Breathe easy, Arizona. The state Legislature has wrapped up its work for the year.
The longer-than-usual legislative session that included a big boost in state spending—if you count the savings Gov. Doug Ducey and lawmakers squirreled away and the debt they paid down by buying back the state Capitol.
Lawmakers forced a creep out of the House after journalists dug up police reports that he had been arrested for sexually preying on children in the ’80s.
They finally made it illegal to text and drive.
And they even repealed a law banning teaching about “homosexual lifestyles” in sex education.
And while legislators were busy debating important issues like whether porn is a “public health crisis” and approving a new official state drink—lemonade, not margaritas, as some lawmakers wanted—they didn’t get around to a lot of the usual agenda items, like knocking back reproductive rights, screwing with teachers and cutting corporate taxes.
It wasn’t all sunshine and daisies at the Capitol this year. But it could have been much worse.
But hey, you’re busy. You don’t have time to watch the 91 jokers who run this state. We get that. So what exactly do you need to know from the 2019 legislative session? You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.
I thought schools were supposed to get a bunch of money after that teachers’ strike last year. But my kid’s teacher is still driving a ’92 Geo Metro, the history textbook says Ronald Reagan is president and there are no computers in the classroom. What gives?
When teachers walked off the job in April and May last year, they struck fear into the heart of Gov. Doug Ducey, who tried to head them off with the promise of a 20 percent raise by 2020.
The teachers still did their walkout, demanding lawmakers return education funding to pre-recession levels, pay increases for support staff and a promise of no new tax cuts until the other things happened—none of which happened.
This year, lawmakers continued those promised raises—on top of the 10 percent last year, they added enough funding for another 5 percent raise this year.
Lawmakers also gave schools an additional $68 million in “district additional assistance,” money that can be used for capital expenses like new textbooks, chairs and computers. But that’s still far short of the $200 million schools are supposed to get, according to the funding formula.
Some schools will get much-needed repairs after lawmakers put $63 million into school repair, as well as another $16 million towards building new schools.
And schools with high test scores will have an opportunity to get $40 million worth of “results-based funding.”
Additionally, lawmakers allocated an additional $20 million for school resource officers (essentially campus cops), or schools can choose to use that funding for additional school counselors. Arizona has one of the worst counselor-to-student ratios in the United States.
It’s not the $2 billion education advocates say schools need immediately to be made whole from recession-era cuts, but it’s a start.
Ducey was able to get lawmakers to go along with one of his solutions to Arizona’s teacher shortage crisis by putting $15 million into expanding his “teacher academy” program to pay off college debt for those who plan to become teachers in Arizona.
Lawmakers also made a few vindictive attempts to get back at teachers for having the gall to walk off the job last year. Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, sponsored legislation to fine teachers for espousing political views in the classroom and to fine schools for closing unexpectedly, but neither of those bills made it to Ducey’s desk.
At the end of the day, while lawmakers marginally improved education funding, the problems from a decade of decline and neglect continue to plague Arizona schools.
A few years ago, lawmakers slashed funding to University of Arizona and gutted state support for Pima Community College. Did lawmakers restore any of those cuts or do anything to drive down the cost of higher education?
The budget Republican lawmakers and Doug Ducey approved did restore some funding to the state’s universities. But those investments weren’t exactly what you’d call “big league.”
After cutting $100 million from the state’s three universities in 2015, lawmakers this year put $35 million of one-time funding into the university system. For UA, that comes out to an additional $9.4 million this year. Additionally, the UA Health Science Center got an $8 million special appropriation.
Pima Community College is still getting no ongoing general-fund support from the state after Ducey and GOP lawmakers cut the school out of the state budget completely in 2015. But the school’s aviation program, which Ducey toured earlier this year, did get a $15 million special appropriation in the state budget.
Ducey proposed spending $20 on expanding that program, though lawmakers cut that down to just $15 million in the final budget.
I’m really concerned about Arizona’s ecological future and long-term sustainability. What did lawmakers do to ensure the golf courses in Phoenix don’t use all the state’s water?
Lawmakers signed on to the Drought Contingency Plan, a multistate pact among the seven states that rely on the drought-stricken Colorado River for water to ensure reservoirs like Lake Mead don’t fall below to critical levels.
The plan heads off a looming threats of a federal takeover of water-conservation efforts.
It stipulates Arizona will have to cut back on its use of river water in order to ensure water levels at Lake Mead don’t continue to drop.
Environmentalists complain that the plan doesn’t actually instruct the state to conserve water and cut use—the golf courses and cotton farms aren’t going anywhere. Rather, the plan shifts the sources of water, allowing farmers to pump more groundwater to wean them off Lake Mead.
Even the policymakers who crafted the plan admit the plan is a band-aid and there’s much more work to be done to keep the Southwest from going dry.
I was among the many citizens who voted against giving lawmakers a raise the last time it was rejected at the ballot box. Did lawmakers find a backdoor way to give themselves more money?
They sure did! The Arizona Constitution says the only way lawmakers can get a raise is by asking the people to vote for one. But those protections apply only to lawmakers’ base pay, not their daily allowance.
Currently, lawmakers who live in Maricopa County get an extra $35 per day to pay their expenses, and lawmakers outside Maricopa receive $60 per day.
But in the final hours of the legislative session, lawmakers gave themselves a boost, upping that pay to $90 for Maricopa County lawmakers and $180 for lawmakers from everywhere else.
Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on much these days, but increasing their daily allowance was a popular bipartisan idea, as lawmakers argued they can’t afford to live on the $24,000 annual salary for their part-time jobs.
As of press time, the bill remained unsigned on Ducey’s desk.
I heard Alabama straight-up outlawed abortion, in clear violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. Did Arizona lawmakers try to do anything similar?
Not this year. In the waning hours of the legislative session, Republicans at the Capitol tried to funnel $2.5 million of taxpayer money into crisis pregnancy centers, which attempt to steer women away from abortions. The money would have been used to set up a pilot program for a pro-life group to operate a hotline to tell women about their options—other than abortion, of course—when they become pregnant.
The bill was backed by the usual suspects at the state’s most powerful Christian-values lobby, Center for Arizona Policy.
With conservatives now solidly in control of the U.S. Supreme Court, a bunch of deep-red states have been attempting to pass blatantly unconstitutional anti-choice legislation to get the question back before the U.S. Supreme Court and overturn Roe v. Wade.
But because Republicans have such a narrow majority in the Arizona Senate, it only takes two defectors to kill a bill. A pair of Republicans in the Senate—Kate Brophy McGee of Phoenix and Heather Carter of Cave Creek—joined with Democrats to stop it, and the Legislature adjourned for the year without any of its usual attacks on reproductive rights.
I’m training to be a ninja but my sensei won’t let me train with nunchucks because they’re illegal in Arizona. Did lawmakers hook me up?
You bet they did!
Back when martial arts movies were booming in the 1970s, Arizona lawmakers—wary of children mimicking Bruce Lee and always looking for new ways to be subtly racist—outlawed nunchucks.
But 40 years later, two sticks on a string found a champion in Sen. David “Which Lobbyist Is Buying Dinner Tonight” Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, a martial arts instructor as well as a lawmaker.
A district court recently struck down New York’s ban on nunchucks, calling it a violation of the Second Amendment—and Arizona lawmakers weren’t about to look like a bunch of lib nunchuck-grabbers by allowing our nunchuck ban to stay on the books.
After Gov. Doug Ducey signed the bill, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich uploaded a video to Twitter of him showing off his sweet ninja skills. But the AG jumped the gun, as critics on Twitter noted, since the law doesn’t go into effect until the end of August.
Can I still text and drive? This is the land of freedom, after all.
After years of refusing to take action, state lawmakers made Arizona the 48th state to ban texting and driving, though there won’t be any fines until 2021. So text while you can, bad drivers!
I basically just pick up the Tucson Weekly for the medical marijuana advertisements. What did lawmakers do this year to screw with medical marijuana patients?
Believe it or not, lawmakers actually did you a few favors this year.
Sen. Gowan sponsored legislation that would force dispensaries get their products tested for harmful contaminants like pesticides, herbicides and heavy metals.
That bill, SB 1494, was approved unanimously in the House and Senate, but is still awaiting the governor’s signature or veto as of Tucson Weekly‘s deadline.
The bill also contains a provision requiring patients to renew their medical marijuana card every two years, rather than every year. And with pot proponents taking another shot at legalization on the 2020 ballot, by the time you have to renew your card, recreational marijuana may be legal.
Wasn’t there also something about marijuana extracts? Is my weed vape pen legal or not?
Well, Rep. Tony Rivero, R-Peoria, attempted to clarify that marijuana products like edibles, vapes, wax, tinctures or any of the multitude of other MMJ products that you can pick up at any dispensary in the state are, indeed, legal for MMJ patients.
That was necessary after anti-pot activist and Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk locked up a medical marijuana patient for two-and-a-half years after cops caught him with a few grams of hash.
Rivero wasn’t able to get that bill across the finish line, but the Arizona Supreme Court took up the case, and smacked Polk down in a unanimous ruling, saying when voters approved the Medical Marijuana Act in 2010, which defines marijuana as “all” parts of the plant, they clearly didn’t intend to allow people to only smoke the flower. “The word ‘all’… means exactly that,” the court wrote.