Journalists’ Roundtable

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Three local journalists will discuss the week’s big stories.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable. State lawmakers advance a bill that effectively kills Common Core education standards. And we'll update the brouhaha between the state schools chief and the board of education. The Journalists' Roundtable is next on "Arizona Horizon."

"Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you. 16:30:36:27

Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable. I'm Ted Simons. Joining us tonight, Jeremy Duda: of "The Arizona Capitol Times." Mike Sunnucks: of "The Phoenix Business Journal." And Ben Giles: from "The Arizona Capitol Times." A bill aiming to eliminate Common Core education standards and associated tests advances in the legislature. It's not a done deal by a long shot here but it is moving is it not?

Jeremy Duda: Yes. There's a couple of bills moving. The main one, this would actually eliminate the Common Core standards. It would bar us from adopting standards that had been adopted by too many other states so we don't end up in the same position again but this is the dream of a lot of legislative conservatives the last few years are hoping this is the time to get that one through.

Ted Simons: Immediately stops implementation of Common Core.

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, these bills kind of try to look at every avenue you could possibly try to get Common Core. Common Core by any other name, opt out of tests, stop everything, stop the board of education from doing anything. It's a major split within the Republican party both statewide and nationally. You have this business wing, the chambers of commerce, big tech companies, big employers want more workers to be skilled, vocational education, those types of standards across the country. You have folks on the right, very conservative right, that see this as big government, Diane Douglas, work bees comment during the horizon debate, it's a treacherous road for Doug Ducey who's had to traverse both sides of the business wing and the right wing.

Ted Simons: It bans standards that are similar to 20 or more states. That's not just Common Core. That's anything that suggests that Arizona will be doing anything in cooperation with anyone.

Ben Giles: And the reason for that is the belief that the Common Core standards weren't state-driven standards, that they were federally driven standards mandated to states. I mean, when the Common Core standards were first adopted, there were dozens of states that signed up for this but then the impression got to be with a lot of the far right and the Republican party not just in Arizona but in other states that this wasn't state-driven. So the idea being I suppose if you prevent Arizona from adopting standards similar to more than 20 other states, you would prevent a similar Common Core situation. That's their belief in how this got started.

Jeremy Duda: This wouldn't make it state driven but legislative driven in a way that it's not now. Right now, the standards are adopted by the board of education, they're the ones who adopted Common Core in 2010. This would require some legislative approval for anything the board of Ed passes as well which would much like the 20 state threshold would also, you know, put a little bit more control back here and make sure the legislature isn't forced to swallow something they don't like.

Ben Giles: And we've seen these bills before, these came up last year and some of them even the year before that and to this point, they have been defeated by a majority of the members of the legislature, there was a small group of Republican senators last year who were able to strike down if I remember correctly three bills in one day, all of which somehow, some way attacked Common Core. Some of those senators aren't there anymore, are gone. So it will be interesting to see if this year there's still a pocket of the Republican party in the Senate who can defeat this.

Ted Simons: What is the reaction? Education community we understand their reaction for the most part. The business community, what are they saying? Last I heard, the business community likes Common Core.

Mike Sunnucks: The chamber of commerce crowd, the technology crowd, they like Common Core. They want to see national standards, and it's aimed to improve student achievement, get skilled workers and a better workforce. The problem for governor Ducey, jeb bush and the Republican nomination race for president is you're trying to appeal to conservatives, you want the wing to be with you, the base to be with you and the business guys to be with you. It will be interesting if it makes it to his desk, who's going to be upset.

Jeremy Duda: Doug Ducey has professed his opposition to Common Core as federalized standards. Doug Ducey is also tight with the chamber of commerce, glen hammer, one of his biggest boosters. So he's long opposed these standards that some of his biggest allies like, but the anti-Common Core crowd has noted he hasn't committed to getting rid of them, he says it's a federal intrusion, but he's stopped short of crossing that line saying we're going to get rid of these.

Ted Simons: Last point on this. Does anyone in this debate talk about the efficacy of Common Core? It's something if the joe smith test turns out to be just wonderful and shows great results and 21 states decide they want to do it, what Arizona just isn't going to do it?

Ben Giles: This really comes down to a belief that standards driven by Arizonans for Arizonans would be the best thing.

Ted Simons: How do they differ isn't two plus two equal four still? What's the argument there?

Ben Giles: They might not there and that's the concern with this bill is that restricting what you could adopt based on what other states do could handicap the board, could handicap the legislature, from being able to adopt the best.

Mike Sunnucks: The current occupant of the White House kind of drives this debate on a political level, where folks on the right see this as national, as coming from the federal government, thus as coming from Barack Obama. Where you didn't see that stuff come up with no child left behind with his predecessor. There is a legitimate education debate out there. How many tests do we have? We have all these tests, the teachers are teaching to the tests, that's all we do, we look at these numbers, we're not educating the whole child, those types of arguments, those are legitimate arguments about where the educational system is going, where vocational fits in there, versus everybody needs to go to a liberal arts school but the politics always rears up because it's easy to spot out there's a lot of Republicans thank this is nationalization or we're going to follow California and Massachusetts down the road.

Ben Giles: And that right there is where that pride issue comes in to play that Arizona knows best for Arizona. And I hear this repeatedly at the capitol when these bills are defended. The lawmakers who are pushing this anti-Common Core agenda sincerely believe that they could come up with better standards for Arizona students.

Jeremy Duda: And this isn't actually the only Common Core, anti-Common Core bill going through. That one is the most severe but there's others aimed at the testing, one that would give the parents the option of opting out of the test. The main test being used by Common Core states and developed our own. This would allow parents to opt out. Another one would require the department of Ed to come up with a different test. So this is going on a few different fronts right now.

Mike Sunnucks: Politically for the folks down there, Diane Douglas's success last year in the elections, she ran totally on being opposed to Common Core and she's in office right now.

Ted Simons: Speaking of Diane Douglas what happened this week at the board of education? She fired two workers. They're fired?

Jeremy Duda: Or so she thought last week. On Friday the board of education basically gave her an ultimatum, voted to order her to allow Christine Thompson the board's executive director and Sabrina Vasquez back to work because Monday was a holiday, they said the deadline is 8:30 a.m. Tuesday and Douglas wasn't sure whether she was going to do it when she walked out of that meeting on Friday. Tuesday morning we were all gathered in front of the department of education with bated breath, they were allowed back to work. Seemingly ending the stand-off. This has the potential to flare up a bit. Both sides had to hire outside council. Douglas's attorney sent a letter saying we think we're right but we're going to let them back to work but they have to abide by a number of conditions, such as reporting directly to the superintendent, providing a lot of detailed information on how they spend their work days, authorization for vacation, sick time, stuff like that, conferences.

Ted Simons: The whole nine yards.

Jeremy Duda: And the board lawyer said that's nice, they don't have to do any of these things and we don't think they're going to and that's where it's at right now. I spoke earlier today with greg miller, the president of the board of education who didn't want to comment directly on which if any of these conditions they were meeting but he basically said this has been relaxed. He said they are no longer under arbitrary requirements that aren't conducive to good business practices.

Mike Sunnucks: It's your typical political turf battle. Most people don't know who is on the board of education. Douglas won the election, elections have consequences, she thinks she's able to come in there and clean house for people that she thinks advocate for Common Core. The governor disagrees. The other members of the board are appointed by him. Typical kind of inside baseball political turf battle. At least she didn't have a George Wallace moment and try to block the door.

Ted Simons: But I appreciate you trying to figure out whether or not they are reporting their hours and their sick time and their scheduled meetings, what if they don't do that? What is she going to do?

Ben Giles: That's actually not clear. That's kind of one of the gray areas in that who directs the department of education, Diane Douglas as the superintendent, it's kind of her job to direct that department and implement what the board has decided would be the standards for Arizona and there's that tension there between an elected member of the board and the other 10 members who were around when the Common Core standards were adopted.

Jeremy Duda: And it's unclear, they're saying kind of what the status of those terms and conditions are. I got a very short statement from Douglas's spokeswoman saying staff is following directions. Another said they're not, we've reached an accord here. But even if they have for how long. Right now, the easiest solution seems to be superintendent Douglas's proposal, which is the legislature should pass a bill clarifying that these folks are under the authority of the board.

Ted Simons: We had the Speaker of the House on this week and I kept trying to get at this, they said in a variety of ways we are going to let these two work something out and then come to us. Until then, it doesn't sound like there's any initiative to get something done.

Mike Sunnucks: I don't think they have any motivation to cross the governor on this. Diane Douglas doesn't sign any of their bills, Diane Douglas doesn't negotiate the budget with them. He holds a lot of cards in this debate. There may be some conservatives down there that agree that maybe she should run the show down there, she won the election, elections have consequences, but the rules aren't that way right now and Ducey has a lot of power because he's the governor. I don't expect that bill to go anywhere anyways.

Ben Giles: And I think the concern is with the rules the way they are now, how long might this drag on? It seemed like it was over Tuesday morning when Thompson and Vasquez went back to work seemingly with no problems. And then these letters come out, these competing letters from lawyers for Douglas and for the board and how long is this conflict, how long are they going to butt heads and when might that actually impact students in Arizona?

Jeremy Duda: Well, Douglas, what she proposed, this would actually, at least in her mind cede authority to the board. She believes she has the authority over these employees, the statutes are kind of ambiguous on this, she said we should make it clear. I don't know what the department of education is working on but I know the board of education is working on a draft, I know if anybody's reached out to the speaker or the governor's office. They've told me they haven't seen anything yet, but the board of education is working on this and this legislation would back up Doug Ducey's position that the board has that authority.

Mike Sunnucks: Some folks question why shouldn't the governor just appoint the head of this like they do the other departments? That's not going to go anywhere, either. There's going to be a ton of scrutiny of her. Everything she does over there, treatment of employees, ethical things, policy decisions, all those types of things are going to be under a microscope.

Ted Simons: We have an abortion restriction bill, it passes the Senate, this is S.B. 1318, healthcare exchanges, used to be no state run exchanges and plans, they couldn't could need abortion there, federals you could get writers and this bill says no writers at all.

Ben Giles: This bill basically with the implementation of Medicaid expansion in Arizona, what lawmakers realized, a bill they passed in 2010 which, as you said, state run insurance plans are not allowed to cover abortion procedures, now the discovery was oh, there are dozens of plans available through federal exchanges that can be used in Arizona that do provide coverage for abortions and this is being billed as the no taxpayer funded abortions bill. It's basically a cleanup as I understand it to go back and say we thought we had this covered in 2010 when we passed a bill with the intention to prevent plans from covering the procedure but there's other plans that still do.

Ted Simons: But the feds run the state's exchange, do they not?

Mike Sunnucks: There was language in the affordable care act that could have some power when it comes to abortion services and what was covered. I think this is going on in some of the more conservative states. This is likely to pass. The legislature down there for the past several years has been religiously pro-life, anti-abortion rights, passed a lot of different bills, they may get challenged by folks. There's policy debates over if wants to pay for this on their own, why can't they do this? In addition to their exchange coverage. But it's a pro-life crowd down there.

Ted Simons: Is it a policy debate, legal debate? A little bit of both?

Ben Giles: Not so much legal. More so the debate against it, the people who need abortion coverage in their insurance policies are the people who won't be able to go out and pay for an abortion out of pocket, to be able to afford to go find some place to get that done on their own. I've had some people call it the poor people can't get abortions bill. Without that insurance coverage, access to abortions is going to be much more difficult for the people who need that policy.

Ted Simons: And again, supporters are saying there's no reason pro-life taxpayers should be underwriting abortions.

Ben Giles: Right and as mike said, there are provisions in the federal law that allows states to have exemptions within the plans provided through the feds to Arizonans who need these plans.

Ted Simons: Legally. All kinds of exemptions?

Ben Giles: I don't know about all kinds of exemptions but, at least in this case for abortions, legally this is sound.

Jeremy Duda: Any controversial abortion bill is going to spark talk of a lawsuit and there have been a few in recent years but if this is a provision of the affordable care act saying you guys are allowed to do this, that might be a dead issue. Planned parenthood, some of the groups, they've had a few successes in recent years but, you know, if that's the affordable care act, this may not be another one of them.

Mike Sunnucks: If you look at public opinion polls statewide and nationally, in general, people tend to be pro-choice but when we talk about taxpayer funding for abortions, then the pro-life crowd tends to rule on those.

Ted Simons: The feds running the state exchange does not make any difference if the state wants to make particular changes?

Ben Giles: The state is allowed to have at least this exemption in there.

Ted Simons: This passes and signed?

Jeremy Duda: I would imagine so. The legislature is as conservative as it was in the last few years, they've passed every piece of pro-life legislation that's come before them. Doug Ducey has cast himself as the social conservative, he's allied with social conservatives, I couldn't imagine he wouldn't sign that.

Ted Simons: Tax bracket changes. This is the annual adjustment thing. The governor talked about this quickly after taking office and it looks like it's happening quickly.

Mike Sunnucks: It's going to happen. It basically will take into account inflation. So you're not creeping into another bracket because of an inflationary thing. Minimum wage increase is tied to that. The business folks don't have a problem with it. It will cost us some revenue, $12 million I think the first year, so that's something to consider, considering our budget situation, but it's a done deal.

Ted Simons: Didn't governor brewer veto similar legislation?

Jeremy Duda: A couple of years ago, representative Justin olson, he ran this bill, it got to brewer's desk and she vetoed it and last year she signed a similar provision that made that change for one year. But when she vetoed the permanent one, she said we don't know what finances are going to look like down the road. The one-year one she said finances look good we're going to do this. But Doug Ducey, this was a major agenda item of him. He said I want to cut taxes every year, hands are tied on that right now because the state's a fiscal disaster area. He wants to cut income taxes and you can't do that right now but this is his tax cut bill for this year.

Ted Simons: And it's also an indication that he's getting along relatively well with leadership and all those folks down there.

Ben Giles: So they tell us. Everybody seems very happy with each other with this bill in particular and the way budget negotiations are going this year, the message I hear repeatedly from leadership in the Senate is we are far ahead of where we would be in negotiations in previous years with brewer. And all indications are that the relationship has not soured.

Jeremy Duda: It's still the honeymoon period, when Ducey unveiled his budget, he brought leadership out there with him. Brewer told lawmakers eventually saying I'm going to veto every bill you send me. I have a hard time seeing that happen amid all the moments right now.

Ben Giles: It's so happy go lucky down there, we've got lawmakers predicting this could be the historically short session.

Mike Sunnucks: Politically ideologically same page. He had a lot of cut in his budget. They tend to like that, their fiscal conservative. The tax thing is with them, the Common Core may derail things. They're on the same board with all these apple tax breaks, even though they're picking a winner and loser it seems but Common Core could be the thing that pops up and cause some challenges.

Ted Simons: Something else that popped up and caused a challenge was the anti-service animal bill where I believe it was representative thorp from Flagstaff wants to make sure that you don't just put your pet dog in a restaurant and call it a service animal. Boy, did that back fire.

Jeremy Duda: And in record time, too. Representative thorp felt like there was a problem with people bringing their pets and pretending they're service animals because they want to bring Fido to the restaurant or the home depot. He wanted to impose some new restrictions, one that you would have to register your service animals with the state, they have an orange vest and the other big provision is even if you had that, a business could still tell you to get out. It could refuse to let your service animal in if they were doing it to comply with health codes. He didn't appear to have ran this by very many stakeholders who all showed up at his committee hearing, service animals and all and talked about how this affects the disabled, veterans, folks that a lot of lawmakers don't want to vote against and in the end,, this failed unanimously. He voted against his own bill. It went down that badly.

Mike Sunnucks: There's always a legislative setback when you vote against your own bill. I wonder what Crackle Barrel he was in. There was some dog barking and we were trying to figure out what the origin of this bill was? I've never been in a situation where a service animal is in a restaurant that caused a problem.

Ted Simons: Apparently, the service animals were all there at the hearing and they were the most well behaved little service animals you could possibly imagine.

Ben Giles: One of the hypotheticals we heard from a supporter of this bill in committee was that we're worried about dogs running around the kitchen. Most of the time when you see these animals, they are peaceful, well trained, they're sitting at the feet of whoever they're helping until those folks need to get up and go somewhere. I think as Jeremy said, the stakeholder meetings might have helped before the committee hearing but certainly that was a rousing stakeholder meeting in the middle of the hearing.

Mike Sunnucks: And the bill that wanted to limit the public hearings on stuff, this is an example where maybe you should vet things out a little bit.

Ted Simons: Give him credit. He saw the light, and he voted against his own bill.

Jeremy Duda: He wanted to pull it from consideration and other lawmakers said, no, we want to vote this thing down. They were pretty adamant about it.

Ted Simons: We've got a couple of minutes left, there's a bill that would provide immunity to teenage drinkers. This sounds different than what it is or is it?

Ben Giles: Not immunity in all cases but if there is a genuine need for medical attention, if you're a freshman at ASU and you've been drinking and you need to go to the hospital because you might have alcohol poisoning, this bill says you could contact law enforcement, you could contact emergency personnel and get the help that you need and you wouldn't be allowed to be cited for underaged drinking, because the argument being from senator Kelli Ward the sponsor and over 100 college students who came to support the bill is that students are afraid to get medical attention for them or their friends who might have been drinking too much because they're afraid of what that citation might do to their permanent record.

Mike Sunnucks: You have a bunch of other states that have this bill and you might see people be more willing to report sexual assaults and rapes after someone has been taken advantage of. There's a lot of upside, a lot of common sense to this bill.
Ted Simons: A lot of common sense, a lot of upside. Is this likely to pass or are there roadblocks?
Jeremy Duda: It went smoothly in committee. There was one vote against it but there's one vote in the full Senate who might be a problem. Andy biggs not a big fan echoed some of the concerns saying he doesn't want to give an exemption for criminal activity, he does not want to take away that discretion from law enforcement officers and if he doesn't want it to move forward, it's not going anywhere.

Ben Giles: That was the point of association of counties, the one group that spoke out against the bill, they said we talked to our sheriffs, our police departments, there is already discretion with officers, with prosecutors, whether or not we really need to charge a young person in these cases. Taking away that discretion and providing a blanket immunity, there are folks like the Senate president who think that's a slippery slope to basically carve out an exemption for criminal conduct.

Jeremy Duda: This is the frustration in the business community, some of the more moderate folks out there. This type of bill, once in a while you see folks from the east valley Republicans oppose these things that seem to have a lot of upside, a lot of common sense to them because of slippery slopes or some kind of fear of some kind of strange scenario that's going to go on.

Ted Simons: All right. We've got to stop it right there. Thank you so much. Appreciate it. Monday on "Arizona Horizon," Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton will talk about the city's new police chief, the budget and other municipal concerns. And we'll look at efforts to involve more women in business start-ups. Tuesday, results of a new Morrison-Cronkite poll on state priorities. Wednesday, a look at the history of black migrant women in rural Arizona. Thursday, we'll hear about two legislative bills that tackle liquor licenses. And Friday, it's another edition of the Journalists' Roundtable. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

"Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

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Jeremy Duda:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times; Mike Sunnucks:Journalist, Phoenix Business Journal; Ben Giles:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times;

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