If the first public hearing on Medicaid expansion is any indication, the debate is only going to get more uncomfortable for those on the religious right who oppose Governor Brewer’s plan.
While Brewer has already been trying to court her faith-conscious foes by using pro-life rhetoric in championing her plan, testimony by community members appealing to this crowd came out more as a God-based guilt trip.
Republicans are already trying to distance themselves from the one biblical barb that was on their side during the lengthy House Appropriations Committee hearing as the remark gains national attention.
“Jesus had Judas and Republicans have Gov. Brewer,” said Maricopa County Republican Chairman A.J. LaFaro.
House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Prescott Valley, tweeted that the comment was inappropriate and called for LaFaro’s resignation and Rep. Rick Gray, R-Sun City, tweeted that LaFaro doesn’t speak for him.
Glen Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry (who is a Republican and for the expansion), blogged that LaFaro “needs to be consigned to the kiddie table.”
While lawmakers attempted to steer conversations away from morality and back to policy it didn’t stop religion from cropping up throughout the hearing.
One woman's testimony was almost quite literally “I was blind but now I see.” A young woman testified that AHCCCS saved her eyes from a rare disease and if she gets kicked off the program in December she may go blind.
Rev. Jarrett Maupin flat out asked the GOP, “Who’s on the Lord’s side?”
“I’m not sure we can prescribe a position to God since he has not signed in,” Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, joked.
Gray said that he was uncomfortable with Maupin’s assertions and brought up scripture, which turned into an awkward theological dance between him and Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix.
“When we look at what’s right and wrong there isn’t a clear cut ‘this is what God’s word says,’” Gray said. “If we want to go to a scripture we can look at what Paul said, ‘if a man doesn’t work don’t let him eat.’ You’re not supposed to feed them if they don’t work.”
Campbell then questioned if Gray was implying that the expansion of coverage would apply to people who are unemployed and Gray said Campbell was taking things out of context. Gray said he didn’t want to get into a theological debate since that would require taking all scripture into account.
“Your reference was using scripture that was based around a person’s employment status so I can extrapolate that to assume that you’re saying that we’re trying to provide health care coverage with this expansion to people who are unemployed and don’t do anything with their lives,” Campbell said.
Gray then thanked Campbell for questioning him so that he could say that that wasn’t his point at all.
After many testified about the life or death nature of the decision at hand, Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, the committee's vice chairman, cautioned against asking how someone can claim to be religious and be against the expansion.
He said that the point of the hearing wasn’t to answer the question of whether or not it is right to help others, even though that is a Christian goal.
“That is certainly something that all people of faith aspire to, is helping others, but I think there is clearly a distinction between what Jesus did and lobbying Caesar,” Olson said. “The question we have before us is, ‘Is this the appropriate form of government or not?’”
—Bethany Barnes is Arizona-Sonora News Service's Don Bolles Fellow
The referendum to reroute Clean Elections funding to education passed through the Senate Elections Committee (4-3) despite a slightly new tactic from the opposition.
In addition to saying HCR 2026 is sneaky in its roundabout way of asking voters if they want to keep publicly financing campaigns, those against it say it flouts a bargain brokered in the Senate last year.
Todd Lang, executive director of the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission said having to fight the referendum is frustrating since Clean Elections, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Sen. John McComish, R-Phoenix, struck a deal last session that the Legislature would lay off Clean Elections — at least this session.
“If we want to make deals and we want to make agreements and want to resolve conflicts —and I know that’s what legislature is all about — it seems to me that this bill shouldn’t go forward because we did have an agreement that there would be no repeal this session.” Lang said.
While there was an agreement, it wasn’t in writing. It was a handshake deal that went down in the Senate, Lang said, which is why the promise of not touching Clean Elections didn’t come up when the bill went through the House.
Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said he believes senators need to honor their word and not let the bill go forward.
The bill's sponsor, Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, said he wasn’t aware of last session’s bargain and doesn’t think this Legislature should have its hands tied by a previous Legislature.
Everyone who voted for the bill was in the Senate last session except for Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, who was a member of the House at the time.
While the Elections Committee did vote down party lines, the bill saw bipartisan opposition when it passed out of the House with a 31-27 vote.
Boyer said he is anticipating that he will need to put in a lot of elbow grease to get the bill out of the Senate.
Bethany Barnes is Arizona-Sonora News Service's Don Bolles Fellow
After spending months building up public support, Gov. Jan Brewer unveiled her draft legislation to extend Medicaid coverage to Arizonans below 133 percent of the federal poverty line last week.
Brewer has been pushing the expansion of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS, since she delivered her State of the State address in January.
She and her allies—including most of Arizona’s hospitals, a bunch of chambers of commerce and other biz organizations such as the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, and even the Arizona Sheriffs Association—say that the expansion will bring $8 billion from the federal government to Arizona in the first four years.
To make it work, however, Arizona has to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars in matching funds over those four years—which is where a voluntary assessment on hospitals comes in.
The hospitals, with a few exceptions, are willing to pay the assessment because they know that they’ll get back a lot more in return once more of their patients have insurance.
It’s no surprise that hospitals are willing to pony up that money. As AHCCCS Director Tom Betlach explained at a recent town hall in Tucson, hospitals have seen the cost of providing care for uninsured Arizonans double since the Brewer administration froze enrollment in the program for childless adults below 100 percent of the federal poverty line in an effort to balance the state’s budget.
“And if we do nothing, then it will double again,” Betlach warned. “And that will be felt by the consumers, the carriers and the businesses in this state.”
Remember when we told you that Tucson mail was going to hell in hand basket?
Well, Arizona lawmakers are trying to get Congress to do something about it.
House Concurrent Memorial 2007 urges Congress to protest the closure of Cherrybell Mail Processing Center in Tucson, which serves 1.8 million people.
Memorials allow state legislatures to make a statement on something that is outside their jurisdiction.
The resolution passed through the House (35-24) and needs to be heard in the Senate before the end of next week in order to advance.
It’s assigned to Senate Government and Environment Committee, which is chaired by Gail Griffin, R-Herford.
“I think I’m lucky that she’s the chair of the committee because she’s from Cochise County where Fort Huachuca is and I think it negatively affects them too,” said Rep. Andrea Dalessandro, the bill’s sponsor.
Dalessandro said Griffin told her she would hear the bill next week.
The center’s closure stands hurt a large number of Southern Arizonans, Dalessandro said.
“It makes no sense to me to have mail from Nogales come up to Phoenix to go across town in Nogales,” Dalessandro said.
The center serves 23,197 businesses and processes more than 3 million pieces of mail a day, according to the memorial.
Small businesses could be waiting on checks, veterans might have medicine delayed and time-sensitive legal documents could be a problem, Dalessandro said.
It also could make the already sluggish ballot tally time slower.
Arizona gained national attention during the 2012 election because of how long it took to count ballots during the 2012 election. Elections officials have been lobbying this session for ways to get early ballots back sooner.
Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez, objects to the center’s closure because it will cause a “detrimental impact to voters,” according to the memorial.
Dalessandro said she thinks she could have snagged more votes in the House if she hadn’t made a “freshman mistake.” Dalessandro said she wasn’t able to really lobby since she didn’t realize the bill was going to go to a third reading as quickly as it did.
“I’m willing to accept my error,” Dalessandro said. “Hopefully I’ll never make a mistake like that again.”
Simplifying Arizona's sales tax just got a whole lot more complicated.
While lawmakers worked on sealing the deal on HB 2657's most continuous issue, construction tax, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee ran some numbers.
What they came up with varies, by a lot.
The committee ran two scenarios one that mimics the Department of Revenue’s methodology and another scenario that Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, described as more of a “worst-case” situation.
The result is a fiscal note that estimates that the general fund could gain around $19 million or lose $137 million because of the bill.
It’s a level of uncertainty that’s troubling and creates yet another obstacle, Kavanagh said.
The bill relies on three different assumptions, which the committee took into account: how many people are not complying, how much materials cost, and how much retail will increase.
Looking at different possibilities was necessary since the odds of the Department of Revenue's numbers being right are so low, Kavanagh said.
The cities lose at in both scenarios, with the local transaction privilege tax revenue net loss being either $24 million or $61 million.
They would however see a gain in what they get from shared revenue, either $50 million or $102 million, according to the estimates.
There's going to have to be a way to protect the fun, Kavanagh said.
There are lot of options as to how to go about doing that, he said, noting that the more options there are to choose from the longer something will take.
Kavanagh also said he's hoping that cities' issues with auditing will be sorted out before he hears the bill in the House Appropriations Committee, which he chairs.
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, the bill's sponsor, said she and the cities are currently at an impasse when it comes to auditing.
“[Construction] was their big issue before and now they are on to another issue so it makes me wonder if they want to compromise on any of it,” Lesko said
She said she doesn’t like the idea of “deputizing” city auditors into state auditors.
Auditing is an issue for cities since what the Department of Revenue might see as a small amount of money lost could be a big loss for a city.
For Tucson, which does its own auditing, having the state take over all auditing could mean job losses of about 25 people, maybe more, said Andrew Greenhill, assistant to the city manager of Tucson.
In an attempt to compromise, backers of the bill proposed allowing the cities to pay the Department of Revenue for extra auditors for their cities. She said the cities told her that many city auditors used to work for the Department of Revenue and know that it doesn’t pay as much as the city does.
Lesko said she made it quite clear that she isn’t going to hold up the bill because auditors want more pay.
“I said ‘Well, you know what, over 50 or 70 auditors not getting their pay, that’s not going to hold up that bill. That’s not a good excuse to me,” Lesko said.
For an in-depth look at the bill, click here
The controversial election bill that would turn volunteers who return early ballots into felons almost died in committee, but at the last moment a Republican changed her vote, causing several audience members to gasp.
The vote on SB 1003 was split 4-4 in the House Judiciary Committee when the chair, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, asked Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, to change her vote.
While Goodale did change her vote, she said Farnsworth didn’t bully her.
“I listened to Mr. Farnsworth, but the truth is it was a Secretary of State bill, it was a Republican bill so I thought rather than kill the bill we needed to move forward,” Goodale said.
She said she still is concerned about the bill. Anything that adds an obstacle to being able to vote is worrisome, she said. Being from a district with a lot of remote areas, Goodale said she understands that getting to a mailbox isn’t something that is easy for everyone.
Goodale said she received a note from Secretary of State Ken Bennett after changing her vote saying that he would work with her to help alleviate some of her concerns.
The bill has loosened up a bit since being heard in the Senate Elections Committee; now a voter can designate someone to drop off their ballot who isn’t a family member— just not someone who is a volunteer for an organization. The punishment has also gone from being a class 5 felony to a class 6.
Sami Hamed of Tucson testified against the bill, arguing that it would hurt people with disabilities.
Hamed is legally blind, doesn’t drive and votes early. Hamed said he doesn’t like to mail his ballot back because he worries it won’t get there in time. He said he can’t usually drop the ballot at the polls himself because he doesn’t have a car and transit in Tucson is “hit or miss.”
“Don’t hurt people with disabilities like me who want to vote and want to give it to a person who wants to do the right thing whether it’s a third party or not,” Hamed said. “Don’t criminalize them and don’t suppress me as a voter.”
Farnsworth said he appreciated Hamed’s testimony and then used it in his argument against the bill.
“He came from Tucson up to Phoenix but he can’t get on the bus to put a ballot in the mail?” Farnsworth said.
House Democrats argue that the bill is part of an extremist agenda that will suppress the Latino vote since volunteer groups have been a large factor in the increased participation of Latino voters.
Farnsworth said this is a red herring that comes up so often he doesn’t believe anybody pays attention to it anymore.
The bill is trying to solve two issues, according to Jim Drake, assistant secretary of state. The first is to reduce ballot tally time.
Arizona’s slow ballot count drew national attention in the 2012 election. After election day, around 54,000 of Pima County’s remaining ballots were early ballots that were dropped at the polls or arrived in the mail too late for processing.
“Everybody seems to want the results now,” said Karen Osborne, director of Maricopa County Elections, “and in order to do that now we have to have faster turn in of the envelopes.”
The second goal is to prevent potential fraud.
Osborne said two of her staff reported that people came to their doors masquerading as elections officials and trying to pick up ballots.
Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, suggested prosecuting the imposters under the existing statute, which prohibits impersonating elections officials.
Osborne said that this bill would add a deterrent and that the current law hasn’t been meaningful enough to stop the situation.
“I did not hear that the impersonation and fraud that were alluded to in one testimony is so pervasive that we need to do something so drastic that is proposed in the criminalization part of the bill,” said Rep. Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels. “It should be our job to enhance and make it easier for people to exercise their right to vote and I think this is not the way to do it."
Bethany Barnes of Arizona-Sonora News Service brings us the latest on the effort to ban gun buybacks in Arizona:
A bill that would put a stop to city-run gun buybacks passed through the House on a 36-23 vote on March 7, but not without attempts to exclude Pima County from the ban and accusations of gun fetishes.
HB 2455, sponsored by Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, prohibits the government from destroying a firearm unless it can’t be lawfully sold.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, introduced two floor amendments that failed. His first amendment excluded Pima County from the bill. The other amendment allowed for buybacks as long as the city wasn’t funding them.
“What the amendment is really attempting to do is allow governments to get in the business of destroying guns as long as they partner up with a private company,” said Rep. Justin Pierce, R-Mesa.
Gallego argued that having police involved in buyback programs is helpful since they can then check serial numbers to see if a gun was involved in a crime.
Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, questioned this argument, asking if a private company funding a buyback program could hire a police officer to check serial numbers.
Bethany Barnes of Arizona-Sonora News Service brings us the latest on the effort to eliminate funding for Clean Elections:
A bill that would ask voters if they want to defund Clean Elections in favor of education barely passed out of the House Thursday with a 31-27 vote.
Republicans and Democrats argue that HCR 2026 is designed to deceive voters.
“Clean Elections was not voted at a time where it was tied to education funding,” said Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman. “I believe that’s kind of a playbook out of the dirty playbook of sleazy political tricks.”
The bill’s sponsor, Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, said that for him, tying the two together made logical sense because he is passionate about education funding and doesn’t think public money should go to politicians.
Goodale, who chairs the House Education committee, also took issue with throwing money into the “black hole of education.” She said she would rather see the money targeted at something specific.
When the bill went through the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, the committee’s chair, said he didn’t understand what was wrong with asking voters if they want to redirect money during tough economic times.
“When we take it to voters and its in a vacuum we have the other side of the problem, which is we have limited resources and now we are saying, ‘Do you want Clean Elections?’ and we’re not going to consider what the rest of the budget is,” Farnsworth said.
English professor John Melillo gives a multi-media presentation about the downtown New York world of arts and… More