Reporter Ben Giles 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 team with the Arizona Capitol Times for an update of what state law-makers are debating and considering, and here to kick off the coverage of the 2015 session is Arizona Capitol Times reporter Ben Giles. Good to see you again.
Ben Giles: Thank you.
Ted Simons: Let's get it going here with something that literally just happened today, this afternoon. It looks like we have a high school civics test ready to be signed into law.
Ben Giles: A high stakes' test, graduation requirement for high schoolers. They can take it as many times as necessary lawmakers say but they will have to pass the citizenship test that is issued by immigration services. There is 100 questions, and the bill states that you have to answer 60 of those correctly to graduate.
Ted Simons: And you started in the eighth grade. If it takes you 47,000 times to do it, you get all of them?
Ben Giles: There is not a lot of detail in the bill about how the test is going to be administered, and that is one of the complaints from the schools, from teachers' unions that this is an unfunded mandate that they claim the lawmakers don't understand, that there is going to be a cost to this. The lawmakers were arguing, these are things that students should be learning, that they should know. It should be an easy test to pass, so why should it be so difficult, so costly to administer?
Ted Simons: I would imagine 60 out of 100 questions, that does seem to be not the sturdiest of requirements. If you can retake the test year after year, that seemed -- I would think that you could fold those into your regular civics' studies.
Ben Giles: It is a low threshold as far as a passing grade for a test goes. I think that the point that a lot of the teachers made in the committee hearings, this was rushed through the capitol today in the committees and the house and Senate and on the floor of each chamber, was that because it's so easy to pass, because we're teaching it, why are we wasting the classroom time to assess it? It was almost as if some of the teachers were offended by the idea that this needs to be tested, and some made the point, and a lot of Democrats on the floor made the point that this is a regressive test, this memorization of facts about American history is, actually, regressive from the types of civic lessons that teachers are trying to impart on their students now, which is more of a critical thinking mind set about how Government works.
Ted Simons: Is this as much about the legislature, showing Governor Ducey that they can work together. This is the fastrack, the Governor called for this in the state of the state address, and they got it done pronto. Is this a good will gesture to open things up here?
Ben Giles: I think in a way, yes, and it is a part of a larger national push. Arizona is not the only state that's considering passing a high stakes' civic test as a graduation requirement. Certainly, both the Governor's office and Republicans at the legislature wanted to show they can work together and agree on things, and they certainly did that today. And there was bipartisan support for, from some for the bill. There were Democrats, who voted for this test.
Ted Simons: So the first state, as soon as the Governor signs it, the first state in the union for that. There is a proposal to change the voter protection act out there. This is not the first time that we have heard of something like this. But, talk to us about what this means and what it would mean as far as initiatives that folks vote on?
Ben Giles: The resolution hasn't been introduced yet, but J.D. has said he would like to change the requirement for what triggers the voter protection act, which was approved by voters in 1998. As a direct result of the legislature, the year before, overturning the first time, Arizona passed medicinal marijuana. In 1996, with 65% of the vote, they approved it in 1997. The lawmakers came back and said, we think that that was a misinformation campaign, and we don't think it's the right thing to do, and they repealed it, so what the people said was, we want to protect these initiatives, these ballots, these statutory ballot measures, so now the lawmakers have to, if they want to change those laws, approved by voters, overwhelmingly vote to support to change it, and only vote to support to change it in a way that furthers the intent of the bill. They cannot really change it virtually, is the argument.
Ted Simons: So this idea is what? Simple majority?
Ben Giles: Right now, the protections that I just described, those are triggered by a majority vote of the people. What J.D.'s proposal would be is require a two-thirds' majority vote to trigger those protections. A simple majority would approve the statutory change that voters are voting on. But, that means that lawmakers in the next year could come back and change it or repeal it.
Ted Simons: So a simple majority means it passes but is available to be messed around with by lawmakers. Two-thirds' majority means you cannot touch it the way that it is right now. Ironically, this idea has to go back to voters.
Ben Giles: It's a constitutional amendment, which is why a resolution has to be introduced to send it back to the ballot, so if you want to, basically, lessen the number of instances in which voter protections would occur, you need to convince the voters that's a good idea and get a popular vote to approve it.
Ted Simons: So is it likely at all that voters will weaken a protection that they have in this process?
Ben Giles: Folks who push citizens initiatives, environmental groups, certainly the lobby to legalize marijuana, which is going to be a push in 2016, they say no. They say that this is not going to be an easy sell, and they cannot imagine the voters would want to weaken an authority that they have. Basically, they argue was born out of an idea that the legislature is not always reflective of the majority of the people.
Ted Simons: Last question before you go, I know that there is an idea to keep candidate addresses secret. What's that all about?
Ben Giles: Not just candidates but also, if you win, you would continue to be -- have your address kept secret.
Ted Simons: Lawmakers, as well.
Ben Giles: Lawmakers, really, any statewide publicly elected office. This would apply to. And the idea being born out of a privacy concern, and possibly, a public safety concern. Representative Kelly Townsend expressed that she has, at times, felt threatened by strangers being on her property or placing things near her home. There were instances during the campaign season where nasty notes were posted on signs near lawmakers' homes. So, they are worried that people know where they live.
Ted Simons: But, they are worried, and yet, how -- if the addresses are secret how do folks know if people were in the district.
Ben Giles: And that is the issue because the idea is, if you want to make sure that you are being represented properly, or specifically, if you want to make sure you are being represented by someone who lives in your district, who lives in your neighborhood, you can be a public records' request go to the Secretary of State's office and find out where they live and see if they truly do live there, and that has been an issue that popped up numerous times in the last three years or so where lawmakers' residency has been challenged. It's not something that is uncommon for someone to question whether a lawmaker lives in the district. They claim to represent. Which they are constitutionally required to do so.
Ted Simons: How likely is something like this, if it gets far, how far does it go?
Ben Giles: It's hard to say. We have heard from, certainly folks who have been a part of the former legal challenges that no, this does not stand a chance, and there is a former state Senator, Ron Gould, who said that this is almost an un-republican thing to propose, that you are supposed to be sending your neighbors to represent you, and wouldn't it be nice to know where your neighbor lives, or the fact that as a lawmaker, or as an elected official, you should be out amongst your people, it's not that hard to find you anyway. Why should your home be kept private?
Ted Simons: All right, we'll keep an eye on that one. Good to have you here and thanks for joining us.
Ben Giles: Thank you.
Ben Giles:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times;