Legislative Update

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Hank Stephenson from the Arizona Capitol Times will give the latest news from the State Capitol in our weekly legislative update.

Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. State lawmakers are working on supplemental funding to tackle the backlog of child abuse cases uninvestigated by CPS. Hank Stephenson of the Arizona Capitol Times is here for our weekly legislative update. About ½ million some odd, what are we talking about?

Hank Stephenson: About $8.5 million for CPS to get them hiring, I think the goal is 192 new case workers and other CPS workers to kind of dig through that 6,000-6,500 case backlog of cases that were never investigated. Plus just ease burdens on the current case workers. There's a reason we had this pileup. I think that legislatures willing to put some money into it. It passed through the Senate appropriations committee yesterday. House appropriations committee today. It looks like it's on the fast track. They are going to I think they are aiming to push it through and get it to the governor's desk by the end of the week if not early next week.

Ted Simons: There doesn't sound like there's much resistance to this then.

Hank Stephenson: No not really. So far it's passed through the Senate and house committees without opposition. Everyone is on board. This is one thing. Even if you look back to last year there was a supplemental appropriation at the beginning of the year that had no resistance. It was the first thing passed through the governor's desk. Looks like we'll have the same this year. Much larger than last year.

Ted Simons: Also I'm seeing supplemental funding for the legal expenses of the redistricting committee. Begrudging I would imagine?

Hank Stephenson: Yeah, yeah. There are complaints, how many times are we going to give these guys more money. But a lot of it comes down to they have to fight these legal battles one of which is from the legislature. So the legislature has a constitutional requirement to fund adequately the independent redistricting committee. So there's not much they can do. They just have to give it to them. I saw today, in-house appropriation there's was one no vote, just somebody who couldn't vote for IRC funding.

Ted Simons: At all.

Hank Stephenson: But they have to. That's fine if you're the one guy voting no, but it's still going to happen.

Ted Simons: It's $1.46 million. Is that enough? It seems the process is a little bit, a little bit.

Hank Stephenson: It gives them a chance to complain about it every six months. This is the fourth time since 2012 they have had to give a little bit. That's the way they are going to do it. They are not just going to give them everything they ask for and hold them off for several years. It's how much do you need for legal fees this six months?

Ted Simons: Gotcha. Legal fees for the current and former lawmakers who have been asked to subpoenas have been issued regarding SB-1070. Only $100,000?

Hank Stephenson: You know, it's pretty much to hire an attorney to dig through their files or to fight off the subpoena. What the ACLU is asking for is any document that lawmakers have, these are current, former lawmakers, some weren't even there when Senate Bill 1070 was passed. With key words in it like Hispanic, Latino, other words that I don't feel comfortable using on television, for example. Essentially a fishing expedition to make them look like racist, trying to prove that SB1070 was racially motivated.

Ted Simons: So we got CPS or whatever they are calling it these days, redistricting
commission, legal fees for the SB-1070 subpoenas. The supplemental package includes all these things or will this be winnowed out?

Hank Stephenson: It's a couple of different bills all moving through as a package right now. They will all be approved in a bundle essentially, but it's three or four different bills moving through the legislature. High speed, hopefully get them to the governor's desk end of the week.

Ted Simons: The election repeal, the election law repeal. We talked about this before. It's a curious situation because it's been described as skull dugry and other adjectives here. What's going on with this and where do we stand?

Hank Stephenson: Last week there was supposed to be a committee hearing in the house to repeal the law before the referendum can be held. If you remember organizers went out, collected 110 or so valid signatures to put this law up for a yes or no vote by the people in 2014. The legislature says if we go in and repeal it before then there's nothing to put to the vote. The kind of caveat is they are also talking about as soon as we repeal it we can go back and pass this as multiple bills that can't kind of bring together a coalition of opponents to force another referendum against it. Last week it was held in the judiciary committee on the house side. The chairman of the committee said it needed some work on the language, which it's a six word bill saying we're repealing this law. That's not the case. It comes down to one key vote on the committee, Representative Ethan Orr, from Tucson, who wasn't quite comfortable repealing it. I talked to him today. He says he's got some assurances from GOP leadership that they will not be introducing new bills to pass this piecemeal after they repeal it. Then I talked to the house speaker right after that and he says I have made no promises. The game goes on.

Ted Simons: Made no assurances to do exactly what it sounds like they plan on doing.

Hank Stephenson: Yes.

Ted Simons: Ethan Orr, why is he the lone voice here saying this isn't the right thing to do?

Hank Stephenson: He might be the lone Republican saying that. I don't know that he's the lone. As far as going back and repassing these pieces of legislation, but he's a key person at this early stage because he's the swing vote on this committee. But it really comes down to representing a democratic leaning district. That's got to be a big part of it. Democrats see this as a way to increase their get out the vote in 2014, and they have always been steadfastly opposed to the law. It's going to cost him something in the district if he can't find a way to maneuver his way through tomorrow's vote.

Ted Simons: It's an interesting situation. Let's kill the law to save it kind of a situation. Before we get you going here, second in command in the Senate decides this will be the last go around. Talk to us about John McComish.

Hank Stephenson: John McComish has been around for a long time, moderate Republican, one of the supporters of Medicaid expansion last year. Got a primary opponent last week Tom Morrissey, the former AZ GOP chair, going to be running against him from the right, obviously. Then couple of days later he says, you know, I'm not even running for reelection. Apparently it's not so much related to that depending on who you talk to, he's kind of an older guy, ready to retire anyway. Might just be a good time to do it. But then the representative from that district is planning on running for the Senate to fill that seat, which he will have a tough race on his hands. He's also a supporter of Medicaid expansion. It's one of the few districts where conceivably it could do democratic. You should see a lot of people filing for the open house seat that representative Jeff Dial will leave behind. An interesting race there not to mention McComish's Senate seat.

Ted Simons: That race last time got a lot of attention and a whole lot of money pulled into that district.

Hank Stephenson: I think it was somewhere in the range of $300,000 in independent expenditure against him. McComish has been through some real battles in his time in the legislature both from the right and from Democrats. So it might be valid to say he's not stepping out because he's afraid of a fight but because it's time for him.

Ted Simons: Time to become apparently a justice of the peace, which seems to be his next plan.

Hank Stephenson: Well, you can carry over your pension to that. It's a darn good paying job so why not?

Ted Simons: Good stuff. Appreciate having you here.

Hank Stephenson: Thank you.

Hank Stephenson:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times;

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