PHOENIX — In a reminder that the biggest fights in the Legislature lay ahead, hundreds descended on the Capitol Wednesday to protest against Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed budget for K-12 schools.
Some legislators emerged to observe or address the stream of teachers, students and other education supporters, many of whom shouted chants of “No more cuts” and “Save our schools.”
Solution to Douglas, Ducey spat
Lawmakers attempted to solve another education issue in the state on Thursday.
An amendment to a bill from Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, offered a solution to the ongoing constitutional fight between Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas and Gov. Doug Ducey regarding the firing of two top Board of Education officials.
HB 2184 amends language to state that the members of the Board of Education answer to the board as a whole and not the Superintendent. Douglas would therefore not have the power to fire them. The Senate Education Committee unanimously approved the bill.
Douglas said in a statement before the bill was heard that she supported the action taken by the Legislature since it would spare taxpayer dollars from being spent on “prolonged litigation.”
“Our resources are best spent supporting our children, teachers and classroom instruction, not on interagency disputes,” she said in her statement.
Mr. Ducey goes to Washington
Ducey in the meantime travelled to Washington for a meeting of the National Governors Association, which began late last week. The governor’s social media feeds kept his followers apprised of his travels in the nation’s capital.
Secretary of State Michele Reagan signed bills passed by the Legislature while Ducey was away.
When Ducey returned to the Grand Canyon State on Tuesday, he held a ceremonial signing for the civics test requirement where he was joined by Douglas.
Virtual Border Fence
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to move forward SB 1271, which would redefine language on the state’s “virtual fence” along its southern border for it to be “as close as practicable” with Mexico, rather than within one mile. The Legislature approved the construction of a virtual border fence last year that allows the state to place equipment, cameras and sensors along the Arizona-Mexico border.
Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, the bill’s sponsor, said the bill is meant keep Arizona’s equipment from interfering with federal operations on the border so it would serve to help fill in gaps along the Mexican border that the federal government does not cover.
“Long term, we provide a backup location rather than be right on the border with them for fear that our sensors will be triggered by them running around,” Worsley said.
An amendment to the bill removed a proposed $10 million to fund the fence.
We want our land back
Arizona was the last of the lower 48 states to join the union and a House panel approved a bill to move the state further away from that federal government out east.
HB 2176, heard by the House Appropriations Committee, would require the U.S. government to return all “constitutionally nonenumerated” federal lands within Arizona to the state by 2026.
Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, a sponsor of the bill, defined nonenumerated lands as land the federal government holds in the state that are not specifically mentioned in the Constitution. Thorpe cited that 45 percent of Arizona is owned by the federal government — which it doesn’t pay the state much for — and compared the situation to a renter dictating the terms.
“Everything the cities and counties do is harmed because this huge amount of federal land that they’re not paying anywhere close to a comparable tax when it comes to private land owners,” Thorpe said.
Rep. Rick Gray, R-Sun City, said while he has concerns with some unintended consequences with the bill, he sees a lot of potential revenue for the state in timber.
House Minority Leader Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley, said this bill certainly carries constitutional concerns and the Legislature should instead be focusing on real ways to help fund schools and create jobs in the state. “This bill will not do that and it’s unfortunate that we’re spending time on these bills,” he said.
Aggravated assault for firearms
The House passed a bill to prevent someone from literally taking a person’s Second Amendment right. HB 2509, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Gilbert, would make it a felony aggravated assault for a person to take or attempt to take someone’s lawfully owned firearm.
Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, called it a “fringe issue” and said this is already covered in current state law.
Townsend argued the bill is meant to give more consequence to taking someone’s gun. “What this bill does is send a very clear message that the taking of a firearm from a law-abiding citizen is a very serious offense,” she said.
Meanwhile in the Senate, Ward added an amendment to SB 1460 to lift bans on sawed-off shotguns, silencers for firearms and nunchucks. That amendment passed.
Update on bills
Some bills don’t make the arduous journey through the Legislature and die along the way (see: Arizona Bill). Here are updates on bills previously covered in the Weekly Roundup that didn’t make it or have been held up:
— On Monday, the Senate Rules Committee held SB 1030, the “Beer Bill,” due to constitutional concerns regarding interstate commerce. The bill from Ward, which drew intense support from microbrewery advocates, would raise production limits for microbreweries to allow them to keep their restaurants.
— A bill banning photo radar enforcement, also sponsored by Ward, failed on the Senate floor Monday in a close 13-15 vote. Ward calls photo radar — which includes red light cameras and speed cameras — unconstitutional, but many law enforcement organizations came out against the bill.
— As SB 1102, the texting while driving ban, didn’t make it through committees before the deadline, Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, continued his texting prohibition effort by proposing it as an amendment to an Arizona Department of Transportation omnibus bill on the floor. After some back and forth between Farley and Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, who has been vocal in his opposition to the ban, the Senate voted down the amendment.
Ethan McSweeney is the 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 firstname.lastname@example.org