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THE END IS NEAR?

In the spring, a legislature's fancy turns to thoughts of getting the hell out of the Capitol. Only one thing stands in their way: a budget deal.

Over the last couple of weeks, optimistic that a budget deal is in the works, lawmakers have been running load after load of legislative laundry through the ol' rinse-and-spin cycle to make sure everything will be pressed and folded before Sine Die.

They've been fooling with limits on medical malpractice testimony, restrictions on meth-friendly cold medicines and--get this--a wackadoodle notion to take foreign nationals who are locked up here in the state and ship 'em down to a new prison in Mexico. Now that's what we call outsourcing!

What will reach Napolitano's desk? What will get her signature? The suspense is killing us!

Well, not really. But bills are dying off, even if some won't stay dead. One that looks finished this session: the school voucher bill that sent shockwaves throughout the state when it passed the Senate. What few pundits realized was that the House (in some ways, anyhow) is the more liberal chamber this year. Opposition from some House Republicans, including the Southern Arizona posse, sidelined that plan, at least as of press time.

We were under the impression that Cox Cable's effort to torpedo public-access TV here in Tucson was dead, too, after it failed in the House last week. The cable company's legislation would cut the taxes that the city collects, as well as limit the number of government, education and public-access channels it would be obligated to offer.

But a late-breaking rumor out of the Capitol suggests it may be resurrected via extraordinary measures: a special regrouping of the Federal Mandates and Property Rights Committee. Funny thing about that bill, given that it's a tax issue: It keeps dodging the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Southern Arizona's Steve Huffman.

Speaking of extra-special interest legislation: You gotta love Clear Channel's Hail Mary to block Tucson City Attorney Mike Rankin's impending enforcement action against roughly 175 billboards that have been ID'ed as violating some kind of city code. That's almost half of Clear Channel's inventory in the city limits, so the billboard gang is putting everything on the line to preserve its right to dangle its ugly erections in our faces as we drive around town.

Clear Channel has fought in court and the statehouse to neuter the city's regulatory powers, but the city continues to win, even though it takes time and money. This latest legislation would force the city to hand out permits if none could be found (as is often the case, mostly because plenty of billboards went up without 'em in the first place). It also includes all sorts of taxpayer handouts if violating billboards actually come down. This particularly wretched bill passed the House of Representatives on a 32-24 vote.

Another one that slipped through the House on a 36-22 vote last week was Senate Bill 1477, which prohibits governments from requiring that certain houses within subdivisions be sold for under the market value to allow lower-income families an opportunity to buy a home that would be otherwise beyond their reach.

While Pima County hasn't tried to impose such "inclusionary zoning" here, it was able to use the threat of such a proposal to bring the development community to the table on the idea of a new fee on home sales that would go into a pot of money to help low-income homebuyers. Without the stick, the Growth Lobby may find it has no appetite for the carrot.

The House voted overwhelmingly to stiffen penalties for spousal rape. Only five lawmakers voted against it, including East Valley Republicans Russell Pearce and Andy Biggs, as well as ...Tucson's lib Democrat, Ted Downing? Hey, that's weird.

Napolitano has been putting her veto stamp to use, rejecting legislation including:

· A proposal to allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for drugs that could prevent or abort pregnancies. "Pharmacies and other health care service providers have no right to interfere with the lawful personal medical decisions made by patients and their doctors," Napolitano said.

· A bill that would have forced judges to consider "marital misconduct" in divorce proceedings. Said Napolitano: "In addition to burdening the judiciary, these heart-wrenching cases cost the parties tens of thousands of additional dollars in attorneys' fees and prolong the often agonizing process of divorce for the litigants and their children. ... Arizona made a wise decision to move to no-fault divorce in the 1970s, and I see no basis for moving our law backwards 30 years."


HEMI HEAD

Pima County Supervisor Ann Day has a sweet new ride: A gleaming white Dodge Durango SLT with a 5.7-liter Hemi that provides 335 horsepower and gets 14 miles to the gallon in the city. List is $37,835 with options, but the county got it for $26,694, because it buys in bulk. Day needs this kind of power behind the wheel to:

  • Get where Don Diamond tells her to get.
  • Get where Board Chair Sharon Bronson, a Democrat, tells her to get.
  • Get where Pima Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry tells her to get.
  • Get away from Catalina voters.
  • Get away from reporters.
  • Blaze new trails, because the county's 1997 road bond projects lag and--in her district--far exceed their budgets.
  • Impress husband Lloyd Fernandez.
  • Take sister, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, for a quick, really quick, spin around the ranch.
  • Look cool while running into curbs, and ruining the alignment, in the county garage.
  • Get a spot in a Dodge commercial, squeaking: "Yeah, it's got a Hemi."
Day is paid $67,800 in annual salary, plus health and retirement benefits. And gas for the Durango is no problem. It's all on you, the taxpayer.


SALUTING THE PRIME MINISTER'S MOM

Condolences to the family and friends of Jean Eileen Huckelberry, the gracious and smart mother of Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. A native of Clarksburg, Ill., Mrs. Huckelberry died April 8. She was 80. She and Robert Huckelberry, her high school sweetheart and husband of more than 46 years, moved out west in 1947 to escape the oppressive dampness that didn't give her much of a chance to breathe. Their wisdom to heed the advice of a doctor back home was confirmed as soon as they spent a night in Lordsburg or Deming, one of those middle-of-nowhere New Mexico towns. It was dry. They settled in Flowing Wells and raised Julie and Chuck.

That Chuck Huckelberry has succeeded while remaining so grounded in a 30-year career with the county, including 13 as top dog, is a credit to his wonderfully unpretentious and clear-thinking mother and father. Robert Huckelberry had a long career with Shamrock Dairy. He was a milkman and volunteer board member on the Flowing Wells Fire District.

Chuck Huckelberry, a prolific writer of astonishingly clear (for a bureaucrat) memos, whole books on roads and open space, and his signature Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, had plenty of help. As his father noted last week, young Huck struggled a bit with Freshman English. He'd return with his papers, which his mother would promptly and efficiently mark up. Huck made the changes. He--or his mother--made an A in the class.


AND CLINTON IS STILL PRESIDENT?

An otherwise on-the-mark column by Billie Stanton in the Tucson Citizen April 12 has us saying, "What the frack?" and workers at the U.S. Senate changing nameplates again. Stanton appropriately ripped the political thieves and allies of U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Dogpatch, Texas) for bilking the Tigua tribe out of $4.2 million that the tribe thought would help it secure its ability to keep its casino operations in El Paso. The money, collected by lobbyists and DeLay pals Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, instead went to fund the opposition, and the Tigua casino was shuttered.

Stanton first gave too much credit to Jon Kamman, a reporter at the Citizen's big brother Gannett paper, the Arizona Republic. Kamman, who as managing editor of the Arizona Daily Star in the early 1980s guided Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the University of Arizona football and athletic department scandal, deserves some credit for reporting on the Tigua robbery. He particularly has kept a light on the biggest buffoon in Congress, J.D. Hayworth, an Arizona Republican.

But Kamman, fondly remembered in Tucson for the rope tricks he performed in the newsroom during Los Vaqueros Rodeo week, hardly broke the Tigua stories. Credit there belongs to The Washington Post and Frontline of PBS. Kamman has thankfully put focus on Hayworth for, among other things, using tribe/Abramoff sports arena skyboxes for fundraising that Hayworth did not report on financial disclosures.

Stanton also noted with weird, back-from-the-political-grave optimism that these hijackers would be called to account by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that, she wrote last week, is headed by Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado. Stanton returned to Tucson from a long stint at the Denver Post. Nighthorse Campbell, a Democrat-turned Republican, left office at the end of 2004. Ken Salazar, a Democrat who was Colorado's attorney general, defeated the vile Peter Coors last November and succeeded Nighthorse Campbell, who was slightly bedeviled by an ethics probe of an office aide.


GOING STRAIGHT

Not all women who get out of jail jump right into spring planting and a reality TV show deal. It's often a tough transition, especially if you don't have much support.

The Inside Out Project hopes to provide some of that support, starting with a confab called Women and Incarceration: Community Solutions from the Inside Out. The conference, which includes presentations on barriers to healthcare, housing and employment, runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. this Saturday, April 23, at the UA Student Union.

The keynote speaker will be Dora Schriro, director of the Arizona Department of Corrections.

Registration is $25. Wanna know more? 626-8968.

More by Jim Nintzel

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