Legislative Roundup – New Year, New Bills

Christianna Silva / Arizona Sonora News Service

PHOENIX — The Arizona State Legislature started this week with Gov. Doug Ducey’s State of the State address, followed by the reading of over 100 bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and then finally the unveiling of the executive budget for fiscal year 2019.

Doug Says No to Drugs and Yes to School Spending

In his State of the State address, Ducey highlighted some of the goals of the state government for the upcoming year. He mentioned several issues such as opioid abuse, child abandonment, impaired highway driving — with a plan of action on how to deal with each of them. Details were light on what that would entail. He also pledged to increase education funding and restore money that was cut as part of the recession.

“We can always do more for kids and teachers,” Ducey said.

However, school advocates say that the governor hasn’t done enough for students or teachers. They claim that education funding has yet to return to the level it was at in 2008.

Building a Better Budget

The governor’s budget for next year reflects an outlook that matched the tone of his Monday speech: the state is doing strong and the future looks good. According to the governor’s numbers, that certainly seems to be true. According to the Governor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting, revenues are projected to be roughly $400 million higher than in fiscal year 2018. Ducey’s priorities for spending are chiefly in education, with child safety, border enforcement, and highway maintenance.

Education takes the lion’s share of the funding and investment, with an increase of nearly $300 million in funding from last year. Much of the funds come from money freed up by administrative efficiency or transfers from other funds — positions folded over due to the hiring freeze and money shuffled from other departments being respective examples.

As a priority of the governor, the adoption subsidy offered in Arizona will receive a significant boost with nearly $16 million. This will fund the adoption of the more than 33,000 children in Arizona’s foster system.

A total of $4.3 million is allocated from the general fund specifically for Department of Public Safety programs. That breaks down to $1.4 million for the Wrong-Way Driver Night Watch, an enforcement strategy to increase highway patrols at night to catch people driving the wrong way due to impairment. The remaining $2.9 million is wanted for Gov. Ducey’s Border Task Force’

Southern Arizona also receives a couple boons in the budget in particular. Oracle State Park will be the benefactor of $4 million in renovations that will turn the 4,000 acre wildlife refuge from a day park into an overnight camping destination. The State Parks Revenue Fund will foot the bill for 30 RV sites, 20 tent camping sites, and the construction of 20 cabins for those who aren’t so brave. The Tucson area can expect to see an investment of more than $24 million from the National Guard to construct a Readiness Center. This will relocate National Guard assets from Florence and according to the Governor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting, will “improve training and readiness for 172 soldiers.”

Finishing off Fentanyl, Banning Bump Stocks and Unmasking Protest

Senator John Kavanagh (R-D23) has introduced SB 1018, which would increase the penalties for possessing, selling, manufacturing, or having anything to do with Fentanyl, a potent narcotic. If passed, SB 1018 would bump Fentanyl up from a class 4 felony to a class 3 as well as preventing early release or probation. The drug made Tucson news in November when rapper Lil Peep died of a drug overdose that may have involved Fentanyl.

While a national ban has yet to materialize, Representatives Randall Friese (D-D9) and Daniel Hernandez (D-D2) have offered HB 2023 as a means of prohibiting trigger cranks, bump stocks, and any other means of increasing the rate of fire of a semi-automatic firearm. This issue was in the national spotlight following the Las Vegas shooting in October where the shooter, Stephen Paddock, may have used bump fire stocks to rapidly massacre 59 people.

This last year was filled with protests — civil and otherwise — that more often than not featured participants in masks. While this preserved their anonymity, it presents a difficulty for law enforcement. Representatives Anthony Kern (R-D20) and Jay Lawrence (R-D23) have offered HB2007, which criminalize wearing a mask during a protest as a felony. The penalties would be increased if property damage is committed while masked and protesting.

Also worth noting: under SB 1010, those in the under-21 crowd would no longer be able to purchase tobacco or tobacco paraphernalia, which covers e-cigs and other “vaping” gear. Senator David Farnsworth (R-D16) and Representative Paul Boyer (R-D20) have introduced the bill into the Senate and and a version into the House of Representatives, respectively. Included in the bill are cigars, cigarettes, hookahs, electronic smoking devices, oral tobacco products, and “beedies” which is tobacco rolled into temburni or tembu leaf.

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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