Friday, February 24, 2012

Tea Party legislators block amendment increasing government transparency

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Tea Party lawmakers blocked an amendment introduced by Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson (District 28), which would have required legislators to be more transparent about the money they receive from lobbyists to cover costs of attending conferences and other expenses.

“Lawmakers have a responsibility to the public to be transparent,” Farley said. “My amendment would have made lawmakers more accountable to citizens.”

Farley introduced the amendment to HB 2642, a lobbying expenditure bill, which would have required legislators to make more specific disclosures on “scholarships” for conferences they receive and would require them to make financial disclosure reports available through the Secretary of State website. Additionally, the amendment would require organizations lobbying lawmakers to register as lobbyists and it would narrow the definition of who can advocate without registering as a lobbyist.

The provisions came from Farley’s HB 2665 and would require the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Goldwater Institute, two groups that exercise strong influence of Arizona’s legislature, to register as lobbyists.

The amendment failed by a vote of 18-36 along party lines.

“Transparency should not a political issue, it should be a bipartisan belief that lawmakers have a duty to be open and honest with all citizens,” Farley said. “This amendment should have been included in the bill. It failed because Tea Party legislators once again let their rigid ideology get in the way of common sense.”


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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

House Democrats blast bill to make university education more expensive

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – House Democrats on the Appropriations Committee were outraged by a plan put forth by Tea Party lawmakers to make university education more expensive for students and were equally outraged by the rejection of an amendment to exempt veterans and active duty service members from the mandatory $2000 tuition payment.

“At a time when we should be removing barriers to higher education, the Tea Party extremists are putting up more barriers instead," said House Minority Leader and Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix (District 14). "This bill limits students’ ability to pursue higher education and hurts Arizona’s ability to compete in today’s global economy.”

House Bill 2675, sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills (District 8) would require all students at Arizona’s universities to pay at least $2000 in tuition, even if that student earned scholarships or financial aid that would otherwise pay that cost. The bill passed out of the House Appropriations Committee today with all Republicans voting in favor of the bill except Rep. Steve Urie, R-Gilbert (District 22), and Rep. Vic Williams, R-Tucson (District 26) who voted with Democrats against the measure.

“Veterans are coming home to the toughest job market in decades. The unemployment rate for veterans is 11.5%,” said Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson (District 29), a member of the House Appropriations Committee who offered an amendment to exempt veterans and active duty service members from the bill’s mandatory $2000 tuition payment. The amendment failed along a party-line, roll call vote with Democrats supporting it and Republicans voting against it.

“This bill saddles veterans with additional financial barriers to gaining the skills they need to compete in the workforce,” Heinz said.

“It alarms me that one of my Republican colleagues would make the statement in committee that veterans don’t deserve a free education just because they are veterans. Those who serve our country deserve that and more in thanks for their service. The fact that Republicans voted down my amendment to exempt veterans from this bill is unjust and immoral,” Heinz said.

“This bill only makes things worse for middle class families who are already struggling with the rising tuition costs that came as a result of record budget cuts to our schools and universities,” said House Minority Whip Anna Tovar, who is also a member of the Appropriations Committee.

“Mr. Kavanagh may think $20,000 in student loan debt is not unreasonable, but that just shows you how out-of-touch Kavanagh and all the Tea Party legislators are with the middle-class,” Campbell said, referring to a comment the bill’s sponsor made in the House Appropriations Committee meeting today.

“The problem is tuition hikes—the cost of a higher education is crippling students and their families—and this bill only makes that problem worse,” said Heinz, who relayed his own story of working to pay off more that $100,000 in student debt himself.

“Requiring students to pay $2000 is an unnecessary financial road block to the economic opportunities that obtaining a higher education affords,” said Tovar. “This bill will make students think twice about applying to attend a university or transfer to a university from community college to complete their education.”

House Democrats pointed out that even those students that do not pay tuition because of financial aid or scholarships usually do not have a “free ride” and there are many other costs for students than just tuition, including living expenses, transportation, books and mandatory university fees.

“Giving students the extra price tag of $2000 will only be a detriment to them and our economy. We’re trying to prepare students to compete for jobs and improve our state’s economy," said Tovar. "Making it more difficult to afford a university education flies in the face of those goals.”

House Democrats were also outraged by what they felt was “badgering” of students who came to testify against the bill in today’s House Appropriations Committee meeting by some committee members.

“Making students who came to testify on a bill account for and justify their own personal financial aid awards and scholarships is completely out of line,” said Campbell. “The arrogance of some lawmakers is outstanding. These students are citizens who have valid concerns with this bill and they should be treated with respect.”

Video of the committee hearing, showing students who testified against the bill being greeted by what Heinz described as “open hostility” by certain committee members will be available at http://azleg.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=13.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

House Democrats release list of Tea Party’s extremist bills

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – House Democrats released today a list of the worst, most extremist bills this session, pointing out where Tea Party lawmakers’ priorities lie.

The bills include the Birther Bill (again), repealing the voter-approved Independent Redistricting Committee, guns on campus, putting a heavily-armed, untrained group of volunteers like the Minutemen on the border, taking money from kids and giving it to millionaires and much more.

“These bills just echo the extremism from Tea Party lawmakers who control the capitol,” said House Minority Leader Chad Campbell. “We should be focused on jobs. We shouldn’t be focused on these radical and extremist bills, but these are the priorities of the Tea Party and we hope that by pointing them out, Arizonans will tell their elected officials that they voted for them to work for the people, not for themselves.”

Please see attached list of extreme bills.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hobbs’ bill to make CPS more efficient passes committee



STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – A bill sponsored by Rep. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix (District 15), that will help make Child Protective Services more efficient passed committee Wednesday.

HB 2794 would eliminate the need for the Department of Economic Security to establish “review teams” to determine whether a child is in need of removal from the custody of their parents, guardian or custodian due to abuse or neglect.

“This bill helps CPS be more efficient by cutting out a duplicative step of the process to determine if a child needs help by being removed from a person’s custody,” Hobbs said. “This is one less step of red tape so that we can protect the children of Arizona.”

The bill addresses the added step of going through a “removal review team” that has been in place since 1990. A juvenile court hearing called the Preliminary Protective Hearing, which was put in place in 1998, removes the need for the review team, but it was left untouched. CPS caseloads are already 50 percent over the recommended limit and this step causes more delay in providing services or keeping kids safe.

“Removal review teams make it harder for children to be taken out of abusive and neglectful environments,” Hobbs said. “With the removal of these teams, children will be better able to get out of an unhealthy environment and move into a more welcoming and safe home.”

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Farley bill helping seniors pay for long-term care passes committee

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – A bill sponsored by Assistant House Minority Leader Steve Farley, D-Tucson (District 28), that would aid seniors with long-term health care passed a committee Wednesday with unanimous bipartisan support.

This is the first policy initiative of a new legislative Senior Caucus founded by Farley.

“Right now, our middle-class families are struggling to make ends meet, and seniors’ long-term care expenses, now averaging more than $72,000 a year out of pocket, are pushing many to the edge of poverty,” Farley said. “The number of Americans needing long-term care is expected to triple by 2040. If we do not find ways to provide for that care right now, we will be facing a huge crisis for our seniors, our national budget, and our economy. This bill gives families an important tool to alleviate that crisis."

HB 2713 would allow Arizonans to open a savings account that would be used to pay health costs for non-hospital expenses, such as nursing home care, home health care and assisted or alternative family living. Money deposited into this account or used to pay for long-term care insurance premiums would be deductible from Arizona income, reducing taxes owed.

Banks, associations, or the entity that hosts the savings account would take out the money for health-care expenses as needed. The amount contributed to a long-term health care savings account or premium costs for long term care insurance would be subtracted from the Arizona adjusted gross income for each year, beginning with 2013.

“It’s a good option to help Arizona families plan for future health-care expenses,” Farley said. “It’s also a step in the direction of a tax code that’s fair for Arizona seniors and the families that care for them. Now we should push Congress to act as well.”

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Gallego seeks to eliminate self-interest with elected officials



STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix (District 16), is working to curb elected officials’ self interest and make them do their job by serving Arizonans instead.

Gallego has introduced a bill that would make self-serving legislation more difficult for elected officials in Arizona to pursue and is proposing a rule change in order to keep state legislators from introducing bills that would result in personal financial benefit.

“Government is paid for by the people, so the people have a right to transparency to the greatest extent,” Gallego said. “This bill furthers that goal by ensuring that elected officials work for the people, not for themselves.”

HB 2797 would add to the definition of “remote interests,” which are exceptions to conflicts of interest, to include that an elected official may not introduce a bill affecting property they own worth $1,000 or more. Additionally, current statute states that an elected official must have a class of at least 10 people with interest in the legislation in order for it not to be in self-interest. HB 2797 would change that requirement to a class of 50 people.

A case of conflict of interest that the bill addresses was the local controversy with Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio’s financial interest in putting the Loop 202 extension on the Gila River Reservation. (Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/2010/01/31/20100131diciccio0131.html)

Gallego is also seeking a rule change in the legislature. Currently, a legislator or member of the legislator’s household needs to belong to a class of people of which the majority would be affected by the bill. Gallego’s proposed rule change would require that the legislator or household member be part of a class of at least 50 members, that the sponsor of the bill has no more interest in it than other members of the class, and that there is minimal interest by the sponsor of the legislation. The rule change also prohibits voting on or taking part in any way on legislation for which the legislator has a conflict of interest.

A recent example where the rule change would apply could be to Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Gilbert (District 21), who over several sessions has introduced bills to benefit student tuition organizations, one of which he is the executive director. Yarbrough has consistently denied any self interest, despite his financial gains from the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization. (Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2009/05/19/20090519yarbrough0519.html)

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Monday, February 13, 2012

House Democrats to Brewer: ‘Arizonans want results, not your buy-back gimmick’

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – House Democrats proposed today several alternatives to Gov. Jan Brewer’s public relations gimmick to buy back the state capitol buildings she sold to Wall Street banks in 2010.

House Democrats said Brewer’s plan to put $106 million (estimated by JLBC) in a lock box until 2020 just to get the deed to the buildings could be better used to create jobs, hire more teachers and restore KidsCare.

“The only real ‘benefit’ to the governor's proposal is that a symbolic piece of paper — the title to the capitol — comes back to the state,” said House Minority Leader Chad Campbell. “But that money could be used today to create jobs will be tied up in an escrow account ‘benefiting’ no one. Symbolic gimmicks don't balance budgets or prove the governor has a long-term plan for making sure Arizona's workers have jobs or children have quality schools.”

House Democrats ideas include:

—Job Training: Reinstate job training. When the job training funds were not eliminated in 2011, 55 companies made use of them and 1,522 new jobs were created. (JLBC and OSPB)

—Job Training with Community Colleges: With a statewide average tuition of $2,167 per year, we could allow a tuition waiver for 22,611 Arizonans to go to a community college training program for two years. Arizonans would be able to retrain and sharpen their skills at our community colleges. (JLBC)

—Teachers: We could hire nearly 1,000 new teachers. This would include their pay for two years at $50,000 a year which would be a boost from the average of salary of $42,000 in Arizona. (U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics)

—KidsCare: Provide health care to 57,434 children by passing Democratic bills that would restore KidsCare, which would cost $29.5 million. (JLBC)

—Child Care: 2,670 jobs would be created if we restored child care subsidies, and 19,000 additional children would have child care. (Arizona Child Care Association and JLBC)

—Early Childhood Education: Reinstate the Early Childhood Block Grant, which would provide additional resources for preschool programs, full-day Kindergarten, and programs for all students in Kindergarten to Grade 3. At $20 million a year, the program could be funded for five years. (JLBC)

—College Entrance Exams: Phoenix Union High School District has seen great success in instituting a program to allow all juniors to take the ACT as a way of making a college education a tangible goal. For $16 million you could ensure that four years of juniors statewide would have the same access to the ACT. (ACT)

—Building Renewal Grants: Over the last three years a suspended formula has kept more than $700 million from school districts for needed maintenance. The extra money would go a long way to creating construction jobs and shoring up our crumbling school infrastructure. (JLBC)

—Renewable Energy and Jobs: Several bills, including HB 2298 and HB 2243, work to incentivize job creation. HB 2243 specifically will help fast track solar permitting. Gila Bend, which did the same in 2010, landed three large scale solar power plants that are bringing in hundreds of jobs. (http://www.gilabendaz.org/SolarPlants.html)

—State Parks: $15 million for our state parks would make much-needed improvements, create jobs and boost tourism, thus attracting more visitors and revenue for small businesses near the parks. (ADEQ and Arizona State Parks)

“We’re focused on what matters — making government work for Arizonans,” said House Minority Whip Anna Tovar. “While it is important for us, not Wall Street banks, to own our government buildings, Gov. Brewer never should have sold them in the first place. But we face the reality of putting $106 million in a lock box so we can get a symbolic piece of paper or using it to make government work for Arizona’s families. We choose results, not a gimmick.”

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