Keeping You Informed
We just completed the fourth week of the Arizona legislature’s 56th session, and it was a doozy. The decisions made or not made there about our schools, water, housing, healthcare, taxes, and other policies will affect all of us. It’s my great honor to serve as your representative on the House Education, Appropriations, and Sub-Appropriations Committee on Budgeting and Finance. Here’s a brief recap of what happened last week and a few bills I’m working on right now, too.
Representative Judy Schwiebert, LD2
A START on Overriding the AEL
In the Education Committee this week, the Teacher Caucus voted unanimously to override the AEL. While we and others who prioritize Arizona’s children have been pushing for months to get this done, we let Representative David Cook (R-LD7), the bill sponsor and member of the majority persuade most of his colleagues to vote yes and we got it passed. Here’s how I, explained my own Yes vote.
Arizona schools could close IN LESS THAN 30 days unless the legislature votes to override the AEL (school spending limit). It won’t cost taxpayers a penny more to allow schools to SPEND the money we already budgeted for them last June. We’ve seen how closing school disrupts the lives of children, parents, and communities. We must now bring he override bill we passed in the House Ed committee to the House FLOOR for the 2/3 vote we need to pass it. Let’s put the people of Arizona ahead of this political pettiness – and override the AEL now!
Update on My Affordable Housing Bill
Thank you to all of you who contacted legislators or used the RTS system to voice your support of my affordable housing bill HB2161. (276 supported and 85 were against.)
However, it got pulled from last Wednesday’s Regulatory Affairs Agenda.
This consumer protection bill would address the critical affordable housing crisis Arizonans are facing. In Metro Phoenix alone, rents soared almost 80% between 2016-2022 while the median income only climbed 22%.
HB2161 would help stop price gouging by too many landlords who have been raising rents by $500, $800 per month, or more. They would be allowed to increase rent by up to 10% annually unless units had been substantially remodeled.
One of my co-sponsors, Rep Nancy Gutierrez, as ranking member of the Regulatory Affairs committee, helped us get it scheduled for last Wednesday’s meeting. But a couple of days later, the Chair removed it from the agenda, telling me it had no chance of passing.
Perhaps so, but it would have been an important opportunity to hear from people experiencing this issue. It’s one of the top issues I hear about from seniors on fixed incomes and others who have had to move because their rent increased by $500, $800 or more – some of whom haven’t been able to find a place. Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) tells me that out of the 6124 individuals they served last year who reported a reason for their homelessness, over 37% listed economic issues.
With Republicans’ one-seat majority again this year, and a Democratic governor, very few Democratic bills have been heard so far in committees. Yet I believe it’s crucial that we address this issue with meaningful action right away.
Education Committee Update
It’s been very frustrating that so far we’ve heard no bill sponsored by Democrats on the Education Committee agenda. Past years have been somewhat better, but still…
2019: 61 R bills/ 6 D bills
2020: 81 R bills/ 9 D bills
2021: 64 R bills/18 D bills
2022: 67 R bills/ 8 D bills
2023 (including next week): 14 R bills/ 0 D bills
In addition to legislation addressing the Aggregate Expenditure Limit, teacher shortage crisis, and teacher salaries, here are just a few of the other important bills from Democrats that the Education Committee should be considering
HB2146: Re-instate full-day kindergarten investment (Pawlik & Terech)
HB2147: Provide an inflation adjustment for district schools, already in place for charters (Pawlik)
HB2071: Prohibit corporal punishment in schools (Terech)
HB2075: Exempt school blueprints from public records to help keep students safe (Terech)
HB2565: Fund a school meal program so no student goes hungry (Gutierrez)
HB2566: Selection priorities for a school safety program (Gutierrez)
HB2159: Create a staff development grant for high teacher turnover schools to help new teachers succeed (Schwiebert)
HB2160: Create a school mental health professionals academy to ensure we have a pipeline of counselors, social workers, and psychologists in schools. (Schwiebert)
Instead, our agenda has included bills from Republicans to
HB2504: Expand STO scholarships (Parker, B)
HB2428: Give taxpayer dollars to private universities’ teacher academy programs rather than adequately fund public colleges and universities so they can include students already on their waitlist (Gress)
HB2458: race; ethnicity; prohibited instruction (Anti-CRT bill from Pingerelli)
HB2523: Require all charter and district schools to have students say the pledge of allegiance (Parker, B)
Things Got Ugly This Week
I believe that Arizonans elected legislators to work together to address the urgent issues we face including the teacher, housing, water, and healthcare crises. However, Republicans, furious at Governor Hobbs’ budget proposals addressing these issues began an onslaught of political rage.
1. Last week they created new rules that severely restrict debate, delete public records after just 90 days, and allow the Speaker to veto any bill with his vote alone,
2. This past Tuesday, they pushed their Dead-on-Arrival partisan budget through the Appropriations Committee in one big package. No budget has ever been introduced in the Arizona legislature this early – and weeks before bills have even finished being considered in committee. Like Governor Hobbs, House and Senate Democrats stand ready to work together on solutions to our state’s most urgent issues, but instead, the Republican Appropriations Chair railed against us for daring to insist we be part of budget negotiations.
3. Now in a move described as “unprecedented,” Senate Republicans have formed a committee chaired by an extremist election denier to review all of Governor Hobbs’ agency appointments.
Nevertheless, Like You, I Persist
This week, I continued working on legislation with
1. The School Facilities Board AND Holbrook schools to allow them and other districts to make common sense decisions to replace rather than repair crumbling facilities when it is more fiscally responsible for doing so. In Holbrook’s case, rather than spending $9 Million in state dollars to repair an aged building where the foundation is literally deteriorating, they could replace it for about the same amount and eliminate years of additional costly repairs. The legislation we’re proposing would also modernize the square footage formula for schools to include smaller rooms for special education, speech therapy, and counseling crucial to student success.
2. Constituents, AARP, and firefighters to stop care facility abuse and neglect. If a patient dies from abuse or neglect under the care of facilities often owned by out-of-state investors it will increase penalties from the current $500 to as much as $25,000.
3. A condo owner constituent and a statewide advocate to protect condo owners from being forced out of their homes by out-of-state investors.
4. Superintendents, School Boards, and Teacher Associations to create legislation to increase teacher and staff salaries.
5. Grassroots groups to require that ESA vouchers have a separate line item in the budget so we can better plan our spending.
Gov Hobbs Executive Budget Proposal
Governor Hobbs’ budget offers a vision of what an Arizona for Everyone looks like and outlines her priorities for the state. However, both chambers of the legislature will be hard at work to edit this budget and insert their own ideas.
Arizona faces many urgent issues which are addressed in this budget. The first week, I focused on Education priorities and then Health & Housing last week. This week, I will focus on Government That Works. Future newsletters will address Natural Resources, Corrections, Water, and Public Safety.
- The Executive Budget empowers the public sector workforce and works to break down barriers to accessibility. It promotes a state government that works for the benefit of Arizona residents, visitors and businesses.
- The Department of Transportation is examining 44 transportation projects allocated in the FY23 budget to cover the shortfall for I-17 and address ongoing infrastructure needs.
- There are 206 vehicles in the state’s fleet that need replacing. We know that to prepare for our future, we need to implement climate-friendly infrastructure. Our budget begins to invest in this critical infrastructure.
- $250 million one-time deposit into the Rainy Day Fund, bringing the estimated FY 2024 ending balance to $1.6 billion, the highest level in state history
- $200 million one-time from the General Fund for employee retention pay in FY 2024, included in this amount is funding for an assessment of state employee market ranges
- $114 million in one-time funding for building renewal throughout the ADOA building system, including Department of Corrections, State Fair, Game and Fish, Pioneers Home and the State Lottery Commission
- $66.8 million in one-time funding from the General Fund to continue upgrading HVAC systems in DOC facilities
- $50 million from the General Fund one-time to fortify the balance of the Health Insurance Trust Fund
- $50 million one-time deposit into the newly established Rural Broadband Accelerated Match Fund
- $48.7 million in one-time funding from the General Fund for the DOC to complete critical fire and life safety projects at the Douglas, Globe, Perryville, Tucson, Winslow and Yuma prison complexes as well as and the correctional officer training academy
- $25 million one-time deposit into the State Match Advantage for Rural Transportation (SMART) Fund to help ensure that Arizona remains competitive in drawing down federal transportation grants
- $20.6 million to continue replacing the state’s human resources system that serves 36,000 employees
- $16 million in one-time funding to enhance broadband infrastructure at State facilities in rural Arizona
- $15 million in one-time funding to install electric charging and advanced-fuel infrastructure to support the conversion of the fleet to a sustainable operation
- $6.8 million as part of a 10 percent pay raise designed to recruit and retain nursing positions within state agencies
- $6.3 million in one-time funding to upgrade the Corporation Commission’s eCorp system and fund the writing of application programming interfaces (APIs)
- $3.9 million in ongoing funding to implement a 15 percent raise to fill vacancies and address high caseload in the Department of Child Safety unit, thus supporting the safety of Arizona children
- $3.5 million in one-time funding for the Department of Health Services (DHS) to finish replacement of the video security system for the Arizona State Hospital
- $3.3 million in one-time funding for additional software as a service and staff costs associated with a new probation case management system
- $3.1 million in ongoing funding to provide monthly litter removal services on selected stretches of interstate highways and highly visible routes statewide that do not receive regular litter removal
- $585,000 to protect the state’s cyber infrastructure and create a more effective threat response
- $442,700 in one-time and ongoing funding to replace the critical Arizona Department of Transportation computer-aided dispatch system
(From Top Left) Among the highlights of my week were the opportunity to meet with folks fromAll Saints Lutheran Church from my neighborhood including Pastor Dan Hoeger, Pastor Kristin Rice, friends Barb & Owen Swenson, and others as well as Arizona Faith Network representative Ellie Hutchison.
American Cancer Society including constituents and volunteers Beth Zuckerberg, Mayah Zuckerberg, Meghan Jalowiec, and Amanda Sweeney (not pictured).
On Tuesday I attended an inspiring School Connect Summit at Grand Canyon University with Deb Lupnacca, Sunnyslope Elementary Principal Chance Whiteman, Cyndi Tercero from Phoenix Union and Arturo Montoya Garcia who oversees peer mediation and restorative justice programs in our schools. I was also inspired by Tolleson Elementary School Mariachi band, and Chinle Supt Quincy Natay.
Ag Fest farmers and ranchers from every Arizona county. Drat! I forgot to get a photo, so here’s one from last year.
On Friday, I attended a presentation by APS President Ted Geisler at their Deer Valley location. He provided legislators with information on their operation and all they do to keep Arizonans connected to power.