Legislative roundup: Chinese organ harvesting, God Enriches, finance gold stars, confusing initiatives

Erik Kolsrud/Arizona Sonora News

PHOENIX — This week saw a host of memorials, resolutions, and other bills going through the Senate and House. While lofty-sounding and sometimes addressing big international issues, these are merely suggestions or tokens of goodwill.

Outside of that, the Capitol was rocked by a (minor) scandal, as prominent lobbyist Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy was recorded in a telephone conference with leaders of private and parochial schools discussing the future of school vouchers and the quest to reduce the accountability regulations that cover these non-public schools.

Which leads to…

Report Cards

Building off of the wave of support that the Red for Ed protests garnered last week, the Save Our Schools Arizona group that organized the rally held a press conference on Wednesday to announce their politician report cards. The protesters last week had the opportunity to fill out report cards on what they perceived to be their legislator’s

Report cards collected by the Save Our Schools Arizona group that organized a protest at the Capitol. (Photo by: Erik Kolsrud/Arizona Sonora News)

effectiveness, math competency, and knowledge of the voucher program’s damage to public education. SOS Arizona cofounder and spokesperson Dawn Penich-Thacker  claimed that Ducey collected the highest amount of report cards.

“These run the gamut but they do have a common theme, which is Arizona voters want to fund schools,” Penich-Thacker said.

According to Penich-Thacker, the report cards were filled out by a wide range of Arizona citizens, from a seven-year-old 2nd grader to an 87-year-old woman from Mesa. The issue over vouchers is but one part of the larger education funding battle in Arizona, with teachers on the verge of striking due to low pay — while lobbyists and legislators alike call for an expansion of the voucher system that would potentially pull money away from the public education system.

“It’s not going away tomorrow, it’s not going away this summer, and it’s definitely not going away this November,” Penich-Thacker said.

Other than that, here are some of the bills from this week:

Ending Organ Harvesting — In China?

A motion to call attention to Chinese organ harvesting has made it through the last round of the Senate with a yes vote of 30-0, and will now pass on to Gov. Doug Ducey. HCM 2004 condemns the persecution of religious group Falun Gong, the alleged harvesting of executed prisoners’ organs, and the lack of transparency in the Chinese organ transplant industry. First introduced by Rep. Tony Rivero (R-Peoria), the memorial follows in the footsteps of similar legislation in the Minnesota Legislature and the United States House of Representatives.

However, it is likely that this won’t make much of a difference, given that it is essentially an extremely hopeful letter to Congress asking them to do something.

That something is a numbered list at the end of the memorial:

  1. U.S. government should investigate the Chinese organ harvesting industry
  2. Congress should ban entry to the U.S. for doctors involved in the trade
  3. Laws should be written that ban U.S. citizens from getting these illicit organs
  4. Caution travelers to China and raise awareness to this issue
  5. Send a copy of this memorial to the President of the U.S. Senate, Speaker of the House, the Executive Director of the Arizona Medical Board and the Dean of the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

If Ducey signs off on this, copies will get sent out per demand #5 listed above.

God Enriches, But in What Language?

Arguments exploded in the House on Tuesday over the two-word translation of the state motto and whether the translation should be in classrooms. The discussion started over the language in SB 1289, which was introduced by Sen. Gail Griffin (R-Hereford) and passed through the Senate on to the House. Griffin’s bill would add the state motto and its English translation to the list of pieces of American and Arizonan heritage that can be displayed in every classroom in the state.

“The state motto ‘Ditat Deus,’ which means ‘God Enriches,'” is the line in contention.

But what God does that refer to, is the English translation presentable even if its not the actual motto and is a mention of God appropriate in the classroom? Those were some of the questions that came up during debate on the floor.

“Allah or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or whatever is not included in statute,” Rep. Paul Boyer (R-Glendale) said.

Boyer claimed that the translation was accurate but did not encompass every deity, however he did not name which one specifically he thought the phrase was referring to. Rep. Mitzi Epstein (D-Ahwatukee) voted against the bill, and cautioned the Legislature of the potential for lawsuits.

“We must be very careful about what we display on our classroom walls,” Epstein said.

Majority Leader John Allen asserted that opposition to the bill based on the words and documents of the Founding Fathers is misplaced, as they were all Christians and made reference to God numerous times.

“Religious has a place in the public square,” Allen said.

That Christian connotation bothered Rep. Eric Descheenie, who took issue with the troubled history that Christianity has had with Native Americans. He brought up the Indian Schools that “Killed the Indian and saved the man” as well as his own departure from the Christian religion.

“Not all of us follow that same ideology,” Descheenie said.

Those in favor of the bill were quick to point out that this bill doesn’t make it a “shall” but instead a “may” so teachers won’t be forced by the state to display the state motto. The House voted 33-23 in favor of the bill, sending it before Ducey to be signed into law.

Diploma Gold Stars

The House voted on Thursday 43-16 in favor of establishing a voluntary program to award a seal of financial literary on on the diplomas of high school students for those who qualify. The bill was introduced by Sen. Kimberly Yee (R-Glendale) into the Senate as SB 1442, where it successfully made it through all the way to the House.

Debate on the floor centered mainly around an amendment by Paul Boyer (R-Glendale) that added a requirement for the program to be developed “in collaboration with any organization with expertise in finance or financial literacy,” although Boyer was vague as to what sort of companies that would include.

After passage through the House the bill will go to Ducey to be signed into law, amendments and all.

Choosing Nuclear

The Senate moved forward on a resolution that would empower the Corporate Commission to require energy providers to use 50 percent renewable sources by 2050 — but only if the Corporate Commission determines that is necessary and affordable.

HCR 2017 was originally a resolution that supported the Palo Verde Generation Station and the nuclear energy it provided, introduced to the House by Rep. Vince Leach (R-Oro Valley). It was changed in the Senate Appropriations Committee by a Strike Everything amendment that expanded the bill into its present form. According to the amended bill:

“The Corporate Commission shall evaluate the affordability of retail electricity, the well-being of this state and the reliability and resiliency of the electrical grid in connection with the renewable energy requirements in this section within ninety days after the effective date of this section. Based on this evaluation, the Corporation Commission shall decide whether to implement the renewable energy requirements in this section.”

This new resolution bears the name “Clean and Affordable Energy for a Healthy Arizona Amendment,” which is curiously close to Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, the name of a ballot initiative that will go before the voters in November.

“I recommend we give voter’s a choice,” Sen. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) said.

The choice Kavanagh is referring to is this difference between the two similarly named pieces of legislation. Assuming that this resolution makes it through the Senate (it has already passed through the House) then it, too, will go before the voters right next to the other initiative. Kavanagh claimed that this choice was a “safety valve” on renewable energy, if it proved to be too expensive or damaging to the grid.

“Voters already have a safety valve: it’s called voting no,” Sen. Martin Quezada (D-Phoenix) said.

Quezada argued that having two initiatives with similar names and descriptions would only serve to confuse the voters — if they wanted to kill renewables, they could elect to vote no on the original initiative rather than be faced with the one created from this resolution. Sen. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City) agreed with Quezada that the safety valve was a no vote.

“You’re right, they should have a choice,” Borrelli said. “Options equal freedom.”

But Quezada questioned the efficacy of offering multiple initiatives that contradicted each other. According to him, this was a scheme to intentionally confuse voters and thus get them to vote against renewable energy.

“There’s an ethical way to oppose ballot initiatives, this is not the way to do it,” Quezada said.

Regardless of the ethics or potential for confusion, the resolution will move forward With a vote of 16-11 in favor. Voters can expect to see both initiatives on the ballot come November.

Erik Kolsrud is the Don Bolles Fellow covering the Legislature for Arizona Sonora News, a service provided by the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach him at ekolsrud@email.arizona.edu.

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