Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Prop 123 was the START line, not the FINISH line

Arizona’s public schools will get SOME of the money that Republicans illegally withheld from them because of Prop 123’s recent passage. But it is not time to celebrate, despite the signals coming from Gov. Ducey’s office, because Prop 123 funding only begins to make things right for our public schools.

One thing is abundantly clear: we need to hold Gov. Ducey and Legislative Republicans accountable if we hope to see a meaningful second step for public education funding.  Arizona has crossed the START line, but Prop 123 funding does not undo the years of funding cuts imposed on school districts, and schools need more.  Take, for example, the very basic question of building maintenance. While Prop 123 money will boost classroom resources, it does nothing for the classrooms themselves—or the hallways, cafeterias, libraries and gymnasiums that Arizona school kids use every day.

The fund that is supposed to keep school buildings safe is still hundreds of millions of dollars short. The Legislature has a responsibility to keep school buildings properly maintained, but it has consistently fallen down on the job. And just as Prop 123 finally settles a five-year lawsuit over school funding, the state may be facing a new lawsuit over maintenance funding.

Legislative Republicans and Gov. Ducey should be deeply ashamed. Prop 123 was necessary because Republican leaders have spent years prioritizing special interest tax cuts at public education’s expense. As Joe Thomas, president-elect of the Arizona Education Association, recently said, “We have unspent revenues, we have unspent rainy day funds.” And that is the bottom line: Arizona has the resources to forge the strongest public schools in the nation, but only if Republican leaders join Democrats in making that a priority.


#DemsLead

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Hale discusses healthcare issues facing Native American and rural communities at recent conference

PHOENIX – Rep. Albert Hale, D-St Michaels (District 7), recently spoke about healthcare issues facing Native American and rural communities at a conference hosted by the Arizona Medicare-for-All Coalition in Phoenix.

Conference organizers, Dr. Mary Ellen Bradshaw and Dr. Jonathan Weisbuch, said in a joint statement that Hale’s contributions to the event provided much needed insight into the healthcare situation within many of the communities Hale represents.

“We appreciated Rep. Hale’s comments, as did the others who attended the conference. He was inspirational making many excellent points about the problems rural Native Americans had during his youth, and continue to have today, with hospitals and clinics many miles and hours away from the places people live.  He spoke of the fact that frequently the doctors were unaware of the hardships faced by their patients. The information Rep. Hale shared was inspiring and revealing,” they said. “It was well-received by the audience. We are grateful for his willingness, and the willingness of so many other community leaders, to participate and engage at an in-depth level on such important and complex issues.”

The conference on May 21 focused on debunking myths associated with Arizona’s health system, and provided a review of the public health system and a review of some of the state’s requirements to provide care for those who are in the most need. Hale provided perspective on healthcare within the communities he represents at the Arizona Legislature.

“The challenges for healthcare in Arizona rural communities and Indian nations remain the same as when I was growing up on the Navajo Nation. The communities and nations are often in low-income areas where roads are not paved and the distances to the nearest healthcare facility are miles away. The healthcare facilities do not always have medical professionals who can provide the care that may be needed,” Hale said. “Getting the care needed can be difficult because of these restraints.”

He added that cost can also create barriers for accessing healthcare, which can complicate medical needs.

“Just getting to the healthcare facility and complying with referrals to other facilities involve costs that put undue burdens on families. These are some of the factors that cause people in rural communities and Indian nations to delay getting the medical attention they need. Sometimes, the delay can cause the affliction to progress so the treatment becomes more costly,” Hale said.

Hale concluded by calling on the government and healthcare professionals to work with the community to find solutions to the healthcare issues within Native American and rural communities.

“The future of healthcare in rural communities and Indian nations depends on the action we take together on all of these contributing factors,” Hale said. “Each must be addressed because ensuring our people are healthy is vital to ensuring our future is healthy.”

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Rep. Hale is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. He was born in Ganado and raised in Klagetoh, Arizona. He is Ashiihi (Salt), born for Todichiini (Bitter Water). His maternal grandparents are Hanaghani (Walk About clan). His paternal grandparents are Kiyanii (Tall House clan). He is a 1969 graduate of Fort Wingate High School, a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school located east of Gallup, New Mexico. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona (1973), and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law, Albuquerque, New Mexico (1977), and an honorary Juris Doctor degree from Phoenix School of Law (2012).  He is the former President of the Navajo Nation.

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Moving Education and Arizona Forward

Prop. 123 is supposed to be the first step in restoring support for Arizona’s public schools and Democrats have been preparing for the next steps.

Our schools need more resources than just the inflation funding lawsuit money, which Republicans wrongfully withheld from schools in the first place. Maybe this is why people don’t trust the governor or the Republicans when it comes to doing what’s best for our schools. Maybe that distrust is also why Prop. 123 narrowly won at the ballot box, even though a recent poll showed that many Arizonans who voted against Prop. 123 did want more money for education but said they did not trust the governor and legislature to follow through.

Arizonans know that Democrats have been, and will be, the champions for public education in this state. During the legislative session, we pushed to restore the $116 million that Republicans cut specifically from classroom resources.  We found a way to do that and keep a balanced budget without raising taxes. That effort was thwarted by a partisan 36-24 Republican vote. 

The governor should address any question about his commitment to education and immediately restore the additional cuts made to schools, while working with education advocates on Prop. 123 Go, on a long-term, sustainable revenue plan for education that will focus on three key areas:
  • Restoring funding for classroom supplies, updated technology and textbooks. This would require restoring district additional assistance.
  • Sustaining a workforce of quality, certified and caring teachers in the classroom by investing in competitive salaries and professional development.
  • Restoring capital funding to give our students schools and classrooms that are safe, clean and functional places to learn.
We’re still at the bottom of the barrel in the country when it comes to per-student funding, and that must change. We need an “ironclad” commitment from Gov. Ducey that after Prop. 123, he won’t ignore the next steps in restoring Arizona school funding.  We’ll be here to make sure that happens.


#DemsLead

Monday, May 16, 2016

Governor signs Hale’s measure to update the Arizona Advisory Council on Indian Healthcare

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Gov. Doug Ducey recently signed a bill, HB 2312, sponsored by Rep. Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels (District 7), that will increase Native American representation on the Arizona Advisory Council on Indian Health Care. The bill requires the governor to appoint a member from each of Arizona’s 22 Indian Nations to the council.

Sen. Carlyle Begay, R-Ganado (District 7), also worked on this legislation in the Arizona Senate. Hale expressed his gratitude to Begay and others who contributed to improving the Arizona Advisory Council on Indian Health Care’s representation of Native American communities.

“I want to thank Sen. Begay, the Advisory Council, and the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona for their hard work on this essential expansion of Native American representation on this advisory council,” Hale said. “I also appreciate all the support my colleagues have shown for this issue.”

The bill also clarifies the Council’s purpose, which is to provide Native American governments and health care organizations a role in shaping the health care laws and policies that affect the communities they serve. The council’s website, with information about upcoming meetings, can be found here.

Gov. Ducey signed the bill days after it won final passage in the legislature.

“I thank the governor for signing this legislation,” Hale said. “The Arizona Advisory Council on Indian Health Care can now be better connected to the communities it serves.”

Hale will retire from the Legislature this year, and during the final vote on this measure, he told his colleagues that he has enjoyed the time he has spent serving in both the House and the Senate.

“I’ve been able to serve at the Legislature for 16 years, and I am grateful for that time,” Hale said. “I am also happy to return to my community and looking forward to the next chapter of my life.”

For more information on HB 2312, or to read it in full, click here.

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Rep. Hale is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. He was born in Ganado and raised in Klagetoh, Arizona. He is Ashiihi (Salt), born for Todichiini (Bitter Water). His maternal grandparents are Hanaghani (Walk About clan). His paternal grandparents are Kiyanii (Tall House clan). He is a 1969 graduate of Fort Wingate High School, a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school located east of Gallup, New Mexico. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona (1973), and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law, Albuquerque, New Mexico (1977), and an honorary Juris Doctor degree from Phoenix School of Law (2012).  He is the former President of the Navajo Nation.

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Let's clear things up

The fuzzy Republican math around education funding is starting to become more clear. In the days leading up to and following the passage of the state’s budget and the close of the legislative session, there was a lot of debate about how much money K-12 schools could or would get.

This argument was mired in semantics. But House Democrats think there is one question that gets to the heart of the matter: How much new money will go into our classrooms?

After years of deep budget cuts, our classroom sizes are getting larger, teachers are leaving the state and some schools are using 15-year-old textbooks. The way to change that is to make sure we are investing resources directly into Arizona classrooms.

This year, Arizona House Democrats pushed to restore the $116 million that Republicans cut specifically from classroom resources.  We found a way to do that and keep a balanced budget without raising taxes. This idea was dismissed outright by the majority party – likely for purely partisan reasons. The Arizona Republic reported that the bottom line is:


Regardless of all the other budget numbers being discussed, classroom funding is the number that matters. Arizona remains at the bottom of the barrel nationally for per pupil spending and that needs to change. Democrats wanted more for Arizona students and we will keep fighting until we get it.


#DemsLead

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

We wrapped up with some wins this session and we’ll come back to fight for more next year

There was some shady business this legislative session. There is no doubt about that. But the Democrats in the House and the Senate stood strong for our values, and our priorities and we made some progress.

At the beginning of the session we outlined a plan to move Arizona forward, which focused on five key areas: public education, community support, public safety, economic development and responsible stewardship of our natural resources. By standing together, and holding the Republicans accountable, we fought for and gained something in almost all of these key areas. 



Public Education: We advocated for the restoration of funding for career and technical education programs, called JTEDS, that keep students in school and provide skilled-job training. Republicans cut the funding for these programs last year, but with the help of outspoken supporters across the state, we were able to get the money for the programs back within a few weeks of the start of the session. The University of Arizona also received $8 million in the budget; that money could be invested in the Large Animal Veterinary School.

Community: After a brutal political battle, we were able to restore funding for KidsCare, which will get health insurance for 30,000 low-income kids and put about $75 million into the state’s economy. We advocated for Arizona’s budget to include additional money for Department of Child Safety case managers, support services and preventative services, while requiring additional accountability measures. DCS remains in crisis, and ensuring the stability and effectiveness of this agency is a moral obligation.

Economy: We also championed economic development by calling for the accelerated construction on Highway 189 for the Mariposa Port of Entry to support trade with Mexico. And we supported job creation by protecting the Highway User Revenue Fund from budget sweeps, which is used to build and repair roads and bridges.

Natural Resources: Water is a vital resource in Arizona.  Ensuring its availability and quality is crucial to our economic future. Democrats worked to get money in the budget for Department of Water Resources to re-hire staff and for the Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund.

#DemsLead despite the Chaos in the House



We were able to get a lot done this session, despite the lackluster leadership from the Republicans. But their political grandstanding and gamesmanship did prevent some good ideas from moving forward. Democrats found a way to restore the $116 million for classroom resources that Republicans cut last year, without raising taxes, but the majority party ignored that plan. We think Arizona students should be in classrooms that prepare them for an increasingly global economy. But apparently, Republicans would rather keep the per pupil funding at the bottom of the barrel and protect the status quo of outdated textbooks and crowded classrooms.  They decided to spend $5 million on Koch brother propaganda centers, called “economic freedom schools.” This is really distressing because the founding director of one of these centers has stated he wants to “get rid of public schools.”   

The Republicans also failed to show compassion for the state’s most vulnerable, in a year when we have the resources to do so. They refused to restore child care subsidies for low-income, working families and the 24-month cap on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which helps Arizona’s neediest families put food on the table. Most states offer this program for up to five years but currently in Arizona, families can only receive assistance for 12 months. Resources like this could prevent families from falling into crisis and entering the child welfare system.


This session was marked by a lack of leadership from the Republicans that created obstacles for public participation. Sadly, the governor and his Capitol cronies prioritized wealthy special interest tax breaks, private prisons and protecting dark money in elections above Arizona families. Democrats showed that, despite these challenges, we can be champions for education, job creation and our community. We will continue to fight for these priorities because #DemsLead

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Meyer statement on close of 2016 legislative session


STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – House Democratic Leader Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley (District 28), released the following statement after the 2016 legislative session ended:

“Legislative Democrats opened this session with a comprehensive plan to strengthen Arizona’s communities and economy. We would have greatly increased the state’s investment in K-12 and higher education and given Arizona a real second step after Prop. 123. We also proposed common-sense reforms and investments in child safety and economic security programs because we have the resources to help the most vulnerable Arizonans. The Democratic plan would have strengthened the state’s economy and moved Arizona forward.

“Legislative Republicans were constantly bogged down in political gamesmanship and grandstanding. As a result, the policies they advanced will continue to fail our students and teachers, our most vulnerable populations, and hardworking Arizonans. They have protected the status quo and kept per pupil spending in our state at the bottom of the barrel.

“They displayed a stunning lack of leadership all session. Their misplaced priorities once again led to repeated late-night debates and a chaotic process that kept the public out of critical discussions. House Democrats fought for the priorities of Arizonans by promoting K-12 education, affordable college tuition and high-wage jobs over the wealthy special interests that Republicans continue to place above all else.”



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Thursday, May 05, 2016

#KidsCare Passes the House! This is How Change Happens!

KidsCare passed a vote in the House of Representatives tonight. 

This happened largely because Arizonans made their voices heard. Republicans left #KidsCare out of the budget, but people across the state called and wrote to their legislators and made it perfectly clear – 30,000 Arizona kids deserve access to quality healthcare.

Now the bill goes to the Senate, where there will likely be more opposition.

Please stay involved – click here to #BeHeard.






Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Statement from Benally and Hale on the recent budget vote

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Rep. Jennifer D. Benally, D-Tuba City (District 7), and Rep. Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels (District 7), released this statement in response to the budget that the Legislature passed on May 4, 2016: 

“We are disappointed in this budget because we do not believe it fulfills our obligation to our community, especially to the children in our district. We wanted to restore $116 million for classroom resources, so our schools could get updated text books and technology, but Republicans refused to consider that as an option.

“We also pushed to reinstate KidsCare, a program that would provide federally funded insurance for about 30,000 low-income kids statewide, including 1,176 children in Legislative District 7. Unfortunately, partisan politics was more important than providing healthcare for thousands of kids, so this effort also failed. As did our attempts to revive child care subsidies for working families and to extend the cap on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families from 12 months back to 24 months. 


“Many of our Democratic colleagues stood in solidarity with us as we fought to get an additional $1.5 million, for a total of $3 million, to improve Hopi 60 Highway. This route connects the Navajo and Hopi nations, and nearly 14 miles of it is unpaved. It becomes dangerous to travel during inclement weather which affects emergency services, economic development and academic transportation. The money would be used to make the road safer, but even that was blocked by partisan politics. 

“Although the budget process was frustrating, we were not discouraged. It is an honor to stand together with our colleagues and to be the voice of our communities at the Legislature. We will continue to do so for the rest of the session.”

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The Republican Budget is Not a Step Forward for Arizona

The Republican-led budget process in Arizona is chaotic – late-night hearings; massive, last-minute amendments; scheduling delays; and an overall lack of transparency. Unfortunately, this has become business as usual at the Capitol, so House Democrats were more than prepared to fight for your priorities and be your voice here.

We brought ideas to the table and were ready to negotiate. Months ago, Republican leaders promised voters that Prop 123, the proposed settlement in the public school inflation funding lawsuit, would be the “first step” in getting money back into classrooms. House Democrats have always prioritized education, and we knew that Arizona needed a second step that would increase the state’s investment in public education. Democrats found a way to do that while keeping the budget balanced and without raising taxes. We pushed for the restoration of $116 million specifically for classroom resources. When the Republicans released their budget, House Democrats tried to incorporate our proposals. They ignored our plan for what seems like purely ideological reasons and protected the status quo of growing classroom sizes and using out-of-date textbooks and technology for our students.  

 So the Republicans’ second step for education funding is not a step forward.

House Democrats also worked to stop Republicans from making it more difficult for districts to build new schools, which would likely result in more crowded classrooms. At the same time, we budgeted an additional $50 million for state universities to stop the rising cost of tuition. And we tried to prevent Republicans from spending $5 million on Koch brother propaganda centers, called “economic freedom schools,” especially because the founding director of one of these centers has stated he wants to “get rid of public schools.” The Legislature should not spend tax dollars to advocate for the privatization of public schools when the Arizona Constitution mandates that the Legislature should provide for the maintenance of public schools and that universities should be as “nearly free” as possible.

In addition to fighting for our public schools, Democrats wanted to strengthen our communities by restoring resources and preventative services to keep families out of crisis and out of the Department of Child Safety system. We wanted to restore child care subsidies for low-income, working families and the 24-month cap on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which helps Arizona’s neediest families put food on the table. Most states offer this program for up to five years but currently, in Arizona families can only receive help for 12 months.

Democrats also stood up for KidsCare, which would provide health insurance for the more than 30,000 Arizona kids and would put about $75 million into the economy. But Republicans rejected this effort; some even avoided the vote on the issue all together. Although, later in the week, Democrats worked with a coalition of moderate Republicans to pass a separate KidsCare bill in the House. 

Our budget is a statement of priorities. And once again, the Republicans have indicated that they prioritize private prisons, which are getting a shot at a contract for an additional 1,000 beds, and tax cuts for wealthy special interests over our communities, our students and our future. There is a better way forward, and Arizona House Democrats will continue to reform, restore and reinvest in the priorities that will strengthen our state.


#DemsLead

Meyer: Democrats demanded a budget that invested in Arizona students and communities

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

“Through another chaotic budget process, House Democrats remained steadfast in their support for Arizona students and communities. Republicans have once again chosen to approve a budget with the wrong priorities. This budget’s second step for public K-12 education funding is not a step forward, and the only real winners are wealthy special interests like private prisons and Koch brother pet projects like the ‘economic freedom schools.’ House Democrats have been and will continue to be committed to increasing the state’s investment in public education.

“We will also continue to fight for sensible economic policies, and smart programs like restoring benefits for the state’s neediest families and KidsCare, which would provide health insurance for 30,000 Arizona children at no cost to the state. These have been Democratic priorities from day one because Arizonans deserve a state that will invest in them.”


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Monday, May 02, 2016

Arizona House Democrats want to make sure your voice is heard during the budget process

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


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

Rep. Celeste Plumlee, D-Tempe (District 26)

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

The Waiting Game

The state budget has become a waiting game this year, but the process remains unnecessarily closed off. So far, backroom meetings and committee hearings that start late at night and go into the early hours of the morning are par for the course.

Although a few details have trickled out, Arizonans continue to wait…and wait for answers from Republican leadership about the deals they are striking behind closed doors. Long delays have not encouraged Republicans to be more transparent. But House Democrats are still pushing for your priorities—like restoring funding cuts to K-12 education so that we can get more money into classrooms. The budget proposal on the table now would actually cut $21 million from public schools. We want to invest $116 million into our schools for classroom resources, right now, as a real second step to Prop 123. And we’re working to make sure KidsCare is restored, so that 30,000 children in working families can have access to affordable healthcare.


Regardless of how long it takes, House Democrats will continue to be your voice at the Capitol. But we need to hear from you throughout the process. Please share your opinions and ideas. Get involved and #BeHeard