Legislative Circus

Is there any chance that Gov. Jan Brewer can tame Republican lawmakers?

This was the year Republicans finally got rid of Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and most of those no-good GOP moderates. Were they finally able to turn Arizona into a conservative paradise?

Not so much.

Well, at least they brought state spending under control, and we have a budget that matches up with tax revenues, right?

Nope. In fact, we don't have a state budget yet.

But we're more than halfway through the first month of the fiscal year. How can we not have a state budget?

That's where it gets a little weird. Normally, the Legislature passes a budget and sends it to the governor, who can either sign it or veto it. This year, the financial situation is so grim that the state was facing a shortfall that climbed to more than $3 billion.

Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who came into office when Napolitano resigned to become secretary of homeland security, shocked her fellow Republicans when she came up with a five-point plan that included a controversial proposal for a one-cent-per-dollar sales-tax increase that would last for three years while the state economy recovers and tax revenues rebound.

How did the Republicans in the Legislature respond to the idea of a tax increase?

They told her to drop dead. Not only would they not pass a sales tax themselves; they couldn't even round up enough votes to put it on the ballot to let voters decide whether to approve it. Instead, the GOP leadership came up with their own tax-hike-free budget by cutting as much as they could and using various gimmicks to bring in extra cash, like selling off the prisons. But once they passed that budget in early June, they refused to send it to Brewer, and instead tried to negotiate some changes with her in hopes of persuading her to sign it instead of vetoing it.

How'd that go?

Not so well. She ended up suing to force them to send her the budget after negotiations went nowhere. The Arizona Supreme Court technically agreed with her, but declined to actually force legislative leaders to turn over the budget. (Go figure.)

After that, negotiations resumed as we neared the end of the fiscal year, but Republicans continued to balk at the idea of asking voters to pass a sales tax; they finally sent over the budget on the morning of July 1. Brewer vetoed it, and suddenly, the state had no spending plan as the fiscal year began.

That sounds like a serious mess.

F'sheezy. Speaker of the House Kirk Adams released a statement accusing Brewer of waging a "political battle on the backs of school children and teachers," while Senate President Bob Burns called Brewer's behavior "incomprehensible" and suggested she was "having problems managing the level of responsibility to which she has been elevated."

Snap! So what happened next?

Brewer called lawmakers back into a special session on Monday, July 6. They met for one day and unanimously passed a new spending package, primarily focused on education and health-care programs so that Arizona would remain eligible for $2.3 billion in federal stimulus dollars.

Unfortunately, that means other state agencies are essentially operating with last year's budget. And that spending level has the state on track to shell out a staggering $3.4 billion more than it's expected to bring in this fiscal year, according to the latest report from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

But lawmakers are still in special session working that out, right?

Sorta. The special session is not yet over, but most of the lawmakers are away from the Capitol while leadership tries to hammer something out. Last week, many Republicans went off to Atlanta for a legislative conference (perhaps there was a seminar on compromise); this week, Democrats have their own get-together to attend.

Speaking of Democrats: What were they doing all session?

As the minority party in both houses, Democrats offered up their own budget proposal that included a serious tax reform: lowering the overall sales tax but extending it to be levied on services like haircuts, dog-grooming and legal representation. There were gimmicks in the Democratic plan that included borrowing money from cities and counties, who would begin taxing services to make up the difference, but in the end, it didn't matter much, because the GOP caucus had no interest in studying the Democratic plan. (Oddly enough, one of the supporters of the basic elements of the Democrats' plan was the conservative Goldwater Institute, which liked the idea of eliminating loopholes and evening the economic playing field.)

Any idea of when it will all get worked out?

Republican Sen. Al Melvin told us he thought it might be worked out by the end of the month; Democratic Rep. Steve Farley says it could take until Labor Day to reach an agreement. Who knows?

Well, if they weren't getting a budget together, did they get anything else accomplished?

Lawmakers managed to pass 213 bills, 22 of which were vetoed. A lot of legislation didn't make it through the process; Senate President Bob Burns blocked any legislation for most of the session, because he didn't want any distractions from the budget process. (And that worked out well, huh?)

I'm a doctor who sometimes terminates pregnancies. How do the new restrictions on abortion affect me?

You'll have to be very careful about what you tell your patients. You're now required to spell out immediate and long-term risks associated with an abortion, and the alternatives that are available to having an abortion. You also have to tell her how far her fetus has developed, what kind of financial support might be available for her medical bills if she does not terminate her pregnancy, and the financial obligations of the man who got her pregnant. If you fail to properly lay all this out, you can be sued for as much as $5,000 (or three times the cost of the procedure) and damages for psychological, emotional and physical harm.

As for new restrictions on the women out there who might seek an abortion: You've got to wait at least 24 hours after your first meeting with the doctor, so if you're traveling from somewhere in rural Arizona that doesn't have an abortion provider, plan to spend the night.

If you're a teen younger than 18 seeking an abortion, you have to have a notarized permission slip from your parents. If you want to terminate your pregnancy without parental permission, you've got to persuade a judge who has a new set of standards to consider. Among the factors a judge will have to take into account when deciding whether you're mature enough to make the decision: whether you've held a job, lived on your own and been able to handle your finances. The judge can also consider whether you've carefully considered your options.

If you're a judge who has to decide whether to allow a minor to have an abortion, keep in mind that if you don't properly consider the above factors, you can be sued by the parents or guardians for as much as $5,000 (or three times the cost of the procedure) and damages for psychological, emotional and physical harm.

If you're a pharmacist, you no longer have to dispense morning-after pills. If you work at a clinic or hospital, you can opt out of assisting with abortions.

Finally, nurse practitioners are no longer allowed to perform abortions in Arizona.

I'm an ambulance-chasing lawyer. Did the Legislature do anything to mess with me?

Yeah, it's gonna be a lot harder to chase those ambulances into emergency rooms. Lawmakers enacted a new set of medical-malpractice protections to doctors who work in emergency medicine.

I'm in the country illegally. What did the Legislature do to me this year?

Not as much as Sen. Russell Pearce would have liked. His major bills—one that would have stopped cities from enacting policies that prevent cops from questioning every Latino they run into about their immigration status, and one that would have made it a state trespassing crime to be in the country without proper paperwork—both died before the end of the session.

I've got an abusive ex-boyfriend, and I want him to stop bothering me. What can I do?

Today, you can only get an "injunction against harassment" against him. But when a new law goes into effect later this year, you'll be able to get an order of protection, just like someone who is married or living with a boyfriend/girlfriend who goes all Fatal Attraction on you. The big difference: Police can take away firearms from someone if they have an order of protection filed against them.

I just don't feel right leaving my gun behind when I go into a bar or restaurant. Did the Legislature finally pass a law letting me carry it into a saloon?

As long as you've got a permit to carry a concealed weapon, you can walk right into a bar with your pistol.

In other gun news: Business owners can no longer stop you from bringing your gun to work, as long as you keep it locked in your car, out of sight. And if you feel threatened, you can now display your pistol to show you're not someone to be messed with.

I'm a spring training fan. What are the chances we'll still have Major League Baseball in Pima County after 2010?

What are the chances you can pull out a win when you're down by a dozen runs, and you've got two out in the bottom of the ninth? The Legislature agreed to let Pima County voters decide whether they want to enact a variety of sales taxes to build a new stadium in an effort to lure new Major League Baseball teams from Florida. Here's the catch: If we're going to lure a new team or two, we need a stadium to show them, which means we have to persuade voters to tax themselves on the hope that maybe it will result in getting a team. That's a pretty hard sell in this rough economic climate, even if some of the money has been promised to local youth groups.

I enjoy watching a hog in a ring with some vicious dogs. It's quite a spectacle. Is it still legal?

You're a sick, sick person—and the Legislature has banned your twisted little hobby by making all manner of animal fighting illegal this session. They also banned horse-tripping for the screwed-up d-nozzles who get into that.

After hearing all this, I'm thinking about running for the state Legislature. Can I still use Clean Elections?

There will be public money available for your campaign, but we don't know how much. A federal judge has ruled that additional dollars to match spending by traditional candidates may be unconstitutional, so it's possible that you'll find yourself at a financial disadvantage. That wrinkle has smart candidates avoiding the program.

Lawmakers tried to get a fix through that would eliminate matching funds and just increase funding for candidates, but it fell apart on the last day of the session. There's some talk that Brewer may ask lawmakers to reconsider the fix during the special session, but it would require a three-quarters vote from each chamber of the Legislature, because it adjusts a voter-approved measure.

I'm a Republican thinking about running for mayor of Tucson. What are my chances?

They may improve by 2011. Sen. Jonathan Paton successfully pushed through a bill that prohibits Tucson from having partisan elections. It also requires City Council candidates to run within their wards rather than citywide (as they currently do during the general election). The Tucson City Council (the last municipal body in the state that still has partisan elections) is considering a legal challenge.

I sometimes work as a petition-passer for initiatives and sometimes just fill out phony names, because I get paid by the signature. Am I still safe?

Lawmakers passed a bill creating a new crime: Petition-signature fraud is now a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Any other election news?

Primaries will be coming a week earlier in 2010, pushing the election into August. (Last year, it happened right after Labor Day weekend, which some people said reduced turnout.)

A bill to block cities from taking down political signs that violate local codes was vetoed by Brewer.

I'm a big power company, and I'd like to start producing more solar power. Are there incentives for me?

Sorry! Brewer vetoed a measure that would have provided tax credits for renewable-energy production, because it didn't have a cap. She feared that nobody knew what the ultimate cost to the state treasury would be.

I'm a kid who loves fireworks. Can I play with sparklers?

Once again, the killjoys who worry about fire danger, thanks to tinderbox forests and invasive species like buffelgrass, have spoiled your chance to play with sparklers. A bill got through the Legislature, but Brewer vetoed it.

On the positive side, we're sure there will be plenty of fireworks before the budget is settled.