It’s nearly budget time. That means this whole rickety ship of a legislature is about to hit the dock and end its 2016 journey. Rumors are flying on the contents and timing, but since the budget bills have not yet been First Read no one really knows what the deal will be and how it will go down. In the meantime I’ll share some of the other wild things that have been happening around here.
Read on after the Farley Report pledge break…
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—> The day after I sent out the last Farley Report, Speaker and Congressional Candidate David Gowan (R-Sierra Vista) decided to solve his media problems by forcing all Capitol reporters to submit to background checks or else be banned from the House Floor. If the checks turned up any past history of crimes (including “trespassing” and “eavesdropping”), they would remain banned from the floor for life.
Given that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (yes, that’s the one the Speaker routinely trips over on his way to the Second Amendment) does not say that it is null and void unless citizens submit to a background check, his action has some legal problems. The press corps refused en masse to submit to these checks, and were escorted from the floor last Thursday to their new reporting station with the public in the Gallery.
Vladimir Putin does this type of thing in Russia. In America we are fortunate to have the First Amendment. Our media hold us all accountable.
Gowan said he was doing this to protect the safety of members on the floor. But a) at least two members carry guns on the floor on a regular basis, b) never have there been in Arizona history any incidents of violence from Capitol reporters (in fact those who remember Don Bolles know that reporters are the ones that can be under threat from the subjects of their stories), and c) if he was concerned that reporters were going to harm members, his plan placed them in the public gallery where they would have better aim at all members on the floor.
It turns out that his plan was to ban Hank Stephenson, the ace AZ Capitol Times reporter who broke the news regarding the Speaker's alleged use of state resources for campaign purposes. It turns out that several years ago Hank had been charged with trespassing in the aftermath of a bar fight in Wickenburg. If you have ever met Hank, you know he would box in the light flyweight division, so I don’t see him posing threats to the Legislature other than dogged reporting.
That afternoon, we in the Senate welcomed the media onto our floor. I praised President Biggs for his leadership in this regard, and said, “You are always welcome in this body. The media is the most important protector of our freedoms here in this country. We believe that as people know more about what we do, we become a better democracy.
Needless to say, praise for Gowan’s move was not easy to find. Among the hundreds of stories protesting the reporter ban, the Arizona Republic wrote one of the most scathing editorials in recent memory, cataloging recent media coverage of allegations against the Speaker.
Many reporters, including the Republic’s Mary Jo Pitzl (pictured here in my office looking very threatening as she aggressively wields her pen) took to wearing an alternative press credential — a copy of Sunday’s Benson cartoon depicting a big cowboy-hatted State Representative pointing a gun at a willowy reporter with a microphone as the Representative screams “Security Risk!”.
The unrelenting public pressure worked. Yesterday, Gowan (without any apology) reversed his position in the face of bipartisan opposition in the House, and is now allowing reporters back on the floor without background checks. Although the press will no longer be able to use their keycards to freely come and go — they will need to sign in with the Chief Clerk and sign out when they leave.
—> Speaking of public pressure, last week I shared with you the story of Paul, a five-year-old who was born with a serious birth defect whose medical care is being compromised because Senate President and Congressional Candidate Andy Biggs has refused to allow KidsCare to accept new enrollees among the children of the working poor, even though there is no cost to the state. In fact, KidsCare would bring $76 million into our state’s economy from the federal government — money that would otherwise go to the other 49 states that have this program.
The pressure has steadily built over the past week (see this Republic editorial as just one example) and, thanks to the public outcry, I have heard from several very reliable sources that the KidsCare restoration will be part of the budget, likely as a floor amendment that Biggs can feel free to oppose. Keep up the pressure for the sake of our kids, and I think we will get this done.
—> Director Greg McKay of the Department of Child Safety came before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee on Tuesday, and told us that they are still struggling with hiring the numbers of caseworkers that the Legislature authorized and budgeted for in fiscal year 15. In fact, there are now 64 fewer direct-line caseworkers investigating allegations of abuse and neglect than when the agency was created.
I pressed the Director about what they are doing with that money that they are not using to pay caseworkers. I noted that the approximately $11 million annually being saved by leaving 124 positions vacant is around the same amount of money needed to support the additional administrative costs incurred because they are now being run as a separate agency outside of DES. While he denied that was his strategy — to pay for back-office costs by not hiring frontline caseworkers, he was unable to explain where the salary money was being redirected.
One clear conclusion was that the money was not being redirected to in-home prevention and early intervention programs to keep kids safe in their families in the first place. Projections for the current year show that — in contravention to legislative orders — DCS will spend less than 3% of its budget on these family preservation efforts, with more than 60% on out-of-home placements and nearly 37% on out-of-home services.
This is an unacceptable allocation of resources, and will only lead to more children being removed from their homes, more lives ruined, and more taxpayer money spent. Unless we invest in prevention programs at a much greater rate, the nearly 19,000 kids currently in the care of the state will continue to climb indefinitely.
—> To finish up tonight, here are a few legislative briefs:
> Today the Finance Advisory Committee, a group of the state’s top economists, predicted weak revenue growth in the next three years. The reason? A dive in corporate income taxes of nearly a billion dollars between now and FY19 from the full phase-in of corporate tax cuts enacted several years ago. I’ve not seen any evidence that this investment of taxpayer money has returned any positive results in job or wage growth for the rest of us. Remember this fact when the current majority try to tell you that there just isn’t enough money to pay for our public schools, community colleges, transportation system, child safety, or universities.
> SB1316, the out-of-state predatory lending industry’s latest attempt to throw Arizonans into a cycle of debt through legal loans at 204% annual interest rates, is still awaiting final action in the Senate. That’s good news — it’s being held because there are not enough votes to pass it at this point. Please keep up the pressure to encourage those NO votes to stay strong.
> Some tidbits from yesterday’s floor session: In the course of debate over a bill that would attack the idea of a national monument in the lands immediately adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park, Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake) said we need uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, ignoring the recent history of thousands of Native American people poisoned by previous rounds of Arizona uranium mining. And in the course of debate over the wasteful refugee audit bill I discussed in the last Farley Report, Sen. Judy Burges (R-Sun City West) shared her view that those of us "on the other side of the aisle" are terrorists.
> HB2127 to end the cruel practice of greyhound racing in Arizona is nearly to the finish line. It passed unanimously in the Senate and is awaiting a final read in the House in order to head up to the Governor for his consideration. That will happen after the budget, since the Governor was clear that he wants no more bills before budget.
—> Speaking of budget, stay tuned to my Facebook page to get the latest updates on budget happenings, and come on down to watch debate and support us once we crank it up!
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
If you like my representation and want to keep me in office, CONTRIBUTE TODAY!