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, the state's foster care system is the subject of a lawsuit. And a distracted driving bill advances in the legislature. The Journalists' Roundtable is next on "Arizona Horizon."

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Ted Simons: 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 of "The Arizona Capitol Times." the state is the target of a lawsuit over poor foster care conditions. Who filed the suit, what's going on here?

Jeremy Duda: The suit was filed by the Arizona center for law in the public interest, an advocacy group that takes on a lot of fights like these, it's on behalf of 10 foster children. What the suit alleges is while Arizona has spent all of this time focusing on cps and abuse and that kind of thing and fixing that broken system, what is ignored is this foster system where, you know, a number of kids in the system is basically doubling in the last decade. They allege that these kids, the system is not very quick to investigate abuse and neglect allegations against them, that they split up families and siblings have no contact with each other for years, they're not providing them with adequate medical and mental health treatments and they found -- and, of course, this is on behalf of 10 kids. They found some examples of kids who have had some pretty terrible experiences in this system. One kid has been in eight schools in less than a year. Kids have been moved around a dozen times in a couple of years. So pretty bad situations they want the state to remedy the situation.

Ted Simons: And I think the directors of dhs and cps, they're named in this suit. Was this a surprise?

Mike Sunnucks: I think some of the details in the lawsuit were a surprise. Kids having to sleep in offices and just some of the horror stories. It mirrors cps in a lot of ways. Inefficiency, poor care, poor service, poor customer service, to some of the most vulnerable. You know, we don't always spend a lot of money on our social welfare programs here so you look at funding and things like that, but some of the stuff you've got to rise up to where we've been talking about cps for the past couple of years. This kind of has not been in the spotlight and this brings it to light.

Ted Simons: I think the wording here is that the state is showing deliberate indifference that shocks the conscience. Pretty serious stuff here.

Ben Giles: And that speaks to the timing of it. The focus has so much in the last year with the transition from child protective services to this new department of child safety, the focus has been on child welfare and maybe less focused on the foster system. But this didn't really surprise anyone at the capitol. There are lawmakers who have tried to address some of these issues, the fact that often times the complaint is dcs is too quick to remove a child from a home and put them potentially in the foster care system, that there is just a gut reaction to sever family ties maybe too soon.

Ted Simons: Having done this long enough to remember, that argument goes back and forth constantly. You're taking them out too quickly, you're not taking them out quickly enough.

Jeremy Duda: It all depends on what horror story has been in the news lately. You don't take them out quickly enough and you end up with abused, unfortunately even dead children, and then that triggers the notion of we need to get them out and put them into care. That goes on long enough and kids who shouldn't have been taken from their parents and the backlash going the other way.

Ted Simons: As far as the reaction to this, some folks at the capitol have been saying not surprised but the general reaction, are they going to address this or is this another one let's sit back and watch what the courts do?

Mike Sunnucks: I don't know yet. Cps we had the critical mass with all the ignored phone calls. That resonated with everybody, even the most fiscally conservative folks seemed to be on board with trying to fix that situation. The governor, Governor Brewer, pushed that through. What happens on this, because we have these things pop up with foster care, the type of services they get, obviously, cps, sometimes, it takes a critical mass or a galvanizing event. Maybe something will come out of the lawsuit. I don't know if the lawsuit itself will push things, but it may push things forward toward something like that, cps ignored all these calls, it resonated with people so maybe this will move us down the pathway.

Ben Giles: And I think the thing to remember is these problems were years in the making. We do have in Arizona a new agency that is supposed to be addressing these issues. And I think the argument could be made that now that they've come up, this might be the first scandal, if you will, of the new department and they are going to need to address this but they're new, they're still trying to work out kinks in the system and maybe this is just going to take a little time as they are essentially still getting their feet wet.

Mike Sunnucks: And to be fair, other states have these problems, too, with these types of issues with foster care. Same types of things. I think it's highlighted more because we spend so little on these types of agencies and programs.

Ted Simons: I've also seen rankings where Arizona's foster care system does not stand up well nationwide.

Jeremy Duda: Well you know, we've had some pretty serious problems. Multiple lawsuits and rounds of legislation will attest. I don't see this getting addressed any time soon. Of course this lawsuit just gotten filed. It's got to wend its way through the court system. We don't have the money to deal with this issue right now but maybe there's mediation at some point, maybe they work out some type of deal but as with pretty much any other lawsuit, this is going to come down to money and money that people at the capitol are not going to want to spend.

Mike Sunnucks: You need a smoking gun that gets the media involved, that catches the public's attention. A lawsuit in itself may not do that.

Ted Simons: We've got a bill to ban texting while driving advances out of the Senate committee pushed by a senator, Steve Farley, he is a democrat, does that mean this thing is doa?

Ben Giles: I think in this case it's less because a democrat is sponsoring the bill and more because of the fact that it is a texting ban. He's been trying to get this bill through the legislature for about seven years now. Actually, last year was one of his most successful attempts. The bill has been assigned to three committees two years in a row now. He got out to the Senate floor. And then it died because Senate president Andy biggs is not a fan. The argument is, Biggs will say, there are already statutes in place that allow the police, that allow people to be prosecuted for distracted driving. This is just a new unnecessary regulation. Now, Farley's got the bill through one economy so far. He's got two more so far and getting that big hurdle, getting past Bigg's on the floor.

Jeremy Duda: I remember for the last five or six years or so, It hasn't just been Steve Farley trying to push it. We had Al Melvin trying to get this through and if a Republican couldn't get this through a Republican legislature, a democrat's chances are substantially less.

Ted Simons: Getting it out of that one committee you talked about, even doing that you had to have a couple of caveats in there including the idea that you're not banned looking at your text, you just can't text.

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, the city of Phoenix has had something on their books. I don't know how many people - maybe 0- actually sided on this. In California, they have cited people for that. The argument from the safety advocates, Triple A types, is you have a specific law against texting. People don't know what distracted driving means, it's a vague term. If you have a specific law, people might do it. And there are a lot of accidents that happen. What this needs is a Republican advocate who can kind of personalize this for folks and kind of push this through.

Ben Giles: This does have some shared Republican support. There are Republican cosponsors on this bill. But one of the things that Farley is trying differently this year is trying to get an advocate, is trying to tug on people's heartstrings. He brought the family of a fallen law enforcement officer who was on the side of the road and actually got run over by a driver who was watching porn on their cell phone. And introduced that man's family on the floor of the Senate and had them testify in the transportation committee this week. This is, you know, a new tactic to try to get people to understand and that made it a little interesting to see that they actually stripped out the part of the language where now, you can actually look at something on your cell phone, which is exactly the problem that wound up --

Ted Simons: Will that caveat, the fact that you can read, you just can't text, is that going to make any difference?

Jeremy Duda: It makes some difference. I believe senator Cavanaugh made a comment about how without that it wasn't going to move forward. That doesn't necessarily mean it's going to move forward with that.

Ted Simons: All right. We've got tesla, we've got a business story for the business journal, wants to sell directly to customers. And it sounds like they're kind of getting close. First of all, why can't tesla open a dealership like anyone else and secondly, why can't G.M. and ford sell directly to customers like tesla wants to do?

Mike Sunnucks: The real answer is the car dealers have a lot of power in Arizona and a lot of other states. There's rules that you have to buy through a dealership. We don't buy computers, we don't buy - we can buy whatever stuff we want. This is one of the few industries where you have a middle man, the dealership and there's rules against the direct selling in Arizona and other states. Tesla, which is an electric car maker, they don't want to have a dealership, wants to sell directly. They have a service center in Scottsdale at the mall, they want people to be able to go in there and buy directly. Now, you have to order it online and go around this. This came up last year when tesla was looking at us for this big battery factory in Reno. It died in the Senate. Governor brewer didn't push for it. The idea is maybe Doug Ducey pushes for this more, he's a free enterprise guy. The people that advocate for this say why can't I buy a car from the manufacturer directly? The catch is car dealers have a lot of sway, a lot of money invested in Arizona politics.

Ted Simons: In Arizona politics specifically on the Republican side. I believe click down in Tucson is quite the donor.

Jeremy Duda: He is a big supporter of governor Ducey as well. But as Mike mentioned he also has this Worldview of innovative entrepreneurial businesses as you put it, when he recently gave the green light to uber and lyft. Andy biggs halted this thing last year. If Governor Ducey were to get behind this, that makes a difference. This fits into that Worldview of what he wants Arizona to be, the economic development, of course, is basically his top priority and this could help fit into that notion.

Ted Simons: Does ford, G.M., Toyota, are they really hurt all that much if tesla decides to sell directly? The legislation says you have to open a service center in the state. There is a little bit of a catch there but are they going to be hurt all that much?

Ben Giles: I guess it's just a matter of if ford and G.M. and these dealerships think that they are going to lose business because tesla is in town but they're argument more-so is that the tesla model, the direct to consumer model would weaken the system that's in place where there are dealerships and you do have to sell your cars through dealerships. And that is overall what their main argument is, that we have this system in place that's worked for so long. Why would you want to possibly ruin that.

Ted Simons: I'm hearing echos of the craft beer argument, as well. We've always done it this way, why does one company want to change?

Mike Sunnucks: You would think the free enterprise Republicans down at the capital would be all for this. There's a business guy, there's a business guy that wants to come in and sell and sell directly to consumers. Consumers can choose whether they want to buy it or not. Tesla's very small part of the market. It's very small. And so it's interesting that they're siding with the car dealers who are blocking this commerce.

Jeremy Duda: We saw at least one Republican using the free market argument against them, too, saying this is a business that's heavily subsidized, they get a lot of incentives and handouts from the government, once they can stand on their own, come back and let's talk. But for now --

Mike Sunnucks: When the manufacturers that they're representing, whether they're in the rust belt, receiving as many subsidies as any industry out there.

Jeremy Duda: Everyone's getting subsidies, people we don't realize. It's not just them.

Ted Simons: Ben, the Super Bowl is now long gone and there were rumors out there that the more enthusiastic bills would be waiting until after folks left town so that we wouldn't look interesting.

Ben Giles: So we wouldn't look bad on the Daily Show?

Ted Simons: That's one way to say it. Did that come to pass or was that just a lot of hoo-ha.

Ben Giles: It really seems like hoo-ha at this point. We really haven't seen something that rises to the level of a sb1062 like last year or sb1070. For the most part, there are controversial bills but there're issues we've seen before that are run routinely every year but nothing so grand in its scale and its scope that it would cause this uproar that everyone was so afraid of. I think leadership at the capitol is pretty happy about that. They commented to me on the floor of the Senate that hey, did you see all those crazy bills that got dropped on Monday in a sarcastic tone because it wasn't so.

Mike Sunnucks: There wasn't any birther bill. I think there's a little more parenting going on from the governor's office than there was in brewer's last couple of years so I think there's some of that. We did have the billboard in times square. There was no daily show stories on us, there was nobody coming out with nothing too crazy but give them time. They have plenty of time to introduce a few more.

Ted Simons: How much parenting do you think from the governor's office on this?

Jeremy Duda: Legislative leadership says none, they haven't told us to do this, we haven't told our members to do this. Although we did ask governor Ducey about that in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, did you ask lawmakers to hold off on controversial bills until after the Super Bowl? And his only response was well we asked lawmakers to have a productive session. That's what they're doing.

Mike Sunnucks: I do think more a little hesitant after 1062. I think that had a lasting impact. Those -- that footage from cnn of them running away from cnn reporters and Al Melvin's appearance, I think they're a little hesitant to get back in the national spotlight.

Ben Giles: And if you ask Democrats at the capitol, they'll tell you it's not over yet. There's these things called strikers at the capitol, there's a lot of corrections out there that are just ready to have a bill attached to them and that can happen anytime from now until then. Maybe something will come up.

Ted Simons: All right, there's a push to scale back the open meeting law. Not just the idea of caucus meetings held in secret or behind closed doors which apparently everyone does but now, we're talking basically the open meeting law in and of itself.

Jeremy Duda: These laws governor not just at the state but city council, everyone, and what senator Sylvia Allen wants to do is change it so that city council members, other elected officials can deliberate, debate and talk in private outside of the public view and the only thing that they have to actually do in a public meeting and they're taking an actual vote on something, an actual concrete action. The problem is that a lot of these deliberations and discussions, that's where members of the press and members of the public get so much of their information about these things and, you know, sometimes, that doesn't always work to the benefit of the elected officials themselves, they have to air all their concerns, talk about all the issues, and Sylvia allen says these people feel a little freer to discuss the problems and discuss how they feel if they're not in the public eye.

Ben Giles: And allen and other Republicans at the capitol have argued this is nothing nefarious. This is trying to address an issue that's unique to some of those smaller county boards of supervisors. Sylvia allen served on the Navajo county board. There are five people on that board. A quorum is three. That makes it a little more difficult if three people happen to show up at the coffee maker at the same time. Does that constitute a public meeting? The problem is it is broadly written to the point that it would apply to any government body that's holding a meeting, it would apply to the legislature, to the little groups, and it's written in such a way that it actually takes out language in the public meeting law that specifies that the deliberation, the debate, about the proposals, that needs to be public. It says that legal action taken by aboard or an agency is the only thing that would be public, and then it defines legal action as taking a vote. You could have a situation where a vote where the legislature has one private meeting, 30 people in the Senate, 60 people in the house, to heartily debate in private a bill, and then come back minutes later and vote on it and no one will know.

Ted Simons: That's what critics are saying, it hides the deliberative process.

Mike Sunnucks: That's the gist of it, it's going to hide the private meetings from the press, from watchdog groups and sometimes, having those open meetings saves the lawmakers from themselves. It highlights a bill, highlights a hare brained idea. It comes out and then it gets killed. It's protecting them. You think about how Glendale, the hockey team, how the budget is done. There's plenty of private meetings going on now, there's plenty of ways to get around these things. There's private e-mails that people use, there's a lot of ways to get around these things that we have already. This would really weaken watchdogs and the media and the public's ability to see what folks are doing, to see the sausage making alive, which is part of our representative democracy.

Ted Simons: The question is if this passes, does the governor sign it and does he sign it now that we learned that visitor logs up there on the 9th floor, the visitor logs for the governor, they decided people don't need to know who's been stopping by.

Jeremy Duda: This would be a far cry from city council members crafting legislation privately and voting it in two seconds then getting out of there. It is a reduction in transparency up on the ninth floor, at least since the administration, the governor's office keeps a visitors log on the eighth floor and you don't have to sign in, I didn't a lot of the time but a lot of people do and you can see cabinet heads, lawmakers, lobbyists especially is what we're looking for and the public record, I used to put in a request once a month or every two months, go get a few weeks worth of logs, look to see if anything interesting is in there but those are gone now. When Ducey got in he got rid of those, they decided they're going to streamline the office, make it more efficient as they put it and they said it's not a big deal because these are incomplete anyway, and therefore, inaccurate.

Ted Simons: But is that a valid point? If they're not complete then what good are they anyway?

Jeremy Duda: Not everyone signs in. A lot of people do sign up and oftentimes, that's enough to let you know. People who know they don't have to sign in are still signing in. If I printed out a visitor log ad put it up there in the eighth floor, some people would sign it just because it's there.

Mike Sunnucks: Republicans need to remember, shoe's on the other foot sometimes. They didn't like how the redistricting commission, how they met sometimes. They were concerned about open meeting laws. Republicans on a national level want to know which Muslim leaders Barack Obama met with recently. They want those things so sometimes, you're in the minority or you're not always going to be in the majority and you don't like who's running things, you want that transparency there. So when you're in the majority it's easy to back these things but that doesn't always stay the same.

Ben Giles: It wouldn't surprise me to see the bill amended, before, if it even does reach governor Ducey's desk. If the concern really is for these smaller boards, these three or five person boards and the intent is not to apply to something as big as the legislature, maybe there's an amendment to be had. Maybe Sylvia allen is amendable to believe something that would specifically address the smaller groups.

Ted Simons: Carve something out there. Apple, we've talked about this this week. We had economists on, council people on, Scott sommers, we got the global command center out there in mesa. It's basically a cloud storage facility. And 700 jobs for the glass factory that was supposed to go out there, we're down to 150 here. Some economists are saying take it because it's sitting empty otherwise. Good thing for Arizona? Are people celebrating this?

Jeremy Duda: Certainly, over at the capitol they're celebrating this. It's apple, the most profitable company in the world. It's a big deal. The last factory you mentioned, 700 jobs, people called that the apple deal but it was just a subcontractor. This is apple itself. They're going to be investing $2 billion, 150 permanent jobs, 300 to 500 temporary ones and you get the cachet of having this major international global command center or international command center in your backyard.

Mike Sunnucks: It's a data center and we're a big data center hub. There's a lot of companies that have the guts of the Internet and the technology sector here. But yeah, it's a lot less jobs and we're rolling out the incentives and the tax breaks for them. We ran to pass these tax breaks last year for this G.T. advance plant which apple basically funded the company, they went belly up, so now, we're taking those tax breaks and carving them out for the command center and to make sure that they get that. So apple brings a lot of cachet, we like that, but it's not a lot of jobs and it's not the manufacturing jobs that we kind of have been looking for.

Ted Simons: Exactly, exactly.

Ben Giles: And that's one of the really fun parts about this, the incentives that needed to be tweaked after the quote/unquote apple bill was passed last year, to actually allow those incentives to apply to apple and not the manufacturer that they were supposed to apply to. Senate president Andy biggs has to run a bill that actually restructures and expands what those incentives can apply to, which is fascinating because Andy biggs was one of the three people to vote against the apple bill last year.

Jeremy Duda: The first time that went onto the floor, he was actually the only person to go against it. The amended version got two other people joining him but he is actually the sponsor of this and Doug Ducey who at times last year campaigned against targeted incentives is supporting this as well, as is house speaker gowan who's going to introduce a nearly identical version in the house and a lot more of the ardent free market advocates in the legislature, they're lining up behind this, too, people who normally would be hesitant to vote. I think probably the fact that Andy biggs who has such solid credentials on this issue, that's giving people some cover. If it were Bob Grisly running this bill, probably not going to get the same level of support from your most conservative members.

Mike Sunnucks: And these actions are very much picking a winner and picking a loser. They're picking Apple as a winner and They created a foreign trade zone, they pay 5% property tax instead of 18%, they could get data center tax breaks because it's a data center, they could get job training stuff, there's still some money in there, they could get some of that for them. So they are very much picking a winner in terms of Apple because it's the biggest tech company in the world.

Jeremy Duda: Other interesting thing about this bill that Senate president biggs is running, this just doesn't expand it. It makes it a lot easier to qualify for this tax credit -- last year, you needed to invest $300 million in renewable energy production and this one be under $100 million and last year's bill it was a $1 million tax credit, now it's a $5 million tax credit. But the free market supporters over there, the people who are lining up behind this, there's a couple of things that they'll cite as good reasons, one that this isn't a new program they say and just tweaking an existing program, plus one thing that seems the most important to a lot of them is unlike this factory last year, this isn't getting any money from the commerce authority's deal closing fund. The G.T. factory was going to get $10 million from the Arizona competes fund, they did not give that out before the factory went under. This factory won't get any of that money.

Mike Sunnucks: The problem is how do you say no to apple just like how do you say no to the NFL? We have a lot of tax breaks, exemptions for the Super Bowl. How do you say no?

Ted Simons: You know how you say, no? Yes. That's how you say no. Monday on "Arizona Horizon," we'll discuss the role of after-school activities in student success. And we'll look at how engineers are using robotics technology in physical therapy. That's Monday on at 5:30 and 10:00 on "Arizona Horizon." Tuesday: the state's largest science and technology festival is set to launch. Wednesday: an update on the Affordable Care Act in Arizona. Thursday: former governor Ernest McFarland gets a new memorial in time for statehood day. 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.

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

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

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