Journalists’ Roundtable

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Local journalists discuss and give insight about the week’s top news.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon"'s Journalists' Roundtable. I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Mary Jo Pitzl of the "Arizona Republic." Mike Sunnucks of the "Phoenix Business Journal." And Jeremy Duda of the "Arizona Capitol Times." A state lawmaker wants to make changes to Arizona's medical marijuana law. Reform, not repeal. Correct?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Correct. Senator Kimberly Yee has a couple of bills she wants to put labeling on edible medical marijuana products such as brownies or lollipops, things that include the oil from the marijuana. To make the labels make it clear this is for medical purposes only,less this get into the hands of children or anyone not entitled to marijuana in medical form.

Ted Simons: Also this has been seized in a criminal probe, you can't return it to the person?

Mary Jo Pitzl: That's another bill that says, yeah, this stems from, there was a case in Colorado. There was a Yuma woman who is medical pot was seized by California officials. Turns out she was entitled to have it and she wanted her pot back. And that got people thinkings here, what do we do what we seize medical marijuana? This bill would say lawmaker is not required to return it because especially if you are growing a plant what do you do? Does law enforcement have to put it in a back room under a grow light and water it regularly? This would allow them to not return seized property.

Ted Simons: And I think this is on campus research would then be allowed and some sort of technicality as well. The bottom line here is this is a way to make changes and to toughen up around the edges, but not repeal.

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, I think the folks that really don't like the law see it as a safe guards and improving the law that voters passed. The folks that like the medical marijuana program that's gone into effect think it's another effort to detail and discourage and legislate against what the voters approved. I think, there's probably a happy medium on some of this. Product labeling, there's a lot of labels on a lot of products. So there's things like that. The motivations behind this always seem to be the folks against it kind of want to undo what the voters approved.

Jeremy Duda: There's a big pro medical marijuana rally down at the capitol this week. The message that we heard from a lot of people at the Legislature is hands off our stash. They don't want to see any changes to the laws really. And a lot of them want just let this go into effect for a couple years until it's fully implemented, fully established and we have something like 35,000 patients right now, people are expecting as many as 200,000 in a few years. All the dispensaries will be in effect. Then it will probably be a lot harder to change things once this has fully taken root.

Mary Jo Pitzl: There might be a couple of challenges to senator YEE's legislation. She is convinced this meets the requirement of the voter protection act and means a 3/4 vote in the Legislature to pass this. That's probably not a problem. It also must advance the cause of the underlying medical marijuana act. I think there will be some dispute on whether this putting these kinds of restrictions, advances that purpose.

Mike Sunnucks: To be fair, the folks that, some of the folks that support the medical marijuana laws in Arizona, other states, they want to legalize all pot. This is a step towards that. So they don't want any kind of rules at all because they want to see pot legalized normalized for everybody. Certainly the state has legitimate concerns about legal products, which medical marijuana is, and regulating it. It's just whether they cross the line and trying to undo what voters approved.

Ted Simons: The Republican party has some concerns that if representative Kavanaugh's referral gets out there and it's on the ballot in 2014, that you are going to have a lot of folks upset about it being on the ballot and voting to keep medical marijuana, would it way, they are going to vote down ticket as well and they may not be so happy with Republicans.

Jeremy Duda: Kavanaugh's solution to these is just let's get rid of medical marijuana altogether. Among the legislative Republicans, privately hear a lot of grumbling. People feel the Republican party has a reputation of being out of touch with voters. This is the third time in 2010 when they passed it, the third time Arizona voters have passed this law. There's really no reason to believe they wouldn't pass it again in 2014 and there might be a backlash. It was very close last time and opposition spent essentially no money. They have they didn't think it was going to pass. Brewer and the Republicans didn't put much effort into it. And it's kind of a split in the Republican party between this Libertarian wing, of course, and your more religious social conservative folks that maybe they could galvanize enemy and raise some money for a no campaign. I think it would be close but, it could still pass.

Jeremy Duda: Don't forget if they try to do this and the unintended consequence was maybe dragging down Republicans down ticket, it wouldn't be the first time the Legislature has seen unintended consequences from trying to overturn this. When they tried overturn the '96 law, they not only put that back on the ballot but put the voter protection act on the ballot which the Republicans are pretty much hated ever since.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think in a lot of circles there's a hope that the Kavanaugh thing will just go away and bills such as what senator YEE has is a more prudent approach. Like, OK, we accept it, this is what the voters approved. We are going to put some, what they believe are common sense limitations on this so it's workable and manageable. And just move forward.

Ted Simons: OK. The concept of English only is not going away. And now we have this idea, Steve Smith of Maricopa County, representative Smith, basically if you mail a government document out, you mail it only in English. Correct?

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah.

Ted Simons: That's what he want?

Mike Sunnucks: That would be the bill. You could still post things in Spanish and other things online but it would be only in English for mailers. And this follows up on ballot measures we have had in the past that establish English as our official language and official business is done in English. Obviously this is a split between the conservatives who like these things and folks who say, there's a lot of folks thin state who are Hispanic that speak Afghanistan initial. Isn't it a public service to have them getting public information in their native language?

Mary Jo Pitzl: It's an interesting issue. As we move more and more to doing so much electronically, Smith's argument is, we are not taking away anybody's right to read this in other languages. But to put it in Arizona is basically you put it in Spanish,ism not sure about Navajo. People, you can still get it online. And the argument is not everybody has access to on-line documents. But it is looking at in a way it's a forward looking thing. This is where we are going.

Ted Simons: There's also some concern that this could be violating the civil rights act because if you are looking at Federal programs, and all of a sudden you can't figure out what it says, critics say there's a violation there. Is that in concern down there over that?

Jeremy Duda: That's what the critics are alleging. It's guaranteed to a see a lawsuit on those grounds. Equal protection grounds. Might have a tough time arguing, yeah, we will make them available in other languages but we will make it intentionally harder to do in another language. Also it's interesting that one of Smith's arguments, this will save the State money. We don't have to send out all these materials in two languages. But this might, there's some concerns this might cost some Federal funds that might be tied to something like that over civil rights concerns.

Ted Simons: Is it the kinda thing that can go pretty far?

Mike Sunnucks: If not this year it come up again. There's a motivation for that. That's kind of the peril for Republicans to push these types of things. Sure, you can save money. Sure, English is the predominant language but are you writing these bills because it's aimed at Hispanic folks who aren't really in tune with Republican party right now nationally or even in the state? That's a challenge. If your motivation is to turn off Hispanics, well, they are being successful at that.

Ted Simons: A lot of election reform, potential legislation. A lot of talk about this. We talked about it on the program. Had senator Reagan and representative Campbell in about their varying ideas, not just on reporting but just on trying to keep all these provisionals from piling up at polling places.

Mary Jo Pitzl: This was, I guess the big headline bill off the inaugural meeting of the Arizona's elections committee, which Reagan, senator Reagan chairs in the Senate. And this goes to the permanent early voting list, finally called upheaval one of the big problems in last fall's election was that there were so many provisional ballots cast, many of them in more than half of them came from people who got a mail-in ballot and for whatever reason, did not mail it in. And they didn't walk it in on election day. Instead they showed up at the polls and said, I don't have my ballot. And we're given a provisional ballot which takes more time to process. Therefore dragging out the lengths of time from election returns. Here along comes this bill that looks to try to reform that.

Ted Simons: Basically what are they are trying to do? If you don't vote by mail and you are on the permanent voting list, you get a little card saying, are you serious about this? And you got to fill out card? If they don't you think you are not serious about it?

Mike Sunnucks: The parties line up in their unusual spots. The Republicans want a more restricted streamlined system. The Democrats want to worry about taking folks off the ballot. There are things that need to change. All the provisional ballots are bogging things down. We are not talking about rural places. Tons of them here in Phoenix. So I think there's some things that need to be done but you got to balance efficiencies versus disenfranchising voters. You don't want to do that.

Mary Jo Pitzl: One of the things that came up in the committee testimony, the bill as written, if you get a mail-in ballot and you miss the primary, you don't vote in the primary and you don't vote in the general following, we are going to send you a postcard and if you don't respond to that you are off the list. Senator Reagan says she will run an amendment to make that two cycles so you got to miss it for a while, which might allay some concerns, especially as regards overseas military personnel, other people who are oversees and independents who often skip primaries because we don't have anyone to vote for.

Mike Sunnucks: You can do these things with early ballots lists but it should be easy for them to vote if they have their I.D. and they are on the list. That shouldn't be this big professional thing you have to go through. Which really discourages folks from showing up again. And they don't know if their vote is going to get counted and that obviously isn't good for representative democracy but if you have an easy process when they get to the pollings place, even if they haven't early voted that's the place fog.

Jeremy Duda: A lot of people showed up to testify against this. Like you said, very partisan split. Messes with a lot of Democratic voter registration efforts. Some critics argue it unfairly disproportionally affects Latinos. A lot of people said flip this around. They had a lot of ideas how to change this. Maybe send a card saying you have to fill out if you don't want to be on the panel anymore or get more people to send in these early ballots by giving them calls, sending them notices. One person suggested, make the mail-in ballots bright pink or yellow, more noticeable. People will notice them and they will send them in.

Mary Jo Pitzl: That's not, that's a good idea. People do just toss things on a pile and so if it's fluorescent orange or pink, maybe if it beeps. Well, that's --

Ted Simons: When you are on the permanent early voting list do people not realize that you are on that list, it's permanent? And you are supposed to do this?

Mike Sunnucks: No, I don't think they realize all the rules and how it works and everything. I think when they register to vote they might do it at the DMV. And move forward from there. But I think one thing we talked about motivations with the English only language again, it comes back to Republican motivations on this. They oppose motor voter on different levels, federal and state levels. They tend to oppose things that tend to expand the electorate.

Jeremy Duda: There's some people who argue that these voter registration folks will fill in the --

Ted Simons: Yes.

Jeremy Duda: Box they want. The voter registration folks say they never do that. Critics allege they do. That's another thing this bill would do would make this a class 5 felony to alter somebody's ballot. That has concerns for somebody if you fill in a zip code or write in Phoenix but don't put Arizona on the address.

Ted Simons: That was john long.

Mary Jo Pitzl: That level of penalty is going to supposedly knock the down in an amendment so that if someone is found guilty of making up a material change in the registration form you can bargain it down. But to your point about, do people get on these permanent early voting lists even realize, Sam with the Arizona advocacy network says, look, part of the problem is you go to register to vote and before you register to vote the first box do you want to be on the permanent early voting list? People are saying yes before they are registering. There's sort of ticking off box, perhaps not understanding. A lot of this does boil down to education and explaining to people, hey, if you are on the permanent early voting list, this means you are going to get your ballot in the mail. This means you really aren't supposed to come to the polls.

Ted Simons: You are suppose -- OK. There are other election ideas down there as well. Including a pilot program for online voting. I think senator bob Worsley has this. It's a pilot program, in a County at first, on line are we ready for online voting?

Jeremy Duda: I guess we will find out. Bob Worsley thinks so. Ken Bennett not quite so sure. Worsley wants a pilot program or one County or one area would try this out for the 2014 election. If it works we can start a plying it beyond that. But Bennett I know has some concerns about whether or not it would actually be ready in time for that. There's concerns over things like anonymity, secret ballot.

Ted Simons: Yeah. But wouldn't you think, I think Worsley, senator Worsley said this, you use your ATM all the time. All your personal stuff is online. If you trust all that, why not trust election?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right. And I don't know the answer to this but it would be interesting to go back. The Democratic Party in 2000 ran their previously preference election online when was Al Gore and Bill Bradley. I don't recall how that turned out. But that might be some place to go and sort of get an idea how that worked out. We are now 13 years out from that. We are umpteen more layers of alleged leave security A. lot more people using computers.

Mike Sunnucks: Oregon's had this for a while. They have done it for a number of section, all on line I don't think we have seen any major hiccups there. You learn as you go. And like you said, people are tolling use their ATM all the time. You can do that fairly easily. Think about the voting process and what year. That's kind of based on, you go into a church or elementary school and senior citizen usually looks up your voting thing on the little list font possible and fries to find it and so if you want more people involve, younger people involve, this is certainly wait to do that, too. Have a more high tech and 21st century system.

Jeremy Duda: We have seen the state of Arizona do more election and voting-related stuff on line the last few years. As of from a pilot program from a couple of years ago candidates can now collect a certain portion of their signature, up to their half of their signatures on line that's going to be continuing through the 2014 election. I think it expires after that. I haven't heard of any problems with that so far.

Ted Simons: Bipartisan support down there for this do you any.

Jeremy Duda: Yeah. I think there's Democratic sponsors as well. Sounds like people on both sides of the aisle are looking at this.

Mike Sunnucks: I think you will see your skepticism from the Republican side. They seem to have this idea of voter fraud nationally in their head about things. So when they see things about online voting and early voter registration lists and making things easier there's some Republicans worry about that.

Ted Simons: How about bipartisan support for the idea of banning felons, not supposed to buy guns if you are a felon but if you even attempt to buy a gun making that a crime as well? Sounds like they have some support.

Jeremy Duda: Seems to be the one gun control bill that might be able to get through the Legislature this year. This a Democratic bill actually. Senator Barbara Maguire I think a class four penalty for even trying to buy this. This has Republican support as well, too. This falls short, very far short of the things that hard core gun control advocates want to see or even not so hard core. Something like universal back ground checks that I don't think will get anywhere in the Legislature but this one steams have support.

Mike Sunnucks: It's a law and order bill. That's why you see Republicans support it. They like to show they don't like criminals so this is a way to do that. They like guns but don't like criminals.

Ted Simons: And the NRA supports this.

Mike Sunnucks: It's common sense thing. I think you can see a past, they did something on gun control both parties support.

Jeremy Duda: The gun rights advocates are so worried about affecting people's legitimate rights to buy guns, this seems like something that could, if you are a felon you can't buy a gun and it's clear cut. So it seems like it couldn't possibly affect a lot.

Mike Sunnucks: There's a problem with straw buyers that come in and about it guns. Some of those may have criminal records. They buy them and guns end up in the hands of the cartels and smugglers and so it fits into that.

Ted Simons: Maybe not quite so much bipartisan support for the concept of feds being unable to, what is this, enforce Federal gun laws on Arizona soil?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right. This is the bill that got out of the Senate public safety committee last week on a very partisan vote, Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. And it says, it says as you said, it would bar Federal officials from being able to enforce Federal gun laws in Arizona. Would it also prohibit any local government, state government people from doing the same, which actually is something that the state can control. But you cannot tell the Federal government what to do in enforcing its own laws.

Jeremy Duda: I think we have settled this issue before the civil war. This thing passes, it would set a land speed record for getting tossed out of court. It's interesting the sponsor, after this got passed out of committee actually pulled it and said, well, counsel and colleagues said it's unconstitutional and she is trying to bring it back and tweak it in some way. I am not sure how that's possible.

Ted Simons: Does leadership have to hear these things just in order to make sure that everyone gets happy and --

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, yeah. Basically, the leadership gets to decide which bills to let out and get a hearing. And, yes, if you want to keep control of your caucus and keep them on your side, there's certain allowances that you are going to make and you may also agree with it. I think it's possible to tweak her bill if you just cut out the Federal part and say you can't let -- no state government officials or local government officials can enforce any new gun controls measures that would be coming down from the Federal government. That stems from a case that's a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court decision that stems from a challenge to the Brady law. It was brought in part by then Graham County sheriff Richard MACK in Texas. It honors the authority of sheriffs to enforce law. I think that's why it's in the hearings, senator Don said there's a thousand years of history. He was off by a couple of hundred, many hundreds of years. But there is an authority that falls to sheriffs on enforcing that.

Mike Sunnucks: Republicans are running these bills in other states and you have had Republican sheriffs and law enforcement, the Pinal County sheriff came out and said I am not going to enforce executive orders or Federal bills pushed by the president that I think are unconstitutional. It certainly appeals to folks in the base and some of the gun rights advocates because they feel the Federal government is overreaching, again, it probably won't go anywhere in the end but it's a lot of good foot stomping.

Jeremy Duda: There's a big difference between not enforcing a Federal law, and then attempting to make it not valid in Arizona. Because a lot, they don't have to do things like enforce Federal back ground check laws. The feds have to do that themselves but if the feds pass a an assault weapons ban we can can't say in Arizona that doesn't apply. You can still get an AR-15. That's not going to fly.

Ted Simons: Quickly, regarding this recent Supreme Court ruling, does it apply only to gun laws? Because I mean, a sheriff being sheriff of all the world in his little area, civil rights era?

Mary Jo Pitzl: No, no. It's specifically addresses gun laws because it was inspired by the Brady bill. If you remember the Brady bill set up back ground checks. And the Federal government wasn't quite ready to roll with it immediately. So they asked the states and the Counties to get it started. And there was some push back including from Graham County, and that's what eventually led to this lawsuit. It was settled in '97 so it's been on the books for quite a while. Now, whether every County in every state would actually adhere to that or say we think, who knows what's going to come out of Washington, but there is an opt out.

Mike Sunnucks: Also it's a big precursor. If something comes out of Washington, whether from Obama orders or from Congress, this all kinds of sets up the right, the gun folks, to challenge in court and whether it violates the second amendment, and so I think this is just part of that effort.

Ted Simons: Real quickly, john Huppenthal had his state of the education system. Some millions of dollars of reforming the current data system. First of all, what does he want? And secondly, is he going to get it?

Mary Jo Pitzl: What superintendent Huppenthal wants more money. There's already money that's gone to this overhaul of the computer system that's set up to track students. So you can follow a student from kindergarten through to find out how did they do in their tests? Did they advance? Did they go on to the next grade? Did they move districts? All kinds of information on student performance. The current system is, according to him, get to in there and it would take weeks, six weeks to run a report to follow one child. They have made a lot of patches and fixes to it. But he believes that to make this streamlined to fit in the 21st century, he needs $35 million to get this computer system built. Now you have the Governor who came out with her budget proposal, and they said, let's, we are going to take, we are going to give $7 million to a technological project to do a portion of what the superintendent wants and we will move it over to the State Department of administration because we think we have a pretty good track record on computer and technical issues. And it's a very polite but tense sort of showoff, standoff between these two offices on what's going to happen. $7 million versus $35 million. Keep it in the Department of Ed, so this is something that's going to have to be negotiated as they go through the budget process.

Ted Simons: It sounds like quite a standoff. It's not the money you want and we are not giving you the responsibility you want.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right. But I mean, you have got -- it's a delicate negotiation.

Ted Simons: I see. All right. Before we go, I don't know if this even exists anymore because it seems like a very fluid situation regarding lawmakers' per diem pay, whether it's tripled or people in Maricopa County will get that. What's going on?

Jeremy Duda: Lawmakers, we have very low pay for our lawmakers here, $24,000 a year and you can't increase that without voter approval. But what you can increase is the per diem payments they get for travel and lodging and that kind of thing, which is a lot more or for folks who are from outside of Maricopa County. And it's pretty much triple this, at least for the folks outside of Maricopa County. I think it might have been changing it for people inside the County. But this would be a lot of money and they are arguing that, this isn't even coming out of the state general fund. It's coming out the Legislature's budget but that still comes from the general fund.

Mike Sunnucks: They all support this. They love it down there. They vote themselves a little more spending money. Maybe they can afford Fiesta Bowl tickets now.

Ted Simons: Mary Jo Pitzl: Mike Sunnucks: Jeremy Duda: No!

Mary Jo Pitzl: But isn't it interesting now that it's gotten subpoena publicity that representative Bruce Wheeler who is from, a Democrat from Tucson, came out yesterday and said, look, I am a co-sponsor of this bill and we are not going to touch increasing the per diem for people who live in Maricopa County. They go home at night and they have a place to stay. There is a lot of sympathy at least in the legislative ranks for those lawmaker who is have to travel in and basically keep a second household up here.

Ted Simons: All right. The speaker even said on our show, those Phoenix also knew what they got into once they --

Mary Jo Pitzl: You would think.

Ted Simons: OK. With that, we will say thank you very much for joining us.

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