PHOENIX –This week was dominated by Thursday’s teacher walkout, the dismissal of a lawsuit over college tuition increases as well as the narrow special election for Congressional District Eight.
This will be the last Legislative Roundup for this session, as the Legislature has no definite end in sight and will likely run far past the University of Arizona’s Spring semester.
#RedforEd March on the Capitol
More than 50,000 people descended on the Capitol and Governmental Mall Thursday in support of the #RedforEd movement, blanketing the seat of state government with a sea of red shirts and creative posters. The demonstration takes place on the day of the planned teacher walkout organized last week.
Despite temperatures in the 90s, supporters of all ages gathered to chant and listen to speakers such as Arizona Education Association president Joe Thomas, who took to the stage to rally the troops.
“The governor thinks he can buy off some of you,” Thomas said.
Gov. Doug Ducey has pledged to raise teacher salaries by 19 percent through the year 2020, on top of the 1 percent raise teachers were already promised. His “20 by 20” plan has met stiff opposition from legislators, with many finding his sources of funding questionablet. Ducey claims that budgetary windfalls will pay for the salary increases without needing to secure additional funding through a tax increase — Ducey has campaigned for reelection under a pledge not to raise taxes.
The legislators are joined by teachers in general opposition to the governor’s plan, but for additional, different reasons. The walkout and subsequent demonstration have more to do than just salaries.
“They think Red for Ed is simply about a teacher raise,” Thomas said. “That’s just one piece of the puzzle.”
The group organizing the #RedforEd movement, Arizona Educators United, lists more than just teacher raises in its demands. Aside from what has already been promised, the group is asking for wage increases for support staff, a return in school funding to 2008 levels and a freeze on tax cuts until per-pupil spending reaches the national average.
It is unclear whether or the walkout will continue through next week, although schools and districts are anticipating being closed on Friday.
Click here for a gallery of other images from the rally.
Lawsuit Lacks Authority
A lawsuit filed by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich against the Arizona Board of Regents over tuition increases has been dismissed by the judge overseeing the case. Judge Connie Contes tossed out the suit on a motion filed by ABOR that claimed Brnovich lacked the grounds to sue. Without statutory authority or the permission of the governor, Brnovich’s suit was found to be impermissible.
The suit was centered on a vaguely-worded section of the Arizona Constitution that asserts education be offered “as free as possible.” Brnovich found the tuition hikes and numerous fees charged to Arizona college students violated that directive.
CD8 Stays Republican
The special election for Congressional District 8 ended this week with Republican Debbie Lesko beating out Democrat challenger Hiral Tipirneni by roughly fiver percentage points. This was a significant race for a couple of reasons — this seat has been a Republican stronghold for decades, and was vacated by Rep. Trent Franks last winter over allegations of sexual harassment.
Lesko, a former state senator, was no stranger to the area as she had represented much of CD8 at the state level. Tipirneni is a medical doctor and a political neophyte — despite mounting the closest race the district had seen in recent memory.
Lesko will finish out Franks’ term and will therefore be up for reelection in November. Both Lesko and Tipirneni have indicated that they will run again for the congressional seat, for a full two-year term.
Otherwise, here is what happened in the Legislature this week:
Layers of Appeals
The House met on Wednesday for what ostensibly was a short Second Reading of Bills, with just one on the calendar — however things quickly spiraled out of control when Rep. Reginald Bolding (D-Phoenix) stood for a floor speech. He referenced this session’s spate of Rule 19A violations, which have previously been cause for considerable consternation in the past.
The rule in question states that “No member shall be permitted to indulge in personalities, use language personally offensive, arraign motives of members, charge deliberate misrepresentation or use language tending to hold a member of the House or Senate up to contempt.”
Rep. Bolding was speaking about an op-ed penned by Rep. Maria Syms (R-Paradise Valley) which claimed that the #RedforEd campaign was not actually nonpartisan. Specifically, Syms described the leader of the moment as someone who had played rap music in his classroom that contained racial slurs, which she quoted in her opinion piece.
Bolding claimed that Syms had impugned an educator through her op-ed, for which he was called out according to the very same rule he had mentioned at the start of his speech.
“When the gavel is run, you stop,” Rep. TJ Shope (R-Coolidge), the Speaker Pro-Tem, said. “You have violated rule 19A.”
Bolding appealed the decision, which called for a round of voting whether to retain the decision of the chair. After several off-mike conversations, legislators began voting and weighing in on the issue.
“Just because you’re offended by something doesn’t mean they are impugning someone,” Rep. Kelly Townshend (R-Mesa) said.
However, Rep. Gerae Peten (D-Phoenix) didn’t feel the same way. According to Peten, the Syms article was a subtle attack on all members of the African-American community.
“The article had a thematic thread that impugned the African-American people,” Peten said.
Peten then was called out by Rep. John Allen (R-Lake Havasu City) for Rule 19A, as he claimed that the content of Peten’s speech impugned Syms. Shope found her in violation of the rule, which led to an appeal requiring a roll call vote recorded on paper. The electronic system was in use on the previous vote which had not yet finished.
“I don’t know how we can get out of this circle of name calling, without taking what a person is trying to say and weighing it against the rules,” Allen said.
The vote on Peten’s appeal ended 21-34, meaning Shope’s decision was upheld. That meant that the Legislature went back to the electronic board and the vote on whether or not Bolding could continue with his own speech, which was at that point an hour past.
“As members of the House of Representatives we are held to a higher standard,” Bolding said. “The fact of the matter is this: it is never okay to use a racial slur toward any group in quotes or repeated at any point in time. The fact that we are having this debate, on whether or not a word was used in parentheses or not, is unbecoming of this House and is offensive.”
With just one more person voting, the House stood at 22-34 against allowing Bolding to continue. He was at that point instructed to sit down. With no further business, Allen called to adjourn, ending a day on the House floor at three that was in all likelihood set to finish five minutes after it started at 1:15 that afternoon.
“I think it’s a sad day on both sides of the aisle,” Rep. Ray Martinez (R-Phoenix) said.
Going for Four
A House Resolution to extend legislators’ term in office from two years to four has been resurrected and advanced one step closer to being printed on the November ballot. The Senate voted in favor of HCR 2006, which has so far had a fairly tumultuous time in the Legislature this session. The perennial debate over term limits died earlier this year, when the House voted 25-34 to fail the resolution — though Rep. Anthony Kern (R-Glendale) moved to reconsider the resolution, which lead to it passing the House floor with a vote of 33-22.
“Last year we passed this same measure out of here successfully, but it failed in the House,” Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) said.
The resolution would extend the term of office for both the House and Senate from two years to four years, starting in 2021. The term limits — two consecutive terms in each chamber — will remain. However, legislators who started service in 2015 are permitted another term in 2021, while those who started in 2017 and 2019 are permitted one and two extra terms, respectively.
As a resolution, this piece of legislation will be decided by the voters, not elected officials. Come November, voters can expect to see the resolution on the ballot. If it passes there, legislators will begin serving their four-year terms in 2021.
Surcharges for Police Stuff
The Senate voted 16-13 on Tuesday to advance a bill that would increase the surcharge placed on traffic diversion programs as a means of funding peace office equipment procurement. House Bill 2527 was introduced by Rep. Todd Clodfelter (R-Tucson) originally to add a question to driver’s tests that would ensure future drivers would know to pull over to the right-hand side of the road when dealing with police.
However, that was changed with a “Strike Everything” amendment in the Senate Commerce and Public Safety Committee that rendered the bill in its current form. If passed, the bill would amend the current traffic school fee surcharge from $5 to $9, with that increase going to a newly established Peace Officer Training Equipment Fund.
“A few years ago we passed a bill that would fund these virtual training machines,” Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake) said on the Senate floor. “Well guess where the machine for my county is sitting? In a box.”
Allen voted against the bill, citing the need to shrink government, rather than grow it. According to her, the numerous small fees and surcharges add up to ballooning waste, even if they were added for well-meaning projects.
A floor amendment from Sen. Steve Smith (R-Maricopa) further modified this bill, key points being the permitting of the courts to mitigate the new increase if deemed necessary as well as allowing someone to pull over at a location the driver believes is safe and in a populated, public area.
The bill will now go back to the House to be found in concurrence, due to the differences between the House and new Senate versions. If the House agrees with the Senate changes, the bill will go before the governor.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.