Monday, March 30, 2015

Senate Committee of the Whole passes Rep. Steele's HB 2553

Democrats Urge President Obama to Protect the Grand Canyon's watershed as a National Monument

Democrats recently sent this letter to President Barack Obama urging him to protect the Grand Canyon's watershed as a National Monument. 

Republicans pushing voucher bills, jeopardizing public schools

Not only does the Republican’s new budget jeopardize our state’s economic future by cutting critical funding from K-12 public schools, they continue to push bills that will syphon additional money from public education.

Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) and School Tuition Organizations (STO) are two of the better-disguised methods Republican leaders use to divert money away from our public schools. Arizona’s public schools are still funded below pre-recession levels, and instead of investing in education Republican leaders have prioritized private school voucher programs above the public district schools that educate more than 80 percent of Arizona school children.

This session, Republican legislators have made several attempts to expand ESAs and STOs. Every one of the following bills was introduced by a legislator who voted for the budget:

ESA & STO bills
Estimated Cost 
  • HB 2152
  • HB 2174
  • SB 1088
  • SB 1332
  • SB 1434
  • $1.6 million
  • $230,000
  • $5,200 per student
  • $50,000
  • $160,000
These bills together would cost Arizona more than $3 million each year beginning in fiscal year 2017

Republican rhetoric about increasing classroom spending rings hollow after they have  systematically disinvested from schools - leaving teachers with outdated or no textbooks, schools in disrepair, and classroom sizes growing. Fully funding inflation would give schools an extra $246 per student that could be used for teacher salaries and other classroom spending, but our Republican leaders continue to fight against meeting that obligation.

State leaders have a constitutional and moral responsibility to support the public education system that serves a vast majority of Arizona’s students. But instead of fulfilling this responsibility, they turn away from it. This legislative session, thousands of Arizonans voiced their support for public education. If we keep making noise, eventually the Republicans will have to listen.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Rep. Alston criticizes attempts to make it illegal for some people to collect early ballots

Alston criticizes attempts to make it illegal for some people to collect early ballots

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIXRep. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix (District 24), voted no on a last-minute amendment to SB 1339 in the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, saying that the bill will punish people for civic engagement. A bill with the same language faced bipartisan opposition and failed last week.

“This reckless process to pass legislation is leading to bad policies that are going to negatively impact our vulnerable populations,” said Alston. “It will criminalize teachers for working in their communities to improve schools, and make it more difficult for the elderly, disabled, poor and disadvantaged to vote.”

Opponents argue that this bill offers a solution in search of a problem and that there is no evidence that the voter fraud the legislation claims to prevent even exists. Alston added that the legislation is also unnecessary because current law makes tampering with a ballot illegal. Republicans passed SB 1339.

“This bill goes way too far, making felons of those trying to improve their community based on speculation of voter fraud when there is no evidence it exists,” said Alston.


Rep. Benally and Rep. Hale offer Moment of Silence for the Killed and Wounded Navajo Police Officers

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Education funding and equity major issues facing Native American Nations

Education funding and equity major issues facing     Native American Nations

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – The most recent meeting of the Native American Caucus focused on education funding cuts and equity issues.

“The budget cuts disproportionately affect Native American students, especially those in rural tribes. I don’t think it was political; that’s just the way it turned out,” Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson (District 9), said.

The new budget cuts nearly $10 million from the 33 school districts on Native American Nations from funds that are used to purchase classroom supplies and maintain facilities.  

Rep. Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels (District 7), raised concerns about transportation issues that many Native American students who live in remote areas must overcome.  

“I know that transportation costs are tremendous for some of our schools,” Hale said. “The budget cuts will make that burden more difficult to bear. There are schools in the Window Rock School District that are already having issues. This budget will worsen the situation.”

Steele warned that the cuts to Joint Technical Education Districts will have long-lasting economic consequences. Currently, there is one centralized JTED located within the Navajo Nation, and there are eight satellite campuses on reservations across the state. Each location will lose $345 per participant in fiscal year 2017.

“This will basically destroy the JTED program,” Steele said. “Many people will not get the skills and training they need to prepare for a job after high school, which jeopardizes the future economic stability of our communities.”

Janice Palmer, Arizona School Boards Association director of governmental relations and public affairs, said she expects additional education cuts at the federal level and discussed the need for equity in education.

“We are trying to change the conversation to focus on equity. Each student requires different resources and support to have an equal opportunity for success. One child might need breakfast; another child may need a speech pathologist and a teacher’s aide, while another may need help with English proficiency,” Palmer said. “Each of these services may not be ‘equal,’ however they are all required for individual students to have an equal chance for a quality education.”

Palmer added that the Arizona School Boards Association is partnering with Helios Education Foundation and West Ed to host The Equity Event from April 8 through April 10 in Phoenix to find ways to solve the educational achievement gaps. More information about the conference is available at

Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson (District 3), said she decided to run for elected office so that she could help close the educational achievement gap.  

“Equity is something that I, as an educator and as a parent, have been talking about all of my adult life,” Gonzales said. “We have been struggling with this issue for decades, and it needs more attention.”

Hale agreed.

“Statistically, Native American students are at the bottom of a lot of lists, including high school graduation rates,” he said. “That needs to change.”  

At the conclusion of the meeting, Rep. Jennifer Benally, D-Tuba City (District 7), urged those attending to encourage more people to participate in the political process.

“We need more people to get involved, especially those on the reservations. When people make their voices heard, change happens. If we don’t say anything, then we will be ignored,” Benally, who is a retired Navajo Nation district court judge, said. “As a judge, I saw what the lack of education did to people, and we absolutely have to speak out for equitable opportunities. We absolutely need to have a voice.”


Senate Appropriations Committee approved Rep Cardenas' bill

Monday, March 23, 2015

Rep. Larkin's bill moves forward

Republicans taking food out of the mouths of babes...

There was nothing transparent about the process that produced a state budget that cut $9 million from services for Arizona’s neediest children.  The budget bills were developed in secret, closed-door meetings. They were debated in the middle of the night and passed on a weekend during the early morning hours. But maybe that is the only way to get support for a budget that aggressively targets programs that help some of the state’s most vulnerable people? 

The Republican’s new budget jeopardizes the future and the safety of children and families. On top of shocking funding cuts to K-12 schools, universities and community colleges, the $9 million cut to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program will affect thousands of Arizonans. This is particularly egregious because 75 percent of the program’s participants are children.  By forcing the state to place a one-year cap on TANF benefits, the Republicans are taking food from the mouths of children.  

In addition to the $9 million TANF cut, Children’s Action Alliance’s analysis of the budget shows that the Republicans made a number of other cuts that will “leave more children in danger and will drive up neglect.” 

Those cuts include:
  • $2 million from the Department of Economic Security
  • $11 million from the Department of Child Safety to address the growing case backlog.
  • $3 million from youth treatment funds
  • $4 million from child care vouchers for low-income, working families
These cuts will shrink a vital safety net when the state is lagging behind the rest of the country in recovering from the recession. Instead of prioritizing programs that help parents get back to work, prevent families from falling into crisis or investing in education, the Republicans have created a shortsighted budget that promotes corporate special interests above all else. These are not the priorities of the people of Arizona. Our children and our families deserve more.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

UPDATE: Senate Committee Approves Rep. Steele's Human Trafficking Bill

New budget passed with little input from Native American Nations will have drastic consequences

New budget passed with little input from Native American Nations will have drastic consequences 

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – The Native American members of the House of Representatives made the following statements regarding the budget that Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law on March 12, 2015:

Rep. Jennifer Benally, D-Tuba City (District 7)

“The cuts to education in this budget are detrimental to Arizona and to Native American communities. In our state, there are 33 school districts located within Native American Nations. These districts will lose nearly $10 million in state funding. Schools rely on this money to maintain facilities and to buy classroom supplies. Instead of investing in schools in Arizona and in Native American Nations, this budget prioritizes special interest tax handouts. This is especially troubling because Native American students have some of the highest school dropout rates in the state. The cuts to education funding are part of a shortsighted economic strategy that has failed in the past and will continue to fail. Without properly educating our children, how are we going to attract new industries to Arizona? This budget isn't logical, and it punishes families.”

Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson (District 3)

“The choices reflected in the Republican budget jeopardize the safety of our children.  It does not fund foster care caseload growth or emergency placement of children in group homes at a time when about 1,300 Native American children are in out-of-home care for their safety.  The budget also cuts $4 million from child care subsidies. This cut will be compensated for with federal money but the loss means about 1,000 additional children per month will not receive child care. There are nearly 2,000 Native American children who currently benefit from these subsidies. Imagine how many more could be served if the Republicans had made this program a priority? This budget is the result of bad choices.”

Rep. Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels, (District 7)

“After an all-night session which resulted in hasty decisions being made in the dark of night, the Legislature adopted a Republican-developed budget that they claim is balanced and supposedly adds money to education. However, upon review, the adopted budget contains many funding cuts that will bring hardship to our children, our elderly, our families in need of assistance, and our educational systems. The budget is ‘balanced’ on the backs of children, elderly, and the needy. Many of the costs are shifted to the counties and local governments. The budget will cause education programs, and programs for the elderly and children to again greatly reduce the services they provide.  Funding for these programs has already been cut to the bone in prior years. Rather than finding new ways to increase our revenues and minimize cuts, we chose only to cut funding.  More egregious is, rather than increasing our revenues or passing laws to accommodate that, we continue to give money away through tax credits and handouts to special interest groups.”

Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson (District 9)

 “This budget has a disproportionately negative impact on Native American Tribes and Nations in Arizona. It was pushed through the legislative process quickly and secretively. It included a new cap on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program that will ultimately take $9 million from Arizona’s most vulnerable families. The Department of Economic Security estimates that almost 200 Native American families will be affected.  It is clear that their needs are not being recognized by this budget, and the fact that the tribes were never consulted about key parts could be seen as a sign of disrespect.” 
For more information on the budget impacts on Native Americans in Arizona, please see the attached fact sheet or go to


Impacts of the Fiscal Year 2016 Arizona State Budget on Native Americans

On March 7, 2015 The Legislature passed and on March 12, 2015 the governor signed a $9.1 billion budget that includes $74 million in revenue increases, $220 million in fund transfers, $176 million in spending increases and $497 million in spending reductions.  The budget projects an ending cash balance of $451 thousand in Fiscal Year 2016 and uses $113 million from the Rainy Day Fund to help eliminate a $148 million deficit in FY15. 

K-12 cuts – The policy decisions in this budget represent $170 million in funding reductions in FY16 and $417 million over the next two years.  Some of the specific cuts include:
§  $116.5 million cut to Additional Assistance:  This is a cut to both District Additional Assistance [$113.5 million] and Charter Additional Assistance [$3 million].  This funding is designed to provide schools with the resources to maintain facilities, purchase classroom supplies, and augment Maintenance and Operations dollars for classroom spending.  

o   There are 33 school districts located within Indian Reservations. This reduction would represent $9.7 million in cuts to those districts.
o   In 2013, Native American students made up to 5 percent of the state student enrollment.
o   The percent of Native American students passing AIMS in either reading or mathematics was the lowest of the racial/ethnic groups. However, Native American students showed the second highest increase (7 percent) in average percent passing in reading from 2010 to 2013.
o   Native American students showed higher dropout rates than all other racial/ethnic groups.

§  $22 million repeal of the Student Success Formula.  This was a newly created performance funding model that rewarded schools for student gains and high school graduations.  This funding was transferred to the School Facilities Board to serve as collateral for charter schools seeking favorable financing.

o   There are 33 school districts located within Indian Reservations. This reduction represents $1.5 million in cuts to those districts.
o   Break  down of the 33 school districts by letter grades:
§ 7 rated B school districts
§ 13 rated C school districts
§ 13 rated D school districts

§  $30 million reduction to JTED formula funding by 7.5 percent for students attending at a satellite campus beginning in FY17.  The reduction would affect districts and JTEDs.

o   JTEDs located within Indian Reservations:
§ There is only one centralized JTED campus located on the Navajo Indian Reservation. (N.A.T.I.V.E. JTED)
§ There are eight satellite JTEDs campuses located within the Indian Reservations (Chinle HS, Ganado HS, Monument Valley HS, Pinon HS, Red Mesa HS, Tuba City HS, Valley Sanders HS, Window Rock HS)
§ This means that the eight satellite campuses will lose JTED funding and only receive           92.5 percent of the BSL funding for a student who is concurrently enrolled in a JTED and district high school.

University Cuts
The Legislative budget continues an ongoing trend of decreased state investment in the three state universities.  Funding is reduced by $99 million and distributed proportionally to each university based on student count
§  UA: $28 million                NAU: $17 million                   ASU: $53 million
    • In the fall of 2013, 1,983 [1.6 percent] of undergraduate students enrolled in the Arizona public universities were Native American students. 
    • During the 2012-13 academic years, 443 Native American students were awarded bachelor’s degrees [1.7 percent of all undergrads graduating].

Community College Cuts
The Legislative budget also eliminates all state funding for Pima Community College District and Maricopa Community College District.  The total reduction equates to $16 million spread between PCCS and MCCD.
§  Pima: $7 million  Maricopa: $8 million

o   At Pima Community College only 3 percent of students taking credit courses, adult education or attending classes at their center for training development, self-identified as Native American
§  For 2013-14, only 1 percent of students receiving an Associate’s Degree and 1 percent receiving a certificate were Native American
o   Statewide, 7,703 Native American students were enrolled in fall of 2012 at the state’s 10 community college districts.
§  These students comprise about 3.5 percent of total statewide enrollment.
o   These cuts are likely to lead to increases in both university and community college tuition, making higher education more unaffordable for a group that is dramatically underrepresented in our higher education system

Health and Human Services
Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) 2 percent “fee” and co-pays – This budget would also require AHCCCS to apply for waivers from the federal government to impose the following statutory changes:
1.    Requires adult Medicaid enrollees up to 133 percent of the Federal Poverty Limit (FPL) to pay a premium of 2 percent of their income,
2.    Allows providers to charge co-pays of up to $25 for non-emergency use of the emergency room, and
3.    Eliminates payment for non-emergency medical transportation from October 1, 2015 through Sept. 30, 2016 for adults at 100 percent – 133 percent FPL.

Premiums: This change will affect the working poor the most: 2 percent income premium will hurt families already struggling to make ends meet. The average premium would be $320 for a family of 2 earning $16,000. This change is only estimated to create $1.1 million in savings in FY17

    • As of January 2015, 9.6 percent of AHCCCS recipients were Native American

TANF 12-month life time limit – The Legislative budget imposes a 1 Year limit on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Cash Assistance in FY17.  This hits poor moms and kids hard: 75 percent (20,400) of the people participating in cash assistance are children; the remaining 25 percent are their parents.

o   The Department of Economic Security estimates that approximately 175 Native American households would lose benefits. 
o   A number of Native American Tribes have exercised the option to develop a TANF Program and to submit their proposal to the federal government for approval. Currently, the following Native American Tribes have federally-approved TANF Programs:
§  Salt River, Pascua Yaqui, White Mountain Apache, Navajo, Hopi, San Carlos Apache,

Department of Child Safety – This budget reverts $5.5 million in unused transition funding back to the General Fund instead of appropriating it to handle growth in caseloads or to address the 15,000-case backlog.
§  The Governor’s budget recommended $3.3 million for caseload growth. The agency currently has a 15,000 case backlog and receives thousands of reports of child neglect and abuse annually.
§  This budget does not fund foster case caseload growth, child care caseload growth or emergency placement of children in group homes.
§  The Governor’s budget proposed $3.4 million for foster care caseloads and $2.2 million for emergency placement of children in group homes and $3.3 million for child care caseload and NONE of these items were funded in the Legislative budget

    • As of September 30, 2014, there were 1,336 American Indian children in out-of-home placement.  This represents 7.9 percent of the current total out-of-home population of 16,900 children. 

Childcare – The Legislative budget cuts $4 million from Child Care subsidies and backfills the loss with Federal funds.  The $4 million cut to the program prevents an additional 1,000 kids per month from getting childcare.

o   DES currently has 30,006 children currently authorized for child care services. 1,933 of these children are coded as Native American. The Department does not differentiate on vs. off tribal lands, only the race.

County Cost Shifts
The FY2016 budget includes several provisions that shift costs to cities, towns and counties.  The largest shift to municipalities and counties is in the form of a $21 million fee split between cities/towns [$14 million] and counties [$7 million] to fund the operations of the Arizona Department of Revenue. One other key change would require counties to pay 25 percent of the cost of juveniles housed at the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections.  This is expected to have a statewide cost to counties of $12 million. The overall impact of ongoing and newly enacted cost shifts is $62 million.
o   Here are the impacts to counties serving Native American populations:
§ Apache: $416,000
§ Coconino: $1.4 million
§ Gila: $631,000
§ Graham: $745,000
§ Pima: $16 million
§ Yavapai: $2.4 million

Agency Consolidations
This budget also includes 3 separate agency consolidations including the transfer of the Department of Racing into the Department of Gaming. The consolidation would be effective on either July 1, 2015, or the effective date of the Budget Reconciliation Bill, whichever is later. 

o   The Tribes were never consulted about a proposed consolidation of an agency that they completely fund, with an agency that receives its revenues from state resources. In addition, the Department of Gaming only exists because of the partnership, otherwise known as the compact, between two sovereigns; the State and the Tribes. The consolidation merges two very different entities, Tribal Governments and commercial racing, into one agency.

Monday, March 16, 2015

House Democrats Deliver Education Funding Proclamations from School Districts Across the State

House Democrats Deliver Education Funding Proclamations from School Districts Across the State 

Tucson Unified School District Opposes Education Budget Cuts

Tolleson Union High School District Proclamation Denouncing Republican Budget Cuts

Tucson's Sunnyside School District Proclamation 

Paradise Valley School Board Education Funding Proclamation

Holbrook Unified School District Proclamation

Republican Budget Balanced on the Backs of School Kids

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Meyer: The budget ‘jeopardizes the economic security of our state’

Meyer: The budget ‘jeopardizes the economic security of our state’

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – House Democratic Leader Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley (District 28), released this statement after Gov. Doug Ducey signed the budget:
“The governor just signed a budget that jeopardizes the economic security of our state. His claim that this budget is spending more money on education in the history of the state is misleading at best. Make no mistake – on a per pupil basis, there are no new funds for students in this budget when adjusted for inflation. It only includes money for student population growth and a fraction of the $330 million court-ordered inflation funds owed to our schools.  Students, teachers and parents will be on the losing end of the shell game that this budget plays with education funding.

“The deep cuts to higher education included in this budget further threaten our state’s future. Universities will see their budgets slashed by nearly $100 million. Community colleges in Maricopa and Pima counties will lose all state funding.  These cuts are a tax on middle-class families that will make access to higher education harder and will leave our students struggling to prepare for 21st century jobs.

“Arizonans came out in droves to protest these cuts, marching at the Capitol for days. The governor and the Republican leaders at the Legislature ignored these concerns and pushed their budget through in the middle of the night and into the early hours of the morning. And their claims that they were forced to make tough choices to balance the budget ring hollow. There are other options – including closing tax loopholes and ending special interest corporate giveaways.

“A budget is a statement of values. This budget indicates that the governor and Republicans value special interests over our kids and the long-term economic stability of our state.”


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

UPDATE: HCM 2003 Passes Legislature

UPDATE: March 16, 2015
Rep. Steele and Sen. Dalessandro met with Secretary of State Reagan for a ceremonial signing of HCM 2003

Steele: Bill ‘will force victims to suffer another trauma’

Steele: Bill ‘will force victims to suffer another trauma’

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Today in the House Federalism and States’ Rights Committee, Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson (District 9), revealed that she was the victim of sexual violence as a child when she spoke against SB 1318.

“This bill would require women who are seeking an abortion after being traumatized by rape or incest to share personal, private and emotional information with an insurance company if they want coverage for the procedure. It will force victims to suffer another trauma. Telling my story today was difficult, and I have had years to deal with and recover from the incident.  I can’t imagine the position this legislation would put recent victims in if they attempt to get medical care,” Steele said. “Additionally, this bill endangers doctors who provide a legal, medical service to women by making the doctors’ personal information public. The bill is inappropriate on many levels. Politicians should not be creating laws that target women and doctors.”

SB 1318 would prevent health care plans offered through any Arizona health care exchange from providing coverage for abortions with some exceptions, including rape and incest. The bill would also require medical providers to report their personal information to the Arizona Department of Health Services. To view the bill in its entirety, go to


Rep. Wheeler Responds to Being Gavelled Down for Questioning Anti-Women's Health Care Bill

Rep. Wheeler Responds to Being Gavelled Down for Questioning Anti-Women's Health Care Bill

To see a live stream of the committee hearing click here.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Gov. Ducey’s Claim Doesn’t Add Up

Gov. Ducey’s Claim Doesn’t Add Up

The governor’s claim that the new budget spends the most on education in Arizona’s history doesn’t add up. He hasn’t provided an explanation for this assertion but based on information from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, education funding across the board was higher in 2008.  It seems clear that Republicans are shortchanging Arizona schools … again. 


Saturday, March 07, 2015

Republican budget ‘shell game’ continues

Republican budget ‘shell game’ continues
Republican budget proposal developed behind closed doors and favors special interests over education

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Rep. Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley (District 28), released the following statement in response to the budget that Arizona House Republicans passed today:

“The Republicans made sure the budget process was quick and provided little opportunity for public comment. Despite this effort, hundreds of teachers, students, parents and concerned citizens came to the Capitol to deliver a clear message. This budget is bad for education and jeopardizes our economic stability.

“Instead of listening to the people they represent, Republicans have chosen to perpetuate the education funding shell game which prioritizes special interest tax cuts and corporate giveaways over the needs of middle-class families. They’re slashing more than $100 million from higher education. Those cuts include eliminating all state support for the largest community colleges. These policies are irresponsible and shortsighted. Without a solid education and access to affordable higher education, Arizona kids won’t be ready for 21st century jobs.

“I encourage the governor to listen to what the people of Arizona are saying and to veto the budget. There are other options; balancing the budget does not require us to mortgage our future.”


Thursday, March 05, 2015

Native American Caucus delves into Indian Law

Native American Caucus delves into Indian Law
STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Members of the Native American Caucus recently attended an overview of Indian law in Arizona and the United States.

At the meeting, retired Apache County Superior Court Judge Michael C. Nelson gave a presentation on the evolution and present status of the legal relationship between Indian Nations, states and the federal government. He said that often times, elected officials believe that their actions do not affect people living in Indian Nations, but there are many people who live and do business in Indian Nations who are subject to state regulations.

“You cannot say that state action stops at the reservation line. It doesn’t. It is a much more complex discussion than that, and that is what I was trying to get across today,” Nelson said.

Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson (District 9), thanked Nelson for his presentation and said that it is important that state legislators understand their relationship with Arizona’s 22 Indian Nations.

“Today’s presentation provided an exceptional opportunity to better understand the interactions between tribes, the state, and the federal government, which is vital information for legislators in Arizona to have,” Steele said.
Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson (District 3), agreed that the topic is important.

“We were very happy that Judge Nelson could share with us his expertise on this topic,” Gonzales said.

She added that she thinks this information should be shared with more people. Rep. Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels (District 7), echoed that sentiment.

“I have spoken to my colleagues about how the U.S. Constitution does not apply to Native Americans on Indian reservations. The result is a federal government that has little restraint in its dealings with Native Americans,” Hale said. “Today’s caucus topic hopefully opened some eyes to why that is so. The ‘right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness’ has been constrained and dictated by the federal and state governments in their relations with Native American sovereign nations, all resulting in discriminatory treatment of Native American peoples and nations.”