Monday, January 10, 2022

The Daily Agenda: Today's the Big Day

Posted By and on Mon, Jan 10, 2022 at 8:57 AM

click to enlarge The Daily Agenda: Today's the Big Day
Gov. Doug Ducey says he's looking forward to a long legislative session ahead of his final State of the State address today.
Governors never say (sine) die … We won't have Cyber Ninjas to kick around anymore ... And the beginning of the Age of Holiday Enlightenment.

We’re heading down to the Capitol today to tempt fate with unmasked, anti-vax lawmakers who were recently freed from their individual Plexiglas partitions and basically any other precautions against the surging virus to watch Gov. Doug Ducey deliver his eighth and final State of the State speech.

Most sober assessments of the upcoming legislative session have a common theme: It’s gonna be long and torturous.

The Republic’s conservative columnist Robert Robb, for example, predicts a long session full of “misery and dismay” on several fronts: The outstanding budget-related court cases and excess cash mean budgeting will be a slow-moving nightmare, while the election sideshow and the looming election will interject more stupidity and dysfunction and cause the session to go longer than usual. (He mercifully didn’t even mention all the new lawmakers who have no idea how any of this works.)

“I hear people say that 2022 can’t be as bad as 2021. Please don’t say that. The zeitgeist may regard it as a challenge,” Robb wrote.

But Ducey is in no hurry. As a lame duck governor, today’s speech (and more broadly, this entire year) will serve as his last chance to brag about his accomplishments in the past seven years. Expect to hear a lot about the economy and the contrast to when he took office.

Lawmakers are still fixated on the 2020 elections and the Senate’s shambolic audit and are drafting all sorts of doomed proposals to Make Voting Great Again.

In many respects, it will be a backward-looking session — or as Capitol scribe Howie Fischer would say, a Groundhog Day session.

Even as advocates have stalled his last massive tax cut, Ducey made clear at the annual Chamber of Commerce luncheon that he will use his final year in office attempting to fulfill his first campaign pledge: to reduce state income taxes to as close to zero as possible. (He wouldn’t comment to the Arizona Mirror’s Jeremy Duda about whether he supports lawmakers looking for end-runs around the tax cut referendum.)

And they’re still dealing (or not dealing) with the fallout of voters’ decision in 1980 to institute a cap on education spending and the expected $1.2 billion that could cost schools if lawmakers don’t raise the cap. And while Ducey teased a “special announcement” about education coming in today’s speech, he again wouldn’t comment directly on whether he supports raising the cap.

Meanwhile, Ducey is already discussing the possibility of a special session to revive many of his pro-COVID-19 priorities that were struck down when the Arizona Supreme Court declared lawmakers’ budgeting process unconstitutional, like school mask and vaccine mandate bans.

Even before Opening Day, we’re once again seeing spats among lawmakers over COVID-19 and pregnancy, of all things. Rep. Athena Salman, a Democrat, is due to have a baby this week, and the GOP leaders are requiring her (and her husband, Sen. Juan Mendez) to come into the office to participate remotely.

Republican Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita said Salman would be a great mom, but failed to acknowledge that having a kid during a pandemic peak isn’t quite the same as what she went through. (Pregnancy can lead to COVID-19 complications; the CDC notes that pregnant people face higher risk of severe illness, as do their pregnancies, if they get the disease.)

Rachel made an appointment to get a COVID-19 test at 1 a.m. on Sunday morning at Mesa Community College, thinking it’d be a quiet, quick time to make sure the sniffles weren’t something more.

The line rivaled the lines we waited in to get vaccinated last year — more than 100 cars worked their way through winding lines to grab a testing kit and shove a swab up their noses.

It’s one thing to hear that the case numbers are sky high and testing is taxed. It’s another to weave through cones in the middle of the night in a line that, just a month or two ago, would’ve had only one or two cars.

The long waits are happening across the city as appointments become harder to find, especially on the same day. Still, the process is much more streamlined than it was in 2020, when people reported daylong waits for tests and weeks of waiting for results. It only took an hour to get from start to finish this time. We’ve come a long way; we have a long way to go.

And, just like most businesses, testing companies struggle to staff their sites as employees test positive amid an already-stretched workforce.

It’s our job to say if you’re doing your job: The Arizona Supreme Court released its highly anticipated full opinion on the Battle of the BRBs, justifying its decision that the Legislature included non-budget items in budget bills unconstitutionally. For three of the four challenged bills, the court said the title of the bill didn’t pertain to the provisions and struck down the specific provisions, like school mask mandates and teaching about race. The budget procedures bill was entirely unconstitutional because it violated the single-subject rule. The whole decision is worth reading.

“The responsibility of determining whether the legislature has followed constitutional mandates that expressly govern its activities is given to the courts—not the legislature,” the justices wrote.

We like it, actually: Legislative leaders said at a Chamber luncheon week that the ruling would help with the budget process going forward, especially with reeling in members who hold out their votes for pet issues.

COVID-19 still bad: Health care workers are sounding the alarm about hospitals’ capacity, calling on state leaders to take steps like indoor mask mandates and increased testing. And the virus is now hitting area mayors: Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego tested positive, as did Phoenix City Councilwoman Yassamin Ansari, Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega and Flagstaff Mayor Paul Deasy, the Republic’s Jen Fifield reports. It’s flying through the homeless population in Phoenix, too. One hospital system is asking workers with COVID-19 to come to work anyway because they need the staff.

Out of left field: Former state prisons chief Charles Ryan is expected to be charged after Tempe police responded to a call saying he had a gunshot wound. He refused to come out of the house and pointed a gun at the cops, who used less-lethal methods to try to resolve the situation. The news stories about this keep parroting the police line saying Ryan was “suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his hand,” but if our police translation skills remain intact: Ryan shot himself in the hand. There’s a ton more to this story, and we want to hear about it. If you know what happened or why, give us a call.

Just in time for session:
Legislative District 7 has a new senator. The Coconino County Board of Supervisors appointed Theresa Hatathlie to replace Jamescita Peshlakai, who resigned to take a federal job, the Arizona Daily Sun’s Bree Burkitt reports.

Probably not a popular guy at an AZGOP meeting: Bill Gates, the Republican chair of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, wrote an op-ed for the Republic this weekend again defending the county’s elections and calling out his own party for election fraud lies and attempts to make laws based on these falsehoods.

A judge who looks like you: The Maricopa County Justice Courts’ bench is more diverse than other courts in Arizona, with justices better representing the makeup of Maricopa County residents than other areas of the state, the Republic’s Julie Luchetta reports.A venti union vote: Workers at a Starbucks in Mesa will be able to vote in a union election this month after the National Labor Relations Board granted the employees’ request to vote to unionize.

The legislative standard is low: Liberal Republic columnist Laurie Roberts finds fault with Ducey budget director Matt Gress running for the Legislature while working in the Governor’s Office, saying the dual roles make it ripe for special interests to pay to play. Gress, for his part, says he won’t accept any campaign contributions from lobbyists while the Legislature is in session, the same rule lawmakers adhere to (that is itself not a high bar, as we noted last week).

More of this: A program in Maricopa County works to reunite children in the Department of Child Safety system with their families and is seeing success, the Republic’s Mary Jo Pitzl reports.

It’ll cost the state more money, but that’s not stopping it: Nearly 3,000 prisoners will move from a state prison to a private one operated by CoreCivic, the Republic’s Jimmy Jenkins reports.

We at the Arizona Agenda strictly follow the law when it comes to government holidays, and that’s why we’re so excited about Sen. T.J. Shope’s Senate Bill 1090.

The bill would make one of the most sacred days in Arizona — Valentine’s Day / Rachel’s birthday / Statehood Day — an official state holiday, complete with pay for state workers.

As self-employed newsletter slingers, we won’t actually get paid for taking the day off. But if Shope decides to stage a work strike on Monday, February 14, to highlight the need for his important bill, we pledge to join him in solidarity.

We’ve had a lot of laughs at the Cyber Ninjas’ expense, but this is unfortunately our last.

That’s because Cyber Ninjas is no more, though the company, or former company, is now incurring fines of $50,000 per day for not turning over public records in a neverending court battle that the Ninjas’ attorney doesn’t even want to be a part of.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah wouldn’t let attorney Jack Wilenchik off the case, nor would he accept the excuse that there’s no ninjas available to do the work required to turn over the records (these aren’t new requests; they’ve had plenty of time and opportunity to comply).

Top ninja Doug Logan couldn’t sell the company because, well, it’s got some baggage now. So he plans to sell stuff off to pay the people he owes money to, then file for bankruptcy, and start a new company, the Associated Press’ Jonathan J. Cooper reports. (May we suggest calling it Cyber Samurais?) Logan conveniently started a new company last year, before the audit, Substacker Kim Zetter reports.

Logan and Senate President Karen Fann are on the outs now, too, text messages show. Logan says the Senate owes him money; Logan/Cyber Ninjas also definitely owe other contractors money.

We recommend reading this whole thread:

The Arizona Agenda is a political newsletter by independent journalists Rachel Leingang and Hank Stephenson. Find more of their reporting on SubStack.