Friday, March 04, 2011

Legislature Seeks to Makes Arizona a Third World State

Ah, Arizona. When AZ was the last state to make Martin Luther King Day a holiday, I swore I would never live in this forsaken backwater state - yet, here I am. Since Jami and I bought a house last summer, I guess we're stuck here for awhile, which makes the idea of Baja Arizona seem lot more desirable.

This year the legislature is doing its best to destroy the state. A whole raft of far-far-far-right bills are up that will essentially make Arizona both a laughing stock and a third world state. It's shameful and embarrassing.

I especially like the "Freedom to Breathe Act" that prohibits ALL federal regulations of greenhouse gases in Arizona. Maybe "freedom to gag act," or "suffocate on carbon monoxide act," or "freedom to get crispy in the AZ sun act."

Oh, and I really like SB 1433, which would create a Joint Legislative Committee on Nullification of Federal Laws. It would have the power to declare federal regulations null and void in Arizona if lawmakers determine that the rules exceed the scope of powers laid out in the U.S. Constitution. And I'm sure they are all Constitutional law experts, right?

Via Tucson Weekly: On the agenda (and most likely to pass):
  • Eliminating Medicare (SB 1519), which will cost the state $7 billion in federal funds, leave 50,000 elderly, physically disabled and developmentally disabled individuals, as well as 1.3 million Arizonans, without coverage.
  • Two bills (SB 1308 and SB 1309) would override the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution and revoke citizenship rights to those born in AZ to non-citizens and create distinct citizenship rules for Arizona.
  • SB 1405 would require hospitals to check the immigration status of patients before admitting them in non-emergency situations.
  • SCR 1014 would ask voters to eliminate the Arizona Board of Regents (whose job is it to supervise the state universities and lobby for them in the legislature).
  • SB 1380 is a striker sponsored by Sen. Frank Antenori of Tucson that would require the random drug-testing of welfare recipients.
  • SB 1201, which loosens regulations prohibiting firearms in public buildings and at public gatherings, passed the Rules Committee on Monday, Feb. 28.
  • SB 1467, which permits concealed weapons on college campuses, passed the Rules Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 23.
  • SB 1393, which prohibits federal regulations of greenhouse gases in Arizona, moved closer to passage with a vote of the Senate Committee of the Whole last week. SB 1393 is called the "Freedom to Breathe Act" by sponsor Sen. Sylvia Allen and the "License to Pollute Act" by Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr.
  • The "No Taxpayer Subsidies for Political Campaigns Act," which would ask voters to ban the spending of public money on political campaigns, passed the Senate on a 20-9 vote. SCR 1025, which is now headed for consideration by the House of Representatives, is a back-door way of killing Clean Elections by blocking the distribution of dollars to candidates and sweeping the funds back into the general fund.
This last law was designed to provide access to public office for people who are not independently wealthy or well-connected to the folks who are wealthy, i.e., to promote democracy.

You can read more about these bills and others at the Tucson Weekly: Legislative Landslide is the article the above info comes from - also check out Welcome to the Blogislature by Jim Nintzel.

This article from a couple of weeks ago, has more depressing news from the legislature.

You Say You Want a Revolution

Republican lawmakers want to drive away the feds, crush the cities and create a heavily armed conservative paradise


You might think that the small-government conservatives who captured the Arizona Legislature wouldn't be eager to pass a lot of new laws.

But you'd be wrong. It turns out that dismantling Big Government requires a lot of legislation, plenty of court action and—when all else fails—a surprising amount of red tape.

Senators filed 608 bills; the House of Representatives has 726. And that's not counting resolutions, memorials and the occasional special session—like the one on a tax-cut package that will likely sail through the Legislature just days after being unveiled this week.

Lawmakers want to throw off the yoke of the federal government. They want to grind down the cities and counties. They want to create new state citizenship rules to challenge the 14th Amendment, ensure that there are more guns in more places, restrict access to abortion, fund schools with money from a nuclear-waste dump, get their hands on Obama's secret birth certificate, and so much more.

We've pulled together a collection of some of the more notable bills this week, but you'll find much more every day in the new-and-improved Blogislature feature at The Range, our daily dispatch, at daily.tucsonweekly.com. Check in regularly as we feature new bills, the latest victims of budget cuts and the latest gossip as state lawmakers work to remake the state and whittle away at another billion-dollar-plus budget shortfall.

One thing is clear: GOP lawmakers don't want to be bossed around by Washington, D.C., elites. SB 1433 would create a Joint Legislative Committee on Nullification of Federal Laws, which would have the power to declare federal regulations null and void in Arizona if lawmakers determine that the rules exceed the scope of powers laid out in the U.S. Constitution. Sponsored by freshman Sen. Lori Klein, SB 1433 is set for a hearing in the Senate Committee on Border Security, Federalism and States Sovereignty this week.

If they're stuck recognizing federal laws, legislators want to keep the feds on a tight leash. HB 2077 would require that federal regulators and investigators register with county sheriffs and pay fees that the sheriff imposes. The bill, which passed out of the House Government Committee last week, would also require sheriffs to alert the targets of investigations that the federal government was snooping around; any fine or penalty that resulted from the investigations would be claimed by the state rather than by the federal government.

HB 2077 was headed for a hearing this week in the House Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee.

Sen. Sylvia Allen—who became a YouTube sensation two years ago after she declared that environmental concerns about uranium mining were overblown, because the Earth "has been around for 6,000 years, long before we had any environmental laws, and somehow it hasn't been done away with"—is zeroing in on federal environmental regs. Her "Freedom to Breathe Act" would give the state the sole authority to regulate greenhouse gases—and attempts to force federal regulations of greenhouse gases would be considered a violation of Arizonans' civil rights. SB 1393, which Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr has dubbed the "License to Pollute Act," passed out of the Senate Committee on Border Security, Federalism and States Sovereignty last week.

Sen. Al Melvin is continuing his push for more nuclear power in Arizona. SB 1545 declares that uranium mined and enriched in Arizona is not subject to federal regulation; the bill is set for a hearing this week in the Senate Commerce and Energy Committee.

Also up for a hearing in Senate Commerce and Energy Committee: Melvin's SB 1548, which would create a Nuclear Recycling Public School Fund. Under the legislation, the federal government would pay to build a nuclear-recycling facility, which would be run by the feds, the state and a private entity. The feds would pay the state to recycle the nuclear fuel, with the proceeds going to a fund that would pay for schools, reducing the need for education dollars in the state's general fund.

A package of bills that would challenge the birthright-citizenship rights established in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution stalled last week when Sen. Ron Gould couldn't get enough votes to pass them in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bills have since been reassigned to the Senate Appropriations Committee, but a hearing on them was cancelled earlier this week.

A similar pair of bills is awaiting a call to action in the House of Representatives.

Speaking of birth certificates: The birthers hit a bit of a bump this week in the Senate as SB 1526—which would have required presidential candidates to file an orginal long-form birth certificate and backup documentation to prove United States citizenship—failed to get out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But a similar bill, HB 2544, is alive in the House of Representatives. It would require presidential candidates to file an "original long-form birth certificate that includes the date and place of birth, the names of the hospital and the attending physician and the signatures of witnesses in attendance."

Sen. Frank Antenori, who is one of the co-sponsors, says lawmakers are reworking the bill with Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who had numerous concerns.

"It's just a basic vetting of the candidate," Antenori says. "I keep telling everybody it's not about the president. I blame him for creating this hysteria. I believe the guy is a U.S. citizen. ... But the way he managed that conspiracy theory, he just added to the speculation and added to the hysteria and added to the paranoia."

While GOP lawmakers bristle at federal regulation, they are eagerly examining ways to limit the powers of counties, cities and towns.

Antenori dismisses critics who see a contradiction between railing against the feds and asserting more authority over local jurisdictions.

"That's different," Antenori says. "Local control is a concept that everyone tries to respect to a degree, but when it comes down to it, cities are still political subdivisions of the state and are given their authority through the state Constitution by the Legislature. It's cut and dry. ... Cities are not sovereign. Counties are not sovereign. States are sovereign. I'm tired of hearing that argument. ... It's a nice little deception that's been created out there in the media. The reality is: If you have an entity in this state, whether it's a city or a county that is doing something that harms the state or harms the economy or people's liberties or freedoms, the state Legislature has a duty to step in."

In conjunction with the anti-government Goldwater Institute, Antenori is stepping in with a number of bills that would hamstring cities. SB 1345 sets limits on the number of employees a city can hire based on a percentage of the city's population, and limits city pay based on average salaries of city residents.

Antenori is also pushing legislation that would require city governments to put every service it provides out to bid, with the exception of the police and fire departments, the judiciary, prosecutors and tax collectors. If a city did not accept a bid, it would have to publish its costs compared to the private contractor's bid and provide a written explanation as to why the service was not outsourced.

If SB 1322 were to become law, private contractors could take control of Tucson Water, local parks, swimming pools, garbage collection, landfill management and building inspectors.

"If it's available in the private sector, then the city should take a serious look without other influences—just purely on a fiscal approach on whether it can be done for less by somebody in the private sector," says Antenori. "The beneficiary of this is the small-business community, because a lot of those services can be done by small businesses for a fraction of the cost, because they don't have the high overhead that a lot of these cities have."

Antenori explains that his proposal, which would apply to cities with populations of more than 200,000, would help bloated municipalities shed employees who have generous compensation packages for doing jobs that can be done more cheaply by businesses with an eye on the bottom line.

"In the end, the taxpayers deserve to see if there's a cheaper, more-efficient way of providing certain services," says Antenori, who is unsympathetic to special-interest civil-service unions who fret about layoffs.

"It's not about all the city workers," he says. "It's not about them. The city's job isn't to be an employment factory for government civil service. It's to provide certain services to the citizens at the most cost-effective and efficient way that the taxpayers can get."

Both SB 1322 and SB 1345 passed the Senate Government Reform Committee last week.

Antenori is also championing several measures—SCR 1019, SCR 1026, SB 1408 and SB 1231—that seek to lock the state into its current recession-level budget, either through a state law or a constitutional amendment. The bills, which passed through the Senate Appropriations Committee last week, use a variety of formulas to limit the growth of future spending, primarily based on population growth and inflation. Supporters say the limits would keep the state from getting into future financial trouble; critics argue that locking in today's spending levels means that programs and agencies that have seen deep cuts—from state parks and universities to day-care subsidies and transplant programs—would be permanently curtailed.

Lawmakers want to continue the trend of loosening Arizona's gun laws. SB 1201 is an omnibus gun measure that would allow people to carry guns in public buildings such as the Capitol, and at community festivals. People who believed their rights had been violated by a government employee who prevented them from carrying a gun into a public gathering could sue a municipality for damages. It would also make it more difficult for prosecutors to charge people for irresponsibly discharging firearms in city limits.

The bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, although lawmakers did strip out a provision that would have allowed people who won damages as a result of having their gun rights violated to seize cars from local elected officials.

SB 1467, which would allow anyone with a concealed-weapons permit to carry a gun on school campuses, passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.

State Rep. Steve Farley says the gun bills "would be a problem any year, but particularly this year—I think it's a slap in the face of a lot of us in Southern Arizona in particular. ... This idea that we're all safer when we're all armed and shooting back is something that law enforcement doesn't agree with."

With the support of the family of Gabe Zimmerman, the aide to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who was killed in the Jan. 8 shooting massacre, Farley has introduced HB 2711, to block the sale of extended clips for handguns like the one allegedly used by Jared Loughner when he opened fire in the Safeway parking lot.

"It seemed like a pretty clear, common-sense thing we could do, because they were banned from 1994 to 2004, and it's clear from talking to the people who took down Loughner that the only time they were able to do that was when he paused to reload," Farley says.


Among the other bills we'll be following

• House Speaker Kirk Adams has taken aim at public-pension programs with HB 2726, a package that eliminates a special pension program for elected officials and puts them in the same pension program as state employees; eliminates a program that allows state employees to take early retirement; requires employees to contribute more dollars to their retirement plan; and penalizes government for rehiring retired employees who are collecting a pension.

Adams says the pensions represent a tremendous fiscal liability for the state and require reform in order to keep them solvent.

Adams himself opted out of the Elected Officials Retirement Plan before unveiling his bill.

"It didn't come as a surprise to me that a plan designed by politicians for politicians happens to be the most generous and beneficial," Adams says. "I felt like if I was going to tackle pension reform, it was important to lead by example and withdraw myself from the system."

HB 2726 is up for a hearing in the House Employment and Regulatory Affairs Committee this week.

• Southern Arizona Republicans have banded together to support SB 1171, which would allow the town of Marana to take control of a sewer plant that it has been trying to wrest from Pima County for years. Marana recently lost a legal battle over control of the plant.

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry says the new law could fragment sewer systems across the region and the state, resulting in less efficiency and higher bills.

But Vic Williams, a Republican who represents the northwest side, says the bill "may need some work, but I believe the monopoly enjoyed by Pima County ... needs to be broken. ... Having Chuck Huckelberry and the Pima County Board of Supervisors controlling wastewater treatment for the million people here in Southern Arizona is too politically charged and not equitable for other players in the region."

The bill passed the Senate last week with 23 votes and is headed for the House of Representatives.

• SB 1246 includes a number of new regulations to restrict access to abortion. It would require women to sign a form if they choose not to hear the heartbeat of the fetus before being allowed to have an abortion; allows grandparents and fathers to sue if a pregnancy is terminated without following new strict rules; limits the use of abortion pills; prohibits abortions via telemedicine; and includes other restrictions. The legislation passed out of the Senate Healthcare and Medical Liability Reform Committee last week.

• Rep. Steve Farley has reduced a proposed 300 percent tax on medical marijuana down to 100 percent, with proceeds dedicated to restoring transplant programs and supporting other health-care programs. HB 2557 still stalled last week in the House Ways and Means Committee.

"As long as it's something the Republicans are interesting in exploring, I think it's my duty to put that up as an idea," says Farley, who estimates the tax could raise $600 million a year. "They're not exploring some of the more rational ways to bring funds in, and they're just looking at more cuts."

• Rep. Matt Heinz has had better luck working with Republican Rep. Amanda Reeve on a bill to ban pot substitutes such as "Spice." The Senate approved HB 2167 last week, sending it to Gov. Jan Brewer.

• Sen. Al Melvin wants to block texting while driving. SB 1538 would establish a $50 penalty for texting while driving; a texter who caused an accident could see that rise to $200.

• The state's Clean Elections program, which gives money to candidates for state office, has a big legal problem, given that a federal judge has struck down a portion of the law that provides participating candidates with additional funds if they run against a big-spending traditional candidate.

Rep. David Gowan of Sierra Vista—a Republican who has pushed for more spending cuts in state programs—has proposed HB 2724, which would give candidates participating in Clean Elections more money in campaigns against traditional candidates who exceed spending limits. To sweeten the deal for candidates who don't use Clean Elections, the bill also raises the limits on private campaign contributions from between $390 and $488 to $2,000.

Meanwhile, SCR 1025 seeks to pretty much scrap the Clean Elections system by asking voters to amend the state Constitution to ban the use of public dollars on campaigns. SCR 1025 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

• Rep. Jim Weiers is hoping to resurrect the payday-loan industry that voters decided not to save in 2008. HB 2550, which creates a new form of short-term, high-fee loans, has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

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