Thursday, February 26, 2015

Senate approves Begay bill that protects Tribal children

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Senator Carlyle Begay, LD7, released the following statement on the passage of his bill SB1080 (tribal social services agencies; information).

About SB1080:
SB1080 allows mandatory reporters to report child abuse or neglect to tribal law enforcement or social services agency if they suspect an Indian minor who lives on a reservation has suffered abuse. Mandatory reporters include medical practitioners, peace officers, child safety workers, the parent or guardian, school personnel and any other person who has responsibility for the care and treatment of the minor.

The bill also authorizes the Department of Public Safety to share criminal justice information with tribal social services agencies for the purposes of background checks on prospective adoptive parents and custodians of juveniles, and to investigate or respond to reports of child abuse, neglect or exploitation.

Senator Carlyle Begay:
Sen. Begay

"In every community there exists the critical need to build robust collaborative partnerships between government, law enforcement and social service agencies - both state and tribal. SB1080 will strengthen that collaboration and help ensure children on tribal lands are just as protected as those who reside on state land," said Senator Begay.

"By working together, sharing resources and information, our state and tribal social service agencies will handle life-changing situations in ways that make a positive difference in the lives of the people they serve.”

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Senate Approps passes Begay bill to help Tribal students attain higher education

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Senator Carlyle Begay, LD7, released the following statement on the passage of his bill SB1220, including the strike-everything amendment that would create the Tribal College Dual Enrollment Program Fund.

The strike-everything amendment to SB1220 would allow Arizona’s Tribal colleges to help offset costs for dual-enrolled students. Dual enrollment permits a high school student to earn community college credit at both their high school and Tribal college. Arizona's three Tribal community colleges (Dine College, Navajo Technical University and Tohono O’odham Community College) each offer dual enrollment programs.

Tribal colleges would be reimbursed from the Tribal College Dual Enrollment Program Fund for tuition and fees that are waived for dual-enrolled students.

Senator Carlyle Begay:
Sen. Begay
"Dual enrollment proves advantageous for students in our Tribal communities. It allows them to ease the transition from high school to college and get a head start on a college career," said Senator Begay. "There is evidence that it also promotes high school graduation and improves a student's likelihood of remaining in college.

"We need to encourage more of these programs in rural and Tribal areas and this bill does just that."

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Senate again chooses to restrict women’s personal health choices

Majority refuses to protect doctors from being harassed, threatened for doing their jobs

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Senate Democratic Leader Katie Hobbs released the following statement on the Senate’s passing of SB1318, which would ban most abortion coverage for Arizona women who purchase plans on the national health care exchange. Senator Hobbs offered a floor amendment that would protect the personal information of doctors who perform abortions. That amendment was defeated.
Sen. Hobbs

“Whether you are for or against abortion coverage, we should all be able to follow common sense and agree that doctors who perform abortions should have their personal identifying information protected from those who would harass or threaten them and their families.,” said Sen. Hobbs.

“This is not a "solution without a problem" as many bills that pass through this chamber can be called. Sadly, doctors who perform abortion in this country have been assaulted, kidnapped and murdered by anti-abortion fanatics.

“Republican legislators, who are public officials, currently have a bill to hide their own personal information from the public because they are afraid of harassment and threats. Yet they think that doctors should be left open to harassment and threats.

“Instead of restricting a woman's right to make her own healthcare decisions, which SB1318 does, and creating hypocritical double standards, we should be focusing on bipartisan efforts to reduce the need for abortion in the first place.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Higher education must be a higher priority in the budget

The $75 million cut to our state universities that Governor Ducey has requested in his budget not only further burdens institutions that have seen their budgets slashed by 48 percent since 2008, but will further weaken our state's ability to recover from the recession and compete with other states economically.

It is well documented that cutting higher education funding jeopardizes the economic future of both students and the state. Here's why:

  • More and more jobs require a college degree as a prerequisite, with one report projecting that 65 percent of all jobs will require at least some college education by 2020. As this demand for educated workers increases, states that have made deep cuts to higher education during the recession but fail to quickly reverse those cuts will be at a distinct disadvantage to states that have restored their university funding.
So we know states that cut higher education will not be prepared to compete for jobs in the near future, but how bad off can Arizona really be? In this case, we're number one - but not in a good way.

  • Cut per-student higher education spending by 48.3 percent - the most of any state.

  • Increased university tuition by 80.6 percent - the most of any state.

  • Cut more than 2,100 positions; consolidated or eliminated 182 colleges, schools, programs, and departments; and closed eight extension campuses as of 2011.

In his state of the state address, Governor Ducey said, "In Arizona, education excellence is a priority." Yet he cuts an additional $75 million from our universities while committing $100 million over three years to build more private prisons. And word is the total cuts could be even more than $75 million - an idea the Arizona Republic called "troubling on so many levels."

This year's budget could prioritize education above incarceration but as it stands now, the only guaranteed future job growth looks like corrections.

Today at 2 p.m. our state universities will make their arguments for why we shouldn't make more cuts to higher education before the Senate Appropriations Committee. We urge you to join us in person or watch online and contact your legislators to tell them that higher education should have a higher priority in this year's budget.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Legislating through litigation

Unless the people of Arizona speak out against bad legislation and an out-of-touch Legislature, when Arizona historians look back at the legislative record from the first two decades of this century it’s quite possible they will call it the era of legislation through litigation.

Last week, a lawsuit seeking class action was filed against the state accusing it of negligence in the care of nearly 17,000 kids in state custody. The suit alleges the state has failed to care for these vulnerable children to a degree that “shocks the conscience.”

The state is currently negotiating a settlement with public school districts after a judge ordered the state to pay inflationary funding that the voters of Arizona approved in 2000, but which the state failed to pay.

Last month a public interest advocacy group announced it will be filing a lawsuit to force the state to pay public school districts building maintenance and soft capital funds, which pays for such things as text books and computers. Those funds have been cut by hundreds of millions in recent years.

Those lawsuits are the result of a Legislature that for years has prioritized tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy above the safety and education of our children.

It’s time to say enough is enough! Tell the Republican leaders in the Legislature to protect our most vulnerable citizens and to fund our kids’ schools.

But what do these legislative leaders do when every aspect of state government isn’t under their control? They run to the courts as well.

When the voters of Arizona made clear they don’t trust the Legislature to draw legislative and congressional districts, they passed Prop 106 to put it in the hands of an independent commission of citizens. Republican legislative leaders didn’t like that and are currently suing for the right to draw districts to their liking.

In the rare instance that a truly bipartisan effort like Medicaid restoration passes and is signed by the governor, the Republican leaders who were on the losing side of the vote don’t accept the loss as part of the democratic process. They sue again.

The worst case scenario for these lawsuits is not just troubling, it is devastating. The school funding ruling alone could bankrupt the state for years. Were Medicaid restoration to be reversed, hundreds of thousands of Arizonans could lose their health care and hundreds of millions in federal dollars would leave the state.

But that is how our current legislative leaders choose to govern – by passing bills with questionable constitutionality, by slashing budgets for child safety and schools to negligent levels and by suing to usurp the democratic process.

Future historians will write: “Crumbling schools and a child welfare system that let thousands of children slip through the cracks is their legacy, righteous indignation and privilege was their defense.”

It’s not too late to change history. Stand up for what’s right, for the priorities that will help put Arizona back on the right track.

Here’s how you can help: 
  • Call these Republican leaders and tell them this year’s budget must put our kids’ schools and abused children above private prison special interests.
    • Governor Doug Ducey: (602) 542-4331
    • Senate President Andy Biggs: (602) 926-4371
    • Speaker of the House David Gowan: (602) 926-3312
    • Senate Appropriations Chair Don Shooter: (602) 926-4139
    • House Appropriations Chair Justin Olson: (602) 926-5288 
  • Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up-to-date on what's happening at the Legislature.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Senator Barbara McGuire appointed to Ad-hoc Committee on Indian Affairs

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Senator Barbara McGuire released the following statement on being appointed to the newly-formed Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Indian Affairs. She was appointed to the committee by Senate President Andy Biggs along with four tribal leaders and five Senate colleagues who have tribal communities in their districts. Sen. McGuire represents the Gila River Indian Community.

The new committee is tasked with creating and improving communication, collaboration and trust between Arizona’s 22 tribal communities, state and local governments, and stakeholders. For this year, the committee will focus on tribal education, natural resources and gaming.

Sen. McGuire
"It’s crucial that legislators represent tribal communities in their districts with a strong voice that is knowledgeable and understanding of their needs," said Sen. McGuire.

"I have always been proud to represent the tribal communities of my district, including the Gila River Indian Community now in District 8 and the four other communities I represented before redistricting. I am confident that the efforts of this committee will improve tribal-government relations and effectively advocate for the important role our tribal communities play in Arizona’s cultural, political and economic identity.”

About Senator McGuire
A former two-term state representative, Senator McGuire is serving her second term in the Senate and second term as Rural Liaison in Senate Democratic Caucus leadership. She is a mother of two, a grandmother and has been married to her husband Jim for 44 years. She is a Salvation Army Director, a former business owner, a chamber of commerce executive and a Citizen of the Year among other achievements. Senator McGuire serves on the Senate’s Natural Resources, Rural Affairs & Environment, and Public Safety, Military & Technology committees.

About Legislative District 8

The district encompasses: the Copper Corridor of Globe-Miami, Hayden, Kearny, Superior, San Manuel, Winkelman, Dudleyville, Mammoth and Oracle; the Sun Corridor of Casa Grande, Coolidge, Eloy and Florence; and The Gila River Tribal Communities. In total, there are about 250,000 residents in the district with its largest populated area being the San Tan Valley, representing one third of the district.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Budget Prioritizes Prisons over Education

Priorities (noun): the things that someone cares about and thinks are important: the condition of being more important than something or someone else and therefore coming or being dealt with first
Those in state government say a lot about priorities. “Project ABC is a priority.” “This issue is a top priority.” “Our number one priority for this session is XYZ.”

But the way to truly see the priorities of our state leaders is to look at the budget. This document, with pages and lists of agencies and numbers, shows exactly where the leaders who craft the budget are willing to spend and where they are willing to cut. And next year’s proposed budget reveals a lot about the new governor’s priorities.

Next year, again, more money will be spent on private prisons.

And next year, again, less money will be spent on education.

It’s pretty simple to see which of those continues to be the priority for Republican leaders who control state government. In fact, it couldn’t be much clearer.

In a stark demonstration of this contrast in priorities, this week Senate Appropriations will hear presentations from two state agencies – the Department of Education and the Department of Corrections. One has seen funding for its constituents slashed year after year, the other has seen its funding steadily increase.

Let’s take a look at that funding.

Governor Ducey’s proposed budget calls for a $75 million cut to our state universities, a 50% reduction in funding for our largest community colleges and $13.5 million less to our district schools. Prisons, in contrast, see an increase of $52 million, including money to build more private prisons that will cost $100 million over three years.

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics, violent crime in Arizona has dropped by 40 percent since 1995 and property crime has dropped by 53 percent. But between 2000 and 2008 Arizona’s prison growth rate exceeded that of every other western state.

A 2010 Arizona Auditor General report states:
The growth in prison population has come at a substantial cost. The Legislature has appropriated nearly $949 million in State General Fund monies to the Department of Corrections for fiscal year 2011. This represents 11.2 percent of the State General Fund budget and trails only K-12 education and healthcare appropriations.
Those who support giving taxpayer dollars to for-profit private prison corporations will readily claim it saves the state money. That same 2010 report, however, explains the fallacy of this myth:
According to a 2009 department report, the State paid more per inmate in private prisons than for equivalent services in state facilities. After adjusting costs to make the expenditures comparable, the State paid private prisons $55.89 for each medium-custody inmate per day compared to a daily cost of $48.13 per medium-custody inmate in state facilities. The State also paid private prisons slightly more for each minimum-custody prisoner.
Right now, our state has more people incarcerated than it has students at the University of Arizona.

Article 11, Section 6 of the Arizona Constitution states that, “The university and all other state educational institutions shall be open to students of both sexes, and the instruction furnished shall be as nearly free as possible.” But more than a billion dollars in cuts over the past few years has forced the highest in-state tuition increases in the nation on Arizona families.

It is certainly possible to begin reversing those cuts and lower tuition. That is, if higher education were a priority of those who control the budget.

Another demonstration of this state’s misguided priorities is the lawsuit by legislative leaders to avoid funding K-12 education as mandated by the people of Arizona. That’s on top of the almost $4 billion in cumulative cuts to our schools since 2008.

In 2000, the people of Arizona approved a ballot initiative that required the Legislature to adjust base funding for K-12 schools to avoid inflationary decreases. But beginning in 2011, the Legislature ignored the will of the voters and the rule of law by not including inflation funding in the budget.

In September of last year the Arizona Supreme Court agreed with a lower court that ruled the Legislature must pay the funding, yet Republicans are still fighting the ruling and some even say they are willing to throw the state into a constitutional stand-off with the courts.

All of this time and money spent to avoid putting money in our kids’ classrooms. That’s their priority.

Handing even more hard-earned taxpayer dollars to private prisons. That’s their priority.

But that’s not the priority of those who wrote in our state’s constitution that the Legislature, “shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of a general and uniform public school system,” though wrote nothing about providing for the profits of private prisons.

And that’s not the priority of Arizona families who would rather their children have a better chance to succeed through education and hard work than to wind up in prison.