The Daily Agenda: Vax mandates get serious

"Jahova witnesses" need vaccines too ... More future former lawmakers ... Olson pirouettes into the U.S. Senate race

Local efforts to ensure government employees aren’t spreading COVID-19 are coming to a head in southern Arizona. 

Whether your local cop, firefighter, bureaucrat or jail employee is vaccinated matters — and far too often, government employees who interact with the public are choosing to not get vaccinated, putting the public in danger. 

The Arizona Daily Star’s Nicole Ludden yesterday made clear the stakes of the low vaccination rates in county jails in a piece that detailed the COVID-19 death of a man in jail. She quoted Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos as saying an unvaccinated county employee likely passed him the virus that killed him. 

“We basically gave this guy a death sentence,” Nanos said. “We made him go through quarantine protocols, everything CDC gave us as guidelines. We think he’s gonna be safe, we stick him in a pod that ok, everybody in there went through those same protocols. They all believe they’re safe, except one person is allowed to come and go out of that pod. That’s the corrections officer.”

Two months after mandating employees get vaccinated, and a month after postponing consequences for those who didn’t, the Tucson City Council today will consider a plan to fire employees who still refuse to get vaccinated. 

The proposal is aimed at approximately 300 of the city’s 4,500 employees who have not gotten vaccinated, most of whom sought religious or medical exemptions from the mandate but were denied, and who have already been suspended for five days without pay.  

Early reports showed that Tucson police and firefighters were the least likely groups of city employees to be vaccinated. The police union sued the city, and firefighters backed the cops. 

If the Tucson City Council follows through, it would be the only city in Arizona to fire employees for not getting vaccinated. In fact, Tucson is still the only city to mandate its employees get vaccinated. 

But Pima County isn’t far behind. The county is considering a slew of proposals at its meeting today that would mandate vaccines, including a full mandate for all county employees, and a watered-down version that applies only to employees that work with vulnerable populations. 

So far, the county’s efforts to vaccinate employees have been met by many disingenuous attempts to skirt the requirement via claiming religious exemptions. Our favorite example from a recent county report was a person who refused to get vaccinated because they are a “jahova witness,” which is not how you spell that. 

The denomination is called the Jehovah’s Witnesses. And like most mainstream religions, they are not opposed to vaccination, but rather view it as a personal choice. 

Leaders in other Democratic-led cities like Phoenix have praised President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal workers and denounced Gov. Doug Ducey for banning them from implementing their own mandates. 

But they haven’t dared to implement their own vaccine requirements, even after the law banning city vaccine mandates was put on hold. We assume they’ll be watching southern Arizona closely today. 

Remember how we’ve been complaining about all the legislative vacancies and how we can’t keep up with them? 

Well, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors yesterday selected 38-year-old Sarah Liguori to replace former Democratic state representative and current gubernatorial candidate Aaron Lieberman, leaving the legislature with a mere five empty seats in the House and Senate combined. 

Still vacant are the seats left behind by:

  • Democrat Raquel Terán, who vacated her seat in the House to fill former Democratic Senator and accused child molester Tony Navarrete’s Senate seat in the West Valley’s Legislative District 30. 

  • Democratic Rep. Randy Friese, who bizarrely pulled out of a congressional race then mysteriously resigned from his legislative seat in Tucson’s Legislative District 9. (If you’re blackmailing Friese, please let us know!) 

  • Republican Rep. Bret Roberts, who abruptly moved out of state last month (possibly leaving a cut-rate pool table behind).

  • Democratic Sen. Kirsten Engel, who resigned her seat in Tucson’s Legislative District 10 to run for Congress. The Pima County Board of Supervisors is slated to choose her replacement today.

  • Republican Rep. Frank Pratt, who passed away while representing Casa Grande in Legislative District 8. The Pinal County Board of Supervisors is slated to interview his potential replacements on Wednesday.   

But those won’t be the last vacant seats at the Capitol that need filling. Of the remaining 10 lawmakers who have already announced they’re running for higher office next year, five wouldn’t commit when we asked if they plan to finish their terms. 

We’re following the musical chairs at the Capitol so you don’t have to. Please consider kicking in $7 per month as a subscriber so we can continue to follow all the political drama on your behalf.

More map discussion than a road trip: When the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission drew Congressional District 9 a decade ago, it was a source of contention. Now, a successor to that district, proposed as Congressional District 4, isn’t garnering the same negative feedback, reports the Arizona Mirror’s Jeremy Duda, who’s been watching redistricting closer than any other Capitol press member. 

What’s a little illegal budgeting between friends?: Attorney General and nunchuck expert Mark Brnovich filed briefs in the court case over Arizona lawmakers’ practice of putting a bunch of non-budget stuff into the state budget, which a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled violated the Arizona Constitution. He said the issue is a “political question” that falls under the legislature’s purview, not for the courts to decide, though he said the judge could also tell lawmakers not to continue the logrolling next year, but keep this year’s budget intact, reports Capitol Media Services’ Howie Fischer

Some ideas on how to use the COVID-19 relief funds: Latino students fell further behind during the pandemic, possibly because of higher exposure to losing family members and experiencing job disruption during COVID-19, reports the Republic’s Daniel Gonzalez. The infusion of federal cash for COVID-19 relief could help these students move forward, but there’s not enough being done to find and help those who need it. 

Jimmy is on a roll: A former prison nurse is speaking out about what she saw while working for Centurion of Arizona, a prison health care contractor for the state. Among her claims, as told to the Republic’s Jimmy Jenkins: She was told to create a false report in order to avoid a six-figure court sanction. 

Call Sinema while you’re nearby: On the trail touting the Build Back Better plan, Vice President Kamala Harris visited Lake Mead yesterday, a visual example of dwindling water supply amid long-term drought. She discussed the plan’s climate change provisions, reports Cronkite News’ Olivia Dow

Let them eat cake at their own Paris fundraisers: Steven Beschloss, who writes the Substack America, America, detailed how U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s decisions — leaving Washington to attend fundraisers while Biden’s Build Back Better Plan languishes because of her opposition — remind him of former First Lady Melania Trump’s infamous “I REALLY DON’T CARE DO U?” jacket. 

One good thing from the pandemic: People don’t enjoy spending time in their cars and driving to a municipal court hearing for a traffic ticket, it turns out. A pandemic-inspired move to virtual hearings for traffic tickets in the Phoenix Municipal Court could continue beyond the pandemic and extend beyond traffic tickets, reports KJZZ’s Christina Estes

All we need is another billboard telling us which personal injury attorney to call: Arizona could soon get what every resident has been clamoring for, the one thing that will change our lives for the better. No, it’s not a functional government. It’s more digital billboards! Billboard companies want the option to put up more of the kind of billboards that change and flash and otherwise litter the landscape and pollute the skyline, reports the Republic’s Taylor Seely. Among other concerns, scientists say the area could receive less scientific research funding if there are more billboards because of light pollution that makes our skies less dark. 

A note to other journalists and avid local news readers: If you have a story about Arizona government and politics that you think we should include in our morning newsletter, you can email or DM it to us any time. We’d especially love stories from outside the Great State of Maricopa, since we sometimes miss what’s happening in other counties. No promises we’ll include it, but we don’t want to miss the chance. 

There’s an updated report from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee on where some of the American Rescue Plan Act funds are going in state government, but it’s missing some of the required reporting because the lawsuits against the state budget put the reporting requirements on hold. Some of the items in the report are directly related to the pandemic and recovery efforts, while others are … less so. 

Republican U.S. Senate candidate and Arizona Corporation Commissioner Justin Olson must have worn his ballet shoes to Politics Unplugged because we’ve never seen a politician pirouette around a question quite like this before. AZFamily’s Dennis Welch repeatedly asked Olson, the latest entrant to the five-way GOP U.S. Senate primary, whether Biden actually won the 2020 election. Olson spoke for nearly four minutes — he acknowledged that Biden is “in the White House” twice, mentioned needing election reform five times and complemented Welch’s question twice — but he didn’t affirm whether Biden won. Olson said there needs to be election reform because of a lack of confidence in elections (who could be responsible for sowing these doubts about the election? Surely not the elected officials who’ve spread them!).

Today’s the big day: The first of the audit town halls with Ken Bennett is at 7 p.m. in Tucson, at the Hilton Garden Inn at the Airport, 6575 S Country Club Road. You can register to attend and find streaming info here

Creighton School District’s governing board meets tonight at 6 p.m. at 2052 N 36th St in Phoenix. You can join online as well; details are here