The Friday Edition: The Legislature should actually listen to ordinary people
In our inaugural Friday Edition, we talk about our quixotic hopes and dreams, what happened this week and what's happening next week. And we have a couple actual nice things, too.
As promised, we’re starting to publish a daily roundup of sorts on Fridays during the legislative session, including some analysis, a look back at the week and look ahead to next week. The Friday Edition will probably look different each week as we play around with it, much like we did in the early days with the Daily Agenda, so bear with us (and feel free to send suggestions).
The Arizona Legislature broke the law.
That’s not very rare, all things considered. But the way the Legislature crafted its budget last year, in particular, defied the Arizona Constitution by including non-budget proposals that weren’t reflected in budget bill titles, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled.
And while the loss is a blow to some lawmakers who have used the logrolling tactic to make a budget palatable enough to pass, it should serve as an opportunity to remake the way the Legislature operates and spur action to involve the public in the process that affects their daily lives.
Not just on the budget, either — but the entire way our elected leaders treat the public and consider their input after they win an election.
As it stands now, if you go down to the Arizona Legislature to tell your lawmakers how a bill would affect your life, you often have to sit and wait for hours. You can’t testify remotely right now either, COVID-19 be damned.
Sometimes, after all that waiting, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to talk to the elected officials that represent you for more than one minute. We’ve seen some committees only allow testimony from one person on each side, though. And if you’re not lucky, you’ll end up having your kid compared to a chicken.
You’ll see eye-rolls, disinterest, elected adults bickering with and demeaning each other like schoolchildren. The way lawmakers treat each other, as political opponents, extends to how they treat the public, too. A normal person who comes to a committee hearing and watches people bicker like middle schoolers is put off.
Dillon Rosenblatt @DillonReedRoseHere’s video of Republican Chairman John Kavanagh, the same legislator who said “everybody shouldn’t be voting” and that “we have to look at the quality of votes,” attempting to end @AthenaSalman’s explanation on #SB1713 and vote “no” for her. #azleg https://t.co/U4mwII1Vvo
If you want to testify about the state budget and the various ways it could screw you over, you’ll have to do it on short notice, on a weekday, possibly late in the evening. That’s if you have a chance to read through the lengthy documents before the hearings start. Even the lawmakers are hard-pressed to finish the summaries before voting begins.
The public’s involvement in the political process is so scant, many lawmakers ignore it entirely. By the time a bill hits a committee, the testimony doesn’t matter much. By the time the budget is introduced, it’s all but guaranteed to pass. It all happens privately, with input from lobbyists, political parties and interest groups, but rarely ordinary citizens.
The way the public gets involved in the legislative process now leaves regular people disillusioned. They may stop coming to the Capitol entirely if this is how they’re treated when they do show up.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Showing up to engage in the legislative process isn’t easy. Citizens need to surmount their day job, child care, housework and stage fright to get to the microphone in the first place. If a person can make it to the Capitol to testify, they expect to be heard, at the very least.
Instead, some leave feeling offended, like they met the guest of dishonor at an obnoxious dinner party. It’s hard to make a public statement and take a stand! It should be rewarded, at the very least heard without malice, not mocked or dismissed out of hand.
Senate President Karen Fann said the court did lawmakers “a favor,” in its ruling Battle of the BRBs — lawmakers now have a clear directive to ensure the budget is used for budgeting, not to cram through unrelated political priorities that can’t stand on their own. And it’ll prevent a single lawmaker from holding up the process, she said.
But, if Arizonans elected such close margins in the statehouse, shouldn’t that be reflected in the way the budget is crafted? There’s precedent in the past, in Arizona, for a budget being crafted publicly and slowly, in a transparent process that dissects each individual item.
Now’s the time to bring that back. People don’t trust their elected officials. They’re disconnected. Instead of just using the court ruling to whip GOP votes on a budget, it makes more sense to craft a budget that reflects the centrism of the state.
Legislative leaders haven’t addressed how they intend to make budgets now in a way that complies with the Constitution. But if they don’t, there’s now a clear path to winnable lawsuits for logrolling.
We shouldn’t need a wake-up call to actually deliberate publicly and meaningfully involve the public in the legislative process.
But we got one. Hopefully that means something.
You’re getting another day of coverage for the same low price of $8 per month, if you’re paying. And if you’re not paying, this is all still somehow free for you! We suggest you become a paid subscriber, though. Why? Because we’re asking nicely.
Absences and sniffles were all the rage this week as lawmakers began to sit shoulder-to-shoulder in committees again, pushing through priority legislation — or at least the priorities of the committee chairs.
The House Education and Senate Judiciary committees stole the limelight at the Capitol this week, as the Republican chairs set off to establish their conservative bonafides early.
Republican state Rep. Michelle Udall, the leader of the House Education Committee who is also running in a crowded GOP primary to attempt to unseat Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, did her best to endear herself to the base by putting up her House Bill 2112, which would ban teaching Critical Race Theory. But the bill barely made it out of committee as some of the more far-right members of her caucus thought that revoking teachers’ licenses and fining schools weren’t strong enough penalties.
Her HB2025 fared worse. As Republicans set their sights on “empowering parents,” even members of her own party shot down her idea to require schools to allow parents and basically anyone to sit in on any classroom that they want.
Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a deluge of red-meat bills, including Sen. Nancy Barto’s SB1165, which would ban trans girls from playing in school sports.
Republican lawmakers on the committee also sought to arm more people on public school campuses with Sen. Wendy Rogers’ SB1123 which would allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit (which takes about an hour to get and doesn’t require you to ever have fired a gun) to bring firearms onto school campuses. Who else remembers the years when Gov. Jan Brewer repeatedly vetoed bills to allow guns in public buildings, but specifically not public school classrooms?
And lawmakers took the first step toward asking Congress to declare Antifa a domestic terrorist organization after the Senate Judiciary Committee signed off on Rogers’ SCR1008.
But let’s end the week on a bipartisan note: The House Judiciary Committee gave unanimous approval to Republican Rep. Walt Blackman’s HB2060 which would eliminate the requirement that people with felonies submit to random drug tests and get substance abuse treatment in order to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called food stamps.
To find schedules and agendas for each day, check out the Legislature’s Capitol calendar here.
The Senate Elections Committee meeting Monday is going to be1 a doozie, as Chair Kelly Townsend plans to hold votes on all sorts of Stop the Steal bills. The highlights: Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita’s SB1008, which would make (legitimate) recounts happen more often and Sen. Sonny Borrelli’s SB1119, which would make anonymous electronic ballot images searchable online. The lowlights are too long to list, but include Townsend’s SB1133 to ban cities and school boards from holding only mail elections; SB1056, which would enforce criminal penalties against election workers who make mistakes, and several bills to beef up the security of ballot paper — perhaps by putting bamboo in them.
The House Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee on Monday will consider Rep. John Kavanagh’s latest attempt to restrict police body camera video from public view, HB2081.
On Tuesday, look to the Senate Education Committee, which will hear Ugenti-Rita’s SB1010, which would prohibit schools from restricting the increasingly angry protests that have plagued school board meetings in recent months.
The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday will hear Rep. Quang Nguyen’s HB2043 to put employers on the hook for liability if they require a COVID-19 vaccination and an employee experiences a “significant injury.” Also on the docket: Rep. Mark Finchem’s HB2249, which would make biting and throwing bodily fluids at people a more serious assault crime, and Finchem’s bill to make pointing a laser at a cop aggravated assault on an officer, HB2251.
Also look to the House Government and Elections Committee Wednesday, which contains a long agenda full of ideas like HB2237, Rep. Jake Hoffman’s attempt to ban same-day voter registration (which doesn’t exist in Arizona) and Hoffman’s HB2238 to ban ballot drop boxes.
Wouldn’t it warm your heart help a school do something nice? The Tolleson Union High School District is looking for a copy of its 1941 yearbook to find a photo of a fallen soldier to help a researcher in the Netherlands.
We’re doubling down on the nice today. We know we’ve got a good amount of book nerds here, so we thought you’d all want to see the lovely Cave Creek-area libraries that PBS journalist Casey Kuhn visited recently.
We’d love to hear about any other beautiful libraries throughout Arizona! Leave a comment using the button below to plug your favorite.
As always, any plans the legislature makes are subject to change with little to no notice.