States Bureau of Reclamation.

"This bill is not the end, it's just the beginning," said House Democratic Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma. "They say politicians think about the next election, but statesmen, think about the next generation. This is a moment for statesmanship, and I'm proud to stand with each and every one of you. We will face many more challenges like this. If we work together going forward like we have today, I have nothing but confidence in our future."
All 29 House Democrats stuck together to negotiate an additional $2 million in the plan for new research and industry conservation projects. Last year this fund helped more than a dozen innovative water management and conservation projects, and now there is double the amount of resources to do even more.

“If we don’t listen to each other we’re not going to get anywhere, and that’s what we did," said Rep. Rosanna Gabaldon, D-Green Valley, a member of the DCP Steering Committee. "We heard each other, we agreed to disagree, and while not everyone got what they wanted, this is something that is going to be good for the state of Arizona. I like to say you don’t know the value of your water until your well runs dry. Let’s not let that happen.”

Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, who also served on the DCP steering committee that developed the plan, emphasized that Arizonans must continue to acknowledge and address climate change.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Dems back Ducey on fed tax conformity, oppose irresponsible tax cut while AZ education and infrastructure needs unmet

PHOENIX — Democratic members of the House Ways & Means Committee today backed Governor Ducey's efforts to fully conform with federal tax cuts, and opposed a Republican-sponsored bill to pass yet another irresponsible tax cut.

All four Democrats in the Ways & Means Committee opposed House Bill 2522, which passed along party lines. Rather than simply conforming with federal tax changes, the bill would further reduce state revenue at a time when public schools remain among the worst funded in the country and falling apart, along with our roads, bridges and other infrastructure that fuels commerce across the state.

Ranking Member Representative Mitzi Epstein introduced an amendment during today's committee meeting that would call for full conformity to the federal taxes, and no individual income tax bracket changes. It was defeated along party lines.

Comments from Democratic committee members:
Mitzi Epstein, Ranking Member, D-Tempe
"My amendment would bring us back to simple conformity. It’s fiscally responsible and helps working Arizonans. We should conform, and the sooner we conform to federal tax laws, the better for all tax payers. Our wonderful CPAs will breathe a deep sigh of relief and our taxpayers will be happy because they can just go ahead and file. I know they are jumping the gun out there – they want to get their taxes in. My amendment will allow them to simply get their taxes in and taxes done. Then further changes or tax rates and so on can be part of the budget negotiation, and Arizonans will have time to speak up and be heard.”  
Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson
“I have lived in Arizona for 37 years and I 've seen this movie before. Many times, in the past, when we have had extra funds, the Arizona Legislature has cut taxes-- rather than investing in schools or roads or saving the funds for a rainy day. I believe that we should do full tax conformity and discuss how to invest these funds to the benefit of all Arizonans and not just give tax cuts to the wealthy.”
Andres Cano, D-Tucson
“Regrettably, Arizona’s legislature is continuing down the same road: more tax cuts for Arizona’s millionaires and billionaires. I agree with Governor Ducey: we should fully conform to the federal tax code with no stipulations, as we’ve done every year. This legislation ultimately harms our ability to fund our schools, healthcare, and crumbling infrastructure. We must demand better so that all Arizonans pay their fair share.”
Lorenzo Sierra, D-Avondale
“I am of the belief that Arizonans know how best to invest their money. That said, I join the hard-working people of Legislative District 19 and the people of Arizona in asking the Legislature to invest in the things that matter most to us: education, healthcare and infrastructure. I join my caucus and the Governor in supporting straight tax conformity.”

Additional background:
  • According to the Grand Canyon Institute, “Conformity with federal tax changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), enacted in December 2017, would enable the state to increase state revenues by approximately $200 million annually, about a two-percent increase.”
  • Also, full conformity will “improve revenues by about $200 million and the cost will almost completely be borne by individuals who gained the most from TJCA reforms, those with household incomes in the top one percent of the state’s income brackets. Most Arizonans will be able to enjoy the benefits of the added revenue infusion and bear little of the cost.”

Legislative Democrats Blueprint for a Better Arizona