Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Posted By on Wed, Jan 19, 2022 at 12:22 PM

click to enlarge TECH. SGT. MICHAEL MATKIN/U.S. AIR NATIONAL GUARD
Tech. Sgt. Michael Matkin/U.S. Air National Guard

The Pima County Board of Supervisors passed a plan to increase COVID testing availability during their meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 18.

The Board unanimously voted to increase PCR testing in Pima County with an additional 1,000 tests per day through Paradigm Laboratories.

“I am concerned with our PCR testing site at the airport,” Supervisor Sharon Bronson said. “We are seeing that we’ve got some issues at TAA (Tucson Airport Authority) with staff coming down with COVID and we’ve got people in line who have COVID. So I would think as part of the implementation of the new testing we need to find other sites than the airport.”

Cases continue to rise in Pima County due to the Omicron variant. The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 3,136 new cases in Pima County on Jan. 11. This is the highest number of cases reported in one day since the pandemic began.

Supervisor Adelita Grijalva said she had noticed that testing appointments through the county website were being scheduled two days out. She raised concerns this would make it more difficult for children to get back into school under the new test-to-stay policy.

Bronson added that constituents reported testing sites had a two-hour waiting period, even with appointments.

Low testing availability has also impacted the local healthcare system.

“People, because they can't find a testing site, are going to ERs to ask to get COVID tested and that is incredibly disruptive for the healthcare system,” Supervisor Matt Heinz said.

The additional PCR tests will be offered at the Kino Event Center across the street from the Abrams Public Heath Building, where the county had set up a testing site in 2020. That site later transitioned to a vaccination center.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 19, 2022 at 12:00 PM

click to enlarge Sen. Mark Kelly: "As an astronaut and a combat veteran, I can tell you that if NASA or the Navy functioned like the United States Senate, we would never get the rocket off the launchpad and in combat we’d never complete the mission." - PHOTO COURTESY OF MARIA HURTADO/MARK KELLY FOR SENATE
Photo courtesy of Maria Hurtado/Mark Kelly for Senate
Sen. Mark Kelly: "As an astronaut and a combat veteran, I can tell you that if NASA or the Navy functioned like the United States Senate, we would never get the rocket off the launchpad and in combat we’d never complete the mission."

Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly announced today that he supports changing the Senate's filibuster rules to pass changes to federal law to protect election rights.

Last week, his fellow Arizona senator, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, said she would not support such a change to the filibuster rules. She and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia are facing political pressure to support the changes and allow the legislation to pass by a simple majority vote, but as long as they hold firm, the legislation is unlikely to reach President Joe Biden's desk.

Kelly's full statement:

My year in the Senate has shown me how dysfunctional this place can be, and how that prevents progress on issues that matter to Arizonans. We’re seeing that now, as voting rights legislation remains blocked while partisan politicians work to undermine Arizona’s successful vote-by-mail system and create more barriers to vote.

As an astronaut and a combat veteran, I can tell you that if NASA or the Navy functioned like the United States Senate, we would never get the rocket off the launchpad and in combat we’d never complete the mission. Arizonans deserve a Senate that is more responsive to the challenges facing our country, which is why I’ve spoken with Arizonans and my Republican and Democratic colleagues about their views on what can be done to make this place work better. I’ve considered what rules changes would mean not just today, but years down the road, for both parties and all Arizonans.

If campaign finance and voting rights reforms are blocked again this week, I will support the proposed changes to pass them with a majority vote. Protecting the vote-by-mail system used by a majority of Arizonans and getting dark money out of our elections is too important to let fall victim to Washington dysfunction.

Whether the Senate fails or succeeds in passing this legislation, I will continue doing this job just as I promised Arizonans: delivering results by working with Republicans and Democrats to find common ground as we have on infrastructure, standing up to party politics, and staying focused on doing what is best for Arizona.

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.) 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Posted By on Tue, Jan 18, 2022 at 3:01 PM

click to enlarge A home COVID-19 test kit. - LAURA OLSON | STATES NEWSROOM
Laura Olson | States Newsroom
A home COVID-19 test kit.


WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Friday launched a new website for Americans to request up to four free COVID-19 tests per household.

The administration is buying 1 billion at-home rapid COVID-19 tests, and Americans will be able to begin ordering the tests online on Jan. 19 at COVIDtests.gov.

This is part of the administration’s effort to curb the spike of the omicron coronavirus variant that has overwhelmed hospitals and schools.

Tests should ship via the U.S. Postal Service between seven and 12 days after they are ordered, senior administration officials said on a call with reporters. 

“Testing is a critical tool to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” a senior administration official said. 

The White House said tests should be used by individuals who begin to have COVID-19 symptoms; after five days of coming into close contact with someone with COVID-19; or if gathering indoors with someone who is at risk for a severe disease or is unvaccinated. Children 4 and under are not eligible for vaccines. 

The initial 500 million tests are expected to cost $4 billion, a senior administration official said. 

The Biden administration also announced that starting Monday, private insurance providers will cover the cost of up to eight at-home COVID-19 tests per person per month.  

On Thursday, Biden said that in addition to free tests, Americans would also get free high quality masks

The administration also aims to make sure members of some communities the hardest hit by COVID-19 will have a hotline they can access if they do not have internet access or have difficulty ordering tests online. The number to call for help is not available yet.


Posted By and on Tue, Jan 18, 2022 at 9:46 AM

click to enlarge Arizona has fat stacks of cash on hand. - COURTESY OF BIGSTOCK
courtesy of BigStock
Arizona has fat stacks of cash on hand.

We're salty about desalination ... Welcome back to Arizona 2020 ... Is six mentions a lot or a little?

Gov. Doug Ducey unveiled a $14.3 billion budget proposal on Friday that spreads money across so many priorities that it’s bound to start a lot of little fights at the Capitol. 

But for his last hurrah, the budget is pretty blah.

Rather than a single focus or grand vision, it’s packed with a smattering of smaller appropriations for pet projects and tax cuts, and big windfalls for the decidedly necessary but boring, likely bipartisan topic of infrastructure.

The budget was crafted on two major premises that may or may not end up being true: The courts will stop the implementation of Prop. 208, the Invest in Education Act, and Ducey’s historic tax cut package from last year will stand despite the threat of a referendum. (Another possible wrench in budgeting: The feds are threatening to revoke $163 million of their anti-COVID-19 money back after Ducey used it to help move kids into schools with COVID-19-friendly policies.)  

But the state is so flush with cash that it’s getting hard to spend it all. In fact, there’s so much money that the largest single new discretionary expense in Ducey’s budget proposal is simply squirreling away another $425 million in the state’s rainy day fund, bringing the state’s emergency savings to $1.4 billion.

But the Ducey administration billed the budget as education, border and water-centric, so let’s focus on those three areas today. 

On the education front, the biggest investment isn’t the $100 million “civics summer camp” program that Ducey touted as the crown jewel of his State of the State speech last week (which, by the way, will be paid for with federal pandemic money), but rather the $300 million in state spending on the much less sexy but more necessary areas of school upgrades and new buildings. His budget also offers another round of bonuses for schools that are already succeeding, and smaller bonuses for schools that need improvement.

Posted By on Tue, Jan 18, 2022 at 9:29 AM

Monday, January 17, 2022

Posted By on Mon, Jan 17, 2022 at 1:38 PM

click to enlarge Selso Villegas attends the Native American Wellness Day Pascua Yaqui in August 2019, representing Pima County’s Safety and Justice Challenge. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SELSO VILLEGAS
Photo courtesy of Selso Villegas
Selso Villegas attends the Native American Wellness Day Pascua Yaqui in August 2019, representing Pima County’s Safety and Justice Challenge.

PHOENIX – Selso Villegas knows the criminal justice system well. His daughter has battled a drug addiction for years, so for the past decade, he has cared for his grandchildren, including two grandsons who have been incarcerated. But as an American Indian, Villegas and his family face additional hurdles.

“We were conquered and we were put on reservations, isolated,” said Villegas, executive director of water resources for the Tohono O’odham Nation. “So I think our biggest problem for young men and women is that we were stripped from our social development.”

Villegas’ grandsons are a part of a disproportionately large group of American Indians held in southern Arizona jails. Data from the Safety and Justice Challenge – which is funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation – shows that Native Americans are 1.8 times as likely as white Americans to be booked into a Pima County jail.

“Racial bias and racial bias compounded by poverty or economic struggle really make certain communities much more vulnerable to getting involved in and trapped up in the criminal legal system,” said Valena Beety, a law professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

Villegas blames colonization for the situation Native Americans are in today.

“We were conquered, and we’re put on reservations, isolated,” he said. “So I think our biggest problem for young men and women or men is that we were stripped from our social development.”

Every year in the United States, more than 10 million people are jailed, according to data from the U.S. Department of Justice. The Safety and Justice Institute says about 75% of them are behind bars for nonviolent offenses related to traffic, property, drug or public order offenses. And, since 2000, the Native American jail population nationwide is up 85%, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

The vast majority of people in jail are awaiting trial, meaning they haven’t been convicted of any crime. And jail time for any reason can have a cascading effect.

“Even three days of being in jail can mean you lose your job,” Beety said. “That can mean you’re abandoning your children legally, so your custody of your children could be in question.”

Posted By on Mon, Jan 17, 2022 at 10:38 AM

click to enlarge Gov. Doug Ducey greets lawmakers and guests shortly before beginning his State of the State speech on Jan. 13, 2020. - JEROD MACDONALD-EVOY | ARIZONA MIRROR
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror
Gov. Doug Ducey greets lawmakers and guests shortly before beginning his State of the State speech on Jan. 13, 2020.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s final budget proposal calls for $14.25 billion in spending for the 2023 fiscal year that includes nearly $1.4 billion in new spending, the bulk of which will be one-time spending on K-12 education, water infrastructure, beefing up the state’s rainy day fund and expanding Interstate 10.

About $364 million of that new spending will be ongoing, with nearly a third going toward new tax cuts. 

Following up on last year’s historic tax cut, which aims to eventually reduce individual income tax rates to a flat 2.5%, the governor is budgeting money for two tax relief packages. One is a 5% earned income tax credit for low-income working families with children. The Ducey administration said the program is intended to provide tax relief to Arizonans while recognizing the value of work. 

The governor’s office said 577,000 Arizonans would be eligible, and that the average recipient would get $128 per year. Families with three or more children would be eligible for as much as $325, according to estimates from the governor’s office, depending on their income level. The earned income tax relief program is expected to cost about $74 million next year.

The second proposal is an undefined corporate tax cut. Ducey penciled in $58 million in his budget, but has no explicit proposal. The administration said there are several lawmakers who have their own proposals, so Ducey will negotiate with the legislature to determine what kind of tax cut they pass. Ducey’s office noted that Arizona has the 10th highest industrial property tax rate in the U.S., indicating that the tax cut could be in that area.

Ducey’s plan assumes that last year’s billion-dollar income tax cut, which is on hold after Democrats collected enough signatures to refer it to the November ballot for a citizen referendum, will ultimately go into effect. Republican lawmakers are discussing plans to repeal the tax cuts and replace them with a similar law in order to negate the referendum and keep the proposal off the ballot. 

Friday, January 14, 2022

Posted By on Fri, Jan 14, 2022 at 1:20 PM

click to enlarge GLORIA GOMEZ/UA DON BOLLES FELLOW
Gloria Gomez/UA Don Bolles Fellow


A nativist former top Trump White House official on Wednesday exhorted Gov. Doug Ducey to use Arizona’s National Guard to turn immigrants back at the border.  

Ken Cuccinelli, a top United States Citizenship and Immigration Services official in Donald Trump’s administration, said Ducey has the constitutional ability to direct national guardsmen to remove those crossing the southern border. Cuccinelli pointed to the “self defense clause” of the Constitution that prohibits states from engaging in war unless they’re facing immediate danger or active invasion. He said the recent influx of immigrants qualifies as such.

“Thumbprint them, give them food and water and send them back,” he said. 

Cuccinelli spoke at the Arizona Capitol Wednesday, flanked by several Republican state legislators.

With the U.S. seeing a record-breaking number of encounters at its southern border that is straining Border Patrol agents and the country’s capacity to process migrants, Republican leaders in Arizona and nationally have insisted there is an “open border” and that the influx of migrants — many seeking asylum — are foreign invaders who need to be repelled.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 14, 2022 at 8:28 AM

FREE IMAGE VIA PIXABAY
Free image via Pixabay

A Republican lawmaker wants to bar the sale of any computer, smartphone or tablet in Arizona if it doesn’t include a filter that would block children from accessing “harmful content,” and would hold them criminally liable if they fail to do so.

The legislation from Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, also would allow parents to sue anyone who helps their child bypass the internet filter. 

The measure appears to be the brainchild of an anti-LGBT and anti-porn activist known for his wild stunts. 

House Bill 2115 shares almost identical language to the “Save Our Children Act” created by Chris Sevier, a man who has drafted model anti-pornography legislation around the country, including in Arizona. 

Most notably in 2019, Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, put forward a bill by Sevier that would have charged Arizona residents $20 to access pornographic material and used the money to fund construction of a border wall along the state’s southern border with Mexico. Griffin later said she would no longer pursue the bill after it drew national attention. 

Udall’s bill is similar in how it seeks to limit computer access to “material that is harmful to minors” on any device that can access mobile networks, wired networks or the internet, according to the bill. 

The bill also gives parents the right to sue the manufacturer if their child accesses “harmful material,” and anyone who removes a filter would face a class 6 felony and a $50,000 fine. Companies that don’t comply also can face criminal liability under the bill’s language.