January 14th was an ordinary Monday for most Arizonans: dropping off kids at school, commuting in heavy traffic, and planning for the day ahead. For the political watchers of the state, it was no ordinary Monday. For these folks, Jan. 14 is Opening Day of the legislative session – a day to celebrate new members sworn into office, to reflect on the accomplishments from the previous year, and to receive a forecast of the year ahead from the Governor.
As a returning representative of Legislative District 29, I sat on the floor of the House of Representatives that day and listened closely to Gov. Doug Ducey’s proclamations about the upcoming legislative session. What stood out during the state of the state address was the governor’s urging of “bipartisanship.”
Now, we’re nearly seven weeks into session with slim Republican majorities in the House (31-29) and the Senate (17-13), and the deadline to hear bills in the chamber of origin has long passed. We’ve seen once again that “bipartisanship” was nothing more than empty jargon from a party that is losing support across the state.
The first priority for Republicans was expanding education vouchers after Arizonans overwhelmingly voted against an expansion of the program in November. The expansion will cost Arizonans 1.7 million dollars over the next three years.
They’re also risking the public’s health by attempting to add another vaccination exemption to state law when the United States is seeing a rise in measles cases due to unvaccinated children. Many parts of suburban Arizona already fall below the 95% herd immunity threshold, putting school-age children at risk of deadly infectious diseases. By adding another exemption to the statute, even more children will be at risk.
Last year, the same day as the Parkland, Fl., school shooting, Republicans attempted to pass a bill allowing loaded guns to be kept in foster care homes. This year they are at it again, passing out of the House a bill that would allow loaded guns to be stored in vehicles on school parking lots and in the Senate attempting to reduce the criminal offense for knowingly carrying a gun into a public building or event from a misdemeanor to a petty offense.
With a mass shooting nearly every week, Republicans continue to focus on weakening gun laws instead of protecting Arizonans.
What do these bills all have in common? They are supported only by Republicans.
All the talk on bipartisanship from Governor Ducey and legislative Republicans has been just that: all talk. There has been virtually no action to hear bipartisan, common-sense bills. Republican committee chairs decide what’s going to be heard – and what won’t be heard.
Here are some bipartisan bills that Republican committee chairs are making sure won’t be considered.
Despite a bipartisan group of legislators and stakeholders working together to craft a package of criminal reform bills ranging from a reduction in sentencing following education and treatment to sealing the records of the person that has served time in jail, these bills were never heard in committee.
While some members of the Republican caucus were able to see past self-interest and focus on what is best for Arizonans, judiciary committee chairs Rep. John Allen, R – Phoenix, and Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R – Gilbert, decided to ignore the bills.
Equal Rights Amendment
With support from the public and members of both parties, the Equal Rights Amendment should have passed handily. Yet for the third year in a row, legislation introduced to pass the ERA failed to get a hearing. In the Senate, Judiciary Committee Chairman Eddie Farnsworth blocked the bill from being heard and in the House, Speaker Rusty Bowers refused to assign the bill to a committee.
In 2008, Arizona made international headlines for its passage of Senate Bill 1062, which was largely condemned as a blatantly homophobic law. Businesses large and small threatened to pull out of the state as a direct result of SB1062, and it was only after weeks of protest and national outrage that the bill was vetoed.
This year, a bipartisan bill to ban the harmful practice of conversion therapy and a statewide law banning discrimination practices against LGBTQ members were ignored by House and Senate Republicans. Without strong legislation banning conversion therapy and a statewide non-discrimination law, Republicans are once again permitting discriminatory practices.
Dignified Changing Stations
Most recently, my House Bill 2529, which received bipartisan support in the House Health and Human Services Committee, is being stalled by another party hardliner, Rules Committee Chairman Anthony Kern. My bill would ensure that public establishments have changing stations fitted for babies and adults with disabilities. Many families with young children and loved ones with disabilities find it difficult to enjoy an evening out because there are bathrooms that do not have changing stations available – leaving families scrambling when it’s time to change a diaper.
I know we can get past the partisanship and find common ground. Arizonans want and expect their legislators to work together to put forth good ideas that represent the values of our state, not submit to party hardliners. With time running out to pass legislation this session, we need the public more than ever to contact their representatives and senators and tell them to stop putting party over people.