PHOENIX — As the budget passed by the Legislature over the weekend still awaits the governor’s signature to become law, lawmakers resumed business as usual this week.
Glen Grippen, interim director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, testified before the Senate Public Safety, Military and Technology Committee on Wednesday on progress being made at the VA following the scandal that broke last year revealing veterans were not getting the care they needed.
Grippen said the Phoenix VA hired more staff and is seeing more patients. More satellite clinics are being added as well to relive the strain on the main hospital in downtown Phoenix.
“You’re starting to hear some rumblings about the VA changing positively,” Grippen added. “We still have a ways to go, but we’re working hard at it every day.”
This comes as President Barack Obama is scheduled to travel to Phoenix Friday to visit Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center, the downtown hospital at the center of the VA scandal. In a PR blunder, Obama’s motorcade drove past the hospital without stopping during his visit in January.
During his testimony, Grippen said the VA staff is excited to meet Obama when he visits.
Debate on a controversial bill that would further limit abortion coverage in Arizona turned heated on Wednesday.
The House Federalism and States’ Rights Committee heard SB 1318, which bans all health exchanges in Arizona from providing coverage for abortions and requires documentation regarding admitting privileges for doctors performing abortions to be submitted to the Department of Health Services.
The committee tacked on an amendment to require women seeking abortions to be informed that “it may be possible” to reverse the effects of a medication abortion.
When Rep. Darin Mitchell, R-Litchfield Park, questioned Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, on why he called legislators supporting the bill “extreme” on the organization’s website, House Assistant Minority Leader Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson, retorted that the legislators could be “extremist.” This drew a rebuke from the committee chair, Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Gilbert, who gaveled Wheeler and called a lengthy recess to calm the committee and resume debate.
Wheeler added that it “riles” his mind the Federalism and States’ Rights Committee is hearing the bill. “One would rationally assume this would be heard in the health committee,” he said.
The committee approved the bill down party lines. Last month, the Senate passed the bill 17-12, also down party lines.
Regent: Let’s sue the state
Following deep cuts to public universities in the budget, Mark Killian, chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, amplified his call for the Regents to consider suing the state over a lack of funding to colleges.
At issue is the part of the Arizona Constitution that states higher education in the state “shall be as nearly free as possible.” Killian contends the Legislature through cuts to university funding, which have triggered tuition hikes, are in violation of the state Constitution.
That clause of the Constitution has previously been considered by the courts when University of Arizona students sued the Regents in Kromko v. Board of Regents in 2003. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled the issue over “nearly free as possible” was a political squabble, rather than a judicial one.
Rising from the dead
It wasn’t quite as grand as Lazarus, but Wednesday saw some bills previously killed on the floor brought back to life upon reconsideration — or as Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, called them, zombie bills.
Bills can be brought up for reconsideration after they fail to gather enough votes on their last reading so long as a motion to reconsider from a legislator who voted against it carries. This allows the sponsor and supporters more time to try to twist arms and whip up enough votes to pass it.
A Senate bill that would put it to voters to repeal the Citizens Clean Elections Act and move that funding to education failed on its Tuesday vote, 15-13 (16 votes are needed to pass in the Senate). When SCR 1001 was reconsidered on Wednesday the Senate approved it 17-12 with Republican Senators Don Shooter of Yuma and Jeff Dial of Chandler flipping their votes. Other bills in the House on income tax reduction and empowerment scholarship accounts were revived and passed this way, too.
Not all bills were resurrected.
HB 2138, which would move up to the state’s primary election date to the second week of July, failed on the House floor on Monday by a 26-33 vote. When its sponsor, Shope, brought the bill up again on Wednesday, the House shot it down again by a narrower margin — 29-30.
The Legislature is on track to finish its business early this year with the budget passed. Here are some bills making their way through:
— Two bills creating the office of lieutenant governor for Arizona were approved by the House this week. HB 2265 and HCR 2024 from Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, would create a lieutenant governor position to run on a joint ticket with the governor beginning in 2023, pending voter approval.
— The Senate Rules Committee cleared SB 1030, the “beer bill,” to move onto the Senate floor with an amendment after it was held last month due to constitutional concerns. The full Senate approved the bill from Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, in a 28-1 vote on Wednesday.
— On Wednesday, the House approved HB 2190, which would repeal common core standards in Arizona and have the Board of Education establish new standards and assessments. The bill moves to the Senate, which has shot down other anti-common core bills this session.
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 email@example.com