Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Debacle and a Fiasco

Two words are consistently used to describe what happened in Maricopa County during the March 22 presidential preference election: debacle and fiasco.

Media reported “horror stories,” which included waiting as much as five hours in line and having to ration water while waiting. People continue to share their stories – one voter said she couldn’t find handicapped parking for her elderly parents who wanted to vote and after an hour of looking, they left without voting.

After initially blaming voters for the delays at polling centers, Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell took responsibility for the mismanagement of the election, which had only 60 voting centers. In the 2012 presidential preference election, there were more than 200 polling places.  Secretary of State Michele Reagan, the state’s top election official, said she wished she had questioned the plan beforehand.

Many believe the gross mismanagement of the election in Maricopa County resulted in voters being disenfranchised. And much of this can be traced back to choices that Republican leaders at the Legislature have made. Last year, Republicans passed a budget that cut $4.5 million from funding for the presidential preference election. The Arizona Republic reported:
“It was one of many maneuvers the GOP-controlled Legislature took to balance the budget, and it came over the protests of elections officials statewide.”

It is yet another indication that the Republican leadership at the Legislature has the wrong priorities. Republicans seem to be working to exclude people from the process. Over the past years and as recently as this year, we’ve seen them promote bills to make it a felony for volunteers to pick up and deliver early ballots, to impose voter ID requirements and to kick people off the permanent early voter list. House Democrats believe wholeheartedly that robust participation in our elections improves our democracy. We should be removing obstacles that prevent eligible voters from having their voices heard. This is one reason why we supported legislation that would have allowed registered Independent voters to participate in the presidential preference election.

Legislative Republicans have been swiping money from elections, schools and county governments to stash away for corporate and special interest tax cuts. These cuts have siphoned about $4 billion from the state’s general fund with little evidence of any return on the investment. That money could have been used to fund our public schools, address the state’s teacher shortage or gone to the universities to help keep tuition affordable.

Unfortunately, those are not the choices Republicans have made. And Arizonans have seen the result of these misplaced priorities. If Republicans continue to put corporate and special interests above our schools, our elections and other vital services, we will continue to see failures like the one on Election Day in many other areas.  Their leadership is lacking – which is why we saw so much chaos at the House of Representatives during and following the Elections Committee hearing on March 28.  

People want responsive government, and Democrats have a plan to move our state forward. We’ve proposed measures to reinvest in our state – our schools, our communities, our economy, our public safety and our natural resources. By focusing on the priorities of the people of Arizona, instead of what’s best for out-of-state corporations or special interest groups, we can move forward. To see a summary of the Democratic proposal, click here


Monday, March 28, 2016

Will Republicans Finally Listen?

Last year, the Republicans at the Legislature negotiated the state budget behind closed doors with little input from the public or elected Democrats. When they passed that budget, they did so in the middle of the night. It was a deliberate process that allowed legislative leadership to pass a bad budget with minimal protest. The result was a budget wildly out of step with the priorities of most Arizonans.

That night, Arizona’s Republican leaders turned their back on their constituents, especially those Arizonans most in need of support: teachers, students and vulnerable children. They also cut funding for elections and we’ve seen the results of that choice.

The 2015 budget was a hard lesson in the importance of transparency. The question remains, however: did Republican legislators learn that lesson?

This year, after banning public testimony during the regular budget hearings, Republicans held a series of town halls on the state budget. At each of those meetings, Arizonans consistently voiced their priorities—they want more money for education and less money for private prisons. Legislative Democrats have the same priorities, and have proposed policies that would reinvest in Arizona’s innovative population, infrastructure, and abundant natural resources.

The state currently has about a billion dollars available to go to work for the people of Arizona, as well as higher-than-expected ongoing revenue. After the deep budget cuts last year, the House Appropriations Committee chairman said, “We will not have to enact any additional cuts for the next two fiscal years.” But the governor’s budget proposal this year reflected the same misplaced priorities that have characterized Republican budgets for years.

It is not yet clear whether legislative Republicans will listen to what Arizonans have been telling them. And, in fact, House leadership has said no budget discussions have even occurred. Arizonans deserve a state that will invest in them, and their state has the resources to do so. To see a summary of the Democrats’ full, five-step plan for moving Arizona forward, click here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Larkin calls for Maricopa County Recorder to resign

Jonathan R. LarkinSTATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Rep. Jonathan Larkin, D-Glendale (District 30), today called for Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell to resign from her position after reports that hundreds, potentially thousands, of people waited in line to vote for hours in Tuesday’s presidential primaries.

“Arizona voters are dedicated and determined. Those who stood in line for hours after the polls closed to exercise their right deserve recognition, as do those who voted early. Participation should make our democracy stronger, and a large turnout should not create a debacle. I believe poor planning led to what we saw during the presidential preference election on Tuesday.

“If we are asking for people to participate in elections, they should be well planned. The long lines and unacceptable wait times indicate to me that elections officials were not prepared. Ultimately, that is Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell’s responsibility. She failed to meet that obligation, and so she should resign immediately. There are four more elections in Maricopa County this year, and we cannot afford to have a repeat of this fiasco. I am concerned that the voters have lost faith in her ability to conduct an efficient election.

“County Recorder Purcell has been in office since 1988; it’s time for a change of leadership. Enough is enough.”


Hale, Benally rail against new predatory lending product

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Rep. Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels (District 7), and Rep. Jennifer D. Benally, D-Tuba City (District 7), opposed a bill that would allow a new predatory lending product that could keep people trapped in debt.

Republicans in the Arizona House of Representatives recently passed SB 1316, a bill that legalizes predatory loans with interest rates of around 200 percent.  In 2008, nearly 60 percent of Arizona voters rejected payday loans, similar to loans proposed in SB 1316, in spite of the industry spending about $15 million against the measure, according to records filed with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.

“I’m concerned the companies that offer these loans are targeting Native Americans, specifically by opening locations near the Native American nations, where unemployment remains a serious issue,” Hale said.  “The astronomical interest rates authorized in SB 1316 can keep people in debt for a long period of time, even if they only borrow a little bit of money. It’s a debt trap that takes advantage of people.”
Benally added that this type of product can compound a family’s financial crisis.

“People are being put in terrible situations because of these loans. They have to decide whether to eat or to feed their children,” Benally said. “This is not an option for Arizona families. It’s not a solution; it's designed to keep people in debt.”

Hale said the Legislature should be more interested in investing in people, instead of predatory lending companies.

“If we want to help everyone in Arizona, we need to come up with real solutions,” Hale said. “We need to invest in people, education and infrastructure. We could start by ensuring Native American nations receive their fair share of the state-collected transaction privilege tax.”

The bill now returns to the Senate for final approval. To view the full language of the bill, click here:


Monday, March 21, 2016

Time to Invest in Arizona Students

A new report lists two of Arizona’s state universities among the top 25 in the nation for tuition hikes.

Arizona State University checked in at 18 and the University of Arizona was closer to the top of the list at number four. This comes after Republicans cut about $99 million from public university budgets and about $16 million from community colleges across the state.

Students are speaking out on how these budget cuts and subsequent tuition increases are affecting them.  A columnist for The State Press recently wrote:

“If state investment in universities continues to drop, friends who are not as fortunate will fall off of the tightrope and will not graduate. This will not be a result of their work ethic or their intelligence; instead, it will be because they couldn’t afford it…

“For those of you who don’t struggle to pay for college, consider the loss to our community when other students do drop out. Consider a business student who wants to start a business that will bring more jobs to the Arizona economy. Due to student debt or the inability to make it through college, that business could be delayed years, or never started at all, meaning that it may be harder for you to find a job.”

Arizona continues to collect recognition for being at the bottom of the education barrel. A recent U.S. Department of Education report announced that in 2013 Arizona tied with Alaska for the dubious distinction of having the lowest college completion rate in the country. Only 29 percent of students completed a four-year degree within six years. The report stated the national average is 55 percent.

The report also said Arizona students face the highest student loan default rate in the nation. Arizona’s rate was 18 percent compared to the national average of 11 percent. 

While this information is disheartening, digging into the data a little more does provide some positive information. The overall college completion rate includes students from public, private and for-profit universities. The report lists each separately, and the good news is that Arizona’s public universities have a 57 percent graduation rate – two points higher than the national average. An Arizona Board of Regents spokesperson recently told a reporter that the current completion rate is nearly 60 percent for 2014-2015.

Democrats see the potential in the students attending our state universities and community colleges. We believe that investing in our students is one of the best ways to ensure our economy is strong and stable. We’re proposing substantial investments in our universities and other educational institutions. To see a summary of the Democrats’ full, five-step plan for moving Arizona forward, which includes investing in Arizona students, click here.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Fernandez, Friese will participate in upcoming gun safety press conference

March 17 Press Conference at Capitol to Address Gun Bills 
Arizona legislators will join activists and survivors in calling for sensible gun laws

(March 15, 2016 -- Phoenix) – Arizona Legislators, including Reps. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, and Charlene Fernandez, D- Yuma, are joining local and national gun violence prevention activists at the Capitol on Thursday, March 17 in calling for the passage of sensible gun laws and stopping current bills moving through the legislature. The press conference begins at 10:30 a.m. in the Rose Garden and later the advocates will meet with Gov. Doug Ducey’s staff.

Joining the legislators in asking that these bills be stopped or vetoed by Gov. Ducey will be activists, shooting survivors and family members whose loved ones have been murdered. This includes Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, whose daughter Jessi was killed in the Aurora theatre shooting, and are now traveling the country to raise awareness of the need for some reasonable standard of responsibility on the part of gun and ammunition sellers.

Rep. Friese says, “For too long this legislature has represented only the gun lobby’s agenda and interests, resulting in easy access to guns by those who should not possess them as well as a failure to protect law-abiding Arizonans from unknowingly selling a weapon to someone who intends to use it to do harm." He adds, "A system of comprehensive background checks would end this unchecked access and make Arizona safer for all of its residents.

For three straight years, he points out, Guns and Ammo magazine has ranked Arizona best in the nation for gun owners. The magazine says, “Still the reigning champion, Arizona combines strong laws with an unmatched shooting culture and strong industry presence.”

Friese adds, “Currently six bills addressing guns are currently moving through the legislature. These bills, if passed, would loosen regulations on gun transfers and sales as well as the ability to carry weapons in public spaces, modify the definition of prohibited weapons and substantially limit the ability of the state to enforce federal rules and regulations regarding firearms.”

Some of the pending bills:

HB2300- A bill to ban enforcement of any future federal firearms laws, executive orders, rules or regulations

 SB1266- Adding fines to preemption

HB2030-  A bill to allow concealed carry for law enforcement retirees into establishment that serve alcohol

HB2224- A bill to prohibit tax/fee on transfer of firearm
HB2081- A bill to prohibit checking w/federal database on private sale of guns 

HB2201- A bill that stresses AZ Sovereign Authority – prohibits Executive Actions or any law AZ deems unconstitutional 

HB2338 – A bill that prohibits schools from adopting rules that would prohibit a person from carrying a firearm on a highway, street, road, thoroughfare, path, alley or other publicly accessible right of way 

HB2524 – Uniform Firearms Transfer Compact - Would create an unconstitutional interstate “compact” among states.  A state that joins cannot pass legislation regulating firearms in the future.


Rep. McCune Davis asks AG to investigate Arizona Financial Choice Association for misrepresentation

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Today, Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix (District 30), asked the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to investigate the Arizona Financial Choice Association for misrepresenting information to both elected officials and to consumers.

The Arizona Financial Choice Association delivered boxes filled with signed form letters to members of the Arizona House of Representatives earlier this month. A cover letter attached to the box stated that the letters were “from citizens across the state who support more loan options.”

“The representatives who received these letters were given the impression that the people signing them supported SB 1316, a bill that would legalize predatory loans with interest rates around 200 percent,” McCune Davis said. “But when we started calling some of the people who signed the forms and asking them about the bill, the reactions we got were disconcerting. Many of them expressed apprehension and flat-out opposition to the bill, once they heard the explanation of what it would do. In fact, some people said they were told the legislation would create better loans but were not informed of the predatory interest rates.”

In 2008, nearly 60 percent of Arizona voters rejected payday lending such as what is proposed in SB 1316 in spite of the industry spending about $15 million, according to records filed with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.

McCune Davis said that she and some of her legislative colleagues spoke with several people across the state who said they were told the form was part of their loan application and that they needed to sign it. She added that others said they did not recall signing the document at all or that they did not know that the document would be used for lobbying purposes. Several Spanish speakers, reached by phone, said they believed the English language petition was to eliminate payday lending – not create a new predatory product.

“This unethical and illegal lobbying tactic underscores the lengths to which the payday loan industry exploits Arizona’s financially vulnerable,” McCune Davis said. “These actions must be investigated immediately.”


Monday, March 14, 2016

House Democrats on the Upcoming Budget Negotiations

Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix (District 24)

Rep. Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley (District 28)

Rep. Matt Kopec, D-Tucson (District 9)

Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Phoenix (District 29)

Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma (District 4)

Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson (District 9)

Making money work for Arizona #DemsLead

State budget discussions are beginning at the Capitol, and Legislative Democrats have a plan that will develop a diverse and resilient economy. Moving our economy forward will require a reinvestment in innovation, infrastructure and job training so that the state can stand on solid ground and can weather future downturns. 

And we have the resources to make that happen. Arizona’s baseline budget has a cash balance of $625 million. Our state’s rainy day fund is around $460 million. That’s nearly a billion dollars that is just sitting there—when it should be working for the people of Arizona.

Democrats offered a clear plan to reinvest in our state by focusing on five key areas: public education, community support, public safety, economic development and responsible stewardship of our natural resources. We have the money to invest in these critical areas. Arizona should be an economic leader nationwide. Our state is full of innovative, entrepreneurial and independent people. And we have a chance to invest in our economy right now.

Public schools and universities should have the resources they need to prepare our students for the future. Arizonans should feel confident that their tax dollars will be used to make the state stronger and encourage job growth.

Arizonans are industrious and it’s time for the Legislature to reinvest in our greatest resource—the people who live here. To see a summary of the Democrats’ full, five-step plan for moving Arizona forward, click here.


Friday, March 11, 2016

Native American Caucus discusses tribal gaming

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – The Native American Caucus met recently to discuss tribal gaming in Arizona.  Judy Ferreira and Valerie Spicer from the Arizona Indian Gaming Association presented to the caucus.
Tribal gaming contributes to the state in a financially significant way. The revenue made in tribal gaming facilities is shared with the state. This money contributes to cities, towns, counties, tourism, wildlife conservation, trauma and emergency services, and education. 

Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson (District 3), appreciated the reminder of how important tribal gaming is to Arizona.

“Tribal gaming continues to be an economic force for all Arizonans,” Gonzales said. “The jobs and money it contributes benefit more people than those in Native American communities.”

In 2003, Arizona voters passed Proposition 202 that outlined the agreements between the state and Indian Nations that engage in tribal gaming. The proposition prohibits the state from expanding other gaming. If such an expansion were to happen, the amount of revenue the state would receive from tribal gaming decreases dramatically, from as much as eight percent to as low as 0.75 percent.

The caucus discussed legislation that may jeopardize this voter-protected agreement. SB 1515 would allow fantasy sports league betting in Arizona. Attendees discussed this as an expansion of gaming in the state and were told cost Arizona millions of dollars. The bill didn’t make it through the committee process, but caucus members expressed concern about it returning this legislative session.

Rep. Jennifer D. Benally, D-Tuba City (District 7), discussed the significance of tribal gaming in the state.
“Tribal gaming is integral to the Arizona economy,” Benally said. “It’s a great example of cooperation between the state and the Native communities. I don’t want to see this cooperation end, so I hope efforts to undermine the gaming compact are stopped.”

Rep. Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels (District 7), wants the cooperation to continue to grow and benefit both parties.

"This is money that the Indian Nations are contributing to the state,” Hale said. “When tax revenues are distributed, very little is returned to the Indian Nations. We need to be sure that everyone gets their fair share.”


Tuesday, March 08, 2016

ICYMI: Rep. Friese on Why Republicans Won't Talk About Public Safety and Violence Prevention

The Arizona Daily Star recently published this opinion piece from Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson (District 9), after Republican leadership refused to consider bills on public safety and violence prevention.

Randy Friese: Public Safety and Violence Prevention

Monday, March 07, 2016

House Dems on Strengthening Communities and Helping Working Families

Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix (District 27)

Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson (District 9)

Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Phoenix (District 29)

Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix (District 24)

Rep. Matt Kopec, D-Tucson (District 9)

Andrade: ‘If railroad officials want to continue to claim that safety is their top priority, then they have made a major mistake by blocking HB 2577’

My Voice:

I am a certified locomotive engineer, an active member of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) and have worked for the railroads for more than two decades. So when my colleagues and my community brought a safety issue to my attention, I made a commitment to help.

This year, I introduced a bill, HB 2577, that would require all trains operating in Arizona to have two-employee crews. We’ve seen tragedy occur when a train had only one crew member on board. That danger is compounded when the trains carry hazardous materials. In 2013, a train operated by a single crew member and that was carrying crude oil derailed in Lac-M├ęgantic, Quebec. Forty-seven people tragically lost their lives, and the town’s center was destroyed.

Commercial airline planes can be operated by one pilot, but the Federal Aviation Administration does not allow it. Making two-person crews the law for trains makes sense. Although my bill gained bi-partisan support, the railroads lobbied against it. Railroad officials argued that their businesses assume the financial liability when people are killed or property is destroyed. But human life is priceless, and my fellow railroad workers have been vocal about their support for the two-person crew requirement.

If railroad officials want to continue to claim that safety is their top priority, then they have made a major mistake by blocking HB 2577. This bill did not proceed through the legislative process. It might be dead, but this issue is not.
I will continue talking with people in cities and counties across the state about this issue, and I will be working with other legislators to make sure the idea gains momentum. The safety of both railroad employees and communities that have railroads running through them depends on it.

--Rep. Richard Andrade represents Legislative District 29

Arizona’s children deserve more

It’s well past time for accountability in the child safety system. Governor Ducey and his hand-picked director of the Department of Child Safety, Greg McKay, continue to fail too many of our community’s most vulnerable children.

More than 13,000 cases remain in a backlog that daily risks the lives and well-being of children all over Arizona. This issue desperately needs leadership, and this year, Legislative Democrats proposed a series of reforms to help build better communities and help kids stay safe and families stay whole.  

The proposed reforms would all prioritize child safety: that is, after all, the department’s mandate. Democrats proposed raising the required qualifications for the DCS director to ensure he or she would, in the future, have the skills and experience to protect Arizona’s vulnerable children. Other proposals include implementing independent recommendations that already exist and moderately increasing wages for caseworkers to reduce their staggering turnover rate.

Last year, McKay told the Child Safety Oversight Committee that many employees are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of their caseloads. He shared that an employee confided that many of the staff have boxes under their desks of “abandoned cases that came from the last people that quit,” and that there is pervasive concern that a child in one of the cases in those boxes could die.

Partisanship has prevented many of these Democratic reforms from receiving consideration. Some people at the Capitol prioritize ideology above the safety of Arizona children—even when the number of children being removed from their homes is so high, at 37 percent, that there are not enough places for them to sleep. The Arizona Republic recently reported more children will have to sleep in state offices.

Additionally, Democrats have championed bills that would increase childcare resources for working families. We also proposed restoring TANF benefits to 24 months because, for many Arizona families and children, TANF makes the difference between eating and not eating. The $4 million cost is a small price to pay to keep children all over the state from going to bed hungry, but the governor could not find room for it in his budget proposal, and legislative Republicans have given no indication that they will either.

These policies would improve accountability, invest in families and help make our communities stronger. Democrats have a plan to move Arizona forward that includes correcting the DCS crisis and protecting kids. To see a summary of this plan, click here.


Tuesday, March 01, 2016

House Native American Caucus members opposed bill that would cut SNAP benefits across state, on Native American Reservations

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX  During a recent debate at the Arizona House of Representatives, members of the Native American Caucus strongly opposed a bill that could cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, also known as food stamps, for children across the state and on many Native American nations.
Rep. Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels (District 7), noted that he believes the intent of the bill, HB 2596, is to help people move away from dependence and find “a way to climb the economic ladder,” but that the bill would have a “devastating effect on Native American people.”

The bill could affect 79,000 people, including more than 18,000 children, in some communities with the highest unemployment rates. Hale said he is concerned the bill could disproportionately affect Native American nations because unemployment there is often significantly higher than in the rest of the state.
“Climbing the economic ladder implies there is a ladder to climb. On Arizona’s Indian nations, there is no ladder to climb. There is very little to no economic development. Instead of taking resources away from some of the people who need it the most, we should be focused on an economic development agenda that will reduce unemployment,” Hale said. “One of the first steps we should take is to ensure that Indian nations receive their fair share of the state’s transaction privilege tax. This will encourage economic development without putting people in jeopardy.”
Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson (District 3), agreed with Hale. She said that her mother went to night school and attended a training program during the day while she was raising 11 children. She did receive some resources from the state.
“These are difficult things. Parents struggle with situations like this on a daily basis. There are unintended consequences. My mother had to leave our home at 6 a.m. for the job training program, and she was in school at night. That meant the kids in our family were too often left to fend for themselves,” Gonzales said. “This creates an environment where the needs of children are not always being met. I worry about neglect, especially when our Department of Child Safety is facing so many challenges now. Many are working hard and trying to provide for their families. What will happen if we take resources away from families, without first stabilizing the economy, especially in rural areas still recovering from the recession? This concerns me.”
Rep. Jennifer Benally, D-Tuba City (District 7), echoed their concerns.

“The supporters of this bill say that it is supposed to empower people and help them move toward more independence, but in reality it will hurt many people who are trying to create a better life. This isn’t just about Native American families. Families all over the state use this program,” Benally said. “The reason people are asking for SNAP benefits is so they can feed their children. In our culture, our children are sacred. It is our responsibility to take care of our children. We are not going to accomplish that with HB 2596.”
The House approved this bill today. It now goes to the Senate for consideration. To see the full text of the bill, go to: