The Week (at the Arizona Capitol): March 17-21

The price is not right … The week began with a letter from Bob Barker, the former “The Price is Right” host, to Senate President Andy Biggs. Barker opposes HB 2587, an animal cruelty bill that passed through the House and the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Rural Affairs. Barker said the bill actually weakens existing law on animal cruelty — a similar argument to that made by Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) during the House debate. Barker, 90, is a well-known animal-rights activist. In February, he opposed an Idaho bill that would jail people who secretly film instances of cruelty to animals.

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In a rare occasion, five bills failed on the Senate floor on Monday. The first was by Sen. Gail Griffin (R-Hereford) that would prohibit third-party deductions from public employee paychecks without authorization. After that, two anti-common-core bills — one that would allow schools to opt out of standardized tests adopted by the State Board of Education and another that would enable school districts to adopt and prescribe academic standards other than those prescribed by the board of edeucation — failed, 12-17.

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A bill that had failed last week failed again. SCR 1003, a resolution to get voter approval on legislation involving taxpayer dollars every eight years on the ballot was brought back on reconsideration. With a vote of 15-14, it didn’t have enough votes to pass.

Last was a bill that would attempt to standardize paycheck deductions for school employees in the state. It sparked a lot of discussion from Democrats in the Committee of the Whole, with many saying that the issue should be for school districts. While only Democrats spoke out against the bill on the floor, enough Republicans voted against and it failed, 13-16-1.

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In the House, a big debate centered around HB 2139, a strike-everything bill that would expand school vouchers to cover preschoolers with disabilities and siblings of students with disabilities. Rep. Ethan Orr (D-Tucson) said that the bill was personal for him, as he has two children with disabilities.
“I can tell you that being a parent of children with disabilities, and it is exhausting and it is exasperating, and every resource that our community and our society can give them is welcome and needed,” he said. … However, Democrats said this was just another school-voucher bill, one of many that have been proposed. “No other state balanced their budget on the backs of children like this state decided to do,” said Rep. Chad Campbell (D-Phoenix). “So I get local control to some degree in terms of how much money they are going to put into their schools and their classrooms, but when they don’t have enough money to make those appropriate choices, it’s our fault down here and not theirs.”

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Let the budget debates begin: Senate President Biggs introduced 7 budget reconciliation bills on Monday, to be heard in the Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. The bills passed through the committee on a party lines vote.

On Tuesday morning Sen. Bob Worsley (R-Mesa) showed off a virtual fence in the Senate parking lot. Despite the bill not making progress in the Senate this session, he showed off a $100,000 tower that he hopes to see placed along the border, if his bill passes. The technology was designed by a Utah company named Rf Spotter, and throughout Worsley’s speech it zoomed in and out on people in the Capitol plaza. The public would be able to log on to a website and look at what the cameras are monitoring, which Worsley said would be a good way to “trust but verify” that the Border Patrol is doing its job.

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Later that day, the House Government Committee heard Sen. David Farnsworth’s (R-Mesa) bill to allow homeowners to have fowl in their backyards.
In introducing the bill, Farnsworth gave a vivid description of collecting eggs. “I would wait until I heard that friendly cackle of the eggs and stick my hand under the hen. And there was that nice, warm egg and gathered that and took it in for the happy event of the cake or whatever,” Farnsworth said.

Yet despite the lessons that Farnsworth invoked from raising chickens, Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) wasn’t convinced that the bill was a good idea. “I was on five acres and I know chickens. I was a responsible chicken manager,” Kavanagh said. “I will tell you, you have problems. You have odor problems.” … But Demion Clinco (D-Tucson) felt that people should be able to have their chickens. “Overall I think the bill is really about peoples’ ability to produce their own food, and I think the state should approve of that.”

In bipartisan fashion, the bill passed through the committee, but not without reservations for some. Rep. Douglas Coleman (R-Apache Junction) said he liked that the bill would give people the option to grow their own food. … “I do understand and spoke with several people whose kids have allergies and would like to have that option. While I will support this bill today, I have some concerns I need to think through if it makes it to the floor.” Rep. Douglas Coleman.

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A bill that would give tax cuts to businesses that lease property to churches passed through the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday. Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Peoria), the sponsor of the bill, was adamant that the language of the bill would prevent businesses from abusing the tax cut.

Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford (D-Tucson) worried that the bill was violating the separation of church and state but her Democratic colleague, Sen. Steve Farley (D-Tucson), still supported it.

“Ultimately I think there’s an equity issue involved here in which a church that is wealthy enough to afford their own property gets a tax cut; a church that isn’t wealthy enough doesn’t get it,” Farley said. “Just because you can’t afford to have a mega-church on North Central and Phoenix doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a tax break.” … The final vote was 5-2 in favor.

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On Thursday, the day the March Madness tournament began, the Senate started early in the morning to debate the budget madness. On Senate President Andy Biggs’ (R-Gilbert) budget proposal alone there were 22 amendments. Most of these were voted down in the Committee of the Whole, but a few of them made their way into the budget.

The biggest debate came in the discussion about Child Protective Services. The Democrats launched several amendments to get more financial support for children, particularly child-care subsidies, but to no avail. When presented with data saying that children from low-income homes were being neglected, Biggs disagreed. “There is an assumption if you make that correlation that anyone who qualifies for childcare subsidies is somehow neglectful,” Biggs said.

But Sen. Steve Farley (D-Tucson) continued to argue.

“I’m not making any sort of assumptions that low- income parents are bad parents,” Farley said. “It’s the situation we are placing them in. It turns them into neglectful people when they are doing good things for good reasons. It’s not about some flaw in their character; it’s the fact that we can’t provide that hand- up for a good parent that wants to go to work and provide for their kid to also have a good place for that kid to be while they are working. They are in a no-win scenario.”

Attempts by Sen. Steve Pierce (R-Prescott) and Sen. Cajero Bedford (D-Tucson) to get money for the University of Arizona failed during the Committee of the Whole. In particular, Pierce tried to get $15 million for infrastructure for the university and $4.2 million for a new veterinary school. Despite the backing of the Democrats, Pierce failed to get any of his amendments appropriating money to the university passed.

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The other battle was on common core and education funding. In the budget the Senate allotted $8 million for common core assessments and AIMS testing, despite Gov. Brewer asking for $13.5 million. “If we’re doing this, we need to put any misgivings we may have aside about whether or not you think common core is a good thing to do because we’re doing it and we’ve been doing it for four years,” Farley said. … However, the education funding joined the large pile of amendments that were voted down.

Thursday night, the bill was third-read and passed by the Senate. The House Appropriations committee will hear the budget bills at 2 p.m. on Monday.

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