May 2023
Legislative Rodeo
Governor Bucks Bills as Arizona Legislators Push Culture Wars

Our Arizona legislature this year has had moments where it felt more like a rogue rodeo than a meeting of lawmakers. It’s not close to being over and it’s already been a wild ride.

Gov. Hobbs wrangles the Legislature.

The Veto Lasso

Gov. Katie Hobbs has been reining in bills that she believes will create more problems than they solve. Republicans sent a lean budget in February and many extremely partisan bills, all of which have been rejected. Some proposed laws duplicated others already on the books, while others conflicted with federal law. Some were attacks on teachers, trans youth and drag queens.

Hobbs stamped out attempts to codify further anti-abortion language. Bills to change or eliminate existing voting procedures uniformly got the thumbs-down. With 63 vetoes so far, Hobbs has beaten the veto record set by former Gov. Janet Napolitano, who wielded the veto stamp a total of 58 times in one session in 2005.

During a press conference Hobbs asserted that she represents “sanity over chaos” in dealing with bills from the extreme Republican state legislature. She started her tenure as governor saying that she would focus on issues that are important to Arizona, including the water crisis, the housing shortage and education issues. In her first months in office she also signed executive orders to ban race and gender discrimination in hiring for state agencies, visited the border three times to meet on security issues, and reinstated the Arizona Commission on Homelessness and Housing, which had been eliminated in 2020.

Hobbs signed several bills, including a bipartisan measure to provide compensation for hundreds of people being evicted from mobile home parks. She vetoed a different bipartisan bill, one that would expand street sales of homemade food like tacos and hot dogs. The Arizona Department of Health Services and the Arizona Restaurant Association opposed it, saying it had potential regulatory conflicts. Hobbs wrote that it could “significantly increase the risk of foodborne illness.” Although legislators from both parties threatened to override the veto, the Democratic leadership moved to revise the bill so that it could be voted on again.

Representative Booted

District 13 Rep. Liz Harris, a Qanon conspiracy theorist and election denier, invited Jacqueline Breger to testify in a Capitol hearing in February to what Breger and Harris said were findings from an investigation. Instead, Breger spewed outrageous lies with no evidence for 40 minutes. Sen. Ken Bennett objected to her claims, which included saying that several lawmakers were bribed by a Mexican cartel and involved in criminal conspiracy. She named Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, Republican House Speaker Ben Toma as well as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, saying it was involved in money-laundering. After a review by the House Ethics Committee, which concluded  she had engaged in “disorderly behavior,” the House voted for her ouster on April 14, with 31 Republicans and 28 Democrats in favor. Only 13 voted against the resolution.

Liz Harris exits the chamber after her expulsion.

(The Maricopa County Supervisors are considering refilling the seat with one of three people nominated by Republican precinct committee leaders, including Harris and two others closely aligned with her. — ed.)

Bills Affecting Yavapai County

One of Hobbs’s vetoes was of a bill that would have eliminated the sales tax on food purchases, which municipalities agreed would have hurt rural cities and towns that rely on income from the tax, including the City of Prescott. The Arizona Department of Revenue projected that it would have cut $115.2 million annually from income for cities and towns overall. This year the sales-tax rate in Prescott dropped from 2.83% to 2%; Prescott Valley maintains its 2.83% rate on food.

The Granite Dells Regional Park bill introduced by Rep. Selena Bliss of District 1, which encompasses all of Yavapai County and a sliver of Maricopa County, made it through the House and Senate, but as of this writing remains hung up in the House Budget Committee. It would protect existing parklands, including Watson and Willow Lakes, as well as the 474 acres of open space purchased by Prescott within the Granite Dells and additional land between the Granite Dells and Glassford Hill. The bill proposes providing $3.5 million in funding to match $1.75 million each from Prescott and Prescott Valley toward purchasing additional state-owned open space around Glassford Hill.

Bliss’ bill to require public and charter schools to provide age-appropriate firearm-safety training was among those vetoed by the governor, who also vetoed a bill to allow parents with state-issued concealed-weapon permits to bring guns into schools.

Rep. Quang Nguyen’s bill to reinstate the Drug Fatality Review Team to collect overdose fatalities data gained approved and was signed by the governor.

Veteran District 1 lawmaker Sen. Ken Bennett is the principal sponsor of 49 bills that are still pending final approval or in the budget-reconciliation process, many of them correcting legal technicalities. He said on several occasions that this session felt a lot like the one when former Gov. Napolitano was in charge and vetoing bills, and he was in the legislature at that time.

Oprah Budget

Oprah Winfrey is famous for saying, “You get a car, and you get a car ...,” but in the case of the state legislature, it’s “you get to fund something.” News 12 called it the ‘Oprah’ budget because the governor and Republican leaders came up with a plan to allow each legislator to spend up to $20 million of the $2-billion state surplus on pet projects. In Yavapai County, the choices included Sen. Bennett asking for funding for a bridge in the Verde Valley, Rep. Bliss asking for funding for the Granite Dells Regional Park intergovernmental agreement, and Rep. Quang Nguyen asking for money for the Yavapai County Rodeo grounds renovation.

Journalist Toni Denis is a frequent contributor.

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