I have been back in Tucson for two weeks now, and it’s been a fun whirlwind of visits, phone calls, and events with Tucson friends and family, LD9 constituents, fellow Unitarian Universalist church members, labor union members, and Progressives.
Saturday, May 20 was my first campaign event of the 2018 season– the Arizona Democratic Party’s State Committee Meeting in Tucson. In addition to tabling, I gave Legislative updates to the Arizona Democratic Women’s Federation and to the Arizona Democratic Progressive Caucus. Scott Prior and I co-chaired the Progressive Caucus for three years. This was the first full meeting with the new co-chairs Jenise Porter (Pima County) and Joe Murphy (Maricopa County).
Here is my speech to the Progressive Caucus.
Everyone says that this session of the Arizona Legislature was “different”. There are several reasons why it was different. For one, Speaker J.D. Mesnard assigned Democratic bills to committees and allowed floor votes on many of them. According to people on both sides of the aisle, he also ran the House much more efficiently than the previous speaker. In my opinion, the real reason that this session was different is that the House Freshman Class is the largest in recent history (or ever). Many House incumbents lost, termed out, retired, or tried to move to the Senate. For House Democrats, this meant a demographic shift with our caucus now being majority Latino, half women, and surprisingly progressive on many policy issues.
I’m here to tell you that Progressives– particularly the women– made a difference in the Arizona House this session.
I had an existential crisis at about 1 a.m. on November 9, 2016 when I realized that I had won on the same night as that guy. Thanks to Bernie Sanders telling his supporters to vote Progressive down ballot, the Arizona House now has a Progressive wing. And we shook things up.
Often, in the past, Democratic Legislators came back to Tucson and said with a shoulder shrug, “What can we do? We’re in the minority.” I found there is a lot you can do. We have our voices, our votes, our strategic thinking, our relationships, and the parliamentary procedures. Using these, the “Feisty Freshmen” women proved to be fierce fighters for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), for fully funding public education, for teacher raises, for extension of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), for restoration of childcare assistance for needy families, for religious freedom (even for non-believers), and for reproductive choice.
We fought against multiple corporate tax giveaways, against expansion of private and religious school vouchers (SB1431), against insurance bills that could hurt consumers, and against limiting benefits for workers. In fact, a group of Libertarians and Progressives defeated all of the corporate welfare bills this year; that is up until the last day– when two corporate welfare bills passed thanks to much arm-twisting by the Governor. SB1416 was particularly bad because not only did it give away millions of tax dollars on into the future, it also gave away intellectual property rights for discoveries made by private corporations but funded by the people of Arizona. Progressives and most Democrats stood strong against giving away more corporate tax cuts, but the Libertarians caved and voted with other Republicans and the Governor.
People say that a budget is a moral document. Well, the Arizona Legislature passed an immoral document. Instead of spending a little more than $1 million to extend TANF with no strings attached for another year, the Republican Party chose to give an extra $2 million to the Koch Brothers Freedom Schools at the three universities. Instead of giving school teachers a 4% raise, the Republican Party chose to spend $35 million on results-based school funding which will give more money to schools in wealthy districts. Instead of reinstating childcare subsidies for the poor, restoring preventive services for families in crisis, and adequately funding the university system, the community colleges, and the subcontractors who care for our neediest citizens, the Republican Party chose to cut taxes for big corporations. As if trickle down economics actually worked.
Arizona has one of the highest populations of children in foster care in the country– close to 20,000 at one point in 2016. The Arizona Legislature created this problem because they cut tens of millions of dollars worth of childcare subsidies and preventive services for families. We are hurting future generations of Arizonans with our stingy policies. The Progressive women in the House used our voices to speak out for teachers, students, families, workers, patients, immigrants… for Arizonans. They tried to shut us up, but it didn’t work. A few of the Feisty Freshmen staged a daily letter-reading protest to keep the heat on the Republicans regarding the private/religious school voucher vote. Everyday, a few of the women would stand up during the point of personal privilege and read a letter from a public school teacher or a parent– sometimes with the person standing there. It was extremely powerful. It kept the pressure on, and it made things uncomfortable for the people who voted “yes” to use taxpayer funds to pay for private and religious education.
Besides using our voices to debate the issues, I found that amendments can make bad bills less bad. I was successful in adding four amendments to Republican bills:
Surprise Billing SB1441. Surprise billing occurs when a person receives an out-of-network “surprise bill” for additional charges after having a surgery or other medical procedure. Although patients believe going into the operating room that all of the hospital personnel were in-network and covered by their insurance, often there is a specialist– like an anesthesiologist — who is out of network. Surprise bills could be $10,000 or more. When this bill was being negotiated between lobbyists for the doctors, the hospitals and the insurance companies, I asked, “What about the patients?” I was successful in getting a patient disclosure on the front of the surprise bill that tells the patient that they have the right to appeal the surprise bill and gives a phone number and website to start the appeal process. Senator Debbie Lesko and Rep. David Livingston wanted Democrat votes and accepted this amendment. (In the end, I voted no because I thought the process was far too cumbersome for the patient, there was no money attached to do the services in the Department of Insurance, and there was no process to collect data to estimate the scope of surprise billing in Arizona.)
Electronic Filing HB2280. This bill required several groups or businesses to file state documents online. At the Legislature there has been a big push to put more online and ditch paper. Most of the bill was OK, but it also required state employees to file their personal state income tax online or face disciplinary action or dismissal. I said, “What about the employees?” First of all, that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen because whether or not someone files their personal taxes online or not has nothing to do with their job performance. I proposed an amendment to strike the whole section dealing with state employee section and leave the rest of the bill. The sponsor, Rep. Don Shooter accepted the idea.
Crop Insurance HB2052. This bill allows more Arizona insurance agents to sell crop insurance. Before HB2052 passed, fewer than 100 insurance agents could sell crop insurance in Arizona, but there are 40,000+ insurance agents here. My concern with this bill in its original form is that no competency exam or training was required to sell crop insurance. People who sell health or life insurance would be allowed to sell crop insurance. So, I asked, “What about the farmers? How do they know a life insurance salesman is qualified to assess the insurance risk of a farm or a crop?” I proposed an amendment to require a competency exam, and it was added in the Senate. This bill came through the Banking and Insurance Committee. The three Democrats on this committee– Reps. Athena Salman, Kelli Butler and I– spent many, many hours this session combing through insurance-industry-sponsored legislation, looking for the “catch” for consumers in workman’s compensation bills, pension bills, full-and-final settlement bills, English-only insurance contracts, non-binding insurance summaries and sales information, and more. (You’re welcome.)
Designer Drug Components HB2033. This bill was proposed by Rep. Heather Carter and heard by the Health Committee, which I am a member of. Designer drugs are constantly being re-invented. Governments outlaw the components of a drug, and the outlaws who cook up the drugs just change the formulas. It’s a continuous process. The original bill included a list of new compounds to be listed as controlled substances. Remembering my talks with the Pima County Interfaith Council (PCIC) about spice, I asked, in committee, “What about spice? Does this list include all of the known components of spice?” Carter and I had an exchange acknowledging how difficult it is to keep up with all of this, but when she brought it to the Floor of the House a few weeks later, she had added the spice components. (A win for public health.)
Fetal Resuscitation SB1367. Well, I wasn’t able to add an amendment to this bad bill, but I wanted to. I think if the state is going to make expensive medical decisions– like keeping alive a non-viable fetus– the state should pay the medical bill for the extreme medical procedures dictated in this bill. Otherwise, the state should stay out of medical decisions.
The House Democrats biggest surprise play this session was bringing up a motion to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). After Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the ERA, my seatmate Rep. Randy Friese and I put our heads together and strategized parliamentary procedures to bring the ERA up for a vote in the House, where it had never been heard. Friese came up with the nijna parliamentary move to bring it up for a vote, I proposed it, and the entire Democratic Caucus supported it with stories and votes. In the end, it was embarrassing for the Republicans as they stumbled around the issue of women’s equality and equal pay for equal work. Their two primary excuses for shutting down debate on the ERA were: “I didn’t have time to read it” (the ERA is one sentence) and “This should have gone through the normal procedures” (it did but it was stopped by committee chairs). Reporters later swarmed Speaker Mesnard and asked him, “If not now, when” will the ERA get a full debate in the Arizona Legislature? Stay tuned!
Progressives– particularly the women– changed the game in the Arizona Legislature this year. They tried to shut us up, but it didn’t work. We used our voices and our votes to speak up for the people– teachers, students, parents, workers, patients– but we need more Progressives and more women in the Legislature to help us carry on this fight.
I’m here to tell you that the Progressive message can win in Arizona. And Clean Elections can win. If you are a Progressive and you have considered running for office, do it! Start now for 2018.
Check out my news clips here to learn more about the issues and bills mentioned in this blog post.
Cross-posted from PowersForThePeople.net.