Legislative Update

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

Ted Simons: Each week during the legislative session we get an update of Goings on at the State Capitol from the Arizona Capitol Times. Reporter Hank Stephenson of the cap times joins us tonight for the update. We just talked with minority leadership about the caucus, and the idea of closing caucuses. What's this all about?

Hank Stephenson: Well, Republican leadership in the house, there is a new set of Republican leaders over there, and they say that these conversations are kind of always happening, but they are taking it a bit more seriously this year. It's come out of some requests for members who feel like they cannot speak freely when the press, lobbyists, public are in these caucus meetings. So, right now, it seems like they are trying to round up the votes for a rule change to the legislature has exempted themselves from the open meetings requirements that most public bodies are subjected to. But, it is in-house and the Senate rules that these caucuses have to be open to the public. So, they are working up the votes to change that rule, which it seems like they are stuck just short of the number of votes that they need, at least right now, so we may not see this change come forward, but it's been a talking point among Republicans lately.

Ted Simons: It's really interesting because caucus meetings often are designed to inform the public of what the representatives are doing and thinking, and the idea of members being afraid to speak, that seems a little incongruent there.

Hank Stephenson: And there is also another a flip side to that, that this is a group of Republicans coming together to talk about the legislation that they are going to be hearing, debating in the future. They are going to have to explain their votes, or at least answer for their votes on the floor, and this, they think, is their time to kind of speak freely amongst themselves. So, we'll see if they go forward with that change. But, really, there is not that many members of the public who show up to these things, maybe a few people tune in online, but, being a handful of lobbyists, really.

Ted Simons: There is also some concern that the members were grandstanding, knowing that a handful of people were watching?

Hank Stephenson: I have heard that complaint, that was one of the things that leadership put forward saying, you know, we're not only not able to speak freely, but on the flip side, some people speak too much and they are just speaking to you and not to the rest of the room.

Ted Simons: What are you hearing from folks who are speaking regarding the Governor's budget proposal? What's happening down there?

Hank Stephenson: I haven't heard a lot of blowback from the Republicans as we have heard in the previous years. It is very early. I think that everyone is kind of digesting what they heard last Friday. There is some concerns about how this shift of K-12 money will be implemented, taking away from the administrative side and putting it into the classrooms. The Governor's budget director says frankly, that there is no way to really be sure that that's happening. We can ask the schools to certify that they are making the cuts from the administrative side. So, I think a lot of lawmakers are kind of hung up on that. The other one that really seems to concern a lot of Republicans, at least the moderate ones where they really need to be on the budget, is the University cuts, at $75 million spread out across the three-state universities, and it's an ongoing cut. So, it won't just be this year, but fiscal year 2017 and 2018.

Ted Simons: On those ideas, and, you know, whatever it is 5 million for more prison beds, and the cost shift for juvenile offenders, the counties, these sorts of things, is there seem to be much friction or is anybody towing the line?

Hank Stephenson: I think right now everyone is towing the line, and we'll see if that changes once they have you know, digested the details. Right now everyone is very not trying to rock the boat, I would say. You get a lot of, well, I thought it was good. I'll kind of look at it some more and get back to you. Not a lot of people taking the strong stands that they did against Governor Brewer's budgets and such.

Ted Simons: Before we let you go, there is a couple of ideas, proposals to make it easier to get rid of judges. What's this all about?

Eric Meyer: This would take a constitutional amendment. There is two different proposals going forward, one is by Republican representative Phil Lopes who wants to make it tougher for judges to earn retention. If you see down at the bottom of the ballot, do you want to retain this judge or not? They are almost always retained, despite their performance. There's been a handful in state history where they have not, actually, been retained. So, he's saying, you know, it should not take a 50% vote on that. It should take a 60% vote, that's like a d minus. How hard is that. There was another idea, allow the legislature with the two-thirds' vote to go in and remove judges, superior court judges, Supreme Court judges, without having any real reason if they don't need to express one. Just, I guess the idea is they are worried about Rogue activist judges that might be out there, making decisions that the legislature doesn't like.

Ted Simons: And the last one sounds like it would need a constitutional amendment, would both of them need that?

Hank Stephenson: It would have to go to the people for a vote.

Ted Simons: And you would not neat 60% to get that through?

Hank Stephenson: That's always a funny one.

Ted Simons: Yes. All right, so, bottom line we have a couple of how far do these things, do you think the judge removal, how far will that go?

Hank Stephenson: I don't know. I have not really been able to fill out lawmakers. It will depend on the mood of the caucus. I know that the Republican leaders, at least in the house, have been very focused on a set of ideas that they want to put forward. I think that a lot of this is kind of we try it this year, and if it doesn't make it through the legislature, we can bring it back next year because we don't really have to do this until 2016 when it would go to the ballot. Floating those trial balloons right now would be my guess.

Ted Simons: And last question here, it seems to me, as things are kind of quiet. You mentioned not much blowback on the budget. We had minority leadership, not the usual amount of bills being dropped. It seems like there is a calm, is that a calm before the storm or just calm waters?

Hank Stephenson: It could be. It could be a calm before the storm. But right now, I think that the Republican caucus, at least, is really trying to kind of have a kumbaya moment. They have been through years of fighting between the legislature and Governor Brewer. They have a new Governor up there. They are really hopeful. Nobody wants to create any waves right now. We'll see how long that lasts.

Ted Simons: All right, Hank, good stuff, good to have you here.

Hank Stephenson: Thanks for having me.

Hank Stephenson:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times;

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