Bull Session

Everything you wanted to know about this year’s legislative follies—but didn’t know who to ask

It would appear as though Gov. Doug Ducey and GOP state lawmakers took an old saying to heart this year: "No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session."

The session was completed in just 81 days—the shortest session since 1968.

It might have gone on longer, but Senate President Andy Biggs lost his patience waiting for House Speaker David Gowan to corral his errant lawmakers in the wee hours of Friday, April 3, so the Senate unilaterally adjourned for the year. The House came to Sine Die a few hours later, after taking action on some Senate bills that needed final approval.

Ducey has praised the quick session, saying it ran "at the speed of business."

It's true that it didn't have any of the explosive kinds of moments that thrust Arizona into the national spotlight, such as Indiana's anti-gay "religious freedom" legislation that ignited a firestorm last month.

But it also didn't have much chance for public input. The state budget was rushed through in less than three days, including an overnight session in which recalcitrant lawmakers were browbeaten into line or bribed with minor spending wins in their districts. And the rush of bills that followed—including big changes to the state's rules for creating ballot propositions, and an increase to the caps on campaign contributions for state lawmakers themselves—went through committees with agendas so stacked that they either had to stop hearing bills or work into the evening.

As biz-friendly Arizona Republic columnist Robert Robb—who dismissed the "speed of business" catchphrase as "nonsense"— noted: "Successful businesses don't decide where to spend $9.1 billion in a three-day marathon blitz capped by a judgment-impairing all-nighter, as the Legislature did. That's not operating at the speed of business. That's operating at the speed of 19-year-olds cramming for midterm exams."

The Weekly covered the highlights of the budget a few weeks ago ("So I Elected an Ax Murderer," March 19), but here are the fundamental takeaways: The universities lost $99 million in state funding (which has predictably caused the universities to request tuition increases); public schools got shortchanged (again); costs for a whole bunch of things got transferred to the counties (with the cost shift bringing an estimated $12 million hit to Pima County in the upcoming fiscal year); and social services were cut, including Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the new Department of Child Safety and a mental-health first aid program designed to help people spot and take action when they see someone with serious mental illness.

Ducey and GOP lawmakers insisted the cuts were necessary because the state just doesn't have enough money to pay for those programs—but then they passed new laws reducing taxes for Arizona's wealthiest residents and various special interests. In addition to the $68 million in corporate tax cuts already scheduled, the state made permanent and ever-growing cuts to the income tax, gave away another $30 million in various income-tax breaks by linking Arizona's tax system to the federal government's, and created new property-tax breaks for property owners who rent to churches. As the Weekly noted in "A Rich Shift" (April 2), those new cuts furthered the state's ongoing shift in tax burden from the wealthiest to the middle class and poor.

With all that said: We now answer the questions about the legislative session that we're going to pretend were sent in from our readers.

I was finally able to buy health insurance on the federal online marketplace. If the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the federal marketplace can't provide subsidies for middle-class families so they can buy insurance, is there any chance the state will set something up?

Nope. Arizona lawmakers passed a law saying the state won't be allowed to set up a health-insurance exchange if the Supreme Court rules against Obamacare. That would mean that an estimated 200,000 Arizonans who are getting insurance through the federal marketplace would, in all likelihood, lose their health insurance. Ducey told Howie Fischer of Capitol Media Services that he'll have a plan to help those people, most of whom are middle-class families who were able to purchase health insurance because their employers don't offer it, they are self-employed or they have pre-existing conditions.

Ducey told Fischer he didn't want to speculate on what the courts might do and, while he is opposed to setting up a state exchange, he would have some kind of plan to help those who lose insurance. Insuring 200,000 people with no funding will be quite a trick.

The bill itself is a bit silly; if lawmakers don't want to have a state exchange, they can simple not pass a bill creating one. But this takes the extra step of saying the state can't create one—even though if it decided to create one, it would just have to repeal the law saying it can't.

Can I finally take my gun into the Tucson City Council chambers while those communists drive our city into the toilet?

No, you still can't take your gun to the City Council meeting or any other public place where they are still off limits. And sawed-off shotguns and nunchucks remain illegal.

How did lawmakers make it harder to get an abortion this year?

Cathi Herrod of the Christian-conservative Center for Arizona Policy muscled through new restrictions: Women will no longer be able to buy coverage for abortion services if they get their insurance through the federal exchange, even if they pay for the coverage with their own money. (Of course, that's assuming the exchanges are around after the Supreme Court rules later this year, since the state won't do anything to create an exchange if the federal one is shut down.) In addition, doctors will be required to tell women who are seeking medication abortion that they can reverse the affects of taking a pill to terminate their pregnancy by taking another medication—a dubious proposition that has no basis in medical science, according to Dr. Ilana Addis, the chair of the board for the Arizona Section American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

I don't care much for the medical profession, but I have self-diagnosed a few ailments with WebMD. Can I go order my own blood tests now?

Knock yourself out. Lawmakers loosened the law to allow you to get any medical tests you want without a doctor's prescription.

I've been too high to get around to getting my medical marijuana card. Can I still do that?

It's going to be tougher, so you'd better do it soon, especially if you're less than legit. A new law requires doctors to be more vigilant in issuing medical recommendations for registration with the state because a lot of the medical marijuana recommendations are coming from a handful of naturopaths, so lawmakers suspect they are a little loose in their determination that a patient is really suffering from chronic pain rather than just jonesin' for some chronic.

Am I still going to be able to get a burger at my favorite microbrewery?

Yes. Some Arizona breweries are selling so much beer that they were at risk of having to cap production or close down their restaurants. While the big corporate distributors objected, lawmakers sided with the little guys on this one and lifted the cap.

This whole craft cocktail movement is great and all, but I can't tell you how many times I've wished I could purchase it in powder form, mix it with some water and—voila!—have a cocktail. Will my dreams come true?

Get ready to drink up. State lawmakers passed a ban on powdered alcohol, but Ducey—as business-friendly as ever—vetoed the bill, meaning that booze in powdered form will be coming your way soon. This may be the biggest break-though in cocktail history since the invention of purple drank.

Am I going to be able to board a plane next year with an Arizona driver's license?

Yes, but you'll have to get a new one. In a last-minute deal, lawmakers approved legislation that will allow Arizonans to get a new driver's license that complies with the federal REAL ID Act. Had they not done so, you would have needed a passport to board a plane. Why are you going to have to get the new license? Because years ago, lawmakers considered REAL ID-compliant driver's licenses to be a Orwellian plot and for some reason, former Gov. Janet Napolitano agreed with them and signed a bill banning them in Arizona.

I just can't drive 55. How about a break for speeders?

You got it: a new law will allow you to take defensive driving classes once a year instead of once every two years. Also, crappy drivers can continue texting while driving. However, efforts to ban red-light camera enforcement went nowhere.

Will I be able to buy a Tesla directly from the company?

Do you really think that auto dealer and GOP sugar daddy Jim Click going to allow a disruptive business model to mess up his good thing? Lawmakers rejected legislation that would have let Tesla set up their direct-to-the-customer shops in Arizona. But the good news is, you can buy an Elio. What the heck is Elio? Is it like a Segway?

No, not a Segway. Elio is a company that's promising to build a tiny three-wheeled car that gets 84 miles to the gallon and costs just $6,800. Lawmakers helped out by granting the company an exemption from a state law that requires a motorcycle license for anything with less than four wheels.

Until I get my Elio, I'm relying on Uber. Is that finally legal?

As part of Ducey's push for paradigm-disrupting entrepreneurs, Uber and Lyft won the battle against traditional taxis by getting their service in line with the law (or, more accurately, the law in line with their service). They will be regulated—drivers can't be drunk, high or sex offenders and they'll have to have insurance to cover $250,000 in liability, among other new rules. And, because this is the Arizona Legislature, they are not subject to sales tax.

I don't think there's enough money in politics. Did lawmakers do anything to help themselves collect more contributions?

Indeed they did. They boosted the amount of money they needed to raise by an $1,000 per election cycle so they can now accept up to $5,000 per individual.

I want to do a ballot initiative, but sometimes I'm a little sloppy. Is that going to be problem?

Yep. Lawmakers made it harder time for you to make your own laws, challenge laws passed by the Legislature or recall officials because a new law requires "strict" rather than "substantial" compliance with all the rules. That means that judges will be obligated to toss our initiative, referendum and recall efforts based on minor technicalities that they can now overlook when determining whether a measure should make the ballot.

I'm a Libertarian. Can I still run for office?

Yes, but it's not gonna be one of those deals where you only have to collect a half-dozen signatures to make the ballot. Lawmakers upped the signature requirement to require that you get enough signatures from everyone who is eligible to sign your nominating petition—so instead of just drawing from the pool of Libertarians in any given jurisdiction, you're also drawing from the number of independents.

I have an ever-growing collection of plastic bags in my kitchen pantry and I'd hate to see anything prevent me from adding to it. Did lawmakers look out for me?

They did. Local municipalities will be banned from banning or requiring a deposit or otherwise regulating those plastic bags to persuade shoppers to bring their own reusable bags to the store.

I just won the lottery! Can I keep my name a secret while I create a new life for myself far from here?

Congratulations—and yes. The names of lottery winners won't be released to the public for six months now, so you've got plenty of time to GTFO of this crazy state. But if you're a millionaire, you might want to stick around—you're the kind of person lawmakers look out for.

Comments (3)

Add a comment

Add a Comment

Tucson Weekly

Best of Tucson Weekly

Tucson Weekly