The most conservative Legislature in Arizona's history has one more session to complete its agenda.
Conservatives have made major inroads in recent years: They've reduced "dependency" on government—by doing things like eliminating KidsCare, which provided health insurance to children in families earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. They've taken away health-insurance options for childless adults who earn more than one-third of the federal poverty level, and parents who earn more than 75 percent of the federal poverty level. They've limited the amount of time that needy families can qualify for aid, and refused to accept federal dollars to help the long-term unemployed.
They've decimated programs designed to help at-risk families avoid problems with child or drug abuse. They've swiped money designed to help state parks, do road construction and repair, invest in science and biotech jobs, and bolster public transportation.
And to ensure that the state won't find itself with enough revenue to restore many of these programs, they passed corporate tax cuts that are being phased in over the next few years. So as the economy begins to rebound, the state is sure to face more fiscal problems.
Republican lawmakers have pushed through laws in recent years that have severely restricted abortions; Planned Parenthood of Arizona, which provides most of the abortion services in the state, has had to stop offering both surgical and medically induced abortions in clinics in Yuma, Flagstaff and Prescott, forcing women in rural Arizona to spend at least two days in Pima County or Maricopa County if they want to terminate a pregnancy. Lawmakers have created barriers to prevent gay couples from adopting children. They've expanded tax credits for private and religious schools. They've loosened gun laws while cracking down on illegal immigration.
But conservative activists recognize that they may not have this kind of grip on the Legislature forever. After this year, the new legislative maps may still ensure Republican dominance, but it's unlikely that the GOP will hold a two-thirds majority in both chambers.
So this session represents the best chance to lock the activists' agenda in place. The only thing that might stop them is time—many lawmakers want to wrap up this session as soon as possible so they can get on the campaign trail.
This week, the Tucson Weekly is relaunching our online Blogislature project to follow many of the bills that lawmakers are proposing. Here's our first set of bills to watch, but stay tuned: We're sure to be adding more.
You can expect something big on the education front: Gov. Brewer has promised a major reform package that will mostly likely put a lot of focus on undermining traditional public schools (which have been hit hard by budget cuts already and have been kept afloat thanks to federal stimulus assistance that's soon going away) while providing more support for charter and private schools. The details have yet to emerge.
In the meantime, we've seen a series of other education-related bills, such as Tucson Rep. Terri Proud's bill to force schools to offer an elective class on the Bible and its influence on Western culture.
Proud sees the Bible as the most cited and influential text in the English language, so she wants teachers to know they no longer have to live in fear of being sued by godless, liberal organizations if they use the book in their classrooms. HB 2563 passed the House Education Committee last week and is off to a full vote in the House of Representatives. That's despite objections by Democrats and the American Civil Liberties Union that it opens up a can of worms about whether schools should also offer courses in the Torah, the Book of Mormon or the Quran.
Proud said those books aren't the same as the Bible.
"How does the Quran affect our culture?" Proud asked. "How has it built our society? And even if you look at societies that have built their foundation on the Quran, look how primitive they still are based on that. There's no art; there's no ... I mean, it's still pretty oppressive."
Republicans also want to include one yearlong high school class on the history of the constitutions of the United States and Arizona, and the arguments presented in the Federalist Papers. A bill also would throw in a semester of studying the free-enterprise system and a course in personal financial literacy—all of which students would be required to pass before graduating. The bill, HB 2041, has yet to get a committee hearing.
A small bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to add an hour to the school day with HB 2138, but the bill doesn't include any money to pay for that additional hour and probably won't get far.
Parents may start replacing teachers in the classroom if HB 2145 is signed into law. The bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Macario Saldate of Tucson, would require parents of K-12 students to volunteer for 30 hours of in-class time per year.
Democrats are trying to repeal the law that banned the Tucson Unified School District's Mexican-American studies classes with HB 2654, but the bill is unlikely to go anywhere.
"I'm not sure why the state needs to use its heavy hand to boss around the Tucson school district when there is an elected board of education: TUSD," said Rep. Daniel Patterson, who is a co-sponsor of the bill. "This really should be their decision."
Sen. Al Melvin thinks Arizona should have a state poet laureate, so he's sponsored SB 1348, which has yet to make much progress at the Legislature.
Melvin isn't a poet himself, but said he's "a big fan of the written and spoken language of English and measures that will promote that."
On the higher-education front, a bunch of Republican lawmakers are evidently unhappy that some college students don't pay anything out of pocket for college, because scholarships cover the cost of their education. So they've sponsored HB 2675, which requires every student to pay at least $2,000 toward their college education every year. The bill specifically states that a "student may not use any other source of public or private funding, including grants, gifts, scholarships or tuition benefits or any other types of funding administered by or through a university or an affiliate of a university, to reduce or eliminate that student's contribution." So if you're a returning vet planning on using the GI Bill to go back to school, you're gonna have to shell out. (There is an exception to the legislation, sports fans: Student athletes are not bound by the requirement. Go, Cats! Students with full-ride academic scholarships would also be exempted.)
The national battle over public unions that has been front and center in states like Wisconsin has finally come to Arizona, although we've yet to see if it will create the same kind of public backlash.
Last week, Republican lawmakers passed a package of bills through the Senate Government Reform Committee that was developed with the help of the Goldwater Institute and is designed to cripple public unions. The strongest of the provisions in SB 1485 stabs at the heart of public unions by stopping a state agency or political subdivision from recognizing any union as a bargaining agent.
Other bills are designed to financially cripple public unions by making members renew their union payroll deductions each year, or by prohibiting the deductions altogether. One clarifies that public employers can't pay employees for any union activity.
Supporters, such as committee chairman and bill-package sponsor Republican Sen. Rick Murphy of Glendale, argue that eliminating public-employee unions would allow the state to manage its employees better, and would put the budget on a sustainable path.
"There needs to be a better balance," Murphy said. "I think there is a problem when you have folks who choose to take up the mantle of public servant and then group up together and use leverage on the people who they claim to serve, and (who) they do serve."
Although the Legislative Council anticipates no fiscal impact from the bills, the Goldwater Institute told lawmakers that public-union employees are paid on average 44 percent more than private-sector employees, and the state could save as much as $550 million per year by eliminating public collective bargaining altogether.
The changes are opposed by the Arizona Education Association, the Professional Firefighters of Arizona, the Fraternal Order of Police and other public unions that would be affected.
Democrats say the measures encroach on free speech, look to solve problems that don't exist, and go further than any other state legislation has previously gone.
Wisconsin passed similar laws in 2011, and six state senators faced recall later that year. Two lost their seats, and Gov. Scott Walker faces a recall election this year.
"If you look at these four bills in totality, what you're seeing is an organized effort to eliminate organized labor," said Democratic Sen. Steve Gallardo. "I believe that the backlash of this type of legislation will be felt dearly in the 2012 election."
Before he was recalled last year, state Sen. Russell Pearce suffered a setback in his push for immigration bills when the business community finally put pressure on a group of Republican lawmakers to pipe down on the issue.
Nonetheless, some lawmakers are continuing Pearce's push.
Senate Republicans are behind a pair of immigration bills designed to find out how much stress the illegal-immigrant population is putting on state systems, and what can be done about it.
SB 1444 would require K-12 schools to check and collect data on students' immigration status. The Department of Education would have to submit a report to the governor and lawmakers each year highlighting the total cost of educating students who can't prove they are in the country legally, and any adverse effects those students have on the educational system.
SB 1445 would require hospitals to check the citizenship status of any person admitted to a hospital who cannot provide valid health-insurance information. If someone at the hospital can't determine whether the patient is in the U.S. legally, the hospital would have to report the patient to a local federal immigration office or a local law-enforcement agency.
The bill would also require hospitals to report on the number and cost of treating noncitizens and send it to the governor and Legislature.
Both bills were introduced last year, but failed to get approval from the full Senate.
Democratic Rep. Matt Heinz, who is a physician at Tucson Medical Center and who just announced he's running in the Congressional District 8 special election to replace Gabrielle Giffords, said SB 1445 is an unfunded mandate that hurts hospitals and goes against the doctor's oath.
"Our job is to focus on the medical care patients need," Heinz said. "We are not immigration administrators. That is not our job; that is not our role; and it shouldn't be the role of the hospital."
Rep. Peggy Judd of Cochise County is setting her sights on the border with House Concurrent Memorial 2005, a postcard to Washington, D.C., that asks Customs and Border Protection to put all Border Patrol agents on the border itself, rather than having them arrest immigrants who have entered the state on its highways. The measure sailed through the Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee on a 6-3 vote on Jan. 25.
State Rep. David Gowan said during the hearing that he's tired of the inconvenience of having to stop at highway checkpoints to confirm that he's a U.S. citizen.
"Asking about our citizenship inside America is what perturbs me," said Gowan, who has been a vocal supporter of SB 1070, which requires police to inquire about immigration status if they suspect someone is in the country illegally.
Judd's HB 2586, which was held up in the same committee hearing, would require the Arizona Department of Homeland Security director to monitor and disseminate to the public any information warning about dangerous conditions in the Arizona-Mexico border area via email or social media. So get ready to like the state Department of Homeland Security on Facebook if you want updates.
Republican lawmakers have pushed through laws in recent years that have severely restricted abortion services, which are now only available in Tucson and Maricopa County. The Legislature has also managed to restrict the use of medically induced abortions by requiring them to be done in the same facilities required for surgical abortions, and preventing nurses from consulting with patients and distributing the drug that induces abortion.
This year, Rep. Steve Smith has introduced SB 1494, which would create a 72-hour waiting period for abortion services. It also defines life as beginning at conception, which could set up a court fight that might ultimately lead to a U.S. Supreme Court battle over Roe v. Wade. The bill is awaiting a hearing in committee.
Gov. Brewer and Republican lawmakers are still upset that the Arizona Supreme Court put a stop to their efforts to take control of the redistricting process last year.
House Speaker Andy Tobin has introduced a package of bills to change the Independent Redistricting Commission. House Concurrent Resolution 2051 would expand the commission to 12 members and allow legislative leaders to appoint almost anyone they want, while HCR 2052 and HCR 2053 would set a special election to replace the maps drawn up by the Independent Redistricting Commission with a new map drawn up by Tobin and his political allies behind closed doors.
Tobin's proposal—which has yet to be scheduled for a committee hearing—appears half-baked for a number of reasons. He's hoping for a May 15 election on the new maps, which would require almost-immediate action to give election officials enough time to prepare the ballot. And if the new lines were approved by voters, candidates would have only weeks to get their signatures together for the 2012 election.
The cost of the special election that Tobin wants: an estimated $8 million.
Arizona already has some of the most relaxed gun laws in the United States, but our firearm-loving legislators are prepared to keep fighting for the Second Amendment.
In the past few years, the state of Arizona has allowed concealed weapons to be carried without any type of permit or training, and allowed guns in bars and nearly everywhere else.
But Gov. Brewer vetoed last year's attempts to allow nearly anyone to walk onto a community college or university campus with a loaded gun. Brewer cited technical problems and clarity issues with the bills rather than objecting to the idea outright, so lawmakers are taking another shot.
HB 2254 would allow community college and university faculty members with concealed-weapons permits to pack heat on campus.
SB 1474 would take it a step further, saying anyone with a concealed-weapon permit can be strapped on campus, though schools would be allowed to ban guns inside buildings if they put up signs and paid for a place to securely store guns. Neither bill has had a committee hearing.
The Democrats have a few gun bills of their own, though they have almost no chance of even getting a committee hearing.
Rep. Saldate of Tucson's southside wants to stop people convicted of domestic violence from owning guns via HB 2144.
State Sen. Steve Gallardo's SB 1174 would require purchasers to undergo instant background checks before purchasing a firearm at gun shows, which are not bound by the current law that requires checks at gun shops.
Rep. Daniel Patterson of Tucson wants to kill the great American tradition of night hunting with HB 2539.
"The Game and Fish Commission made what I think, and I say this as a hunter, was a very bad decision this fall to allow a nighttime hunting season for mountain lions," Patterson said, noting that it is a public-safety issue, especially near the border.
Lawmakers have proposed a number of tweaks to the rules of the road.
A bipartisan alliance to stop texting while driving has sprung up once again this year, with Republican Vic Williams, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, running HB 2321.
"It's not perfect, but the first DUI laws weren't perfect, either," he said. "We have a responsibility to the public to make sure the roads are as safe as possible."
Harley-riding Republican Rep. Jerry Weiers has introduced HB 2077 to ensure that all Arizonans can ride their hogs down the middle of two lanes of traffic.
But the big news is a plan to actually use the Arizona Lottery money for its proposed purpose: funding the state's Local Transportation Assistance Fund.
One big bill to help fund road construction is HB 2208, which has bipartisan support. The bill would make sure the state's transportation fund, which goes to cities and towns for assistance in building and maintaining roads, follows a prescribed formula so lawmakers can't sweep it for other purposes. It would also force the Legislature to pay the fund $20 million per year.
Bike-pedaling Democratic Rep. Patterson of Tucson wants to make sure Tucson police officers aren't unnecessarily hassling bike-riders when they hit the brakes for a stop sign. His HB 2211 would allow riders older than 16 to roll through stop signs like they're yield signs, though it would fault them if an accident happened.
He said he hopes the bill will help Tucson get the platinum rating from the League of American Bicyclists, and that it's needed because Tucson police are unfairly ticketing bikers.
"It's a cash register," he said. "It's ridiculous. And Tucson seems to be the only jurisdiction in the state that's ticketing bicyclists for rolling through stop signs in a way where there's no danger."
Republican lawmakers have already stripped state-subsidized health care from hundreds of thousands of Arizonans, but they are finding new ways to further embarrass and stigmatize those who are down on their luck.
Under HB 2582, co-sponsored by Reps. Proud and Judd, and Sen. Frank Antenori, anyone who gets public assistance, such as food stamps, would have to carry a card that would be "safety orange" in color and include the words, in large black print, "GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE CARD." The bill stalled in the Health and Human Services Committee earlier this month.
Under a proposal by Sen. Steve Smith, the state would treat people who have lost their jobs during the recession like convicted junkies.
SB 1495 would require people receiving unemployment insurance to take and pay for a drug test. If they failed, they would lose assistance for a month and have to pass the tests monthly for six months to keep the assistance. The bill has not yet had a hearing.
Rep. Eddie Farnsworth's HB 2383 would still allow K-12 schools to require immunization, but he'd prohibit universities from blocking students who have not been immunized. The bill has passed through two House committees and is awaiting a vote of the full House.
House Democrats are trying to put a lock on private prisons with a package of bills that would regulate, limit, audit and study Arizona's booming industry.
HB 2202 would effectively freeze the private-prison industry in Arizona by prohibiting it from building new facilities and stopping existing ones from expanding or taking more prisoners.
Since that's not likely to go anywhere, Democrats have crafted a few other bills, including:
• HB 2203, which makes private prisons comply with state prison open-records laws;
• HB 2204, which gives the Department of Corrections more power over private prisons and limits private prisons to housing prisoners that are medium-security risks or lower;
• HB 2205, which requires the state auditor general to present a special audit at the end of 2012 to evaluate how the state Department of Corrections is monitoring private prisons, and what the state can do better; and
• HB 2206, which would outlaw out-of-state prisoners in Arizona private prisons.
None of those bills has had a hearing in the Republican-dominated Legislature, but a bill allowing pregnant prisoners to give birth without shackles has some bipartisan support.
HB 2528 states that "under no circumstances shall leg or waist restraints be used on any prisoner or detainee who is in labor or delivery."
The bill also goes a step further, saying pregnant prisoners generally shouldn't be shackled unless a corrections officer determines that it's necessary. Doctors would get veto power.
The same bill has come up in the past two years and failed to get a committee hearing. It's still awaiting a hearing this session.