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Isn't this what it's all about? Inspired by his fantastic teaching, these TUSD Doolen Middle School 8th Graders surprise Science teacher Ivan Yocum with 118 cupcakes arranged and decorated as elements on the Periodic Table. (Why do I know about this? Hint: my kitchen was the location for this culinary science experiment!).

Isn't this what it's all about? Inspired by his fantastic teaching, these TUSD Doolen Middle School 8th Graders surprise Science teacher Ivan Yocum with 118 cupcakes arranged and decorated as elements on the Periodic Table. (Why do I know about this? Hint: my kitchen was the location for this culinary science experiment!).

 
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2019 Legislature “Sine Dies”

I was beginning to doubt it was possible, but at 12:58 am this past Tuesday, the 2019 Arizona Legislature finally adjourned for the year (also known as "sine die"). It was our third late night - one lasted until 4:30 am - in almost as many days and happened only after a sufficient number of votes were found to pass the 2020 budget.
Senator Bradley, Rep. DeGrazia, and I held an LD10 Townhall on Saturday, June 1st to help explain the 2019 Session and what happened with the Budget to constituents.

Why I refused to support the budget deal

In the end, it was not a budget I could support. At a time when our schools, community colleges and universities continue to be underfunded, when our infrastructure is in bad need of repair, when homelessness in Arizona has spiked to record levels, and the climate-driven drought calls out for investments in water conservation and energy efficiency, I could not support a budget built upon a new, permanent $346 million tax cut.

This tax cut will far outlast the increased revenues it purportedly (and only partially!) offsets. Increases in state revenues from the Trump Administration's tax cuts end in 2025 along with the larger stream of dollars we receive for schools from the state's land trust under Prop 123 (passed by the voters in 2016). While we are facing a resulting fiscal cliff in 2025, supporters of the budget tax cut refused to include a 2025 sunset provision.

In the end, the budget passed out of both chambers with only the bare minimum of Republican votes necessary to pass. Had the majority party included Democrats in the budget negotiations, I strongly believe we would have had a better budget for Arizona and ended the session much sooner.

"Poison Pills"

If this was not bad enough, the budget had numerous "poison pills" that would have been difficult to swallow. Among them were:
- Inclusion of a provision appearing to enable politicians to publicly shame teachers for speaking out on political issues, regardless of whether the teacher's conduct is found to violate the law;
- A provision cutting of $1.75 million out of Secretary of State Katie Hobbs' election services budget, including $750,000 in Help America Vote funds which counties use for election security measures;
- An appropriation of an additional $20 million for groundwater pumping infrastructure -- funding that was rejected by the legislature when it enacted the Drought Contingency implementation plan;
- The appropriation of an additional $59 million in "results based funding" for district and charter schools, funding that tends to reward already wealthier schools with even more funding vis-a-vis low-income schools.


It wasn't all bad news

Don't take me wrong. There are good things in this budget, many of which I support. The budget includes more money for our classrooms, additional pay increases for teachers (pursuant to the 20x20 plan set forth by the Governor last year), money for school counselors, modest additional investment in the Housing Trust Fund and an unfreezing of Kids Care health insurance enrollment. Finally, the budget extends the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual abuse to sue their abuser and provides a window for such presently time-barred actions to be filed up until Dec. 31, 2020.

And in those last days, we had some important wins for Criminal Justice Reform

SB 1334, SE, Reform to Repetitive Offender Sentencing

During the last days of the session, SB 1334, S/E, passed both the House and Senate.  The bill makes an important reform to Arizona’s repetitive offender sentencing law by ensuring that people will only be sentenced as repetitive offenders if they have prior historical felony convictions – i.e., they are true repeat offenders who were previously convicted of and sentenced for another crime before they committed the current offense.

I was proud to serve on the Conference Committee on SB 1334.

SB 1310, Reform to Earned Release Credit system for Drug Offenders

The legislature also passed SB 1310, which should see the release of up to 80 prisoners currently incarcerated for a drug offense but who meet certain conditions including that they have served 70 percent of their sentence ( as opposed to the usual 85%) and have completed a major self-improvement program while in prison. We have a LONG way to go on this topic, but this bill was a modest improvement that I supported.

Thank you for sending me to the Capitol to represent you

It has been a huge honor. I tried my best this past session and we had many successes. I am excited to go back next year to fight for you again.


Sincerely,

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Highlights of the Session that has still to end...

Most years, the legislature will have passed a budget by now and legislators will have all gone home. But not this year. Negotiations on the budget are ongoing and it's hard to say how much longer the session will last. What we do know is that the House Democrats are continuing to fight hard for what will make Arizona strong: quality education, safe infrastructure, affordable housing and social services, and a clean and healthy environment.

A great way to get current on the budget is to watch this Facebook Live recording of the Budget Town Hall that several of us did at the Pima Community College in Tucson. In it, we give an overview of Arizona's budget and how we got to our present day and how we can craft a budget that funds our priorities.

2020 House Democratic Caucus Budget Priorities
Funding for public education continues to be our top ask. State funding per K-12 pupil continues to be lower today than it was at the height of the recession.

And the impacts of the years of inadequate funding shows. Talented teachers in AZ leave our schools to get better paying jobs, often in other states, school plumbing goes unrepaired and many classrooms are overcrowded. The proposed House Democrats budget would invest in K-12 by fully making up for the District Additional Assistance (money for textbooks, computers, etc.). And that's not all. Our budget provides funding for our roads and bridges and affordable housing AND puts money into the State rainy day fund, a priority of the Governor's. We CAN do it.

Here's how the House Democratic Caucus Budget would allocate the "surplus" funds Arizona received in revenues this fiscal year -- roughly $850 million.

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We'll know a lot more this week. Bottom line: it is not too late to weigh in on your priorities for Arizona's budget! Call/email me and your other legislators, call the Governor, make your voice heard! Hopefully we will be done with the budget by our next LD10 Town Hall on June 1st, but in the meantime, please mark it down in your calendars. I promise you we'll have a LOT to talk about!

ISSUE AREA UPDATES

Education: It's Past Time we freeze Corporate Tax Credits that divert money from our public schools

According to an  Arizona Department of Revenue report, more than $250 million in corporate taxes have been diverted from the state general fund by corporate Student Tuition Organization tax credits from their inception in fiscal year 2006 to fiscal year 2016.  Every year the percent of corporate taxes that can be diverted to STOs increases by 20 percent such that this year it was $85 million and in 2020 it will be $100 million.  

This is tax money that would otherwise go to our General Fund to help fund our public schools, but instead is going to private schools.  By freezing the corporate STO tax credit, we would have more money available for our public schools.  

SB 1485 (Mesnard - R), still alive in the legislature, is a step in the right direction, but it doesn't go far enough.  The bill would reduce the corporate tax credit increase to 15 percent in fiscal year 2020-21, 10 percent in FY 2021-22 and to 5 percent in FY 2022-23 and thereafter by the greater of either two percent or the annual increase in the Metropolitan Phoenix consumer price index.

I am proud of Arizona's many fine private schools.  But public tax dollars should go to public schools, it's that simple.  

Criminal Justice Reform: Last chance this session
Despite high hopes for criminal justice reform this session, opponents have managed to ensure that little was accomplished in this important area to our community. One reform bill that still has life, however, is a strike everything amendment to SB 1334. This amendment, introduced by Rep. Ben Toma, enables a prosecutor to use a prior offense to enhance an offender's sentence, but only if the offender has actually been convicted of that prior offense. This will help address our 4th-highest-in-the-nation incarceration rate by reining in a tactic by which prosecutors obtain plea agreements with long prison sentences. The bill will be up for a vote in the Senate on Monday and, assuming it passes, we hope the Governor listens to the broad spectrum of stakeholders who support the bill - everyone from the Americans for Prosperity to the ACLU -- and signs the bill into law. Please call Governor Ducey and tell him that you support SB 1334 S/E! (602) 628-6580!

Attacks on our citizen initiative process continue!
The Republican majority's attack upon citizen initiative petitions continues. SB 1451 (Leach- R) adds new and onerous requirements for paid and out-of-state circulators of citizen initiatives and referenda. This bill is a solution in search of a problem. None of the bill's advocates can point to instances of fraud and abuse by such circulators. Although we have seen fraudulent signatures on candidate petitions, ironically, this bill would not apply to candidate petitions! SB 1451 has passed both the House and the Senate once, but awaits a final Senate vote and the Governor's signature. There is still time to defeat this bill that will make it more difficult to get initiatives on the ballot. Initiatives provide the voters with way to enact policy when their will is stymied by the state legislature.

Preserve the power of local government to regulate youth smoking and vaping
A strike everything amendment to SB 1147 (Allen-R), supported by Big Tobacco, raises the age of purchasing tobacco and vape products to 21, but preempts cities and towns from regulating the sale or marketing of tobacco and vape products in the future. We rely on that regulation today to prevent the clustering of vape shops in shopping centers or near schools and to protect persons from second hand smoke inside and outside public buildings. The amendment also provides for online purchases of tobacco and vaping products. But our own Attorney General's office sees this as difficult to enforce, not to mention potentially opening up sales by retailers who may be overseas or out of state, and therefore all but immune to a penalty. Together with the American Lung Association, American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, the Arizona Medical Association, The League of Cities and Towns, the Arizona School Administrators, the Arizona Nurses Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the AZ Academy of Family Physicians, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Arizona School Board Association, Arizona PTA Association, Children’s Action Alliance, Arizonans Concerned About Smoking and the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation and others, I oppose SB 1147 S/E. We can do a better job of protecting our youth.

Thanks for tuning into my latest newsletter. The budget is around the corner. Much will be happening at the legislature in the very near future that will impact the future of our state for years to come. Thanks for staying tuned and staying engaged!

Sincerely,

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Touring the Maricopa County Jail with colleague Rep. Daniel Hernandez on far right.

Touring the Maricopa County Jail with colleague Rep. Daniel Hernandez on far right.

 

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EARTH DAY 2019

Today we commemorate the first Earth Day in 1970 with a call to action on climate change.
Thinking about the enormity of the challenge before us, it's easy to get discouraged.
We know that, when it comes to climate change, Arizona has the most to lose.

As an arid state, we need every drop of water we get from the sky, ground and from the Colorado River. But we also know that, as the climate warms, we will get less rain, especially winter rain. And as it gets hotter in Arizona, perhaps much hotter, this warming will alone drive declines in Colorado River water flow by 25-30% in the next 30 years. And with hotter temperatures comes an increase in wildfire risk. Wildfires are increasing and the wildfire season is getting longer in Arizona and other western states.

So what is Arizona doing to address climate change?

The truth is, very little.

Twenty-nine states plus the District of Columbia have adopted specific greenhouse gas reduction targets to address climate change.

Arizona is not one of them.

Twenty-two states plus the District of Columbia have adopted specific greenhouse gas emissions reduction plans.

Arizona is not one of them.

According to Climate Central, a global watch dog organization, Arizona received a C- in terms of preparedness for Climate change, a D+ for our average level of preparedness for drought and a D- for our preparedness for wildfire.

We should be the very 1st state in the percentage of electricity we get from solar, and yet we are 5th, below even the state of Massachusetts! Arizona has the lowest renewable portfolio standard of states around us, just 15 percent by 2025, lower than New York and New Jersey, not exactly considered sunny states! When the citizens rose up to try to raise Arizona’s RPS, by ballot initiative, to 50 percent by 2030, the State’s largest utility 30 million in a successful bid to defeat the measure.

But it’s not all bad news. On the positive side, Arizona has legislators, lots of them, standing ready and willing to work to address climate change and its threats. We have legislation just waiting to be heard on energy and water conservation to mitigate climate change. We just need to get these bills a hearing!

How about HB 2392, a bill I introduced to have Arizona upgrade its appliance efficiency standards estimated to save 157 million in the year 2025?

Or what about HB 2394, a bill I introduced to upgrade plumbing standards to save water – reducing the water we need for our daily lives and saving energy?

Or what about HB 2631, a bill I have introduced repeatedly to have Arizona adopt the Clean Car standards adopted in 13 states and the District of Columbia, which will increase the number of electric vehicles on our roads?

Or what about the myriad of other bills introduced by my colleagues that will mitigate climate change and project our communities and our ecosystems from the ravages of climate change?

The bills are already drafted. The people are here to support them.

What ON EARTH are we waiting for?

LET’S TAKE ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE NOW!

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