Thursday, February 13, 2014

The AZLege's Black Helicopter Caucus wants a Constitutional Convention. Just the wrong kind.

...Just a vent, but it is time to rename the "Legislative Department" (Article 4) section of the AZ Constitution as the "Micromanaging The Legislative Department" section...

Led by renowned/notorious (pick your preferred term) tea party type Rep. Kelly Townsend, the Arizona Legislature's Black Helicopter Caucus (BHC) has proposed HCR2027, a proposal for a convention to propose amendments to the US Constitution.

They want to impose term limits on federal-level elected officials ('cuz term limits have helped AZ become the best-run state in the country. don'cha know?) and fiscal and authority limits on the federal government.

And after watching the Arizona legislature in action this session, and many sessions before this, I have come to think that the BHC is on to something here.

I mean, they have the wrong goals and the wrong target in mind, but it is definitely time to update the Constitution to address some malfeasance on the part of members of a branch of government.

Of course, the Constitution that needs updating is the Arizona Constitution, and the branch of government that needs to be brought to heel is the Arizona Legislature.

There's a culture of institutional corruption at the legislature, exemplified by the never-ending stream of legislation that serves deep-pocketed lobbyists or even the legislators themselves, almost all contrary to the interests of the people of Arizona.

That corruption is rooted in, and enabled by, a culture of contempt for public service, public servants, and even the public itself.

Time to make some "adjustments".

None of the suggestions that follow are partisan in nature, nor are they about policy.  Those considerations change over time; the need for elected officials to conduct the people's business, and themselves, with focus and integrity is timeless.


Suggestion one:

Lay out a specific process and timeline for considering and enacting the state's budget.  My ideas:

A.  The budget must be considered and passed during regular session.  No abbreviated special session consideration and passage allowed.

B.  There must be at least sixteen hours of public testimony, spread out over at least 3 legislative days, on the budget allowed during Appropriations committee hearings in each chamber.  Notice of the meetings shall be publicly posted for at least 7 calendar days. Failure to avail the public of that much time or notice shall result in the expulsion of the responsible committee chair from the legislature.

C.  If the budget is not passed and signed into law by March 31, no other bills can be considered in committee or on the floor until it is.  If it isn't passed and signed into law by May 15, the AC in the lege's buildings shall be shut off until the end of the session.  In addition, the AZ Department of Corrections, DPS, or Department of Administration (or the appropriate agency) shall commence construction of a temporary jail facility across from the Capitol at Wesley Bolin Plaza (think: holding cell for 90, or Joe Arpaio's Tent City, without the creature comforts).  If the budget isn't passed and signed by the end of business (5 p.m) on June 1st, all 90 legislators shall be taken into custody by the Department of Public Safety and confined to the temporary jail facility until the budget is passed and signed.  If, after the "incarceration" period starts, a budget is passed but the governor vetoes or refuses to sign it in a timely manner (say, three business days), then the governor shall also be confined in the temporary jail facility until a budget is passed and signed.

D.  Because it is likely that some legislators will seek to avoid going to jail by resigning part of the way through the session, any legislator who resigns or otherwise leaves office between March 15 of a given year and the end of that year's session of the legislature shall be deemed ineligible for membership in the lege for the remainder of the term of that legislature and the entirety of the two years of the next legislature.  Also, any legislator who leaves the lege on or after April 15 of a given year shall be required to join their former colleagues in the temporary jail facility if the "jail" option becomes necessary.

Rationale:  While all government processes should be transparent, the state's budget, the allocation of public resources for public use, should be the most transparent of all.  It should also be the one that the members of the legislature pay the most attention to - it's the only thing that they *have* to do each session; the rest is just gravy.  This will help them focus on the important part of their job.


Suggestion two:

Limit the number of measures that the lege can refer to the ballot in a given two-year term to, say, five.  That would include any measures to be voted on at elections other than the biennial general election (special elections).  In addition, while the lege could refer the first three measures without the approval of the governor, the fourth and fifth measures would also have to be signed by the governor.

A sixth measure could be referred, but it would require a 2/3 vote and the governor's signature for passage.  In addition, upon the signature of the governor, referring the relevant measure to the ballot, the legislators who voted for the measure would be considered to have tendered their resignations and their offices vacant.  As with the budget-related resignations, the individuals who leave the legislature under this circumstance shall be deemed ineligible for membership in the legislature for the duration of that legislature and the entirety of the next legislature.

Rationale:  Every session of the lege sees two things:  1.  A seemingly never-ending supply of proposals from legislators to reduce the influence of Arizona's voters have on Arizona's government; and 2.  A massive number of proposals to attempt to have the voters repeal or at least water down previously passed measures.  The lege should be limited in how much they can waste our time voting on measures that we passed by that they (the lege) doesn't like.


Suggestion three:

No legislative votes, committee or floor, between the hours of 9 p.m and 8 a.m. shall be considered valid.  If a measure that is voted on between those hours becomes law, then any Arizonan will have legally sufficient grounds for winning a lawsuit to have the law overturned.

Rationale:  Late night sessions in the waning days of legislative sessions are the stuff of legends in Arizona, as are some of the horrible bills that have been passed during such sessions (alt-fuels, anyone?).


Suggestion four:

When the constitutionality (federal or AZ) of a law is successfully challenged in court, each member of the legislature who voted for it and the governor who signed it into law shall be personally liable in equal shares for reimbursing the state for the costs of defending their bad law.  Exceptions: If a measure is passed by at least a 3/4 vote of each chamber, then no such liability will exist; and there should be a reasonable time limit on the liability, say, five years.  If a law is successfully challenged more than five years after enactment, the members of the lege who voted for it would not be liable for the costs of defending the law.

Rationale:  The lege passes too many measures that they know won't stand up to judicial scrutiny.  However, they also know that they won't be footing the bill for the legal cost of defending their garbage measures.  As such, they have no incentive to pass well-crafted and constitutionally sound bills.  Hopefully, this will result more cooperation across the partisan divide in crafting good measures, or at least the passage of fewer bad bills.


Suggestion five:

Increase legislative pay to at least $50K per year.

Rationale: As much as I would like to think that the above proposals (and the ones that follow) are brilliant and would instantly result in a professional and honest legislature, the surest way to make a better legislature is to attract better candidates.  Too many good people (D and R alike) take a look at the $24K annual salary and have to pass on the job.  They just can't afford it.


Suggestion six:

Not sure how best to implement this, but every elected official should be considered to be "under oath" when speaking publicly or about matters of public interest.  Far too often in public discourse, electeds (and their proxies) cite "facts" to support their positions, "facts" that just aren't true ("headless bodies in the desert", etc.).

First violation: a misdemeanor conviction of some sort and 10 days in county jail; 2nd violation: a low-level felony conviction, 6 months in jail or prison, and with the felony conviction, expulsion from the legislature.

Rationale:  They work for us, and nowhere that I know of is it acceptable to lie to your employers.  In fact, it is usually grounds for termination.


Suggestion seven:

Another one that I'm not sure how to implement, but there should be a "if it is good enough for us, it is good enough for the lege, and vice versa" clause in the AZ Constitution.  For instance, if they pass  a law to require recipients of unemployment compensation or welfare to pee in a cup (aka - take and pass a drug test) as a condition of receiving benefits, the members of the lege should have do to the same, with the same frequency, as a condition of retaining their positions.

Rationale:  Maybe if the members of the lege felt the impact of their actions the way that the rest of us feel the impact, well, maybe they'd think twice about some of their pet proposals.


Suggestion eight:

Any legislation that alters election or voting laws in any way at all is automatically referred to the ballot, and any changes are frozen and cannot be enforced or repealed (with subsequent legislation) until the voters have their say.

On a related note, any other legislative measure that is successfully referred to the ballot by a petition drive should similarly be frozen until voters have their say.

Rationale: The Arizona legislature is intensely fond of passing measures to disenfranchise voters that they don't like (aka - people who don't vote for them) and of undermining voters when they exercise their prerogative to directly approve/disapprove of measures that the lege passes.


Suggestion nine: ...Well, that's enough for now.  This should help start a few conversations.

Some of those conversations will range from "What does he know?  He's just a BLEEPing blogger!" to "What does he know?  He's just a BLEEPETY BLEEP BLEEP BLEEPING blogger!"

However, others will be discussions of the variety we should be having, about the nature of good governance and what we can do to create a political culture where good governance that protects and nurtures a healthy society is the priority.

In contrast to the culture of contempt for civil society that currently exists at the state capitol.


Note:  There is one suggestion that I originally put in this post but later pulled.  Originally, suggestion nine was to require the members of the lege to begin their floor sessions by donning pink tutus and singing a rousing chorus of "I'm A Little Teapot".  They would be mocked, but since they've turned this state into a national punchline, they should have to stand for their ration of the mockery.  However, upon further consideration, I decided that was too petty.

It should be held in reserve.  As in, implement some changes, and if those changes don't bring the lege to heel, it can be used in phase II to remind the lege who they actually work for.



2 comments:

Phoenix Justice said...

Craig,

One of the biggest problems with the AZ Legislature is their ability to lower taxes with just a simple majority while raising taxes requires a super majority. That is the fault of the voters of course, but it has led to the cutting of taxes each session, with no real benefit to the people of Arizona.

I think the people of Arizona should repeal the Amendment requiring a super majority to raise taxes and replace it with a requirement for a super majority to cut taxes.

cpmaz said...

How about a compromise:

Amending the state constitution so that it takes the same sort of majority (whether a simple majority or super majority) to raise or lower taxes, and restricting the ability to change that number to the voters themselves (it could be a standing question on the ballot during every year that the majority of statewide offices are up for election).