Legislative Update

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The latest from the state capitol with a reporter from the Arizona Capitol Times.

Ted Simons: Good Evening and welcome to Horizon, I'm Ted Simons. State Lawmakers in special section this week, to work on legislation that allows the state to join lawsuits against the federal government over health care reform. Here with the latest on that is Jim Small of the Arizona Capitol Times. Good to see you again, thanks for join us.

Ted Simons: Alright, this is a done deal basically, they've already sent it over to the governors office?

Jim Small: They've passed the bills both the house and the senate today. Put the bill on the floor, debated them. I think there was one minor amendment on the bills. Democrats' tried to say the state shouldn't spend any tax dollars, shouldn't spend any of its money. That amendment failed, the bills were approved along party lines, Republicans voting yes, Democrats voting no. They are expected to be signed by the governor, most likely that would happen tomorrow.

Ted Simons: That basically gives the governor the authority to sue the feds over health care reform. Democrats saying its basically all political. You have the attorney generals saying it's a waist of time and effort. And the GOP is doing this to show that the attorney general is not up to it, or whatever the case may be. It's because he's a possible gubernatorial candidate, correct?

Jim Small: There's certainly an element of politics. I think you can't look at the situation and say that this is all about pure altruistic reasons, or Republicans aren't doing this for some kind of political gain. Certainly Governor Brewer pushed for the special session, she wanted the legislature to give express authority to make sure that there was no way you could challenge and say the governor didn't have the ability to represent the state in this lawsuit. And obviously the fact Terry Goddard is the likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Jan brewer is running for election for a full term as governor, that obviously does play into it. But on the flip side, there is a lot of very philosophical opposition to what happened at Congress with this federal health care reform. And Republicans are very opposed to it. And so while there is an element of politics, there is also an element of ideology and of Republican philosophy.

Ted Simons: Speaker Adams has repeatedly said this is a mandate, maybe not technically a mandate, but de facto mandate from the federal government on a variety of things, not the least of which that you don't play along, you don't get Medicaid money.

Jim Small: Yeah. And he said as much on the house floor today. He said -- he likened it to a situation where a mugger comes up and holds a gun against your head and says "give me your money or give me your life." He said of course you're going to give him your money. That's what you do. He said in this case the federal government is that mugger. They're basically pointing the gun to Arizonans head and say you need to play along, or we're not going to give you any of this money. In a situation like that, that's not really a choice. It may seem like it's a choice on the surface, but at the end of the day it's not, it becomes a mandate, and I think that's obviously going to be one of the main issues, main condenses in the lawsuit.

Ted Simons: Democrats come back and say, all right, we got all of that, but they seem to be saying that Arizona really doesn't have a legal standing in all this. The other states are going to go ahead and sue anyway. Why get involved?

Jim Small: And on the standing issue, what the democrats have been saying is that the state doesn't have standing to sue on one of the components that have been tossed about, which is that the federal law mandate that Arizona citizens, basically every citizen at the United States, get health insurance coverage or face a penalty. And what their argument on that has been is that the state can't sue on behalf of individuals, because you have to have standing in order to sue, so an individual has to be harmed and bring a lawsuit themselves. That's really where their standing argument is confined to that one issue and it's not broad on the entire thing. They did raise the argument other states are suing already, and Arizona can just sit back and wait for the resolution of that case, because that will obviously impact Arizona.

Ted Simons: And speaker Adams says Arizona is uniquely hurt because of our more encompassing eligibility rules and such, and that needs to be heard in this case.

Jim Small: Right. That was what Republicans in both the house and senate argued. Arizona, we have the largest per capita deficit in the country, we have already have our Medicaid populations already at 100%, which is now required of states under -- or will be by 2014. So Arizona has to do that, and doesn't get any extra money to meet that requirement, so we're penalized now, even though the way the bill is structured, wants 2014 hits, we get rewarded in the long term and the federal government pays us a much higher matching rate than other states.

Ted Simons: So governor is likely to sign that probably tomorrow?

Jim Small: I would think so.

Ted Simons: If not later tonight. Before you go, there's a push to ask voters to kind of limit the way governor can line item veto. Talk to us about that, where this is coming from?

Jim Small: Basically what it is, it would be -- change the constitution. Right now the governor has line item veto power but it's only on appropriations bills, and she or he can only strike items of spending. And what happened last year, what we saw last year was Governor Brewer gets the line item veto power, and because the legislature had put in lump sum cuts to agencies, so they'd say spending is $10 million, we're going give a cut of 2 million, she X'd that out, and what lawmakers thought was an $8 million appropriation turned out to be a $10 million. The idea is if you limit the governor's veto -- line item veto authority to only situations where it decreases state spending, you wont have that problem again in the future. It's something that lawmakers in fact sued Janet Napolitano over back in 2003, Supreme Court kicked the case back on a technical reason, said that the Republican leaders didn't have standing to sue because they didn't represent the entire body, but they also gave lawmakers advice for the future, and they said, Charles Jones, who was the Supreme Court chief justice at the time said, you know, basically legislators, you can avoid this situation by not doing lump sum cuts. If you put in specific cuts, then you don't have to worry about this problem, a governor can't raise spending with the swipe of a pen. Obviously they didn't necessarily learn that lesson for last year; they were getting along better with the governor this year, so it didn't matter as much.

Ted Simons: Is this thing going to get out you think?

Jim Small: There are a lot of things that are vying for position on the ballot right now. There are probably more than a dozen different referenda that lawmakers are considering right now. I don't know if leadership is going to let them all will move forward. There is some concern, I know among legislators that if you get the ballot too long, people will look at it, turn it over, see it's two pages and go, well, I'm not going to vote for any of this and start marking no on things that a lot of people feel are important.

Ted Simons: Good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

Jim Small:Arizona Capitol Times;

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