Welcome to the new Monday, according to the legislative calendar. This is the first week of who-knows-how-many in which we will meet only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays due to the dwindling number of bills and the holdups on Medicaid restoration, the budget, and the TPT simplification.
It certainly would be more advantageous to the people of Arizona if we could get those three things done and then go home, but lord knows the people of Arizona don't run this place.
The longer we stay in session, the more bad things come out of the woodwork. Yesterday Rep. Brenda Barton's (R-Payson) HB2455 was signed into law, outlawing the destruction of firearms obtained by cities in voluntary gun buyback programs. Tucson's own Charles Heller, founder of the Citizens Defense League, said before the session bragged that he would void Councilmember Steve Kozachik's Tucson gun buyback program by getting "his" bill passed, and he has now delivered.
You may remember Mr Heller from his infamous appearance on the Daily Show wherein he compared gun destruction to the Holocaust, and it was not an April Fools' joke. http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-april-1-2013/standing-up-for-guns
Under this law, if a teenager commits suicide with the family gun, his grieving parents would have to choose between taking that gun back home or giving it up with the knowledge that it would soon be in a display case of a local gun store. Arizona statute now takes away a family's right to find closure by voluntarily destroying their own property.
The fact that after January 8, after Aurora, and after Sandy Hook, this is the first gun bill signed into law is deeply disturbing, and I think repellent to most Arizonans, including most gun owners. I can only hope that Mr. Heller's friends do not feel further emboldened into continuing their plans to give away free shotguns in some of Tucson's most crime-plagued neighborhoods. I support the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment does not outlaw common sense.
The floor action today did not raise my spirits. Rep. Heather Carter's (R-Cave Creek) HB2404 would reduce energy efficiency standards in building construction, thus hurting homeowners by increasing the cost to maintain a home, hurting businesses who manufacture energy efficiency equipment and materials who would see their market shrink, and hurting the overall economy as business owners and homeowners waste more money on energy.
Proponents said that homeowners should have the right to choose an energy-wasting home to save a little money up front. But those who make that decision without considering the ongoing cost to maintain that home too often end up facing foreclosure down the line, ultimately threatening our real estate market that is just starting to show signs of recovery.
That bill passed 16-12 and now heads back to the House for concurrence or refusal of the amendment.
Our old familiar friend SB1439, Sen. Chester Crandell's (R-Heber) Legal Tender bill to allow you to buy groceries with Grandma's melted-down silver fork or gold ring came to a final vote on the floor as well. Despite my pointing out that the value of gold crashed by 10% in one day a couple of weeks ago, and reading a quote from the Utah Assistant Treasurer who said, "We're not sure that individual states creating alternative systems is necessarily a good solution," it passed 18-10 and is now on the Governor's desk for consideration.
I have some hope that she will veto the bill, given the obvious required increase in the size and scope of government to regulate and oversee a whole separate currency, and the nightmare it would pose for the Department of Revenue. Imagine a business collecting taxes in gold (as is required in the bill) in January when gold is selling for $1600 an ounce, then submitting those taxes the next month when gold is selling for $1300 an ounce -- how much taxes in dollars get submitted to the state? The value when collected, or the value when paid?
There is actually some good news today. Governor Brewer is stepping up her efforts to restore Medicaid and seems to be winning the fiscal arguments in favor among many legislative Republicans. She sent out a courageous and strongly worded letter last Thursday that lays out the facts as she sees them, which you can read in its entirety here.
The Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent a letter to Arizona confirming that they would no longer allow us to keep our current freeze on enrollment of single childless adults in poverty and remain eligible for federal matching funds. That means that we have four options for proceeding:
1) Continue freezing out single childless adults, despite the violation of the voter-approved law to the contrary. This would cost us $880 million in taxpayer dollars over three years, confirmed by the Legislature's own budget advisory committee.
2) Restore coverage for all childless adults, but do not cover those earning between 100% and 133% of the poverty level. This would cost us $1.3 billion over the next three years, even with federal matching funds, but would be consistent with voter-approved law.
3) Drop coverage for all childless adults -- the 63,000 people currently covered, including 5,000 cancer patients and 2,000 people with severe mental illness. This would cost us nothing but our souls, public safety, and the death of our healthcare system from the cost of unreimbursed care. The Governor calls this option "morally repugnant and fiscally irresponsible."
4) The Governor's plan to restore coverage for 240,000 childless adults in poverty and expand coverage to 57,000 more adults earring up to 133% of the poverty line. This actually EARNS us $100 million in the General Fund over the next three years.
So there it is: Pay nearly a billion dollars in taxpayer money over the next three years to NOT cover 297,000 people and drive our hospitals into bankruptcy, or rake in $100 million more to our state treasury while covering them all. Any other choice but the Governor's plan amounts to wasting taxpayer money, human lives, and the Arizona economy to make a political point.
I hear we may be moving closer to a vote. I hope it is soon, and I hope the outcome is based on facts, not ideology. Our constituents deserve no less.
Thanks for your faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley