The Farley Report from Phoenix #217: 2-4-15

It's been a whirlwind week. Let's get to it.

It's now Wednesday. Here's a few of the things I have done since Monday: Grilled the Director of Corrections and the Department of Education chief of staff at Appropriations, been awarded Humane Legislator of the Year by the Humane Society of the U.S., met with scores of constituents, had dinner with Sandra Day O'Connor at her house, given eight interviews to various media outlets, brainstormed options for public banking with the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, addressed Small Business Day on my efforts this year to help them thrive, served on three committees, and explored dozens of bills in committees and office meetings. Part-time job? You decide. 

And I testified in favor of three of my bills as they were heard in front of three different committees. All three passed unanimously.

--> On Tuesday's Transportation committee my SB1106 took its first step toward standardizing special license plate design so that the customizable area is limited to a 3" box with wording along the bottom, so that we can avoid the confusing tangle of designs that has begun to endanger public safety on our highways because currently more than 70 designs make it difficult for law enforcement or witnesses to crimes to identify the vehicle as registered in Arizona -- which is the only legal purpose for a license plate in the first place. Sheriffs from all 15 counties spoke in favor of the bill through their representative. Next stop -- Rules committee, then the floor.

--> This afternoon brought success for two more of my bills. SCM1011 urges Congress and the President to change the unreasonably restrictive underwriting standards required by the Dodd-Frank law to enshrine commonsense lending practices for sole proprietors and very small businesses that will once again allow them to refinance their homes without having to prove their income on a Schedule C form -- a form which is designed to prove how little income a sole proprietor has to reduce tax liabilities--thus setting up an insoluble paradox that denies re-fi's to otherwise worthy borrowers. 

I have been extremely concerned with the potentially damaging effect on the real estate market and our economy of Dodd-Frank, which was intended to stop the recent real-estate recession from happening again, but appears to have been an effort on the part of the big banks who caused the recession through greedy lending practices to instead deflect blame onto small business owners, sole proprietors, and middle-class homeowners.

The provisions of the federal act are already making it harder to people to qualify to buy a home, or to refinance their existing homes to free up capital for building their small business or paying off debt. This means there will be less people able to obtain financing, which means less demand in the real estate market, which means a downward pressure on home values and even more of an economic crunch for the middle class. 

Folks with an 800 credit rating, a 20-year track record of on-time payment of a monthly mortgage, and lots of equity are being turned down for loans because of unreasonable requirements in the new underwriting standards. These folks were among the best performing loans with the smallest default percentages when they were allowed to prove ability to repay by other means. 

Since I felt this was a nonpartisan issue, I sought and obtained cosponsor signatures from every Republican member of the Senate (including President Biggs) and several of the House. Not surprisingly, it was consequently well received in committee. Next stop -- Rules committee and the floor.

--> Also this afternoon after an hour-long hearing filled with much spirited debate and emotional testimony -- for the first time in the nine sessions since I became the first legislator in the country to introduce a bill banning driving while texting in January 2007 -- my SB1102 passed a standing committee. Unanimously. With the votes of strong conservatives. Long-time Farley Report readers know this is a hugely important achievement. We are now one of only two states left who do not have any kind of statewide texting ban -- Arizona and Montana.

The key to success this time, along with Chairman Kavanagh's decision to hear it, was persuasive and moving testimony on the part of the family of DPS Officer Tim Huffman, who was murdered by a truck driver on Interstate 8 in Yuma in the middle of the day nearly two years ago. 

Officer Huffman was working at an accident site (which itself was caused by a driver who was texting) alongside many emergency vehicles with lights flashing and a series of cones set up to close the lane of the accident. The truck driver was doing 65mph on cruise control while he surfed seminude photos on Facebook. The death of Officer Huffman was recorded by cab cameras that showed in graphic detail the entire collision, along with a view of the driver oblivious to the lane closure, watching his phone. 

The trial of that driver for second degree murder went to jury last night. And in his closing arguments, the defense attorney argued that his client should be freed because we have no statewide law governing cellphone use of any kind. So for those who have told me that we don't need another law, today I pointed out that our lack of a law banning texting while driving is being used to set killers free. 

HuffmanFamily.jpg

The family of Officer Huffman drove up from the trial in Yuma to tell the committee how their loved one was taken from them, the pain they have suffered, and their commitment to make sure we enact a law to keep others from needlessly experiencing more suffering. They asked me to keep them informed of every other step of the process so they can continue to push for the law that they believe could have saved Tim's life.

Many others have sent emails and shared their support with the committee members. The bicycling community that has also been severely affected by distracted drivers was out in force. Safety engineers and police officers shared their support. Insurance companies and even cell-phone companies signed on in favor. And nine-year-old Mackenzie Bethancourt spoke at the hearing, saying, "People feel really sad in their hearts that they don't get to have their family members [who have been killed by texting drivers] ever any more."

Chairman Kavanagh had the guts to hear the bill, but did insist that it be amended to keep reading written messages, websites, and videos legal, while banning writing and sending messages of any kind. He felt it was strategically more likely to pass through the body that way. I deeply appreciate his help and his willingness to fight for a law, but I will attempt to restore the ban on reading messages as well, since taking your attention off the road is dangerous no matter whether you are reading or writing. The killer of Officer Huffman was reading his Facebook page at the time, not writing.

The next steps for this one will be tough, but achievable. It was triple-assigned by President Biggs, which means two more hurdles than normal, so it must be heard in Public Safety (whose chair Steve Smith voted Yes in today's committee, and in Transportation, several of whose members already have shown support, before it goes through Rules to the floor. Rules is chaired by President Biggs, but I have great hope that given the new events as transpired in the Yuma case he can become a heroic figure by dropping his opposition and giving the bill his blessing.

If you are interested in viewing video coverage of today's hearing, Brahm Resnick of Channel 12 Phoenix has a good report here: http://www.azcentral.com/videos/news/local/phoenix/2015/02/04/22896367/

And if you prefer to read the story, here is Howie Fischer's take: http://tucson.com/news/government-and-politics/arizona-panel-oks-ban-on-texting-while-driving/article_9249ffaa-acd2-11e4-882c-6373530c5a07.html

--> Yesterday, Katie Hobbs, Olivia Cajero Bedford, and I in Appropriations Committee took on the Governor's proposed budget that proposes opening a new private prison that will cost $1.5 billion over the next 20 years while cutting education at every level. Bottom line -- that's not the Arizona I know, and that's not the future most Arizonans want. To read more on the testimony, check out this article: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/arizona/politics/2015/02/03/arizona-lawmakers-skeptical-another-private-prison/22835597/

--> Late yesterday, the Center for Law in the Public Interest filed a lawsuit to force Arizona to finally deal with the horrifying problems in our foster care system. There are now 16,990 children in state foster care, and they are suffering greatly from a wide range of destructive practices. We are one of only three states in which there are increasing numbers of kids being taken from their homes, and the past "reforms" have done little to solve the problem, according to the suit. You can read more about the kids' stories here, but be warned, they are extremely disturbing: http://www.azcentral.com/story/laurieroberts/2015/02/03/foster-children-lawsuit-arizona/22804043/

We must act now to stop this maltreatment -- it is hard to imagine a more important priority for state government than keeping kids safe. One of the problems is too many kids in group homes, or even sleeping on the floors of office buildings, in part due to a shortage of foster families. Which is one reason I have a bill, SB1128, that would take away language that says single parent families and same-sex couples are discriminated against when it comes to fostering and adoption. Especially when we have a shortage of loving families to take in these thousands of kids at risk, there is no earthly reason we should be turning down willing and loving families with a composition other than one man and one woman.  

I'm hoping that legislators who have not been friendly to same-sex couples can see that it's time to end discrimination for the sake of these kids. I remain optimistic that we can make progress. We must. 

Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator. 

Steve

Steve Farley

Senator, District 9, Tucson

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