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Kids, Chickens and Armaggedon 

12 things to know about the big issues state lawmakers tackled this year

State lawmakers wrapped up work last week, bringing a close to the second regular session of the state's 51st Legislature.

The 101-day session was marked more by what didn't get accomplished than by what did. While Democrats were generally unhappy with the budget, the Republican lawmakers who control the Legislature had a lot of difficulty getting most of their bills passed—and several that did get passed were slapped down by Gov. Jan Brewer's vetoes.

Here are a dozen things you'll want to know about the legislative session, including the lowdown on education and transportation spending, the fate of the infamous chicken bill and exactly how lawmakers are helping you prepare for electronic Armageddon.

CPS Work Is Unfinished

 

The session started on the heels of news stories that more than 6,500 reports of child abuse and neglect had been ignored by Child Protective Services staffers. The resulting uproar had Brewer announcing in her State of the State speech that she wanted legislation that "abolishes CPS as we know it" in order to create a new Arizona Division of Child Safety and Family Services headed by an agency director who would report directly to the governor. (In fact, Brewer—in a move that may or may not have been entirely legal—went ahead and created the new state agency via executive order without legislative approval at the start of the legislative session.)

Although various stakeholders have been meeting regularly to figure out how the new agency will operate separately from the Department of Economic Security, the details were not ironed out before the session came to an end last week. Brewer is expected to call a special session of the Legislature to finalize the new agency.

We'll see what happens on that front, but there's an underlying problem, according to child-welfare advocates: The state is still not funding the types of programs that help kids avoid neglect and abuse in the first place, such as helping low-income parents pay for day-care programs so they can

keep their kids someplace safe while they work (see "Child Care in Limbo," Page 15) or early-intervention programs that pay social workers to work with families on the edge to avoid trouble with CPS in the first place.

Education Remains Underfunded

While K-12 education funding got a boost, it's still way below what the education community was hoping to get—and that there was any increase at all was partly because the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature was legally required to provide more money to schools.

A push to expand so-called "empowerment scholarships" died in the House of Representatives. While the legislation took various forms in various bills through the session, the basic thrust was to allow a vast expansion of a program that provides public dollars for parents to send their children to private schools.

Efforts to block the state's participation in the Common Core educational standards program fizzled out.

The university system got more money, with ASU receiving an additional $11.5 million, NAU getting $3.1 million and the UA just $2 million. It was particularly galling for UA because school officials had hoped to receive $15 million for research and development—and had tried to make that "big ask" affordable by saving the state $5 million by refinancing its debt.

We'll Still Have Plenty of Potholes

Lawmakers restored a portion of the money they have taken from state transportation funds (known by the budget folks as HURF, or Highway User Revenue Funds, which come mostly from gas taxes and vehicle registration fees). Whenever there's a budget crunch, lawmakers sweep money from HURF and divert it to help pay the salaries of highway patrol officers and other road-related expenses. But as a result, there's less money to send to counties, cities and towns for road repairs. Lawmakers had been sweeping nearly $120 million in HURF revenues in recent years from local communities. This year, $89 million will be diverted, meaning that lawmakers were congratulating themselves for returning $30 million—or about one-fourth of what they've been taking—to local governments.

Abortion Rights Remain Under Fire

Brewer signed into law a bill allowing surprise inspections of abortion clinics. This legislation was the latest effort to harass Arizona abortion providers and followed laws passed in earlier sessions that limited the use of medication abortion and attempted to curtail funding to Planned Parenthood for medical services such as birth control, cancer screenings, STD treatment and the like. Those laws have been blocked by federal judges and a court battle over the surprise inspections is also likely. Still, the new law is a win for the Center for Arizona Policy, a Christian conservative organization that generally gets what it wants from GOP politicians.

Gays and Lesbians Aren't Such Easy Targets Anymore

One big loss for the Center for Arizona Policy this year was the fight over SB 1062, a bill that would have provided a legal defense for those who claimed their religious beliefs gave them a reason to discriminate against gays and lesbians (or anyone else, although gays were the obvious target of the legislation). Republicans lawmakers rushed the bill through both chambers in February, but SB 1062 ignited an unexpected and astonishing firestorm of controversy. The uproar had various groups threatening to boycott the state. And business organizations, worried about the state's reputation (and their bottom lines), urged Brewer to veto the legislation. She did, although the LGBT community shouldn't do much celebrating because gays and lesbians remain an unprotected legal class in Arizona, meaning it remains legal to refuse service to a gay man simply because he is gay or to fire a lesbian simply because she is a lesbian.

Election Law Goes Bye-Bye, at Least For Now

Republican lawmakers repealed an election overhaul they passed in 2013 rather than allow voters to decide its fate in November. The new law would have made it a crime to turn in someone else's early ballot in most instances, made it easier to clear names from the Permanent Early Voter List of people who automatically receive early ballots in the mail, made it harder for third-party candidates to make the ballot and created new roadblocks to putting initiatives on the ballot. A coalition of mostly left-of-center groups collected enough signatures to force a referendum on the law this November. Because GOP lawmakers didn't want the election law to be an issue in this year's election, they chose to repeal it instead. To their credit, however, they did not attempt to pass its provisions in different bills—at least not this year.

No Weed for Veterans

The University of Arizona got federal permission to study the impacts of marijuana on veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, but Republican Sen. Kimberly Yee blocked a House bill that would allow the UA to use fees from the state's medical-marijuana program to fund the study.

The Gun Guys Lose a Few Rounds

While Brewer has signed many bills liberalizing Arizona's generally lax gun laws, she's shown in past sessions that there are limits to her enthusiasm for the Second Amendment—and she showed that again this year when she vetoed three gun bills. One would have allowed guns in public buildings as well as on private property during public events; another would have penalized elected officials who attempted to pass ordinances restricting gun rights that conflicted with state law; and a third would have made it a felony to take someone's gun away with the intent of causing harm.

Gray Wolves Win a Round

Brewer also vetoed legislation that would have allowed ranchers to kill endangered gray wolves that prey on their livestock. Given that such killings are illegal under federal law, Brewer wrote in her veto letter that the proposed legislation "is unnecessary and conflicts with federal law."

Backyard Chickens Lose a Round

A bill that would have blocked local governments from prohibiting the raising of backyard chickens died in the House of Representatives, but not before Rep. Adam Kwasman, an Oro Valley Republican, made an impassioned plea for its passage, telling his colleagues: "I don't know if you know me, but not a lot of girls want to go out with me. The young lady that I'm dating really wants this bill to pass. Guys, come on!" The Yuma Sun's headline on the subsequent story by Howie Fischer of Capitol Media Services was: "Plucky lawmaker unlucky with the chicks urges passage of poultry measure."

Handcuffs Come Off Rio Nuevo Board

Tucson's downtown redevelopment authority had some restrictions lifted via a bill that allows the Rio Nuevo board to spend money on other projects without first moving forward on a hotel deal. Given that downtown revitalization has finally picked up some real momentum and (most of) the current board members appear to be sincere about getting real work done instead of pointlessly battling city government and hamstringing redevelopment efforts, it's probably a step in the right direction.

It Starts With an Earthquake ...

If you're among those who have been wondering how to prepare for the end of the world as we know it, the Legislature is here to help. Brewer signed SB 1476, a little-noticed bill that requires the Arizona Division of Emergency Management to determine "the type and quantities of supplies that each person should possess in preparation for an EMP that might occur over the U.S.," according to a legislative summary of the bill. (An EMP, or electromagnetic pulse, for those of you who aren't doomsday preppers, is defined in the legislation as "high-intensity electromagnetic radiation that is generated by a nuclear blast high above the earth's surface meant to disrupt electronic and electrical systems."

The assessment of how much food, water and medical supplies an Arizonan should have on hand before an EMP goes off will be posted on the Internet, but you'd better check it before the EMP goes off, since there won't be any Web browsing afterward. Surprisingly, the number of firearms and boxes of ammunition needed were not included in the list of vital supplies.

Presumably, the list would also serve useful in the event of deadly virus outbreak, alien invasion, zombie apocalypse or any other Mad Max scenario of your choosing.

As Rep. Bruce Wheeler, a Tucson Democrat, put it: "It's the Legislature. If it's not extremist, it's wacko."

More by Jim Nintzel

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