Friday, November 25, 2011

The 2012 session of the Arizona Legislature hasn't started yet, but it's easy to see it's going to be a long one

In approximately a month and a half, the 2012 session of the Arizona Legislature will start, and while there will be some major differences from the 2011 session (new Speaker of the House, new President of the Senate, no Russell Pearce!!), some things don't change.

Usually, sitting legislators start "pre-filing" bills starting around two months before the start of a session, and this year is no different.

Sometimes, as with Sen. David Schapira's SB1001 last year (restoring transplant coverage to AHCCCS), the early measures are meant to make a statement about where the priorities of the lege should be, knowing full well that the bill(s) won't pass (and Schapira's SB1001 was never even heard in committee, much less given a floor vote).

Other times, the bills are introduced to give the sponsors an early start on lobbying their colleagues for passage.

The first couple of bills introduced this year, including a proposed amendment to the Arizona Constitution, have to do with creating a mechanism for exchanging state trust lands for the purpose of protecting military reservations from encroachment by developments (this summary may be a little oversimplified, but these bills aren't the focus of the post.  If you're interested, the bill is here, the proposed amendment is here).

The amendment is necessary because under the Arizona Constitution, those trust lands can only be sold or transferred for the benefit of the state's education system.

The lege has been trying to crack that restriction for years.  They tried a similar scheme in 2010, only to see the measure go down to defeat, at least in part because a majority of Arizona's voters don't trust the legislature or its intentions.

In addition to those, at around the same time, Rep. Jack Harper (R-Surprise!) filed a different amendment proposal, this one to overturn the prohibitions in the AZ Constitution on damage awards in lawsuits.  They've tried this one before, but limiting or eliminating punitive damage awards is a pet project of corporate lobbyists and their "friends"/tools in Congress and state legislatures across the country.

After that, there were a few innocuous "technical corrections" bills introduced by Rep. Judy "Birther" Burges.  Officially, technical corrections bills are supposed to contain minor, non-controversial fixes to things like typos, misspellings, and bad grammar/legalese to laws, and generally speaking, the bills do just that.  However, they rarely pass the lege as technical corrections bills.  Mostly, they exist to serve as "vehicle" bills that can be changed late in the legislative session by "strike everything" amendments, aka "strikers.". 

Strikers frequently turn previously innocuous bills (like technical corrections bills) into utter bile.  Of course some bills, like 2010's infamous SB1070, are amended only in specific language, not actual intent.  For example, SB1070 started off life as an ugly anti-immigrant bill and was amended into an ugly anti-immigrant bill.

All this background brings us to Rep. John Fillmore (R-Apache Junction).  While until now he has been an almost-unknown backbencher, it looks like he wants to make a splash during this coming election year.

Among others, he has proposed bills that...

...would halve the maximurm income level to qualify for coverage under the Arizona Long Term Care System (ALTCS).  ALTCS provides coverage to low-income senior citizens or disabled  who need long-term medical care (i.e. - nursing home, assisted living, or ongoing home health aides)

...would arbitrarily impose a limit on the amount of "respite care" that someone covered by ALTCS could receive in a calendar year at 360 hours.  Respite care is perhaps best characterized as a relief pitcher for long-term caregivers. 

...would grant a teacher the right to kick any student out of class for any reason, and that action would not be reviewable by or appealable to anybody.  Fillmore's proposal is written so broadly that a teacher (say, a follower of Russell Pearce's) could order a student out of class because the student's skin is, shall we say, too tan, and there would be no recourse (though a federal court would probably step in eventually).

...would give school principals the authority to fire any teacher in their schools for any reason, subject to the review and approval of the district's school superintendent.  The measure also includes a clause that bars school district governing boards from entering into collective bargaining agreements that inhibit the ability to exercise that authority, including the establishment of a "due process" process for the teachers.  No AZ Republican wants to appear to be "pro-teacher"...  The measure also takes control of textbook selection from the hands of the governing boards of individual school district and bestows it on the school superintendent of the county in which the school district is located.

...would bar courts from paying for, under any circumstances, court-ordered anger management and domestic violence counseling for defendants.

...would establish a minimum cost to the beneficiaries of state employee health insurance plans of 18 percent of the overall cost.  Currently, there is no minimum or maximum limit in statute.  While this measure would establish a minimum limit, it would not establish a maximum cost to the beneficiaries.

...and in his piece de resistance, Fillmore has proposed an amendment to the AZ Constitution regarding punitive damage awards, like Harper's proposal above.  However, this one has an "Isn't that crazy, quirky, loony Arizona just so precious?" sort of way -

His proposal doesn't eliminate punitive damage awards,  Instead, it would mandate the confiscation of such awards by the state and puts the monies into a fund that would be dedicated to funding K-12 education in Arizona.

If passed, not only would this measure effectively reduce the number of lawsuits with punitive damage awards (if the victims of injuries cannot benefit from such lawsuits, why would they file them?), it would also serve as a smokescreen to cover moves to reduce education funding in AZ (eventually, the lege would base the budget for education on projections of the amount of money available in the fund established in this proposal, and when those funds decreased, they would use it as an excuse to further cut education).

This measure, as with Harper's, could very well be a welcoming gift for next week's conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization crafted to facilitate corporate influence over state level legislation.  The conference will be held in a Scottsdale resort.

ALEC has long pushed for corporation-protecting limits on lawsuits in general and punitive damage awards in particular (examples here, here and here, courtesy

Fillmore and Harper are among the many members of the R caucus in the AZ lege who are also members of ALEC. but in Arizona, that association isn't limited to the legislature.  Check out this notice from the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) -
Notice of a Joint Appearance of a Quorum of Commissioners

(Not an Official Meeting of the Arizona Corporation Commission)

November 30 - December 2, 2011

The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa
6902 East Greenway Parkway
Scottsdale, Arizona 85254

This notice is provided as a courtesy to the public that three or more Commissioners may be present at the above location to attend the American Legislative Exchange Council, States and Nation Policy Summit.  The Commissioners attending this meeting will not vote on any issue.
Please note:  The ACC is supposed to *regulate* corporations, not *party* with them.  Of course, current ACC member Brenda Burns is a former president of ALEC, so she (and the other Rs on the ACC) may not make that distinction.

I'd love to be able to tell you that the above measures are likely to be the worst offered up by Republican AZ legislators during the coming session, but it seems likely that they are going to for the "full nutty" this session.  They realize that one of two possibilities exist.

Either a majority of voters will NOT hold them responsible for their shameless disregard for the will of the voter (attacks on the independence of the voter-established independent redistricting process, their brazen contempt for the rule of law (assaulting a woman by the side of a Phoenix freeway, pointing a gun at a reporter in the Senate building), or their sacrifice of the interests of their "official" constituents (no jobs, gutting education) on the altar of corporate profits (corporate tax cuts paid for by gutting education and rest of the social infrastructure in AZ), or this year will be their last best chance to wreak unchecked havoc upon the state, for at least a couple of election cycles.

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