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The Friday Edition: Schools can blame the Senate
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Also, Monday is a holiday for Arizona state employees. Unlike the legislature, which will has a few things on the agenda, we at the Arizona Agenda respect the sanctity of Lincoln/Washington/Presidents’ Day. Clearly, the Founding Fathers would want us to take the day off. Our morning email will be back on Tuesday.
Lawmakers love to blow past and disregard a deadline almost as much as journalists.
And this week marked the deadline for committees to hear bills in their chambers of origin, so that left lots of stuff on the cutting room floor.
But, as we’ve noted in our zine explaining the legislative process, deadlines only kinda matter. The Legislature can waive its own rules at any time. And then there are strike-everything amendments, or strikers, that revive ideas that didn’t pass muster the first time around.
We’ve talked a lot about the aggregate expenditure limit, the wonky name for a major problem: Schools have money that they can’t legally spend unless the Legislature votes by March 1 to let them spend it. That’s because of an education spending limit that was set by voters four decades ago. It’s arguably the biggest issue this session, though it’s been largely ignored by Republican leadership until this week.
The House approved a clean bill increasing the limit for this year, but the Senate so far does not have the votes to do so. Our read: Senate President Karen Fann either doesn’t care much about the issue and isn’t trying very hard to whip votes, or her caucus is so divided and faithless that she effectively can’t lead it.
Blame the Senate for the ongoing fear and uncertainty schools face.
One thing is for certain: even if the Senate approves increasing the cap, schools still face a long-term problem. Schools will likely exceed the spending cap again next year. The fix lawmakers are considering would be temporary. Without some kind of long-term solution — like getting rid of the limit entirely or raising it significantly — it could become an annual debate like raising the debt ceiling in Congress. That’s no way to govern.
The quest to increase the spending limit isn’t dead. Its fate isn’t yet decided, which adds stress to schools when the deadline is a little more than a week out. But a week in legislative time could mean an eternity. The Legislature regularly introduces, publicly deliberates (sort of) and passes whole budgets within the span of a few days.
Still, deadlines have consequences. After this week’s deadline for most committees to hear bills in their chambers of origin, hundreds of bills are presumed dead, including many we’ve written about over the past month or so.
Here are some of the bills that we’ve mentioned that are presumed dead, at least for now:
All of Republican Sen. and Bitcoin-holder Wendy Rogers’ bills promoting Bitcoin, including one to make it legal tender in the state of Arizona
Plans to require parental permission for any public school students who want to participate in a student club that involves sexuality, gender or gender identity
A requirement that all profession sporting events in Arizona play the national anthem
A bill to allow people to sue social media companies that censor them
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Bills that cleared committees this week are likely to appear on next week’s House and Senate floor agendas. Here’s a sampling of what to watch out for:
Legislation to ban members of China’s governing party, the Chinese Communist Party, from owning land in Arizona
A plan to split Maricopa County into four new counties (it’s not about the election, they swear!)
A bill to to classify disobeying a legislative subpoena — as the county board of supervisors did when it had legitimate questions about the legality of the audit related subpoena — as a crime without the need for a Senate vote
A bill to prohibit the state from conducting door-to-door canvassing about vaccination status
Legislation asking voters to approve a requirement that voter initiatives get a 60% majority to pass at the ballot
Meanwhile, bills that cleared the full House and Senate this week are ahead of the curve and should be taken seriously as they start moving through the second chamber.
On the COVID-19 front, the House passed bills to ban mask mandates on government property, require parental approval for schools to require masks and to take away local officials’ emergency powers to close businesses (the Senate also passed a similar bill).
Parents’ rights were on the agenda as lawmakers in the House also approved a plan to require schools to post a list of every book in their library, then make school governing boards vote to approve them, as well as a bill to let parents visit kids’ classes nearly whenever they want.
The Senate also voted to criminalize abortions after 15 weeks.
Most of next week’s actions will happen in Committee of the Whole meetings (Committees of the Whole? Committee of the Wholes?) and third readings, and those calendars usually only get posted a day ahead of time. We’ll just have to catch them as they come up.
Next week is crossover week, so there won’t be many committee hearings in either chamber. Instead, each chamber will race through bills in final debates and votes, trying to get them into the other chamber’s committee hearings by the week after next.
The House and Senate Appropriations committees will still meet on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. The Senate has a much longer agenda, though both committee agendas have at least a handful of strike-everything amendments on their dockets.
The language for some of the strikers isn’t posted yet, but judging by some of the short titles on the Senate agenda, some of the ideas contained in the tabled affordable housing bill could resurface in different bills — several short titles for strikers mention housing, the housing trust fund or homelessness. Or they could be unrelated efforts to address housing, too.
And there is an errant Senate Health and Human Services agenda posted for Monday morning, too, which is meeting to continue hearing bills it didn’t get through on Wednesday. The committee’s agenda is a long one.
Our last section today is actually a plea for your input. If you’re new here or just straight-up didn’t notice, we used to publish our morning rundowns Monday-Thursday, giving us Friday to work on other reporting, side gigs, administrative needs, chores, whatever. We added a Friday edition once the Legislature started, so we’ve had about a month of Fridays so far.
The Friday format has been a bit of commentary on the top (like a call for lawmakers to listen, asking the attorney general to tell us what his Bar agreement entails, an update on the disc golf records problems and some insight from guest writer Billy Robb), a roundup of bills we watched this week, what’s on our radar next week and something that doesn’t suck to end the week at the bottom.
We’ll be candid here: These bill roundups in particular take far more time than we anticipated, and we aren’t sure how useful they are to people.
As a two-person team, we struggle with how much time to spend on our Daily Agenda morning emails while also prioritizing some original reporting. There's just not enough time for us to do everything. We used to use our Thursdays and Fridays to gain ground on reporting out non-daily newsletters, but now we’re spending more time on the daily roundups.
We’re trying to figure out if that makes sense. Do you want to see more original reporting in the afternoons, or do you like another day of rounding up what’s happening on Fridays? We could lose Fridays entirely, scale them back a lot or keep on truckin’ with this format.
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