This week's theme is a Tale of Two Legislatures: One wildly partisan, driven by ideological conspiracies from the far right, and the other bipartisan, driven by good ideas that eschew ideology and bring people together. I saw plenty of both in the last two days.
Starting with the bad news, we were treated to three hours of testimony in the Government and Environment committee last night about Judy Burges' (R-Skull Valley) SB1403, that would prohibit the state and all the cities and counties therein from "adopting or implementing the United Nations Rio Declaration on Environment and Development."
In case you hadn't heard about the Rio Declaration, also known as "Agenda 21", you haven't been reading enough of the far-right conspiracy websites lately. Folks more extreme than Glenn Beck are convinced that the U.N. is using this 1992 document to force us all to give up our private land and move into tiny boxes so that the vast majority of America will be reserved for the use of non-human animals. We were told by the sponsor that the idea was "Communist" in nature.
Calling the Rio Principles "seductive evils", Sen. Burges declared, "The truth contained within this United Nations program is something sinister and dark. The plan calls for government to take control of all land use and not leave any of the decisions in the hands of private property owners." She asked the committee audience of around 60-70 supporters (some from as far away as Montana), "Are you ready to be forced to give up your private land?" to which they responded in a loud "NO!"
What are these "seductive evils"? You can read all 27 principles here. Signed onto by the noted Communist President George W. Bush, they include:
Principle 1. The role of man
Human beings are at the centre of concern for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.
Principle 2. State sovereignty
States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and developmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.
Principle 10. Public participation
Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.
Principle 18. Notification of Natural Disaster
States shall immediately notify other States of any natural disasters or other emergencies that are likely to produce sudden harmful effects on the environment of those States. Every effort shall be made by the international community to help States so afflicted.
Principle 20. Women have a Vital Role
Women have a vital role in environmental management and development. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development.
Outrageous, eh? The bill proposed to make all the above activities illegal in Arizona, setting up a kind of anti-Constitution -- written by the U.N. -- which agencies and businesses and governments would have to NOT obey or else they would be punished in some way.
So it is not surprising that even the leaders of the business community, including the noted Communist-infiltrated Arizona Chamber of Commerce, testified against the bill, along with several state agencies. They would like to be able to participate in public comment on proposed regulations, and they think women do have a role in development.
It's this sort of irrelevant distraction that hurts our state so badly and so unnecessarily. Everyone has the right to express their point of view, but it's beyond me how these folks get into positions of power so they can embarrass us on an international stage, chasing away businesses that might want to come here to help us grow our economy.
Why do we waste legislative time on far-fetched conspiracy theories, when we should be improving our schools, fixing our transportation system, and creating jobs? And what happens when people in powerful positions become convinced they and their supporters are the powerless victims who need to rise up and smite their enemies? In world history, that has not traditionally ended well.
If you want to read finer points of the testimony, read both pages of this Phoenix New Times blogposting, including the accusations that the U.N. is undermining the American way of life via the Phoenix Light Rail system and the mixed-use sustainable development that followed.
Luckily, this wing does not dominate the legislature like in past years, so there is hope. And that hope was on display today in the Senate Transportation Committee as it passed two of my bills, and will be on display tomorrow as the Senate Finance committee is expected to pass another of my bills with strong bipartisan support.
My SB1206 would call a truce in the seven-year Special License Plate Wars, in which I have played a leading role, alongside many legislators of both parties. Every session, members introduce several bills to create a new Arizona license plate of a new design to benefit a new nonprofit. The nonprofit has to pony up $32,000 in startup costs, and then they get $18 out of the $25 cost of a special plate sold to the public. Many nonprofits never earn back their initial investment.
I and some of my colleagues have a problem with this process. We now have more than 50 special plates, and we are at the point where it is nearly impossible to identify many of these plates as originating in Arizona. A license plate exists for one reason: To identify a vehicle to law enforcement and witnesses of crimes. Period. And if the plate design is getting in the way of that single purpose, we have a public safety problem.
I designed a License Plate Game for committee members that you can play at home -- it is attached at the bottom of this email. I arranged 42 standard plates from other states interspersed with 33 Arizona special plates. See if you can find the Arizona plates!
Even trained DPS officers are having a hard time reading the new plates, and untrained witnesses are having a harder time. So I have voted against every special plate that came before me since 2007, and have even proposed a bill to eliminate the entire program.
But that can all change now that my solution, SB1206, passed the Transportation Committee today and will soon be headed to the floor. I propose something being done in Maryland and a few other states -- special plates henceforward will have a standardized design based on the standard Grand Canyon plate, with a 3" square reserved for the design of the beneficiary organization, who can also include a slogan at the bottom. Organizations still get their fundraising, but we are not compromising public safety, and we no longer have to waste legislative time on special plate bills.
My second bill to pass out of Transportation Committee today deals with the problem I explained a couple of weeks ago when talking about my task force to replace the declining and dying gas tax with a more sustainable source of funding. Electric vehicles do not buy gas, so they have no way of paying for the road network they need to use.
SB1197 would simply direct ADOT to start a pilot program to tax electric vehicles one cent per mile in lieu of the gas tax, in order to close the current loophole, and ensure that the growing user base for EVs doesn't bankrupt our transportation finance system. And more importantly, it furthers the discussion on how we solve our impending transportation funding crisis-- here in Arizona and nationally. Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic wrote at excellent and comprehensive article on that topic last Saturday, and I urge you to read and pass it along.
And at the risk of jinxing the bill, I am confident that my small-business-assistance bill SB1162 will pass the Senate Finance Committee in its hearing tomorrow, thanks to a Farley Report reader/constituent/small business owner who suggested the idea to me.
Currently, statutes provide certain threshold amounts of sales taxes collected that determine at what level a small business reports and pays those taxes to the state and local municipalities. Those numbers have not changed in 16 years, so many more businesses are now forced to fill out forms and send in taxes monthly instead of quarterly, and quarterly instead of annually.
The bill simply increases those thresholds so that small businesses file less often and can use the taxes they collect for short-term cash flow, something in short supply in this economy. It costs the state nothing, and saves time and money for small business owners so they can concentrate on making their operation successful and hiring more people. Win-win-win!
I will keep aiming for the bipartisan win-win solutions, and they will power me through the ideological ranting I experienced last night. That's the way to good governance for us all.
Thanks for your faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley