Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The Daily Agenda: Pity the Staffers

Posted By on Wed, Jan 19, 2022 at 9:59 AM

Inconvenient rules can be changed ... We speculate that the speculation will continue ... And that mean ol' Howie is asking questions again.

After a choppy opening week and the long weekend, the Arizona Legislature got into full swing yesterday, and already COVID-19 is a problem. 

As committees cranked through bills (including a contentious first vote on once again banning Critical Race Theory in schools), leadership had to sub out lawmakers to fill the committees, at least in part because of the virus. It’s going to be a long year of musical chairs as House and Senate leadership attempt to keep committees full, despite the raging pandemic.

Republicans need every single lawmaker present to pass legislation on party lines in either chamber, but as the Republic’s Mary Jo Pitzl notes, if lawmakers want to do their jobs and vote on bills, they’ll have to come into the building.

That wasn’t the case last year, and the new rule provides no meaningful advantage to lawmakers or the public — it is, like many decisions at the capitol, pure politics. (FWIW, it was also pure politics when the Democrats initially opposed remote voting on a limited basis at the onset of the pandemic so Republicans could muster the votes necessary to pass a budget.) 

The House and Senate are offering free on-site COVID-19 tests, and the chambers have implemented some form of voluntary contact tracing. But Republican leaders have erased almost all of the commonsense measures they put in place last year to try to keep the spread of the virus to a minimum at the Capitol, if not the state.

And more importantly, the Capitol is where the people’s work gets done. Average citizens who want to testify to lawmakers about policies affecting their lives will also have to show up in person this year — forget Zoom and forget those who have comorbidities or at-risk family members at home. And sure, it’s hard to pity lawmakers having to return to work in person — many of us are in the same boat of having to return to offices just as the pandemic is reaching new record-smashing highs. And many workers never had the luxury of working from home in the first place. 

But the Capitol isn’t just lawmakers’ workplace. It’s also the dank, cramped workspace of hundreds of low-level staffers, interns and even lobbyists who have no real human resources department to lodge their complaints about unsafe working conditions. (And unlike some public safety and other “essential” state employees, Capitol staff haven’t received bonus hazard pay from Gov. Doug Ducey.) 

There’s a petition circulating online to ask lawmakers to once again allow remote testimony on bills. Alas, we have little faith in petitions. In all likelihood, the only thing that will force legislative leaders to reconsider their pro-COVID-19 policies is if Republicans start getting sick and missing important votes. 

With the way the year is going so far, that’s probably only a matter of time. 

But there’s no more Cyber Ninjas: In one of the public records lawsuits seeking documents from the Cyber Ninjas, a judge ordered that Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan appear for a deposition later this month (he failed to appear for a previous deposition in the case). If he doesn’t show up again this time, the judge in the American Oversight case warned, he could face fines or a possible civil arrest warrant. 

And they were getting along so well: What was supposed to be a perfunctory meeting by Arizona’s political cartographers to finalize dozens of minor changes requested by counties and certify the state’s new legislative and congressional maps turned into an airing of grievances. A Democratic member of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission said she regretted supporting the commission’s congressional map and Republicans accused her of a disingenuous about-face, the Arizona Mirror’s Jeremy Duda reports. IRC Chair Erika Neuberg mysteriously left the meeting before the final vote to certify the maps, leaving the remaining commissioners deadlocked, so they’ll have do this whole thing again soon.

It’s almost like this was the plan all along: Dozens of bills to change Arizona’s elections are in the hopper already, some of which were filed by lawmakers who still think Donald Trump won the 2020 election, the Republic’s Ray Stern writes. As we previously noted, not all election change ideas are bad, but many of the proposals stem from faulty or outright false premises that raged during Stop the Steal. 

"I have consistently said as chair of elections and over here in the Senate, that my No. 1 goal is to increase voter confidence. It's not to destroy the democracy," Arizona Sen. Kelly Townsend, the chair of the Senate Committee on Government, told Stern.

Don’t look to the feds for help: U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s stand in favor of the filibuster dooms voting rights bills in a way that continues to roll back the federal government’s role in protecting voters, something the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years has consistently chipped away at, the Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein writes. Meanwhile, EMILY’s List, a group that supports Democratic pro-choice women seeking office, put Sinema on notice, saying they wouldn’t be able to endorse her in the future if she stands in the way of the voting rights bills’ passages. 

And even millionaires need water: The affluent Rio Verde Foothills community north of Scottsdale could run out of water within the year, a tale that foreshadows what other Arizona communities could face as the West’s water woes become more prevalent, 12News’ Hunter Bassler reports.History keeps history-ing: The City of Phoenix added some additional historical events to the Civil Rights Memorial at Eastlake Park, including the 2001 killing of Balir Singh Sodhi, the federal legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015 and the murder of George Floyd that spurred uprisings in 2020, KJZZ’s Christina Estes reports.  

People who use drugs still need food: Arizona Rep. Walt Blackman wants to get rid of requirements that people with past felonies submit to random drug tests and get substance abuse treatment in order to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called food stamps. Instead, if House Bill 2060 passes, they would need to just follow the terms of their probation, Gloria Gomez, the University of Arizona’s Don Bolles fellow for this year, reports. 

Some higher ed news: Students at Phoenix Union high schools get letters from Arizona State University telling them if they’re on track for admission to the college as a way to help improve college-going rates, the Republic’s Daniel Gonzalez writes. At Pima Community College, they want more students, too, after seeing enrollment declines for several years, but it’s hard to recruit new students when they can get paid decently these days for jobs that don’t require higher education, the Arizona Daily Star’s Kathryn Palmer reports. 

Planes or pucks: Proposals for an entertainment district in Tempe that would house a new arena for the Arizona Coyotes could hamper the nearby Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Gregory E. Torrez, the past chairman of the Support Sky Harbor Coalition, writes in an op-ed for the Republic

Take that, Politico: Despite the neverending speculation, liberal Republic columnist Laurie Roberts lays out four reasons why Gov. Doug Ducey won’t jump into the U.S. Senate race, like his disfavor with Trump and the Republican base. And the Yellow Sheet Report notes that one of Ducey’s biggest backers, local developer Sharon Harper, is throwing a fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly.

We missed this in yesterday’s rundown: Arizona Rep. Athena Salman and Arizona Sen. Juan Mendez welcomed their first child last week, Nausicaa Mendez Salman

Rest in peace: The longtime owner of Wick Communications, which publishes many community newspapers in Arizona, died last week. Robert Wick was 86. 

A nice guy: The folks at Arizona Capitol Television made a tribute video to former Arizona Sen. Frank Pratt, who died last year (and who used to teach people to scuba dive, we learned from the video). 

Republican Rep. Neal Carter wants to protect the unvaccinated. No, not from COVID-19 — from discrimination. 

In House Bill 2452, Carter, joined by 13 other Republicans, proposes adding “vaccination status” to various parts of state law that prevent discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on other bases, like race, color, religion, sex, age, disability and national origin. 

The bill doesn’t specify any vaccine in particular; instead, it says that “vaccination status” refers to “any indication of where a person has received one or more doses of a vaccine.”

We told you last week about the new rules at the state Senate that limit reporters access to the floor. According to Arizona Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Snowflake (not the town, the concept) a reporter asking her a question is off limits. 

She complained that Howie Fischer — the longest-serving journalist in the Capitol press corps, no less — came to her desk to ask a question during a normal time to go ask lawmakers questions at their desks. She only talks to hashtag Real News, and we can only imagine the manner of hucksters that that refers to in her world.

Is this … cancel culture?

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