Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Bipartisan Budget Bringing Relief to Arizonans During COVID-19 Crisis Moves to Governor Ducey’s Desk

Senate Democratic Leader David Bradley released the following statement on the House and Senate's
passage of an emergency bipartisan budget that has now been transmitted to the governor’s office. 

"The House and Senate joined together to pass a bipartisan budget that will bring relief to
Arizonans in this difficult time. The bills have now been sent to Governor Ducey’s desk
where we hope he signs them expeditiously. The budget passed by the Senate and House
is a result of genuine bipartisan collaboration done with the singular goal in mind of
protecting the Arizonans from this virus and the damaging effects it will wreak on our people.
This legislation is only the first step in responding to this crisis and we will continue
working to bring aid and assistance to our fellow Arizonans in the weeks to come. 

"The bipartisan budget does, however, reinforce the safety net for Arizonans
who were already vulnerable and whose lives are now most at risk by increasing
eligibility for unemployment insurance, providing flexibility for extending TANF benefits,
stability for our developmentally disabled service providers, and ensuring our water is safe to drink.

"This budget also creates the Crisis Contingency and Safety Net Fund,
which will provide $50 million to be used at the governor's discretion, with immediate
disclosure and transparency to the public, during this declaration of a public health emergency. 
Although we trust the governor to make the right choice and do what is in the
best interest of Arizonans with these funds, we will surely be keeping a close
watch to ensure the funds are spent in a way befitting this crisis.

"This fund will help reinforce homeless shelters and services as they deal with higher
demand while maintaining new social distancing practices. It will provide assistance for
small businesses and nonprofits, including providers of medical services for our most
vulnerable populations, to ensure these businesses and organizations can ride out this storm
and return to viability as quickly as possible. It should help food banks provide sustenance
for struggling families and it should provide rental and foreclosure assistance to keep them in their homes.

"These are extraordinary times and we thank our Democratic and Republican
colleagues in the House and Senate for swiftly working together for the greater good.
Neither side got exactly what they wanted, but that is how negotiation works.
The reason we are here, what we were elected to do, is to make difficult decisions
that are in the best interest of Arizonans. When we return following this recess on April 13th, 
we hope this spirit of cooperation will continue. There is still much to be done to move our great state forward.”

Friday, February 28, 2020

The Blue Wave for February 28

A weekly legislative update from the Arizona Senate Democratic Caucus

Volume 2, Issue 4
Friday, February 28

Top Stories

Democratic bills on the move!

This week saw four Democratic bills clear the Senate, with more on the way. They will now go over to the House for committee hearings and votes.
  • SB1444 (Senator Sean Bowie) Requires the Arizona Department of Education to identify an absence caused by a student's mental or behavioral health as an excused absence.
  • SB1445 - (Senator Sean Bowie) Requires training programs at the university level for school counselors or school social workers to develop or adopt evidence-based instruction on suicide awareness and prevention.
  • SB1567 - Allows a justification defense to be used for any prosecution of any criminal offense. 
  • SB1352 - Establishes January 30th of each year as Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution.
Watch this week's Canyonside Chat, below, to learn more about what these bills do and why they're needed.
Sponsors explain the four bills that cleared the Senate this week.
Republicans again try to expand private school vouchers

Just two years ago Arizona voters overwhelmingly rejected the expansion of private school vouchers when they successfully voted down Prop 305 by a 2 to 1 margin. Republican legislators, however, never let public sentiment get in their way so they just passed another attempt to expand vouchers.

Senator Sylvia Allen's SB1224, and its amendment by Senator Kate Brophy McGee, would allow your hard-earned tax dollars to be used for private school tuition outside of Arizona in our neighboring states of California, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico. That's right, Republicans want to take the taxes you pay for funding public education and give them to families to use for out-of-state private schools. Not only that, with this bill they also want all families that receive these tax dollars to be able to use them to purchase anything they claim are needed to educate their kids - even big screen TVs, iPads and video game consoles.

There have been extensive reports of unaccountable and fraudulent use of school voucher money to buy makeup, clothing, and returned goods in order to pocket the cash. Some families simply hoard the money - amassing hundreds of thousands of tax dollars - to be used for anything they want after their kid turns 18.

Apparently, Republicans have no problem with this because they've never adequately funded the administrative oversight that is supposed to prevent the misuse of funds - and with this bill they want to transfer that oversight from the publicly-elected Superintendent of Public Instruction and give it to the State Board of Education, a board in which 10 of its 11 members were appointed by Governor Ducey.

We stood strong against this bill, with impassioned arguments against it from our Indigenous members who expressed outrage that Republicans and a D.C. anti-public school special interest group were using eight Navajo students as pawns to further their agenda. Their statements:

Senator Sally Ann Gonzales:
“We must truly prioritize the education of our Native American students by adequately funding their public schools, not just use them as an excuse to advance an agenda of expanding school vouchers against the wishes of Arizona voters.

“Instead of sending Arizonans' hard-earned tax dollars to out-of-state private religious schools, we should fully fund the Office of Indian Education. Funding for this office, which serves as a liaison between tribal schools and outside agencies to provide resources for Native American students to meet their educational and cultural needs, has been one of our Democratic priorities for years. Yet, Republicans refuse to fund the staffing it needs to properly function. This shows how disingenuous these Republicans really are when they claim they're pushing this bill because they care about Native children's education.”

Senator Victoria Steele:
“School voucher expansion was soundly rejected by Arizona voters just two years ago but, as we've seen time and again, Republicans never let public opinion get in the way of serving special interests. Now they're using Native American students and their families in their latest attempt to expand school vouchers.

“Native Americans have been taken advantage of for centuries, so we know it when we see it and we won’t stand for it. We won't let this effort, led by a D.C. special interest group, use our Native children as pawns in their anti-public education agenda.”

Senator Jamescita Peshlakai:
“Our public schools are the foundation of our children’s future as they reach for the American Dream, but Republicans want to divert their funding to create private school scholarships outside of Arizona. This sets a dangerous precedent that opens the door for an unlimited amount Arizonans' hard-earned tax dollars to flow out of state.

“While other states have blocked school vouchers, and Arizona voters soundly defeated their expansion via Prop 305, Republicans continue using our vulnerable children to advance their agenda of enriching the rich at the expense of the working class. If you believe that every Arizona child should have access to great schools in their community, please stand with us against this attack on public education.”

“Bipartisan” bill count

Senate bills heard in Senate committees this session:

Republican: 337
Democratic: 25

While Democrats hold 43 percent of seats in the Senate, our bills account for only  7 percent of Senate bills heard this session.

News Clips

Democrats fire first salvo in redistricting battle

The Senate confirmed Ducey’s three most recent picks to the commission on Feb. 18. The vote occurred along party lines, but Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee said Ducey failed to comply don’t comply with the Arizona Constitution’s diversity clause. That clause says “the makeup of the committee shall, to the extent feasible, reflect the diversity of the population of the state.” “We believe that this process amounts to a disregard of your constitutional duty as described in Article 6, Section 36. We demand that you withdraw the most recent nominees you have sent to the Legislature and, instead, adopt a constitutionally compliant process intended to ‘endeavor to see that the commission reflects the diversity of Arizona’s population,’” they told Ducey in a letter.

Why won't Arizona lawmakers vote on bill to strip parental rights of rapists?

Last week at the Arizona Legislature, Sen. Victoria Steele, a Democrat, withdrew her proposal, Senate Bill 1355, to allow a victim whose child was conceived by rape to sever the parental rights of the rapist by way of civil court. Steele said she withdrew her bill because Judiciary Committee Chairman Eddie Farnsworth, a Republican, wanted her to add an amendment exempting victims raped by their spouses.

White flag flies over Ducey’s SB1070 attempt

So, once again, Ducey rolled out the immigration controversy. And, once again, an Arizona governor stained Arizona's reputation and potentially harmed our economy. But unlike with SB1070 a decade ago, Ducey and Republican legislative leaders heeded the warnings and raised the white flag.

Atheist Lawmaker Snubbed During Invocation on “Secular Day” at Arizona Capitol

The Secular Coalition for Arizona marked its 10-year anniversary today with a “Secular Day” at the State Capitol. Nearly 100 people gathered to receive advocacy training, listen to a speaker, meet with legislators, and listen to State Sen. Juan Mendez offer a secular invocation. At least that was the plan.

Bill to cut speeding fines moves through the Senate

The bill passed along party lines with Democrats raising concerns this will encourage speeding and make the roads more dangerous. Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada also voiced concerns that lowering the fines will cut much needed revenue to the state. "Although no one likes to get a speeding ticket, some of these government programs that are important need that money," Quezada said.

Senate OKs redistricting rules over Democratic objections

Democrats, including a lawmaker representing the Navajo Nation, said putting a flat 5,000 person difference limit would make it nearly impossible to draw maps that give the tribe and some black and Latino districts the ability to elect people to represent them. And Quezada noted that the Supreme Court has said that differences of less than 10 percent don’t violate equal protection rules. “That argument has been decided — and it was a unanimous Supreme Court that decided that this is not a violation of one-person one vote,” Quezada said.

Arizona Senate rejects exempting military pensions from income tax

Democratic Sen. Andrea Dalessandro said she had taken a vow to oppose any tax cuts as long as the state was underfunding schools and other programs that support children. Democrats have embraced that mantra for several years, even as majority Republicans regularly enact tax cut measures. 

School IDs Would Have Suicide Prevention Info Under Dem Proposal

"I think that's really important to make our young people aware of the resources that are available to them," Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, said. "If they are struggling and need some help, there is a free number on the back of their ID cards that they can turn to and that they can call if they do need support." Bowie, the sponsor of Senate Bill 1446, said several districts across the state already print suicide prevention resources on their issued IDs, but there's no reason not to do so statewide.

Pro-refugee resolution passes Arizona Senate after push from local activists

Princesleah Aguilera, who works with Chicanos Por La Causa and We Are All America, met with state Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-South Phoenix, to lobby in favor of the resolutions and SB 1341. “This is my first time doing this,” Aguilera said. “It’s so difficult to get into these meetings and it’s so difficult to plan something like this, but the fact that people are taking time out of their days to work for this and defend so many other people. … It’s just nice to see.”

Highlights from this Week

Senator Tony Navarrete met with parents from Stand with Children Arizona on their lobbying day at the Capitol.
Senator Lela Alston met with Habitat for Humanity and other affordable housing advocates.
Congratulations to Senator Sean Bowie, who had two of his bills clear the Senate this week.

SB1444 - Requires the Arizona Department of Education to identify an absence caused by a student's mental or behavioral health as an excused absence.
SB1445 - Requires training programs at the university level for school counselors or school social workers to develop or adopt evidence-based instruction on suicide awareness and prevention.
Congratulations to Senator Lupe Contreras, who had one of his bills clear committees this week.

SB1567 - Allows a justification defense to be used for any prosecution of any criminal offense. 
Congratulations to Senator David Bradley, who had one of his bills clear committees this week.

SB1352 - Establishes January 30th of each year as Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution.

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