The Farley Report from Phoenix #202: 3-11-14

I apologize to those of you who missed your regular Farley Report last Tuesday -- I struggled mightily with a nasty virus last week and struggled just to stand upright and make floor votes until I finally retreated to my sick bed on Thursday. I am now on the mend, just in time -- bills are being pumped through both chambers at a massive rate in order to keep alive as many members' bills as possible as we head into the dramatic final chapter of this year's legislative session. Committees end next week!

After the break, I'll regale you with the tale of a victory over the conspiracy theorists on education, the strange story of how a bipartisan vote eliminated the Department of Environmental Quality (for a week), the latest attacks on women's reproductive rights by CAP doyenne Cathi Herrod, and how energy efficiency and housing affordability are under threat. Plus, yours truly on C-Span! 

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 two things from you tonight: Signatures and funding. 

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. Thank you!

You can securely give $20, $200, or even $2000 online right now!

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On to the news:

--> Victory for common sense and Common Core: Senator, gubernatorial hopeful, and Anderson Cooper's debating partner Al Melvin doesn't like the Common Core standards adopted by 45 states to date, including Arizona, which has been teaching the CC curriculum for the last four years. But he can't tell you exactly why. 

He has said that people tell him that some of the readings are "pornographic", but he doesn't know exactly what. He thinks some of the math is "fuzzy" and offered evidence that some of the equations substitute letters for numbers, a process known to some as "algebra".

So without much in the way of arguments, Senator Melvin offered up SB1310 to ban any Common Core standards, testing, or curriculum in Arizona, with no substitute offered in its place. 

SB1310 would leave Arizona schools without any accountability measures and Arizona students without any testing mechanisms effective immediately, and leave us once again as the lonely outliers with an underfunded, unaccountable public education system. Students would be looked upon as pariahs by higher-education institutions, and businesses would be unsure whether they would be able to hire qualified employees in our state. 

Why would Melvin and his conservative allies want to do this to us and our kids? With no examples we were told that he had "heard some bad things" about Common Core. 

Thankfully, having been awakened by SB1062 to the importance of acting in advance of a senate vote to counter the ideologically-driven majority, the business community sprang into action early this time and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce sent to all members a strongly worded letter of opposition, pointing out the disastrous implications of the elimination of academic standards. 

It worked like a charm, and we killed SB1310 on the Senate floor 18-12, with all Democrats and the five business-moderate Republicans (Driggs, McComish, Pierce, Reagan, Worsley) opposed. This victory assured, we need to remain vigilant since the ideologues remain in charge, and there are three other Common-Core-killing bills still moving their way through the Senate and more in the House. 

--> Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) killed for a week by odd coalition: Every state agency, board, or commission needs to be renewed periodically by the Legislature in order to continue going about its business. In the past, this happened every ten years, but lately there has been a philosophical discussion over whether to reduce that continuation period, perhaps to eight years in order to match up with our eight year legislative term limits. 

Certain agencies are despised more than others, and they have ended up being a target of certain majority legislators for reduced continuation periods as short as two years. While the Charter School Board had no trouble sailing through with a ten-year renewal (given the support for private competition for district schools shown by the majority of legislators), DEQ has raised the ire of many of those on the right for doing their job -- regulating industries that pollute the environment. 

One of the leading anti-regulatory senators is Gail Griffin (R-Hereford), chair of the Government & Environment Committee. Consequently, Griffin rushed through an amendment on voice vote in her committee last week that changed the continuation period from ten to five years. Once we figured out what was going on, we only had the final vote left -- as amended. We could either vote for it with the five-year renewal, or vote against the continuation entirely. Chair Griffin had us over a barrel -- or so she thought. 

Griffin didn't count on her fellow rural conservative colleague Chester Crandell (R-Heber) taking offense to her move. After Democrat Carlyle Begay passed, Crandell voted first, and explained his vote that he believed DEQ had done a good job and deserved the full ten years, and then he voted No on the continuation. I then voted No, as did Begay, and Katie Hobbs, and even with Ward, Burges, and Griffin voting yes, the continuation of DEQ failed 4-3. I did offer Chair Griffin a way out later in the committee -- a reconsideration of the bill with an 8-year continuation, but she declined to hear my motion.

This outcome was completely unexpected, and created a big problem for the majority leadership. Without fixing this DEQ would be eliminated, and would be replaced by default with a much huger demon of the right wing -- the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr and I are convinced they would do a better job in protecting our environment, I'm pretty sure that is not the assessment of President Biggs, who likely had an interesting conversation with Chair Griffin after the committee.

Yesterday, the DEQ bill came back before the G&E committee, and sure enough, the problem got solved. Crandell had grown tired of fighting, and it passed through with a 6-year continuation period. I will seek to put on an eight-year continuation on the Senate floor, but perhaps this particular horse has left the barn. Watch for more continuation follies as the session wears on.

--> Herrod-backed attacks on Planned Parenthood continue: Despite her recent decline in legislative influence Cathi Herrod, architect of the thankfully vetoed SB1062, is continuing her longstanding attacks on reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood through her bill HB2284 which would allow warrantless searches on Planned Parenthood clinics, violating patient privacy, and literally forcing government agents between a woman and her doctor. The bill would also make it a felony to assist a minor in obtaining a legal abortion, thus particularly isolating and hurting rural teenagers in trouble by cutting off any source of assistance from empathetic adults. 

Herrod's sway still holds with the majority, and the bill was approved 34-22 with Democrat Catherine Miranda voting for, Republican Kate Brophy McGee against, and the rest holding to party lines. Now that it is making its way through the Senate, I am doing everything I can to stop Herrod and her machine from succeeding in this latest volley against women in Arizona. 

--> Homebuilders smacked down by utilities on attempted energy efficiency power grab: SB1227, pushed by Central Arizona Homebuilder Association lobbyist Spencer Kamps, is the latest in a series of efforts by Phoenix-area homebuilders to circumvent local energy efficiency codes to deliver a cheaper, substandard product that will put buyers at risk of foreclosure due to unexpected high energy costs down the line. An energy wasting home may seem cheap at first, but those high utility bills pile up month after month and can push first-time homebuyers in particular into the financial abyss.   

This year's model is worse than last year's since the bill overrides local control, eliminates any existing codes, and bans any new codes from being enacted relating to energy efficiency. Fortunately, this year none of the utilities are supporting the bill since they don't want homebuyers to be fooled into buying homes that are too expensive to afford to heat or cool, and they are making their opinions known. This is why the bill has been placed on floor calendars for final votes several times but skipped each time. I hear the votes are not there to win, so Mr Kamps prefers to delay the bill's death until the last possible moment, hoping for a change of heart among opponents. I will continue to work to keep those hearts firm in opposition.

--> Border trade tour: I recovered enough by Friday to spend the day in Nogales with Senator Dallessandro and Representative Clinco meeting with the leaders of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, touring Customs and Border Protection's new Mariposa Port of Entry, and visiting the warehouse operations of one of the top Rio Rico produce companies.

The discussions and tours were really enlightening and important, and underlined the new challenges we face as we continue to recover from the damage done by SB1070. While it is certainly helpful that we are no longer the one state publicly known for saying to Mexican visitors and business leaders that we don't want them or their money here, we are now in a pitched battle with Texas and California over who will get the business from the booming maquiladoras and produce farms all over Mexico. 

Already, more than one third of all retail activity in Southern Arizona comes from legal Mexican residents shopping in our stores and visiting our cities. Wholesale businesses directly trading with Mexico in produce, manufacturing, metals, and much more account for a huge portion of our economy. 

In order to keep growing these jobs and fend off very aggressive raids of our businesses (such as when Texas government officials actually rented a Nogales resort for a month as a base of operations to seduce most of our border produce industry to move to their state) we need to be extremely proactive in cultivating the business climate necessary to keep existing companies happy and bring in other companies. Key to that goal is upgrading our border transportation infrastructure to allow the goods to travel faster and avoid bottlenecks.

The Federal Government has stepped up and expanded the primary Nogales port of entry --  Mariposa -- to double capacity and throughput, and the project will be fully operational within the next few months. Unfortunately, our state has not done our part by upgrading the feeder routes, especially State Route 189, Grand Avenue, and the Ruby Road and Route 189  I-19 interchanges. Those under-engineered segments are way over capacity at most times of the day and unnecessarily add many hours to the timelines of every shipment that passes through. 

Folks working on economic development for Arizona understand the importance of our investment in these public facilities to ensure a healthy 21st century economy that will depend increasingly on strong ties between companies on both sides of our border. Funding these projects will pay back dividends not just to us, but to our kids and grandkids as well. Not funding these projects may cause us to lose out to more aggressive states, and our kids will find fewer and fewer good opportunities available here in Arizona. 

The only way to stay ahead of decay is to continue to invest and create. A few key transportation projects can make all the difference, and I will continue to advocate that we develop new sustainable transportation funding sources and put our money into the projects that will get us the best possible return on that investment. We can't wait much longer.

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--> Check me out on C-Span: Speaking of transportation, I flew in and out of Washington DC on Monday to speak on a panel at the American Public Transportation Association annual conference about the social and economic benefits of finding support and funding for rail transit projects like our Modern Streetcar. C-Span broadcast it live, and you can view the entire conversation in their archives here.

Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator. 

Steve

Steve Farley

Senator, District 9, Tucson

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