Legislators approve budget bills, Gov. Ducey signs them, shutdown averted - AZEdNews
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Legislators approve budget bills, Gov. Ducey signs them, shutdown averted


The Arizona House Of Representatives Discusses Bills On June 30, 2021. Photo Courtesy Arizona Capitol Television

Updated 5 p.m. June 30, 2021: The Arizona House and Senate approved identical versions of the K-12 budget bill, which passed on party lines in both chambers.

Gov. Doug Ducey now has signed it and all the budget bills into law, averting a government shutdown.

The Senate and House adjourned sine die for the session just before 5 p.m. over the objections of Senators Kelly Townsend, Sonny Borrelli and Wendy Rogers.

The K-12 budget bill passed with these provisions for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, also known as vouchers that provide public taxpayer money for students’ private school educations:

  •  Allows students who were enrolled in or live near a D-F rated school and who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch to receive a voucher without ever having attended a public school
  • Reduces the amount of time required for all students to attend public school in order to receive a voucher from the first 100 days of the prior fiscal year to ANY 45 days of the current or prior year. It also allows Kindergarten students to be eligible for an ESA after 200 hours of online instruction.
  • Allows ESA account holders to use funds to pay for unreimbursed healthcare expenses for students.
  • Guarantees an account will stay open for four years after graduation as long as a minimum amount is withdrawn each year.
  • Mandates that ADE make eligibility determinations on each ESA application within 30 days.
  • Requires ESA account holders receive credit for money repaid as a result of ineligible expenditures, and requires ADE to continue disbursing ESA funds to account holders under appeal.
  • Removes any jurisdiction over the ESA program from the Office of Administrative Hearings.

Click here to read a summary of the K-12 education bill provided by Arizona School Boards Association’s Governmental Relations team.

Updated June 30, 2021: Arizona Legislators meet today to work on the differences in the House and Senate K-12 budget bills as well as the bills They sent back to Gov. Doug Ducey after he vetoed them earlier in frustration over the Legislature’s progress on approving a budget.

The House and Senate K-12 education bills don’t match due to several bills that failed earlier in the session that were attached to them, chief among them an expansion of the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts that provide public money for private school vouchers that passed in the Senate, but was defeated in the House.

Click here for a summary of the Fiscal Year 2022 Budget as passed by the Arizona House of Representatives

Click here for a spreadsheet of the appropriations

Today, the House and Senate floor sessions are scheduled to being at 10 a.m., House caucuses will meet at 11:49 a.m. and the conference committee on House Bill 2605 will meet at noon.

Updated June 29, 2021: The Senate is meeting today to work on several bills and the differences in the House and Senate K-12 education budget bills since the versions passed in each chamber don’t match, said Chris Kotterman, governmental relations director with Arizona School Boards Association.

Last week, House Democrats joined forces with Republicans Udall, John, and Osborne to defeat a budget amendment that would have expanded the ESA program. That ESA provision had passed in the Senate and is one of the differences between the House and Senate K-12 education budget bills.

Senate President Karen Fann appointed Senators Nancy Barto, David Gowan and Tony Navarrete to the concurrence committee.

Then members were dismissed to their caucuses to discuss several bills and the floor session was recessed until caucuses were complete.

Caucuses have been closed to the public this session and no links to watch them virtually have been provided. The floor session will resume today, President Fann said.

Earlier today, Rep. Aaron Lieberman announced he’s running for Governor.

Updated June 28, 2021: The House and Senate are meeting today to work on the differences in their K-12 education bills since the versions passed in each chamber don’t match, said Chris Kotterman, governmental relations director with Arizona School Boards Association.

Legislators approve budget bills, Gov. Ducey signs them, shutdown averted Speaker-Rusty-Bowers-5-28-2021-1024x462
House Speaker Rusty Bowers discuss bills Friday, June 28, 2021. Photo courtesy Arizona Capitol Television

House Democrats joined forces with Republicans Udall, John, and Osborne to defeat a budget amendment that would have expanded the ESA program.

The House Rules Committee will meet at 10:45 a.m. today, followed by House and Senate floor sessions at 11 a.m., the Senate Rules Committee at 11:10 a.m., and the House Republican Caucus at 11:49 a.m. Watch it live.

Updated June 25, 2021: The Arizona House of Representatives approved the K-12 education budget bill and bills vetoed by the governor today, after approving the other budget bills yesterday, including a criminal justice budget bill slightly different from the Senate version.

The K-12 education budget bill includes a large expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts – commonly known as vouchers that pay for students’ private school education with public funds – contained in an earlier bill that Legislators rejected.

Just yesterday, House Education Chair Michelle Udall told Save Our Schools Arizona that she did not support the ESA expansion, which may lead to an amendment to the K-12 education budget bill today.

Arizona Capitol Television Video: House Floor Session starts 9 a.m.

House Legislators approved the 2.5% flat tax yesterday in budget bills sent to the governor that many education advocates say is a way to get around the voter approved Prop. 208 Invest in Education Act, which would have provided $940 million in permanent sustainable funding for schools through a 3.5% surcharge for single taxpayers with over $250,000 and couples with over $500,000 in taxable income.

Advocates and several Legislators said they are concerned that the flat tax is based on a snapshot of the economy and not long-term forecasts.

Legislators approve budget bills, Gov. Ducey signs them, shutdown averted Leigh-Jensen
Leigh Jensen

“Our main concern is the whole structure of the budget, which we believe is structured based on the very unique situation of having lots of federal dollars for COVID relief and this is artificially inflating the strength of Arizona’s economy right now,”  said Leigh Jensen, governmental relations associate for Arizona School Boards Association.

“We would prefer to see a budget proposal that uses our current surplus to pay down the K-12 rollover and invest in building renewal for our aging school facilities,” Jensen said.

“The flat tax proposal is a risky move that banks on revenue from sports betting and recreational marijuana being sufficient to offset the significant losses, but both of these revenue streams are brand new in Arizona,” Jensen said.

“It has the potential to undo the progress we’ve made in the last few years to restore education funding to pre-recession levels, all while leaving us flat-footed if and when another recession comes,” Jensen said.

For the K-12 education budget bill there are several amendments that will be discussed.

Related articles:
Legislators approve wildfire bill, budget work continues
Budget update: AZ Senate votes on controversial bills before recessing until June

Representatives began the session on Friday discussing Sen. J.D. Mesnard’s Senate Bill 1783.

Rep. Mitzi Esptein proposed an amendment that the measure must have a 3/4 voting limit of the Arizona Legislature saying the bill was an attempt to go around voter approved Prop. 208.

“The Invest in Education Initiative was passed by the voters and we must pass this amendment to give credit and voice to the voters of Arizona,” Rep. Esptein said.

The amendment failed on a voice vote.

Rep. Lorenzo Sierra said this bill circumvents Prop. 208, “we know it’s an uphill battle, but we’re going to fight this bill,” and encouraged people to vote no on the bill.

Rep. David Cook asked for staff to meet him in the lounge to go over the number in the amendment and said “I stand undecided on this.”

Rep. Bolding said that under this bill if taxpayers file as a small business that 3.5% surcharge would not go into the Prop. 208 funds so they can avoid paying the 3.5% surcharge that Arizonans voted for and said they support.”

“I personally think it is a travesty that we are being asked to vote on this bill without knowing the financial impact of it” and knowing it is a way to get around the voter-approved Prop. 208, said Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley.

The JLBC analysis of the bill said this would be a $337 million cut at the time this bill was introduced, Rep. Epstein said.

“We’re endlessly throwing money at the wealthiest and the corporations,” Rep. Epstein said.

“Yet here we are after the most massive giveaway saying that Arizona’s wealthiest deserve another giveaway and saying that we do not support teachers, students and schools,” said Rep. Andres Cano saying he strongly urges a no vote on the bill.

Rep. Shawnna Bolick said other states like Connecticut do have this special tax rate for small businesses.

Senate Bill 1783 with the Epstein floor amendment failed with a vote of 26 ayes to 31 nays and 3 note voting.

Senate Bill 1783 was passed on a voice vote and referred to engrossing.

Then the House voted on House Bill 2905 early ballots request required, and Rep. Travis Grantham said, “All of these bills we have seen, nothing too mysterious going on.”

Rep. Sierra said, “The justice department is looking at the Georgia Election bills and they’ll look at this one and I vote no.”

HB 2905 passed with a vote of 31 ayes, 26 nays and three not voting.

HB 2906 governance, audits and training which bans types of diversity and equity trainin for government employees passed with a vote of 31 ayes, 25 nays and 4 not voting.

SB 1830 credit for donation passed with a vote of 47 ayes, 9 nays and 4 not voting.

SB 1831 adoption original birth certificate release passed with a vote of 49 ayes, 7 nays and 4 not voting.

SB 1832 restricted license, DUI, suspension passed with a vote of 32 ayes, 24 nays and 4 not voting.

SB 1833 marijuana laboratories proficiency testing passed with a vote of 56 ayes, 0 nays and 4 not voting.

SB 1834 marijuana inspections licensing financial ownership passed with a vote of 56 ayes, 0 nays and 4 not voting.

SB 1835 party representative resident violation passed with a vote of 31 ayes, 25 nays and 4 not voting.

SB 1836 sex offender registration termination passed with a vote of 30 ayes, 26 nays and 4 not voting.

SB 1842 marijuana security passed with a vote of 40 ayes, 15 nays and 4 not voting.

SB 1853 vehicle speed limits passed with a vote of 31 ayes, 25 nays and 4 not voting.

Then Rep. Grantham said the House will take an hour long break before going into Committee of the Whole #2.

House members then discussed amendments to the K-12 education budget bill next.

During voting on Senate Bill 1783 during the House third reading of bills, Rep. Diego Espinoza said “Once again we are thwarting the will of Arizonans” and urged people to vote no on the bill that would allow small business owners to avoid the Prop. 208 3.5% surcharge that would provide sustainable funding for schools.

“This bill is unconstitutional and will be fought in court,” said Rep. Reginald Bolding. “This bill is trying to cheat the system, but we will go back to court and stand up for our kids.”

Rep. Bolding voted no on the bill.

“I don’t have all the answers, but I know that throwing money at the (public education) system is not the answer,” said Rep. John Fillmore as he voted yes on the bill.

Senate Bill 1783 was passed on a vote of 31 ayes 25 nays and 4 not voting..

The House then discussed SCR 1003 executive orders, emergencies reauthorization, termination.

Rep. Athena Salman said she urged members to vote no on this legislation “that we literally had one minute to see before debating it right now.”

SCR1003 was approved along party lines with a vote of 31 ayes, 25 nays, and 4 not voting.

SCR 1034 voter protection act, court determinations was passing with a vote of 31 ayes, 25 nays, and 4 not voting.

“The majority waived the rules to break the rules to put this on the calendar so the public” could not see it, Rep. Salman said.

“This is a very sneaky way to undermine the Voter Protection Act,” Rep. Salman said.

“At least tell the truth about what you’re trying to do, this is one in a long line of ways to undermine Arizona citizens and their initiatives,” said Rep. Diego Rodriguez.

Then voting began on House Bill 2898 the K-12 education budget reconciliation bill.

Rep Judy Schwiebert said, “As a mom, grandma and teacher for 27 years, it really breaks my heart to see this legislature that prioritize out wealthiest over our children.”

She mentioned the the provision to put the school facilities board under the ADOA, and “the teacher gag rule that threatens to fine and suspend their teacher cetificate if they discuss not clearly defined controversial issues.”

Rep. Powers Hannley said “There are bills stuck into the budget that were going to die this year and instead of letting them die a horrible death they were stuck in these budget bills.”

Rep. Powers Hannley talked about STOs in particular saying, “Why would we vote for something in the budget that we do not know the impact of other than the amount of money spent on private schools.”

She also said she opposed the provision allowing families to be reimbursed for transportation costs for students to attend schools on open enrollment in explaining why she voted no on the bill.

Rep. Jennifer Pawlik said “teachers are the experts they are in the field every day” and “they have the insights into how things can be done better.”

Rep. Andrade said “HB2898 is a direct attack on our educators and our public education in Arizona.”

“We need updated technology, leakless roofs and more to bring us up to the 21st century,” Rep. Andrade said.

“It is time once again to mobilize and unifiy, you are not alone. Me speaking as a union member, we are behind you and it’s time to work together,” Rep. Andrade said.

“We are in this for a big fight. 2022 is around the corner. We need to educate we need to mobilize. Arizona caters to the ultra wealthy. It’s time to cater to the middle class,” said Rep. Andrade as he voted no.

“This bill is harmful because it quells thinking, learning, and speech,” Rep. Epstein said.

“If we don’t allow them to speak their authentic truth then we cannot learn and understand each other,” Rep. Epstein said. “We’ve got to learn to get along with each other, and the best way is to have these controversial discussions.”

Rep. Aaron Lieberman said “If we were focused on what Arizonans want we’d be setting up universal preschool” reducing class sizes, and we could reduce testing and increase teaching.

The one size fits all civics plan is the opposite of school choice, Rep. Lieberman said as he voted no.

Rep. Charlene Fernandez said, “Everytime we bring up things that can help our teachers we encounter roadblocks.”

“I vote no now and I’ll vote no later and I’ll vote no again until we start funding our schools properly,” Rep. Fernandez said.

Rep. Bolding said “When we start allowing our schools to be taught specifically by Freedom Schools and partisan funding put in place by the Legislature that is wrong.”

“This bill contains a number of retaliation measures,” Rep. Bolding said as he voted no.

“Why don’t we hold school boards accountable for not giving teacher the money the Legislature gives them,” said Rep. Bret Roberts.

Rep. Lorenzo Sierra said “Arizona is one of the few state that does not have a poverty weight.”

“We have to realize poverty is the root cause, and until we address that we cannot address the issues it causes in our K-12 system,” Rep. Sierra said.

“It is important that we do fund and that’s what we’re doing here,” Rep. Walt Blackman said. “If we value our teachers, our children, the education program in Arizona we should all be green (on the vote bard).”

“Saying no is saying no to our teachers and no to our kids,” Rep. Blackman said. “We can’t just vote no because it doesn’t have everything we want. That’s life.”

HB 2898 was approved on a vote of 31 ayes, 25 nays, and 4 not voting.

Updated June 24, 2021: The Arizona House of Representatives met starting at 10:20 a.m. today to discuss budget bills, after the Senate approved budget bills earlier this week with amendments that include provisions from bills rejected by Legislators earlier this session.

Rep. Diego Rodriguez objected to the report of a standing committee saying Democratic Legislators had little notice and no representation at a hearing.

Then a rules change was distributed by pages to all Representatives.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers introduced a motion to allow concerns on issues to be discussed but “puts restraints on time issues to allow the critical time necessary for debate and discussion but also let us get out expeditiously.”

Rep. Charlene Fernandez said that because 29 Democrats did not show up to work one day but did for show up for 26 days to show up to discuss and vote on bills when they pledges and prayed and recessed.

“Our public expects us to discuss these bills and to explain our votes,” Rep. Fernandez said as she voted against the emergency order. “This is a crime against Arizona to limit our ability to explain our votes.”

“The Republican Party in this legislature and session holds all of the power to decide what bills are heard and whether we have a quorum to vote,” said Rep. Mitzi Epstein as the voted against the emergency order. “If you want to pass a rotten budget, you can pass a rotten budget, but by golly we are going to be heard because we speak for the people of Arizona.”

After applauding Rep. Epstein, House Speaker Pro Tem Rep. Travis Granham ordered the sergeant of arms to clear the gallery.

“This is an awful way to start the budget of Arizona that’s going to affect the 7 million people of Arizona,” Rep. Butler. “I’m hoping the people in the gallery will stay to watch.”

The paper we received said we will only have 30 minutes to debate on amendments for the bill and we will not be able to explain our rational for our votes, Rep. Butler said.

“In addition, they’re changing procedures to make it more difficult to explain to the public these changes,” Rep. Butler said and voted no on the rules changes.

‘Today’s theme is we’re going to gag teachers and 29 members of this body,” said Rep. Andrade as she voted no on the rules change. “Today we’re going to be in big discussions and you’re trying to silence voices.”

“We do have our priorities in order here,” Rep. Jennifer Longon said as she vote no on the rule. “They’re not silencing my voice, they’re silencing your voice Arizona. Each one of us represent a quarter million of you.”

Rep. Reginald Bolding said “We’ve been here and been ready to work, but what we say was a majority that refused to have a discussion about priorities for the rest of the state. Moreover you want to restrict the public from watching this process. Regardless of what you say on this paper, we will let the people of Arizona know what is going on.”

Then he voted no.

“The GOP is conducting a war on Arizona’s children,” said Rep. Judy Schwiebert as the vote no on the rule change.

Rep. Lorenzo Sierra said “Over the past couple of years we have put desperate people into desperate situations and they will do desperate things.”

“We all know this budget is going through, you have the votes, we wouldn’t be here otherwise, but I wish we could debate it because the people deserve it,” Rep. Sierra said. “The fights will go on in the courts and at the ballot box.”

Then he voted no.

Rep. Daniel Hernandez said, “What we are seeing today is the tyranny of the majority after 160 days for not working with the other party. The majority is showing their disrespect to the almost 50% of Arizonans who have voted for Democrats in this body.”

“This rule change is wrong. Not debating about the largest giveaway in Arizona history is wrong,” Rep. Hernandez said.

“These rule changes are egregious,” said Rep. DeGrazia as he voted no.

Rep. Dr. Randall Friese said with this rule change ignores that each member has constituents and that members of the other party are not the enemy.

“If we could just remember how to listen to each other and talk to each other and build some trust, we could accomplish a lot for this state,” Rep. Friese said as he voted no.

“We debate and we disagree, but we don’t have to be disagreeable,” Rep. Aaron Lieberman said as he voted no. “These voices deserve to be heard and this gallery should be filled with Arizonans watching this debate.”

Rep. Alma Hernandez said “I’m appalled that we are voting on this.”

“What you are showing the public is that only the Republicans and majority voice matters. This is what privilege looks like,” Rep. Hernandez said. “For you to do this at such a critical time when we are about to vote on the budget for Arizona is absurd.”

“We live in a democracy. This is not what a democracy looks like,” Rep. Hernandez said. “The GOP is not what Arizona looks like. Let me remind you there are 31 of you and 29 of us, and that will change.”

“I’m sick and tired of being told to shut up and sit down,” said Rep. Andres Cano as he voted no.

Rep. Diego Rodriguez said “We’ve all heard the saying that a budget is a reflection of your values. This rule change reflects the stifling of dissent.”

“If you’re so confident in the budget, let’s debate it,” Rep. Rodriguez said.

The rule change passed on a party line vote 31 ayes to 29 nays.

Then Rep. Regina Cobb presented her floor amendment to House Bill 2900 the omnibus taxation bill.

Rep. Epstein said the Cobb amendment will change the way homeowners pay property taxes and gives a big cut in assessed value for commercial property owners and will shift that tax benefit to homeowners.

In addition, the Cobb floor amendment will reduce funding for city services as revenue for the entire state decreases, Rep. Epstein said.

Rep. Schweibert said she opposed the bill because it would not help students, schools, roads, and city services and said “I want to encourage us to grow our economy in everyday people ensuring they have the education and they need to succeed.

When Rep. Butler asked how this amendment would affect schools, Rep. Epstein said whenever there is a downturn in the economy, this state cuts education funding.

The Cobb floor amendment was adopted on a voice vote.

Then Senate Bill 1828 was then substituted for House Bill 2900 the omnibus taxation bill.

“It’s a slap in the face to the kind of investment we should be making,” Rep. Cano said.

“We should not be making these tax cuts with uncertain revenue,” Rep. Butler said.

“This is a permanent cut that will damage our state for decades, we will not have the resources to respond to future crisis and invest in giving our children the future they deserve with this tax cut,” Rep. Butler said and voted no on the bill.

“This is how we perpetuate wealth inequality,” said Rep. Athena Salman.

Rep. Bolding said “Now we do have the money because federal tax dollars came to Arizona to benefit those who needed it most, and now we’re using tax dollars to benefit those who need it least.”

“The majority of Arizonans will receive no more than $4 from this annually, but the highest earners will receive $350,000 each year,” Rep. Bolding said.

The bill passed on a party line vote of 31 ayes and 29 nays.

“We all know that when it comes down to equity and fairness our most well-off Arizonans will pay less to the general fund that anyone else,” said Rep. Bolding voting no on SB 1827 revenue and budget reconciliation.

Four of the 11 budget bills have passed so far with 31-29 votes along party lines as of 5:14 p.m.

Updated June 22, 2021: Arizona Senate President Karen Fann introduced budget bills with amendments during a Senate floor session Tuesday morning and the Senate approved them all – ending their session at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. Arizona Legislators will be back to discuss the budget again at 10 a.m. on Thursday morning.

Senate President Fann also introduced many lengthy floor amendments to each bill that included provisions from legislation that failed earlier in the session.

Among the zombie provisions in the 195-page Fann floor amendment to the K-12 budget bill were – voucher expansion, fines for teachers discussing controversial topics in class, and prohibitions against school boards requiring masks for students and staff as part of their COVID-19 mitigation plans.

Sen. Lisa Otondo said that the amendment might lead Legislators in the House who were against these bills earlier in the session to reject the K-12 education budget bill.

The Arizona Legislature was expected to start the process for approving the state budget Tuesday morning.

“The rumor is that issues with moving to a state income tax system with one or two tax rates – flat rate system – have been worked out and the votes to approve the budget are available,” said Dr. Chuck Essigs, governmental relations director for Arizona Association of School Business Officials in a statement released Tuesday morning.

The House Government & Elections Committee finished meeting earlier, and a Senate floor session began at 10 a.m. where budget bills were introduced.

The House floor session began just after 11 a.m., but soon adjourned until 10 a.m. Thursday when a quorum of members were not present in the chamber.

Education advocates remain opposed to the 2.5% flat tax proposed by Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican Legislative leaders, and they say it will severely cut funding for public schools, cities and towns.

Education advocates and some Legislators are concerned that the budget bills are based on a snapshot of the economy that factors in one-time federal COVID-19 funding and not long-term forecasts for the state’s economy.

Senate session

Senate President Karen Fann introduced budget bills during the Committee of the Whole.

Pres. Fann’s amendment to Senate Bill 1821 criminal justice budget reconciliation was approved on a voice vote.

During discussion of Senate Bill 1822 environment budget reconciliation, Sen. Lisa Otondo‘s floor amendment that would have allowed incarcerated firefighters to earn $3 an hour and keep up to $5,000 in their account to be disbursed to them upon release was rejected on a voice vote.

Another floor amendment by Sen. Otondo that would have increased funds for wildfire mitigation was also rejected on a voice vote.

Sen. Martin Quezada said “We all just agreed that this expenditure needs to be made yesterday.”

Rep. Otondo introduced another amendment that would provide $20 million to activate matching funds from the federal government to be used for critical responses for state departments for wildfire firefighting efforts.

“Let’s not leave money on the table to address issues people in these communities are going to face year after year,” said Sen. Quezada. “Please vote yes on this amendment.”

That amendment also was rejected on a voice vote.

“I am extremely disheartened that none of the amendments were approved,” Rep. Otondo said.

“Arizona burns. Forests need mitigation. People are putting their lives on the line. Property is burning,” Rep. Otondo said.

“This budget that is coming up, you will see that the budget will be amended to reduce the funds for wildfire and forest fire suppression from $4 million to $200,000,” Rep. Otondo said.

“We have talked about how much money this place can spend and give back to the wealthy, but we can’t take care of our own lands. That’s heartbreaking,” Rep. Otondo said.

“We need to fund this properly. I hope serious interim work is done. We should be allocating funds today not to just suppress fires but to mitigate them so no more damage is done in the future,” Sen. Otondo said.

“You are right, Sen. Otondo, we are going to need more,” said Senate President Fann, noting that it was too late in the budget process to add those extra funds, but that she would like to work with Sen. Otondo on adding that funding to next session’s budget.

Then the Senate discussed Senate Bill 1827 revenue budget reconciliation.

Senate President Fann moved her an amendment to the bill that would allow the highest tax rate to be 4.5% in response to Prop. 208, and required monies be added to a fund to reimburse municipalities for compensation for firefighters with specific illnesses or injuries. Senate Bill 1827 was approved on a voice vote.

The budget bills were then assigned to committee.

The Senate that took a break for lunch before discussion of amendments for three more budget bills resumed around 2:20 p.m.

Senators discussed Sen. Lela Alston‘s amendment to Senate Bill 1824 health budget reconciliation that would increase the pay for family members taking care of children who are kin from the current $75 a month to $250 a month.

Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales said she supported the amendment saying “The welfare of the child is our first priority and have a good home and go to good schools and not worry about where their next meal is going to come from.”

“If the families of these children do not step up to take care of these children then we do,” Sen. Gonzales said. “We should support the Alston amendment to Senate Bill 1824 so that these families can have a helping hand to take care of these children.”

Sen. Christine Marsh said she supports the Alston amendment saying she had a foster daughter whose family of origin was struggling to survive .

This floor amendment is one step to ensure that these children are placed with people that they know instead of good-hearted strangers,” Sen. Marsh said.

“We have the money. Now is the time to invest in our most vulnerable population,” said Sen. Rebecca Rios, noting that placing a child in the foster system costs the state $800 a month.

“When we’re talking about investment I don’t know that there’s a more deserving population than our children,” Sen. Rios said.

The Alston amendment to SB 1824 was rejected on a voice vote.

Sen. Gonzales read her amendment that would allocate $41 million provide dental care to pregnant women on AHCCCS to ensure they don’t develop severe gum disease that can lead to premature birth or babies with a low weight at birth.

Sen. Martin Quezada asked what percentage of babies in Arizona are born to mothers on AHCCCS and Sen. Gonzales said about 50%.

“This amendment would have a great impact on the health of pregnant women and their babies,” Sen. Quezada said. “This is an opportunity to invest in people, in babies and their mothers.”

The Gonzales amendment to SB 1824 was rejected on a voice vote.

Sen. Quezada introduced his amendment to provide paid time off for workers so they have the ability to take care of themselves and their families when someone is ill, injured or needs help.

“Paid leave means women do not have to leave the workforce to take care of their families,” said Sen. Victoria Steele.

Sen. Gonzales said “Most of the women who are affected and lost their jobs because they have to stay home. Businesses lose an employee because they can’t afford to pay the leave or other reasons. It causes hurt for the women and the employer in this economy. This greatly affects women of color.”

“Our entire society would suffer less from bad health conditions, poverty and struggle with paid leave and we can tackle other issues like improving education,” Sen. Quezada said. “This amendment will keep us from being trapped in poverty and trapped in poor health.”

The Quezada amendment to SB 1824 was rejected on a voice vote, and the bill was approved on a voice vote.

Senate President Fann introduced her amendment to SB 1825 higher education budget reconciliation.

Sen. Gonzales said she opposed the amendment because it removes local control from community colleges and universities on mask and other COVID-19 mitigation policies as we deal with virulent new strains of COVID-19.

The Fann amendment to SB 1825 was approved on a voice vote.

Sen. Kirsten Engel introduced her amendment to SB 1824 that would provide $10 million to restore funding to Maricopa County and Pima County community colleges, which provide critically important workforce training.

The Engel amendment to SB 1825 was rejected on a voice vote.

Sen. Juan Mendez introduced his amendment to SB 1825, which would restore Arizona universities and community colleges to determine their own COVID-19 policies including COVID-19 vaccinations for students.

The Mendez amendment to SB 1825 was rejected on a voice vote and Senate Bill 1825 was approved on a voice vote.

Then discussion began on SB 1828 the omnibus taxation bill.

Sen. Rios read her amendment to SB 1828 that would remove basically all tax provisions with a few exceptions.

“There’s a lot of issues with the bill, but the biggest concern for me lies with the flat tax,” Sen. Rios said. “This is not a true flat tax.”

“This is a tax cut for the wealthy, and an end run around Prop. 208. The voters said they want public education supported in Arizona and here we are essentially taking it away from them,” Sen. Rios said.

“This will be the largest permanent tax cut in state history,” Sen. Rios said.

“When we have a budget we pay down debt and then we invest, if there is anything left we pay it back,” Sen. Rios said.

“We’re supposed to listen to the voters of Arizona and do what they ask us to do,” Sen. Gonzales said.

“We haven’t fully funded education and our schools and children deserve better,” Sen, Gonzales said. “This budget and flat tax is a slap in the face of the voters who asked us to fund public education.”

The Rios amendment to SB 1828 was rejected on a voice vote.

“This strikes me as so irresponsible,” said Sen. Christine Marsh about the flat tax plan included in the budget bills.

“We have the opportunity this session to actually invest in our future, to invest in our kids, and we’re not doing that. It strikes me as really odd. This push for a flat tax, when we could be investing in people, our kids are going to paying the highest price for this for generations to come,” Sen. Marsh said.

The Senate approved SB 1828 on a voice vote, bills were assigned, then Sen. Quezada moved that the Alston floor amendment be added to Senate Bill 1824 and called for a member roll call vote and the amendment failed with a vote of 14 ayes and 16 nays.

The K-12 education budget bill

The Senate discussed SB 1826 the K-12 education budget reconciliation bill.

Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai’s floor amendment to SB 1826 failed on a voice vote.

Senate President Fann read her amendment to SB 1826 that prohibits school districts from approving a COVID-19 mask policy and prohibits instruction on race, ethnic, group, gender and sex that would make a student feel bad about their race, ethnic, group, gender and sex and fine employees who violate this provision, transfers the powers of the school facilities board to another body and requires schools to do their own self-inspection and creates an oversight board to review and approve school requests and disbands the board at the end of the 2022 school year, reduces the number of days a student must attend a public school before qualifying for an ESA, and many other provisions.

Sen. Gonzales said “There’s lots of reasons to be against the Fann floor amendment. I will start with the part of the amendment that expands ESAs.”

“ESAs take funding away from public schools,” Sen. Gonzales said, noting that the Legislature keeps trying to expand the number of students eligible for a voucher to pay for private education with public funds.

“This is not how you run a school system by depleting money from the department and district schools who really educate the masses. Most of the children in Arizona go to district schools,” Sen. Gonzales said.

Sen. Otondo flipped through the think stack of paper that make up the Fann floor amendment that includes the ESA expansion to nearly 60% of Arizona students that was in SB 1432 that legislators voted against earlier in the session.

“This expansion of vouchers is a push for private education,” Sen. Otondo said. “This will take money directly from your public school classrooms.”

“ESA vouchers were made to address problems for a disabled population, what this has expanded to in Arizona is not accounted for,” Sen. Otondo said.

“I am horrified by this amendment,” Sen. Otondo said.

Sen. Marsh said legislators had very little time to go through 200 pages of significant issues in the Fann amendment including face coverings, ESA expansion, changes to the School Facilities Board and so much more.

“When a child’s family makes use of a voucher and that money follows a child we are leaving out public schools even more lower funded than they are,” Sen. Marsh said.

“Let’s give the families that choose their neighborhood public schools a shot and a boost in funding,” Sen. Marsh said.

Sen. Tony Navarrete said this bill says if anyone feels uncomfortable hearing about Juneteenth, the election or anything else that schools is in danger of violating this provision and being fined.

“No one is going to be supportive of this amendment,” Sen Navarrete said. “We have to do better for our students and our education community,”

Sen. Rios said “This amendment is a systematic plan to privatize public education.”

“We have all argued for the last two decades about what we’re doing to destroy public education, to destroy teacher morale and hurt students,” Sen. Rios said. “We now have business leaders saying this needs to stop.”

Sen. Peshlakai said “Native American tribal members were the last people given citizenship and the right to vote in the United States.”

“We did not have the right to public education until after World War II,” Sen. Peshlakai said.

“This 200 plus page floor amendment is taking the killed bills and killed bad policies and put it all in a 200 page document and running it as a simple floor amendment,” Sen. Peshlakai said.

“Expanding ESAs does nothing for tribal communities, tribal children and tribal education,” Sen. Peshlakai said.

“My community has been impacted by the defunding of public education,” Sen. Peshlakai said.

“We are directing the money away from all the things the voters said they wanted,” Sen. Quezada said.

“We’re making critical race theory into a dog whistle to scare people and rile them up” with these amendments, Sen. Quezada said.

“What this ultimately does is demonize critical thinking in our schools,” Sen. Quezada said. “Why are we so concerned about discomfort? That’s how we learn.”

“When we sit down with parents and explain what we are doing in our schools, they thank us for what we’re doing,” Sen. Quezada said.

“This is irresponsible what we are doing here in promoting this kind of nonsense,” Sen. Quezada said. “People need to stop this threatening and harassing behavior to school board members, especially female board members of color.”

“This amendment is a hideous attack on families and educators coming together to address these difficult topics,” Sen. Gonzales said.

“This amendment is very discriminatory when it allows the history of the United States not to be taught to include the genocide of the indigenous people of this country by the U.S. government,” Sen. Gonzales said.

The Fann amendment to SB 1828 was approved on a voice vote.

An Otondo amendment to SB 1828 failed on a voice vote.

Sen. Quezada made a motion to exclude the Fann floor amendment on SB 1828 and called for a member roll call vote, and the motion failed on a vote of 14 ayes and 16 nays.

The Senate will meet again on Thursday.

Updated June 21, 2021: The Arizona Legislature will meet today to continue working on the budget, with a Senate floor session began at 1 p.m. and adjourned before 1:20 p.m. until Tuesday at 10 a.m.

A House floor session began at 1:15 p.m., voted on several elections bills and adjourned at 2:55 p.m. until 10 a.m. Tuesday or after the conclusion of the government and elections committee meeting.

Education advocates remain opposed to the 2.5% flat tax proposed by Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican Legislative leaders and say it will severely cut funding for public schools, cities and towns.

Advocates and several Legislators said they are concerned that the concerned that flat tax and tax cuts are based on a snapshot of the economy and not long-term forecasts.

“Our main concern is the whole structure of the budget, which we believe is structured based on the very unique situation of having lots of federal dollars for COVID relief and this is artificially inflating the strength of Arizona’s economy right now,”  said Leigh Jensen, governmental relations associate for Arizona School Boards Association.

“We would prefer to see a budget proposal that uses our current surplus to pay down the K-12 rollover and invest in building renewal for our aging school facilities,” Jensen said.

“The flat tax proposal is a risky move that banks on revenue from sports betting and recreational marijuana being sufficient to offset the significant losses, but both of these revenue streams are brand new in Arizona,” Jensen said.

“It has the potential to undo the progress we’ve made in the last few years to restore education funding to pre-recession levels, all while leaving us flat-footed if and when another recession comes,” Jensen said.

The Grand Canyon Institute released an analysis of the budget proposal two weeks ago that showed that Arizonans who live in rural and remote areas and Tucson will bear the brunt of the flat tax proposal, while Arizonans in larger population centers like Maricopa County and affluent communities will benefit.

Legislators approve budget bills, Gov. Ducey signs them, shutdown averted 300-15-or-less-from-GOP-tax-proposal1
Map courtesy Grand Canyon Institute

“This tax cut — which largely benefits high-income earners — will cost $1.5 billion annually once fully implemented. It eliminates higher marginal tax rates and replaces them with one rate that is about the same as what lower income earners currently pay,” The Grand Canyon Institute said in their analysis.

“An estimated 350,000 Arizona households with incomes above $150,000 will be the largest beneficiaries. Whereas 1.5 million households (four times as many) would see little or modest changes in their state income tax,” according to the Grand Canyon Institute analysis. 

Arizona Education Association will hold a press conference at noon today at the Rose Garden at the Arizona Capitol urging Legislators to protect the Invest in Education Act in state budget negotiations and highlight the devastating consequences the proposed state budget moving through the legislature would have on public schools. Watch the press conference live via Facebook Live on AEA’s Facebook Page.

“Educators worked hard last summer during a pandemic to collect enough signatures to get INVESTinED on the ballot,” said Joe Thomas, president of Arizona Education Association. “Voters have been clear in their support for investing in public education by passing Prop 208 last November. This budget is a slap in the face for educators and voters.”

Under Prop. 208, taxable income over $250,000 for single filers would be subject to an additional 3.5% surcharge, making income above that amount taxed at a total state rate of 8%, Jensen said.

The budget includes a tax cap that threatens the Invest in Education Act, which voters approved last November and educators worked to get on the ballot to provide $940 million in permanent sustainable funding for our schools, Thomas said.

“This (budget) proposal creates a flat tax of 2.5%, but since the Legislature can’t change that voter approved 3.5% surcharge, they instead are proposing a maximum marginal tax rate of 4.5%,” Jensen said. “So in essence, there would be two tax rates — 2.5% and 4.5%.”

In a survey among over 1,000 AEA members, 89% disagreed with the statement about creating $1.5 permanent tax cuts for millionaires over investing in our schools and communities as the best option for this Legislature.

“The governor and legislature have the opportunity to invest the billions of dollars in surplus and rainy funding into our public schools,” said Kelley Fisher, a Kindergarten teacher in Deer Valley. “Funding that can be used to address the teacher shortage, provide full-day kindergarten, ensure every school has a counselor, nurse, and librarian.”

Teachers also expressed their concern that budget policy that would fine teachers $5,000 for discussing controversial topics in the classroom would limit discussion of important topics with students.

“As a science teacher our curriculum touches on evolution and reproduction and we teach about these topics in such a way that students can walk away and carry on a conversation about them,” said Katie Nash, a science teacher in a Chandler school.

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There is some education spending in the budget that advocates support.

“We like the investments in special education, including $50 million in increased Group B weights for certain diagnoses, $5 million in the Extraordinary Special Education Needs Fund, and $1 million ongoing funding for gifted education,” Jensen said.

“We also like the proposed $17 million to distribute to political subdivisions including school districts that owe property tax refunds as a result of a change in the valuation of the Transwestern Pipeline, which is kind of a niche issue, but really important for some of our rural members,” Jensen said.

Arizona Legislators have been discussing the budget bills for a while, but have not been able to reach a consensus yet. The Arizona House of Representatives passed one budget bill on June 7, but voted down two others in that same session.

Last week, Arizona Legislators approved a $100 million wildfire mitigation plan in House Bill 2001 during a special session called by Gov. Ducey.

Senate’s Monday session

Sen. Lupe Contreras thanked and honored Cesar Corral, who has served as the chief senate page and trains other pages for the past four years for all the work he has done and wished him a belated happy birthday.

Then Sen. Sine Kerr read a proclamation honoring the Kayleigh Kozak, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, who is founder of president of The Because You Still Matter, a nonprofit organization.

Kozak worked closely with Sen. Sine Kerr on SB 1412, which would provide automatic continued protection for victims and survivors of sexual abuse if and when their abusers probation is lifted.

After that the Senate voted to adjourn until Tuesday at 10 a.m.

House’s Monday floor session

The House met as the Committee as the Whole to discuss Senate Bill 1083 elections and recount margin.

Rep. John Kavanagh said the bill eliminates recounts for school board and other municipal elections.

Rep. Mitzi Epstein asked “Why do we need the underlying bill?”

“The underlying bill solves the problem that for certain elections it is extremely difficult to do a recount for a tight elections,” Kavanagh said.

There has to be a difference greater than 10 votes to get a recount for a municipal election, Rep. Kavanagh said.

“This bill is going to be costly and a pain in the neck,” Rep. Epstein said. “I’m not a fan of the bill.”

Rep. Kelli Butler said they had heard from county recorders that there were concerns about how to do multiple recounts in the same election.

Rep. Kavanagh said they would handle the secondary recounts the same way as the first recount.

“We don’t know the impact this will have on recounts and if this will delay results,” Rep. Butler said. “This bill is completely unneeded. It is an unfunded mandate. It will cause chaos in elections and I hope that people will take that into consideration.”

“This is a bad bill it supports the big lie and I am opposed to it,” Rep. Epstein said.

The amendment to the bill passed on a voice vote and with a vote of 31 ayes and 29 nays the House passed SB 1083 and it was conveyed to the house.

Then discussion began on Senate Bill 1241 voting equipment, ballots and receipt.

Rep. Diego Rodriguez said this is a bill that suspects there is voter fraud, but we do not have evidence of voter fraud.

“This bill gives the government the right to track your sacred, secret ballot with the intent to divine if you were engaged in voter fraud. That is unAmerican,” Rep. Rodriguez said. “You are guaranteeing an invasion of someone’s privacy, because you are unhappy about an election’s outcome.”

“The reality of elections are that they are safe and secure and I encourage a no vote,” Rep. Rodriguez said.

“I believe there is a big difference between the country recorder curing your ballot which is the process now, than a prosecutor or law enforcement calling or coming to your door,” Rep. Butler said. “This is in my opinion intimidating voters by inserting law enforcement into this process.”

The House passed SB 1241 a with a vote of 31 ayes and 29 nays and the bill was conveyed to the Senate.

Then prepared to adjourn until tomorrow at 10 a.m. Tuesday or until the adjournment of the Government and Elections Committee that day.