PHOENIX — The Super Bowl rolled into town this week, shutting down traffic on some streets downtown, but Arizona lawmakers continued their work nearby at the state Capitol. A few football jokes fell on unamused ears in the House and the Senate.
School Choice Week
In addition to it being Super Bowl week, it’s also School Choice Week and advocates made sure the Legislature knew it.
Kicking off the week at the Capitol on Monday, yellow scarves promoting school choice were placed on the desks of each legislator by the National School Choice Week organization.
Hundreds of Catholic schoolchildren descended on the Capitol grounds Wednesday and shouted, “Thank you,” to the Arizona legislators — something they probably don’t often hear. The students came from as far away as Flagstaff and Tucson to celebrate Catholic School Week, which also happens to be occurring this week.
Gov. Doug Ducey also stopped by to briefly address the gathering of students and returned Thursday to address a school choice rally.
“I talked about opportunity for all our citizens and I really believe that begins with our children in the classroom,” Ducey said. “So, I think this idea of school choice is one that Arizona has led in.”
Keeping with the theme of education rallies on the Capitol grounds, on Thursday, the Arizona Students’ Association protested the proposed $75 million in cuts to state universities in Ducey’s budget proposal.
Uber and Lyft catch a break
Andy Tobin, the former Arizona Speaker of the House who lost his bid for Congress in November, wasted no time getting to work — or rather dropping work — after he took over the Department of Weights and Measures. The now-director Tobin announced Wednesday that his department suspended all investigations into ridesharing programs Uber and Lyft.
“This policy is in keeping with Governor Ducey’s agenda of supporting new and entrepreneurial-style businesses, while balancing public safety needs and consumer protections,” Tobin said in a statement.
Citing safety concerns, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill last year that would regulate Uber and Lyft differently than regular taxi services.
Ducey appointed Tobin as the director of the department on Friday last week.
The House voted for a rule change to allow for caucuses, where members of one party meet to discuss bills coming forward, to be closed to the public with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.
Democrats blasted the rule change, calling it an effort to shut the public out from discussions and move government behind closed doors. House Assistant Minority Leader Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson, said this allows legislators to conduct “away from the light of day.”
“I think it harms the Democratic process,” he said.” I think it creates cynicism with our public as to how elected officials conduct business.”
Defending the rule change, House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro, R-Avondale, promised that House Republicans would continue to have their caucus meetings open.
“This is a procedural matter in which we are being direct in our rules and if a moment arises in which a sensitive matter needs to be addressed, we are being direct in how we’re doing that,” he said.
House Minority Leader Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley, said this is the first step in eroding government transparency.
“If this doesn’t change anything, my question is why are we voting on it?” Meyer said.
Rep. John Allen, R-Phoenix, compared caucuses to family meetings and said you wouldn’t have a family meeting in a restaurant, but rather in private. The rule change passed 36-23 directly down party lines with one absent Democrat.
Tickets quota prohibition
A bill prohibiting police departments from maintaining traffic citation quotas cleared committee on Tuesday over the objection over some law enforcement organizations. HB 2410 targets the Tucson Police Department, which is the only agency in the state to maintain any sort of quota.
John Thomas, representing the Arizona Associations of Chiefs of Police, said the bill is worded “too broadly.” He said police would be working with the bill’s sponsor, Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, so some changes could be made to it. Currently, the prohibition would only apply to county and state-level law enforcement and it could have some affect on DUI task forces.
“The bottom line from my organization is that this is something we feel should not be done at the state level,” Thomas said.
Levi Bolton Jr., executive director of the Arizona Police Association argued for the bill, calling it a matter of perception for the communities officers serve.
“What we don’t want to do is undermine the public’s trust,” he said. “We don’t want artificial parameters.”
Rep. Rick Gray, R-Sun City, compared it to plumbing by saying some plumbers are told to find at least $400 when they go out on a job.
The House County and Municipal Affairs committee unanimously approved the bill.
Concussion Awareness Day
With the Super Bowl in town, the House Health Committee voted to declare Aug. 20 of this year to be Concussion Awareness Day. That date was chosen to coincide with the beginning of the next school year — and as the football season gets started.
“There is still more work to be done, but by recognizing an official awareness day, we can continue to bring attention to this very important issue,” said Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, in a statement.
Jeff Miller, senior vice president of Health and Safety for the National Football League, presented to the committee. He spoke on the NFL’s effort to promote concussion laws across the nation and improve safety for football players at all levels.
Special plates for special groups
Bills on special license plates are popular this session, with eight introduced so far this session. These special license plates that are up for approval by the Legislature include plates for first responders, women veterans and hockey. HB 2092, which provides for a Military Scholarship Special License Plate, passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday and could be on its way to Arizona vehicles soon.
Ethan McSweeney is the Bolles Fellow from the University of Arizona School of Journalism covering this legislative session. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org