Legislative Update

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Get an update on the latest from the state legislature in our weekly legislative update with Ben Giles of the Arizona Capitol Times.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Lawmakers are working to end the legislative session in the next few weeks. But that means getting through a variety of bills, including the apparent return of controversial voter reforms. Welcome Ben Giles from the "Arizona Capitol Times."

Ben Giles: Thank you.

Ted Simons: I remember a couple of years ago, election law went through and opponents were so upset, got 146,000 signatures. Legislature said we're repealing it and not going to bring it back piecemeal. They're bringing it back piecemeal.

Ben Giles: A few provisions this year, but none more controversial than the one stuck on to a bill this morning. This is a ban for volunteers working for political committees from collecting mail-in ballots from voters and turning them in. It is called ballot harvesting. This was one of the major concerns especially for the Latino community which has used this as a get out the vote effort for the minority community, widely used in elections, and it's seen by democrats and by the Latino community as an effort to stamp out turning out minority voters in Arizona.

Ted Simons: What is the argument from republicans?
Ben Giles: Argument is that there might be some sort of fraud, that that was -- there is an opportunity for the ballots to be tampered with. There is no evidence to support that claim. There has been numerous reports about there is, you know, no ballot fraud in Arizona. Only a few cases in the last few decades, as far as I can remember, of anyone trying to do this. It hasn't necessarily been in this ballot harvesting field. And you've had republican lawmakers, as you said, in 2013, when they went back, between 2014, when they went back and repealed the law passed in 2013, understanding the will of the voters, they were going to repeal this on the ballot themselves. The reason they did that, they didn't want the appeal to be voter protected. As anything is that is approved on the ballot by voters, they wanted the ability to have flexibility to go back in and adjust these voter laws, and that has -- that's why everyone has been watching out for this sort of piecemeal legislative action.

Ted Simons: The last question. Secretary of state Reagan was very much involved in this when she was a lawmaker. Is she commenting on the apparent return?

Ben Giles: Latest from the secretary of state's office is that she is on board with this and this has been a flip-flop for Secretary Michelle Reagan. HP 2005, when the bill passed in 2013 and involved in the repeal of it to again respect the will of the voters, 140,000 or so who signed on to get it to the ballot. And she actually told the "Arizona Capitol Times" last fall that she was now against banning ballot harvesting. This is another flip-flop back to being for it.

Ted Simons: The governor wants to create an inspector general to investigate what?

Ben Giles: To investigate fraud and waste in government, and the interesting thing about that is if you ask attorney general mark Brnovich, there already is an inspector general. That's him. That's his duty. This is one of the cases where you have two of the top elected republican officials in the state who are disagreeing with each other. Brnovich is saying the bill is unnecessary.

Ted Simons: Why is the governor saying it is necessary, and by the way the governor not only wants the inspector general, a new position, we keep hearing about smaller government and this is another new position, and, B, the reports would be kept secret.

Ben Giles: Yeah, the reports would be punishable under a misdemeanor if anyone tried to release the work of the I.G. office here that Ducey is trying to create, a very secretive office. Discussion in committees today about the bill. One of several bills that are being pushed through at the last second because we only have got by some estimates as many as 2 1/2 weeks left for the session to -- that they're already IGs at agencies and already the attorney general and that is a part of his duties. So, I don't know that all lawmakers are convinced that this is truly necessary.

Ted Simons: And this again answers to the governor.

Ben Giles: To the governor, yes.

Ted Simons: It won't be investigating the governor, just answering to the governor.

Ben Giles: I suppose it could investigate fraud and waste in the governor's office, but that is the concern. If it is answering directly to the governor, how much of an investigation would there be.

Ted Simons: You would never know.

Ted Simons: Before you get out of here now, confirmation hearing for Greg McKay, DCS head Greg McKay. Interesting in that there is a whistle blower complaint out there. How is that playing into the confirmation?

Ben Giles: At least today, not at all. Whistle blower complaint filed by the general council of the department of child safety, sent to Governor Ducey's office. If you are going to file a whistle blower complaint against a head of the agency, you have to go one over the agency head and this general council went to the governor. Governor's attorneys are claiming that this is attorney/client privileged information that can't be released. That privilege outweighs the public's right to know what the whistle blower complaint was. They have acknowledged that the complaint was filed under whistle blower laws and citing other laws and case laws and ethics for attorneys that say we can't give up this information.

Ted Simons: Is keeping it secret legal?

Ben Giles: That is unclear. That's actually being debated right now, and it's unsure. We have been talking with attorneys who say that while there is not necessarily anything inherently wrong with what the governor is arguing, it would not maybe stand up in court because it is a tough argument to make that the general council for this agency, for the department of child safety, is actually Ducey's attorney as well. That's one of the sticking points that is being discussed. And, of course, the appointment did occur in the Senate health committee today. It never even came up in questioning of Greg McKay, and he was appointed 7-0. Still requires an appointment by the full Senate before it goes into effect.

Ted Simons: So the whistleblower wasn't brought up, investigative unit booted after they investigated him, none of that was brought up?

Ben Giles: Former director Charles Flanagan, own fraud and waste unit within the agency disbanded by Greg McKay that we learned had been investigating him, and McKay's claim was that this is actually just a measure to improve the efficiencies of DCS to make sure that we're using all of our resources to help children, not necessarily investigate people within the department working for it.

Ted Simons: All right. Ben Giles, "Arizona Capitol Times," thank you so much.

Ben Giles: Thank you.

Ben Giles:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times;

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