Journalists’ Roundtable

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Join us as three local journalists bring you up to date on the news of the week.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable, lawmakers restore funding for career and technical education.

Ted Simons: And the governor signs legislation that reforms police and fire pensions. The Journalists' Roundtable is next on "Arizona Horizon." ¶¶

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

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable. I'm Ted Simons. Joining us tonight. Alia Rau of The Arizona Republic. Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. And Mike Sunnucks of The Phoenix Business Journal.

Ted Simons: Governor Ducey signed legislation this week that restores almost all of the $30 million in cuts targeting joint technical education districts. Signed by the governor, who had been kind of monitoring this, no easy task, huh?

Alia Rau: No, it got a little dramatic this week but really because of internal politics, not because of any issue with the underlying legislation which made it a little fun for us and probably a little concerning for the JTED folks. So basically, the house passed the bill first and thought that would be the one that went to the governor, but the Senate took their bill, amended their own version and then sent their own version back to the house to go to the governor and the house freaked out.

Howard Fischer: Freaked out is a nice way of putting it. The house decided, first, they weren't going to do anything, they were having this wonderful staring contest, nobody was blinking, and then the house said okay we'll send up your version, we have another little amendment to put on and it's a wonderful legislative intent clause which says we want everybody to know that these people cared about it to vote on it first and listed 57 of their house members now as part of the law and then also pointed out we passed it first, nanny, nanny booboo.

Mike Sunnucks: People's work, they're doing the people's work.

Ted Simons: Besides the people inside, who cares?

Mike Sunnucks: The elected officials within the caucus cared, other than that nobody else cared. The end result was what people wanted, and that's what the schools wanted and their interests wanted. That type of stuff is usual stuff in parliaments and legislatures where it's a contest.

Howard Fischer: What happened is Don Schuder has been championing this, who would like to stay in the Senate or go to the house depending on what happens with the fight with Steve Montenegro, but he would like the credit. It was his name on the bill. The house bill was signed by everyone. Well, just so happens the first name is a guy named Chris Ackerley, a Republican in a Democrat district. He becomes the prime sponsor which means he gets to go back to Tucson and say look what I brought you and that's what this is all about.

Mike Sunnucks: This was a popular move. Republicans across the board, business folks, everybody saw the cuts to the technical schools and kind of wondered why are we doing that when we have this surplus? And so I think there was a lot of consensus, it's a thing for people to tout but this is one of the things that it's the trappings of office, I want to be the top sponsor of this and this is the type of personalities we get serving in politics.

Ted Simons: But am I the only one and I know I'm not who sees the irony of these folks literally falling all over each other to take credit for doing something that corrects what they did in the last session.

Alia Rau: Yes. Basically. And the end, Ducey kind of jumps on board at the end also, he issues a press release saying I told you guys this was really important when I did my state of the state, I'm so glad you finally did this. Well, neglecting to mention that his budget included a program that would have given them barely a third of what they had cut the year before.

Mike Sunnucks: You guys have a really long memory, this was only what, last year?

Howard Fischer: And the point that you made was made by Eric Meyer, the house democratic leader and he said you know guys, you don't get credit for igniting the school on fire and then gee you put it out and look what we did.

Ted Simons: And we had Senate president Andy Biggs, the tit for tat there, the staring contest, whatever it was, the cold war between the house called it bizarro and extremely out of the ordinary.

Mike Sunnucks: It's a competition between the two chambers on something that really doesn't matter to the regular folks. Maybe give them some credit that they saw what they did last year, they have a surplus, and now, they're correcting something that maybe wasn't the wisest move.

Ted Simons: It is kind of nice to see people actually say hey, wait a minute, I don't know if they actually put it into these words, we may have made a mistake, I don't know if the word mistake was used but at least they're not being called flip-floppers.

Howard Fischer: No, what happened last year, if you remember sitting around the table, they were in such a rush to get out of there.

Ted Simons: The speed of business.

Howard Fischer: Speed of business, we've got a $1 billion deficit the governor said we have to cut, cut, cut, $99 million from the universities, we've got to cut $30 million from the jteds, we've got to be very parsimonious with K-12. Well, all of a sudden after they left, they realized remembered that billion dollars deficit? We ended the budget year with $325 million in the bank, plus revenues are running at least $220 million above estimates and everybody said wait a second we did what because you rushed us out of here?

Ted Simons: All right. So that's done. Police and fire pension reform is kind of done, too. I mean, there's still a vote that has to be taken on this for a certain aspect of it but again, we're talking the cities have been calling for the state to do something forever, it sounds like the state's done something?

Alia Rau: They have. I mean, senator Debbie Lesko spent the last year working with the cities, working with the union folks on how do we fix this issue? There's not enough money. These pensions are sucking an enormous amount of money out of city revenues and sort of how do we fix it without impacting, you know, the folks who are getting these benefits, and some people said it's kind of a small change but it's the long-term change. It's something that's going to take 30 years for us to really see the impact of.

Howard Fischer: And that's the key. The problem you've got is a constitutional amendment that said you cannot impair pension benefits, as far as the reason for the bill, we'll talk about that in a second. Most of these changes affect only the folks who are going to be hired after July 1st. We're going to go ahead and say you've got to contribute more towards your pension. We're going to offer you a defined contribution plan. You may have to work longer to get a full benefit and we're going to cap the amount of your salary that can be considered for pension. Now that gets you over the long term out. Now what they're trying to do is they want to amend the Constitution to say right now existing employees and retirees are frozen in. They get basically cost of living, depending on how the pension does, it's been 4% a year for a number of years. This would cap it at 2% a year. And the police and firefighters signed off on this, most of them, they said look we recognize that if we break the fund, we're all in trouble. I mean, this is a fund that has $12 billion in liabilities and $6 billion in assets. Even a journalist can figure out this is a problem.

Mike Sunnucks: Not taking too much away but there's mutual fear because if the Republican conservative legislature puts up on the ballot that really goes against what the unions want, they could get screwed. If the unions beat this and they're pretty powerful, especially in cities like Phoenix, if they beat this, does it tear down their reforms and what does it do to the prop 123 also?

Ted Simons: I was going to say this is set for May 17th. This is not going to be on the same ballot as prop 123?

Alia Rau: It is, it could have some benefits, and you get the union guys out there supporting something on the ballot, that's a powerful voting bloc.

Ted Simons: So Howie, you say the unions for the most part support this. But again, it sounds like there were some conservative lawmakers, though, that thought this isn't good enough.

Howard Fischer: Always somebody who believes we can get a better deal and look in this legislature there's no shortage of times they've rolled over unions. But the fact is Debbie said look is this everything I would have wanted? No. Is this the best we can do because the firefighters are a fairly potent force out there and they can turn out voters and they can turn out voters in your district to say do you really want to vote for somebody because he's basically bankrupting your fire department.

Ted Simons: Debbie Lesko, pretty big achievement for her wasn't it?

Alia Rau: It's huge. She spent, like I said, a tremendous amount of time, she was pacing the halls the last two days on her phone back and forth with house folks and lobbyists, trying to make sure everybody stayed on the same page. The fighting was going on over the JTED bill about would this one get sucked into that and it didn't.

Mike Sunnucks: It does work against the narrative that we have at the legislature that they're all about wedge issues, that they pick on cities, that they pick on unions, that they don't compromise, and in this they did but I do think there are going to be some conservatives that are looking at this saying well if the unions like this, maybe we should have done something a little more, a little stronger.

Ted Simons: All right. The death of justice Antonin Scalia, in Arizona's redistricting case, this is interesting because there had been some thought, let's talk about the case to begin with, what the Republicans are claiming the redistricting commission did, why they're complaining about it, why this has reached the Supreme Court and we'll take it from there.

Howard Fischer: This is about the legislative districts, unlike the congressional one that came to the Supreme Court last year. The independent redistricting commission, if you would divide up the state among 30 equal districts, you would have 220,000 people per district. Well, turns out there are some districts with 231,000, some with 212, and it turns out that the overpopulated districts are packed so to speak with Republicans, the underpopulated packed with Democrats. The argument is that you did that for political reasons. The commission says well, we did it to comply with the voting rights act. We couldn't dilute minority voting strength, they say it was legitimate and a three judge panel in Phoenix found that was the case. So they argued in December back in the Supreme Court and on the question of A., is politics legitimate and where does one man one vote fit in? Mark Brnovich is there defending the Republicans or prosecuting as the case may be along with the Republicans and the secretary of state and says, you know, you cannot have unequal districts. It doesn't matter whether it's voting rights act or anything like that. And the thinking was that if Scalia who fashions himself as a originalist would say yeah one man, one vote means one man, one vote and he could have been the deciding vote.

Ted Simons: He could have been. It could have been a 5-4 vote or not, the fact remains he will not be a vote at all here which means it could wind up 4-4 which means the lower court holds which means you've got to wait until 2020?

Mike Sunnucks: That's what everybody expects now. You're going to see this with other cases, too, immigration, the executive orders, where there's an even split, you're going to go with the lower court. The appeals court in some cases, that goes against the Republicans. Other cases here in Arizona and the west. So I think 4-4 is kind of what people are expecting now.

Howard Fischer: And it doesn't set any precedent, which is the interesting thing which sets the question of could we try again after we have a new justice?

Ted Simons: And can they?

Howard Fischer: Well, theoretically you would probably have to start over again, jump back down. Now, of course all this may change. There are some bills in the legislature to change the makeup of the independent redistricting commission to have its members elected or perhaps add independents. You know, there's a whole set of things going on in the background. I have a feeling that we're going to look at the lines the way they are now and they're going to run this way through 2020.

Ted Simons: You've got only two more elections until 2020 correct?

Howard Fischer: Well, 16, 18 and 20.

Ted Simons: So 2020 election would not be affected by the new districts?

Howard Fischer: No because what happens is you have to have the census first. Those numbers come out in 2021.

Ted Simons: so three more elections.

Mike Sunnucks: And then we start the same fight over again.

Ted Simons: And whoever gets the advantage will say that it's great, and whoever doesn't get the advantage will take it to court.

Ted Simons: All right. Three new attempts against abortion and abortion providers in the legislature. It looks like it passed a committee here.

Alia Rau: They're pretty narrow. You have one that deals with you cannot buy or sell aborted fetuses. And this stems from the Planned Parenthood videos we saw over the summer. Basically, everybody agrees, this isn't happening in Arizona. But it was introduced by the center for Arizona policy, it's passed the committee and they're kind of moving forward with it saying we just want to make sure it's not really happening and this is for research purposes usually, and we'll see what happens with that. There was another one that dealt with Planned Parenthood getting money from state employees, you could put money on your paycheck how you want money designated. The governor had stripped them off and this kind of puts it into writing, saying you cannot donate money to these folks. It turned out it's not a lot of money, basically they said they did a fundraiser off of this and raised significantly more than they ever had gotten from the state employees.

Ted Simons: And the third one was the R.U.486, are we going back to FDA guidelines? You must follow FDA guidelines?

Alia Rau: This goes back to the lawsuit from a couple of years ago on almost exactly the same law and the court said the legislature can't do that, you can't limit how things can be done but they've come back and tweaked the wording basically and said this is a real technical change which it kind of is, it's a legal change but they're trying to get it back on the books.

Howard Fischer: What's important is there are two lawsuits against this thing that said you cannot use R.U.486, except by the FDA label, which is seven weeks vs. the nine weeks that Planned Parenthood does it for. The state court lawsuit dealt with the fact of can you tie the state law to the FDA label? This fixes that. Meanwhile, the ninth circuit has already enjoined enforcement of the law pending trial. They basically said it interferes with the rights of women to terminate a pregnancy, it doesn't promote women's health. That lawsuit was put on health because of the fact it's already been voided here. So if the trial judge back in the state level says okay, we think the law is now legal, we go back to the ninth circuit for a full-blown trial.

Ted Simons: What Howie just basically said is these are all headed for court anyway.

Mike Sunnucks: Absolutely, and the right to life folks down there are a very successful lobby. They get a lot of stuff passed, especially since Janet Napolitano left. This can work its way through the federal courts and this can be kind of a laboratory for other states to see what works, what kind of anti-abortion, what kind of restrictions and they're always trying to kind of move the puck per se, restricting access to reproductive rights.

Howard Fischer: One footnote, two other federal circuit courts have basically upheld a lot of these restrictions. It was the ninth circuit that went the other way and the argument was we'll get the Supreme Court to resolve it and guess what? Now we're back to the 4-4 Supreme Court.

Ted Simons: The ninth circuit is an ersatz Supreme Court.

Mike Sunnucks: And you'll see social conservatives in the Republican primary, in the presidential race, talk about these types of things at State levels, they're going to go through the federal courts and they'll try to play up folks like Ted Cruz, who are very strikingly anti-abortion, as an argument to say this is why we need this type of person in the White House. This is why we need our voters to turn out because we're going to maybe have a different Supreme Court who can tip the scales in cases like abortion.

Ted Simons: All right. The state has investigated, I guess the state ombudsman investigated the department of child safety and this is a little bit confusing, saying that they have to get parental consent to interview children in certain cases and you would think that if an investigator is interviewing a child by way of some sort of problem, the last person you would want around getting permission is the parent. What's going on here?

Alia Rau: It does get a little bit technical. There's no issue with interviewing a child without a parent there in cases of abuse. These specifically deal with neglect cases and this stemmed from a child who was interviewed in relation to a case involving another child, a relative, they were living in the same house but it wasn't this child's parents who were under investigation. I think it was -- an aunt or uncle. It was very indirect. So the ombudsman is saying you have got to have the parents there in cases of neglect. The DCS is saying no, there's another part of state statute that says we're fine, like you said, that doesn't make any sense, why would we have these parents there when we're potentially talking about them? So there's some confusion. The legislature is going to have to get involved at this point.

Ted Simons: It sounds like DCS was not amused with the findings and they want the attorney general to figure out what the heck is going on.

Mike Sunnucks: The agency has a lot of problems, we know all the problems they've had with morale and turnover and there's these horrible cases where they drop the ball but they get so many mixed messages, funding, pay, rules of engagement, if you want to put it in Republican terms, how do they interview someone? Does that make any common sense? Even in the neglect case, the parents who may be part of this or accused of something, have to approve, can they intimidate the kids beforehand? The viewers don't need to move very far to see the lack of common sense in this and the legislature, there's folks down at the legislature, the Senate president and others, who don't always send the best messages on enforcement to the agency, they take the other side of protecting parental rights and worst case scenarios of the government coming and in yanking kids out.

Ted Simons: And we should mention that Senate president Andy Biggs said some of those investigations can be like Star Chambers, which is not a very nice thing, it doesn't show a lot of confidence there but just to be clear in cases of abuse, in cases of abandonment, you don't need to interview, you get the parental consent but when you're talking neglect?

Howard Fischer: Well, neglect can take a lot of forms, you know. The problem is you get complaints of neglect. Johnny shows up at school without lunch. Teacher is a mandatory reporter, calls police, calls dcs, all of a sudden, you have a neglect investigation going on. And it's a kind of tricky balance. Gee why didn't you have lunch? Mom didn't make me lunch? How often didn't mom make you lunch? Well mom has to sleep in sometimes. Does Mom sleep a lot? Mom comes home late and you can see how this could snowball, particularly if the child being interviewed is five. And so it's a delicate balance in there but it goes to what mike was talking about, this thing we keep talking about as public policy. Do you err on the side of protecting the child at every instant, you take the child the moment you have a problem or do you err on the side of presuming that the family is to be preserved.

Ted Simons: And that pendulum swings back and forth all the time.

Mike Sunnucks: It's morale. These people make $36,000 a year, they wait tables for more, they've got big caseloads, and you have one of the top lawmakers in the state talking about Star Chambers which seems a little out there to me.

Ted Simons: Okay.

Howard Fischer: Howie next, July 4th, the legislature has its way, you won't have to stand on your roof to get aerial fireworks. You might be able to buy them and shoot them off in your backyard.

Howard Fischer: Exactly. This is a fascinating issue that's been going on. Prior to 2005, you couldn't even buy those party poppers because oh, my god the world will end. Then they passed that. 2010, the industry said if you give us sparklers and ground smoke devices, we'll be satisfied. Well, here it is 2016, well now, we need firecrackers and we need what they call keg mortars. These large devices are preloaded with perhaps a dozen, dozen and a half little rockets.

Ted Simons: Keg mortars?

Howard Fischer: K-E-G.

Mike Sunnucks: We're fighting ISIS

Ted Simons: What could go wrong with that?

Howard Fischer: And they shoot up 100 feet in the air. We had the deputy Scottsdale fire marshal to tell us exactly what could go wrong but there's a belief that this is one of those nanny state issues and this is the same arguments we hear over and over again, and the fact is that in many states, look you drive over to Deming, you see the huge signs, you can buy stuff to blow stuff up here.

Ted Simons: But I think the fire officials, and I think they're getting a little tired of coming because this issue constantly comes up and they constantly have to go down there and say we live in a desert and in July it's really dry out there. What's the fascination with everyone being able to shoot off rockets all over the place?

Alia Rau: This is a personal rights issue. And that's 100% what it's about. You should have the right to do these things, you should have the right to celebrate your country on the 4th of July, there's a song about it.

Mike Sunnucks: Even if it burns down the entire thing.

Alia Rau: Right! They had all kinds of great statistics about how we didn't see an increase in fires, did you know that more children are injured by pencils than fireworks during July?

Ted Simons: Go load a pencil into a keg mortar and see what happens.

Mike Sunnucks: It keeps the lobbyists, they get one firework included and stuff each year and there's a very influential lobby and we have the legislature that wants to allow handguns into every building in the state.

Howard Fischer: The patriotism thing, I swear, he was citing the Star-Spangled Banner and the rockets' red glow.

Ted Simons: Fireworks?

Howard Fischer: The bombs bursting in air.

Mike Sunnucks: Fort McHenry come on.

Ted Simons: I've been to fort McHenry. I've seen the place.

Howard Fischer: He said it's the sound of freedom.

Ted Simons: Is that what he said?

Mike Sunnucks: Freedom isn't free, right?

Ted Simons: So what happens if the neighbor, a rocket comes up and comes down on his roof and, all of a sudden, his insurance and that's what insurance is for?

Howard Fischer: That's what insurance is for. Here's the tricky part as mike points out. You can buy guns, you can buy flares, there are so many things you can buy now, it's sort of like they're trying to make nunchakus legal. The fact is that nunchakus are illegal but you can walk down the street with a lead pipe. Our laws are a little confusing.

Ted Simons: You're going to light those snails next 4th of July? Those are pretty exciting.

Ted Simons: Before we go, Senate panel targets President Obama's executive actions, if they're not consistent with federal and state Constitution, not recognized -- again, I think we've talked about this one before, too. Basically, again, states' rights kind of stuff?

Alia Rau: Basically, a concern that stems from some of the executive orders Obama has done related to immigration specifically. There was some concern that popped back up as we talked about handgun rights, stuff like that. And basically, it's saying that yeah, if it's not something that Congress has voted on and somebody thinks it might be unconstitutional, then Arizona can't send any money or resources.

Howard Fischer: Here's the funny thing. This is already law. Sheriff Mack from Graham County took a case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court when they first started handgun checks and he got the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that you cannot commandeer a local official to use his or her resources to promote federal law. It's already law but we've got six or seven bills that say you can't commandeer local officials.

Mike Sunnucks: Just imagine if Obama had a fireworks executive order, what would we do?

Ted Simons: Oh, my goodness, gracious.

Howard Fischer: He's not legitimate, he's from Kenya.

Ted Simons: With that, we will stop.

Ted Simons: I'm trying to figure out inconsistent with the Constitution, says who? Not recognized by the state, says who?

Howard Fischer: As the lawyers pointed out, that's what the courts do but somehow the legislature could overrule the courts.

Mike Sunnucks: That used to be the Supreme Court.

Ted Simons: Okay. All right. Thank you very much. Good to have you here.

Ted Simons: Monday on "Arizona Horizon," we'll look at the state of Arizona's water infrastructure. And we'll learn about the benefits of dual language programs for valley students. That's Monday on "Arizona Horizon."

Ted Simons: Tuesday, a comprehensive look at the problem of heroin abuse in Arizona.

Ted Simons: Wednesday, senate president Andy Biggs joins us in studio.

Thursday, we'll learn about plant foraging in Arizona. Mike's big on that one.

Ted Simons: And Friday, it's another edition of 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 Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you. ¶¶ ¶¶

Howard Fischer: Capitol Media Services; Mike Sunnucks: Phoenix Business Journal; Alia Rau: Arizona Republic

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