The Farley Report from Phoenix #200: 2-18-14

Welcome to the Bicentennial Farley Report! Yes, I've written this long, wonkish insider email to you 200 times now, and I am grateful you are not tired of me yet.

The last two days have felt like two weeks as we started the final week of hearing Senate bills in the Senate. Three of my bills are progressing in their original form, others are moving in different forms, and I've got some hot committee and other action to report on as well.

But first, here's your Farley Pledge Break:

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It's that time again! If you'd like me to continue serving you in the Senate, I need to get re-elected. In order to get re-elected, I need three things from you tonight: Signatures, funding, and volunteers. How about a little contribution in honor of the Bicentennial Report? 

1) Signatures: If you live in District 9, and you like the representation I have been providing you, you can now sign my nominating petition online by clicking on this link. It's really easy and will take no more than 30 seconds of your time, so please click and sign today, and urge your friends to do the same. It costs you nothing! Thank you!  

Please sign my nominating petition here.

2) Funding: I need to raise money to get the word out to voters on why I should be re-elected. The more you can give now, the less I will have to bother you later! 

My opponents (whoever they may be) may get more deep pockets in their corner (given the new maximum contribution of $4,000 per person!), but I feel confident I can match them stride for stride with your passion for good governance on my side. Please help me out in any way you can, starting today. Perhaps a dollar for each of the 200 Farley Reports I have written? Thank you!

You can securely give $20, $200, or even $500 online right now.

3) Walking: If you would like to have a pleasant walk in the District 9 sunshine, gathering nominating signatures for me and other Democratic candidates, super-volunteer Rod McLeod will be hosting a walk at his house in Casas Adobes, 6634 N Los Arboles Circle, on THIS Saturday, February 22, at 9am. Join me as we kick off the voter-contact portion of this campaign with enthusiasm -- The general election is only nine months away! If you can come, please reply to this email to let me know.

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On to the news:

--> Farley bills pass: My bill to reduce sales tax reporting requirements and increase cash flow to small retail businesses at no cost to the state SB1134 passed a final vote on the Senate floor 30-0 last Thursday, and is now awaiting committee assignments in the House. My bill SB1032 to force all future specialty license plates to have a standardized design so that they are easily recognizable to law enforcement and witnesses to crimes as Arizona plates passed Committee of the Whole on the Senate Floor yesterday, and is awaiting a final vote any day now. 

My bill SB1031 to ban license plate covers -- those plastic or electronic devices to obscure license plates from law enforcement -- was heard this afternoon in Senate Transportation Committee. Strangely enough, they are actually not already illegal, so some drivers are using that loophole to avoid identification. The Highway Patrolmen are strongly in favor of the bill. It passed unanimously out of committee and is now headed to Rules Committee, then the floor.

--> Dark money bill passes first hurdle: SB1403, sponsored by Michelle Reagan (R-Scottsdale) and I, passed unanimously out of the Senate Elections Committee this afternoon, after long debate and much back and forth among stakeholders across party lines. The bill was amended to loosen some provisions and tighten others, but remains a tool to force disclosure of the big-money contributors on the left and right who have been increasingly overwhelming our democracy with free-flowing anonymous money since the disastrously misguided Citizens United court decision. 

One bad change was reducing the penalty for nondisclosure from a felony to a civil penalty, but the enforcement mechanisms were strengthened by allowing the Clean Elections board to investigate possible violations. The top three identifiable contributors will be required to be disclosed in any political advertising, along with the address of the Secretary of State's website where other top contributors can be found. Groups making independent expenditures and are organized primarily to influence elections would be forced to file as a political committee and be subject to these provisions. 

We were treated to a reminder of why disclosure is so important at the end of testimony against the bill by Republican elections attorney Mike Liburdi, who signed in as representing the mysterious-sounding "Arizona Victory Alliance". Senator Reagan asked him who his dark-money client was, and he responded, "I can't tell you."

This bill still has a long road to travel, and there are many powerful opponents so things can change but the road looks promising for now -- an astonishing development in an election year where bipartisanship is traditionally in short supply, particularly on important topics. 

--> Improving Rio Nuevo: I don't have to run down the litany of sins committed by those mismanaging the Rio Nuevo tax-increment finance district over the past 15 years, and I remain furious about the ruined opportunity the whole project represented for Tucson. If all the wasted money had been spent on streetcar extensions, we could have generated billions of dollars in new economic activity reaching to all areas of the Tucson region. 

But I am very pleased that native Tucsonan Fletcher McCusker, who boasts of having been a Mickey Mouse Club member at Downtown's Fox Theatre in the 1950s, is now a steady and trustworthy hand at the helm of the Rio Nuevo District and is focused on righting the ship and sailing it into safe harbor. He has done a great job working out mutually beneficial agreements to longstanding conflicts with the City of Tucson and will make sure that the funds remaining will be spend in the wisest way possible.

When McCusker asked Senator Bob Worsley (R-Mesa) to run a bill to add more transparent reporting requirements, and release the district from having to build a new convention hotel (something no longer a major priority for the area) so it can focus on more important investments, I asked to be a co-sponsor to help shape the bill's final form. 

One element I did not like was a provision that completely removed the requirement that five members of the nine-member board reside in the City of Tucson. McCusker was trying to make it easier for the Governor and the Legislature to appoint new members when needed without having such a limited pool to choose from. I spoke with him and Sen. Worsley, and brokered a compromise that restores the requirement that four of the members be residents of the City. In Finance Committee last Wednesday, my amendment to that effect was adopted, and the bill SB1351 passed out of committee unanimously. I hope that the bill will help end the sorry chapter in our civic history when Rio Nuevo became a synonym for failure, and we can salvage real benefit for our region moving forward.

--> Border fence vs. border trade: Yesterday among the 21 (count 'em!) bills we heard in the Government and Environment Committee was a bill SB1106 by Sen. Worsley to appropriate $30 million to build a 10-mile virtual border wall of 300 portable radar/infrared camera devices from a specific vendor that would be visible to the public on a website. Originally proposed as being placed within 20 miles of the border, Chair Gail Griffin (R-Hereford) amended the bill to keep it within one mile of the border, to address the privacy concerns of hundreds of publicly accessible cameras peering at private land. You can read Howie Fischer's article about the hearing here.

The idea of the bill was to allow the public to keep an eye on the border to see if the Federal Government is telling the truth about how many apprehensions are at the border. The Border Patrol had already turned down the system as unworkable for their own use. It was unclear to me in that case why Arizona taxpayers should spring for the system that the Feds had turned down, especially considering the other pressing needs of our state. Half that money would completely fund the waiting list for families waiting for childcare assistance so parents can go to work and not neglect their children at home. 

Beyond all that, what we need now is not more ideology at the border, as other states like Texas are now fighting a pitched battle with us for border trade. They are building new connections (like a new high-speed cross-border rail line), not new walls -- virtual or otherwise -- that would divide us from the booming economy of Northern Mexico. More than a third of our retail activity in Tucson each day comes from legal Mexican visitors. 

In partnership with Washington, we recently upgraded the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales, to facilitate more trade, but the unimproved State Route 189 -- connecting that port with I-19 --remains a bottleneck of long delays currently being trumpeted by Texas to prove that we Arizonans are not worthy as a trading partner with Mexico. Rather than spending $30 million to fight yesterday's ideological battles, let's spend that money to win tomorrow's economic battles by improving State Route 189 and boosting trade.

--> Child Protective Services update: This morning about half the Senate met with CPS Director Charles Flanagan to get an update on what is happening to fix the broken system and keep our kids safe once again. I was pretty disappointed that majority staff declared it a closed meeting and kept out a reporter from the Capitol Times over my objections that transparency was of utmost importance especially on this topic. In the case of a diseased department, sunshine really is the best disinfectant. In that regard, I took good notes and after the meeting was over I shared them all with the reporter. 

Director Flanagan gave us some sobering news on the depth of the crisis. Since re-investigating the thousands of calls that were stamped "Not Investigated" and previously tossed to the side, more than 450 children have been removed from their homes due to imminent danger that had been ignored by the agency for months. Another 300 families had generated between eight and 11 additional calls each to the call center that had also been ignored, spiraling those families into even worse situations because there was no early intervention. 

Turnover was at ridiculously high rates. Supervisors who had not received supervisory training for up to a year after being hired had been telling new caseworkers, "This job is not for everyone, and most of you will quit." Great for morale! And the call center workers were overwhelmed with unnecessary paperwork that lengthened calls to as long as two hours each, mostly filled with pauses while the papers were filled out -- thus increasing long waits, busy signals, and dropped calls. Once those papers were entered into multiple databases, if a typo was made, the caseworker often had to start at the beginning, further wasting time that could have been spent helping kids. 

I do have a great deal of faith that Director Flanagan is the right person for the job right now. He turned around a failing department at Juvenile Corrections, and is committed to making this a success. I do worry about too much money being spent on creating a new department rather than on prevention programs that have been cut in the last five years, but regardless I think he can transform the culture at the agency. 

I have been hearing rumors that there will be some sort of special session to deal with the entire CPS transformation issue, either during the session or immediately afterward, but no specifics on that were divulged at this meeting. I appreciate the openness of the Director to us Senators, and his pledge to meet regularly, but I hope that the next meeting can be open to the public and media as well.

Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator. 

Steve

Steve Farley

Senator, District 9, Tucson

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