Thursday, August 16, 2018

Arizona Runner Up on Worst Highway Upkeep

Posted By on Thu, Aug 16, 2018 at 3:22 PM

  • Tucson Local Media File Photo

Arizona ranks second lowest on highway spending per driver, only beat by Michigan, according to a new report by financial news site 24/7 Wall Street. The state spends an annual $239 per driver on state highways.

"While the article doesn't draw a direct connection between per capita spending and the quality of state infrastructure, it does demonstrate how poorly Arizona funds its transportation infrastructure," wrote Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry in a memorandum, highlighting the report.

He also wrote that the Pima County is still looking at ways to fund transportation needs and that the state gas tax would be the best source. The tax that everyone pays when they fill up their tank is meant to fund road repair. But the state has been sweeping those funds for years to cover other needs, like paying for highway patrol.

As well, Arizona's gas tax is below the national average, and the state hasn't raised it since 1991. In the interim, 44 other states have, according to The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a nonpartisan nonprofit.

Huckelberry wrote that he will continue to advocate for increasing transportation spending at local, state and national levels.

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Friday, August 10, 2018

Arizona Still Grappling with Question of How to Prevent School Shootings

Posted By on Fri, Aug 10, 2018 at 3:14 PM

March for our Lives protest in Tucson. - DANYELLE KHMARA
  • Danyelle Khmara
  • March for our Lives protest in Tucson.

Gun legislation in Arizona remains a hot-button issue going into election season. Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed school safety plan, which was unveiled in March, was a contentious bill since Arizona lawmakers can’t agree whether “school safety” and “gun reform” are synonymous.

The bill was proposed as a proactive measure towards preventing any more school shootings like the February attack Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The bill passed in the Senate with full support from Republicans and none from Democrats. But ultimately, the legislation stalled in the House.

“Governor Ducey was disappointed that the Safe Arizona Schools Plan was not passed by the Legislature, but that doesn’t mean that our work is done on the issue,” said Ducey Press Secretary Elizabeth Berry in an email. “School safety is a top priority and the governor is committed to fighting for the common-sense reforms included in the [bill].”

Ducey says that passing his school safety bill is one of his highest priorities going into the next legislative session, should he win re-election. But with his plan facing criticism from both Republicans and Democrats, he will have a challenge seeing it become law if he’s reelected.

Democrats cite the lack of universal background checks as one of the bill’s biggest pitfalls. Ducey’s plan intends to strengthen the existing criminal background check system, allocating $600,000 to do so, but that doesn’t take into account that person-to-person sales aren’t regulated because only federally licensed firearm dealers are required to perform background checks at the point of sale. This is commonly referred to as the “gun show loophole.”

Congressional candidate, Arizona Sen. Steve Smith (R-Maricopa), who sponsored the Safe Arizona Schools Plan, says that while he’s confident that Ducey will be re-elected, the issue is still important enough that it will be addressed—and fast—if he’s not. Smith also thinks gun reform should be addressed at the state level not nationally.

“This is not a gun bill; this is a school safety bill,” Smith said. “We’re talking about keeping people safe as it relates to mass shootings. We aren’t going to get into bump stocks and all of those other areas. If you want to have a debate about that, then run a bill about it.”

The Arizona House of Representatives voted 34-25 in February against a bill to ban bump stocks, House Bill 2023. Ducey’s bill initially had several types of STOP orders—Severe Threat Orders of Protection—that would allow both members of the public and law enforcement to petition Arizona courts to advocate for the removal of firearms from individuals exhibiting severe and imminent signs of threatening behavior.

The bill states that after law enforcement presents a judge with evidence that an individual is dangerous, the judge can require that the person in question undergoes a 21-day observation and mental health examination to determine whether or not the person is a risk.

The bill saw multiple revisions throughout April and was significantly watered down before it got to the floor for a vote. That final version removed the aspect of the STOP order that allowed concerned citizens to petition for one, allowing only members of law enforcement to do so.
Smith says that most people don’t know how to petition a court anyway, so removing that part will allow law enforcement to properly handle concerns.

The STOP orders are one of the most contentious parts of the bill, as Democrats argue that they won’t do enough while Republicans argue that they are an overstep by the government.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Bennett says Ducey’s plan focuses too heavily on seizing guns and that the state should instead arm willing teachers to keep schools safe, referring to the oft-used slogan: “The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Smith also argues that the addition of armed forces, whether it be through security resource officers or the arming of teachers, is necessary to keep Arizona schools safe.

“The majority of the people that talk to me want to see the schools be better protected, and inevitably that means that they want somebody on campus to be able to use force and have force available if needed,” he says.

Ducey’s plan would increase the amount of armed security resource officers on school campuses in Arizona. It also would allocate more funds for more trained mental health professionals on school campuses, with $3 million for behavioral and mental health specialists, according to Berry.

While Smith, Ducey and Bennett believe that it is necessary to arm more people to combat mass shooters, Democratic gubernatorial candidate David Garcia doesn’t believe placing more armed officers in schools would create the support system that is necessary to prevent school shootings.

“Those who firmly believe that a crisis would be resolved with a gun fight have been playing too many video games and watching too many movies,” Garcia said. “What we need is eyes, ears and communication . . . in the form of support, not enforcement.”

Garcia argues that in order for Democrats and Republicans to mend the division regarding topics of gun control, Arizona needs a governor who doesn’t receive praise from the NRA.
The NRA publicly supports Ducey’s school safety plan, which Smith praises.

Marissa Ryan is a University of Arizona journalism student and a Tucson Weekly intern.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

DACA Still in Limbo

Posted By on Wed, Aug 8, 2018 at 9:56 AM

Protesters defend DACA in Tucson last fall, after Donald Trump ended the Obama-era protections for young immigrants. - DANYELLE KHMARA
  • Danyelle Khmara
  • Protesters defend DACA in Tucson last fall, after Donald Trump ended the Obama-era protections for young immigrants.

Less than a week after a court in Washington, D.C. ruled that the Trump administration didn't have the right to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, seven states filed a lawsuit to end the program that allows around 800,000 young people to work and live without fear of deportation.

Today, a federal court in Houston will consider the lawsuit brought by Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia.  Judge Andrew Hanen, overseeing the case, is well known for blocking the Obama administration from expanding DACA in 2015.

The American Civil Liberties Union says it's possible Hanen could order the end to the program anytime after today's hearing. The ACLU also has some recommendations for DACA recipients and says such an order would conflict with the D.C. court and courts in other states, which ordered the federal government to continue renewing existing DACA cases:

To be clear, such an order would be wrong: Not only is the DACA program legal, but if the Texas court were to strike it down, its order would directly conflict with the orders issued by the California, New York, and Washington courts. If the government were subject to such conflicting orders, it would likely seek relief from the Supreme Court quickly, and no one knows for certain how the Supreme Court would rule.

Because of the possibility that the Texas court will issue an unfounded order that leads to faster Supreme Court review, we recommend that DACA recipients who are eligible for renewal submit their applications as soon as possible. If the DACA program is struck down, you could lose your application fee, but applying sooner increases the chance that you will be able to renew while the program is still available.

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Monday, June 18, 2018

#RedforEd Initiative Would Hike Taxes on Rich to Pay for Schools

Posted By on Mon, Jun 18, 2018 at 4:30 PM

Tucson High School teachers Marea Janness (left) and Aida Castillo-Flores (right) sign up volunteers for petitioning sites at an INVESTinED gathering on June 6. - TORI TOM
  • Tori Tom
  • Tucson High School teachers Marea Janness (left) and Aida Castillo-Flores (right) sign up volunteers for petitioning sites at an INVESTinED gathering on June 6.

Marea Jenness, a Tucson High School biology teacher, keeps a megaphone in the trunk of her Mercury Mariner. With the Red for Ed movement becoming a staple these days, she stays ready in the event of more protests.

Jenness is one of thousands of Southern Arizonans who support a citizen-led ballot initiative that increases tax rates on high-income earners to address underfunding in public schools.

Proponents estimate the increase would raise $690 million annually. The proposal would increase taxes on individuals who earn more than $250,000 a year and couples who earn more than $500,000.

The coalition needs 150,642 valid signatures by July 5 to place the Invest in Education Act on the November ballot, but they’re shooting for at least 200,000. David Lujan, director of The Arizona Center for Economic Progress, said the group is on track to getting the signatures they need by the deadline.

Invest in Education organizers hadn’t released a statewide count, as of this week, of how many signatures they had gathered so far. But if they can get enough signatures to put it before voters in November, they stand a decent chance of winning at the ballot box, according to a recent poll discussed at a June 6 INVESTinED news conference in Phoenix with the Children’s Action Alliance and other education advocates.

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Monday, April 30, 2018

School Closures Continue Into a Second Week of Walkouts

Posted By on Mon, Apr 30, 2018 at 12:29 PM

Red for Ed supporters hold down the movement in Tucson, lining Congress Street, on Friday, April 27. - LOGAN BURTCH-BUUS
  • Logan Burtch-Buus
  • Red for Ed supporters hold down the movement in Tucson, lining Congress Street, on Friday, April 27.

Five children straggled into the cafeteria at Thornydale Elementary to get some breakfast at 7 a.m. on Monday morning. They were greeted by two cafeteria workers and a mom with the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization. Outside, a maintenance worker ran a leaf blower. Other than that, the school was silent.

Three days into the teacher walkouts, students from low-income families who receive breakfast and lunch at their schools still needed to eat. About 20 kids came in the previous Thursday and Friday each, according to the two women serving in the Thornydale cafeteria.

The children, three little ones who go to Thornydale and their two older brothers who go to nearby schools, open their juice boxes, milk and breakfast bars.

As the Red for Ed movement goes into its second week of teacher walkouts, things become increasingly complicated for the school districts and families. As schools continue to announce closures day by day, parents are starting to wonder if the school year will be prolonged into the summer break.

Thornydale cafeteria worker Cathette Vartell says while she is still working, she has two grade-school kids at home whom she’s worried about.

Her oldest daughter is set to graduate in May, and while most local school districts have said they’ll host graduation ceremonies as planned, students will have to make up instructional hours for days missed because of the walkouts. How many days varies by district and even school and won’t be decided until the walkouts end.

Vartell’s daughter plans to leave for a two-month out-of-town trip with her church the Monday after graduation. Everything is paid for, and for a mother of two who makes minimum wage, paying more to change plans may not be an option.

“Of course I support our teachers,” Vartell says. “I also feel like our kids are the ones paying a price to make a statement.”

Christina Harris, Thornydale’s PTO vice president, is a stay-at-home mother of three who’s been volunteering at the school for 11 years.

She said the closures have been hardest because her son, a second grader who receives Title 1 services, needs to keep up on his reading skills or he’ll fall behind. Nonetheless, Harris has been an active supporter of the Red for Ed movement, and was out on Ina Road on Saturday morning lining the road red with many other teachers, parents, students and supporters.

Vartell and Harris are not alone in dealing with the complications and hardships of the shutdowns. But Arizona teachers are among the lowest-paid educators in the country, and education funding is among the lowest in the nation as well.

School funding in Arizona was cut following the 2008 recession and, while there have been increases in recent years, it has yet to return to where it was a decade ago. Educators are demanding a 20 percent raise for teachers, raises for all support staff and school funding restored to 2008 levels, which would cost the state an additional $1.1 billion annually.

Between crumbing school facilities, outdated supplies and their own struggles to make ends meet, many teachers felt they had no choice but to walk out.

Rachel Tankersley, a math and science teacher in the Vail School District, was out on downtown’s Congress Street on Monday morning, wearing red with a few hundred other educators and allies. She started at 7 a.m. and by by 8, the sun was already beginning to beat down on the crowd while they cheer and wave at the many passing cars that honk in support.

“Teachers are having to spend their own money on their classrooms all the time,” she said. “This is my job right now, to let people know this is not OK.”

Mid-April, as the Red for Ed movement was gaining support and talking about a walkout if their demands were not met, Gov. Doug Ducey announced he had a plan for the teacher raises and to restore recession-era cuts to education funding. Only, by his math, that would mean an additional $371 million, about a third what educators are asking for.

Ducey’s plan didn’t mention raises for support staff and critics accused him of using fuzzy math to come up with the revenue needed to pay for it. On Ducey’s website, it says the state will achieve the money for the pay hikes through a growing economy and reduction in state government operating budgets, “all without raising taxes while maintaining Arizona’s balanced budget.”

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Friday, January 26, 2018

Dreamers Still in Limbo After Dems Cave Over Shutdown

Posted By on Fri, Jan 26, 2018 at 9:09 AM

People marched for Dreamers, in Tucson in September 2017, when Trump announced an end to DACA. Activists continue the fight today, with the March 5 deadline approaching and little tangible progress being made in Congress. - DANYELLE KHMARA
  • Danyelle Khmara
  • People marched for Dreamers, in Tucson in September 2017, when Trump announced an end to DACA. Activists continue the fight today, with the March 5 deadline approaching and little tangible progress being made in Congress.

Democrats in Congress ended the short-lived government shutdown, on Monday morning, which could have leveraged a fix for DACA. But instead, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer settled for a vague promise from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to schedule a vote by Feb. 8, once again leaving 3.6 million Dreamers, about 800,000 of which have legal status under DACA, in limbo.

At first, the shutdown gave local DACA recipient Ana Laura Mendoza a bit of hope that Congress would finally do something, but now she’s just frustrated by the “lack of action from both parties,” she says. “Democrats are full of empty promises and rhetoric… Once again, it was made public that our lives are not as important as they claim.”

During Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, he promised the day he took office, he would end DACA. Although he didn’t do so until almost eight months into his presidency, the DACA recipients’ purgatory began the day he was sworn in.

Mendoza says combatting the drawn-out emotional struggle is the worst part. She just wants to know if she’ll have legal status or not, either way. A second year political-science major at the University of Arizona, she’s unsure if she’ll be able to fulfill her aspirations of law school. She’s unsure if all the effort of college will even matter: What good is a degree if you’re not allowed to work?

Earlier this month, a federal judge order the Trump administration to temporarily continue allowing DACA recipients to renew their protected status. Mendoza was one such Dreamer, who didn’t make the cut for the previous deadline the administration had set. Nonetheless, she has mixed feelings: happy she and others like her could renew but upset for the prolonged uncertainty.

Without a fix for DACA, Mendoza will lose her work permit right as she’s finishing her bachelor’s. She will also lose her driver’s license, not to mention the ability to walk out her front door without the fear of being deported.

CNN reported on Tuesday that Sen. Schumer was rescinding a recent proposal to the White House, which included funding for a border wall in exchange for Dreamer protection.

“President Trump’s unwillingness to compromise caused the Trump shut down and brought us to this moment,” Schumer said in a televised speech.

On Tuesday night, Trump tweeted “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer fully understands, especially after his humiliating defeat, that if there is no Wall, there is no DACA”—making the GOP leadership’s “promise” on a DACA fix seem all the more obsolete.

As far as Mendoza is concerned, she can’t get behind the idea of any compromise that includes border security measures.

“It’s so easy for us to be used as pawns,” she says. “I’m not OK with allowing one part of my community to be attacked while another is safe… It’s not just legislature that’s being decided. It’s who gets to thrive and who gets to hardly make it.”

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Grijalva Arrested Protesting Trump's Immigration Policies

Posted By on Wed, Sep 20, 2017 at 11:49 AM

U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva being arrested in front of Trump Tower for civil disobedience. - RAÚL GRIJALVA/FACEBOOK
  • Raúl Grijalva/Facebook
  • U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva being arrested in front of Trump Tower for civil disobedience.

  • Raúl Grijalva/Facebook
Arizona Congressman Raúl Grijalva was arrested during an immigrants' rights protest in front of Trump Tower Tuesday morning, along with U.S. Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL)

"I stood in front of Trump Tower today with a whole lot of DREAMers, immigrants and Americans to say enough to Trump and his criminalization of our immigrant communities," he posted on Facebook shortly before being arrested.

Grijalva was sitting in the street below Trump Tower with other demonstrators, holding a banner advocating for DACA recipients when he was taking into custody by the New York Police Department with his hands zip tied behind his back.

A representative from Grijalva's office said the congressman was released several hours after the arrest and now faces charges of disorderly conduct with other charges pending, according to Tucson News Now. They also reported the lawmakers had intended to get arrested at the protest.

  • Raúl Grijalva/Facebook

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Dreamers #HereToStay

Posted By on Wed, Aug 30, 2017 at 10:35 AM

Reports came out last week that Trump will decide any day whether to keep Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA recipients, or Dreamers, together with immigration lawyers, activists and allies gathered in front of Tucson City Hall, on Aug. 29, to say they're not going anywhere.

DACA recipients and allies tell the Trump administration that they're here to stay: "El pueblo unido jamás será vencido." - DANYELLE KHMARA
  • Danyelle Khmara
  • DACA recipients and allies tell the Trump administration that they're here to stay: "El pueblo unido jamás será vencido."

The Obama-era ruling protects close to 800,000 people whose parents brought them into the country, undocumented, as children. DACA makes it legal for them to work, get a driver's license, pay in-state tuition to college and to live their lives without fear of deportation.

"We continue to hear these threats against DACA," said Jessica Rodriguez, a member of the humanitarian organization Living United for Change in Arizona. "This is not going to stop. We're going to continue to take the streets. We're going to continue to call on our officials. We are not going to stop."

Immigration attorney Mo Goldman said to focus energy toward local elected officials.

"Call out representatives like Rep. McSally, who has said that she supports the DACAmented community and the Dreamers," he said. "She's been out there. She said it, and she needs to be held accountable. She needs to be on the phone talking to the White House."

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Brew Haha at Borderlands Brewery is Tucson's longest running independent comedy show. It features nationally tour headliners… More

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