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This week at the Arizona Capitol: Strike-everything amendments may breathe new life into dead bills

By Mark Brodie
Published: Monday, March 25, 2024 - 12:08pm
Updated: Tuesday, March 26, 2024 - 9:09am

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Arizona Capitol
Katherine Davis-Young/KJZZ
The Arizona Capitol building in Phoenix.

This is the last week for committee work at the Arizona Legislature, and even then, it’s only the Appropriations Committees that are still meeting.

That means some lengthy agendas in those committees, as lawmakers try to keep their bills alive.

With The Show, as he is every Monday during the session to talk about what to expect this week at the state Capitol, is Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services.

Full interview

MARK BRODIE: Howie, this is a pretty important week for legislators who want to see their bills continue to move through the process, right?

HOWARD FISCHER: Well, that's important. The regular committees stopped meeting last week. You know, the government committee, the education committee, and what that's left in both the House and Senate is the Appropriations Committee. Now, you would think the Appropriations Committee deals with money bills. Well, the problem becomes for lawmakers is if their bills died or fell to the wayside or have some new brilliant ideas at the last minute, the only place for them to do it is in Appropriations. And so there's a process called the strike everything amendment, so named because you, this first line of ... the bill says, strike everything, empty the acting clause and put in something totally unrelated. So for example, we have one bill up today that is originally an appropriation for older individuals in the blind is now a bill on public notice and municipal land sales. A bill on purple star designation for schools is now a bill on chiropractic care. That's exactly what we're facing.

And then there are some that are even weirder in terms of things that have never been heard before. And for example, there's a measure to say lawmakers would get an annual raise based on inflation. Now, why do they want that? Because right now, the Arizona Constitution says that lawmakers only get a raise when voters say yes. And guess what? Voters haven't said yes in oh, probably over a decade now, because they say, why are we paying these people more than $24,000? Why are we even paying them $24,000? So they want to have something that once the voters would approve this, assuming that they put it on the ballot and they approve it in November, would say, OK, we, we sort of set and forget it. And then we, we get automatic pay raises from where we are.

BRODIE: And Howie, it's important to note that in at least some of the cases of the strike everything amendments, it's not going through the regular process where there would be committee meetings and opportunities for the public to testify in both chambers. For some of these, there's just one opportunity and that is, you know, like this week.

FISCHER: Exactly. And sometimes it's not even a great opportunity because the other part of the problem is, for example, in House Appropriations later today, there are over a dozen bills, which means that testimony might be limited to 1 to 2 minutes per person, which means that lawmakers who haven't seen the bill might get only, you know, 15-20 minutes to debate the entire thing. That's not exactly the deep discussion and thought we were hoping for from our Legislature, but that's the way the process works, right?

BRODIE: Howie, one other measure that is on one of those lengthy agendas deals with the Arizona Commerce Authority and continuing it. And this has been kind of a topic of conversation throughout the session of, you know, there are some members of the Legislature who would like to do away with the Commerce Authority and others who would like to continue it as is.

FISCHER: Exactly. The House earlier this session did in fact vote to continue the Commerce Authority for another four years, saying look, maybe we want to keep it a short lease. So four-year renewal allows us to take a look at it. Commerce authorities come under a lot of fire. They had an audit last year that said you're not exactly keeping track of where some of your incentives are going, and then also got attention is the fact that they spent money wining and dining some corporate CEOs at the Super Bowl and the Final Four and, and, and Waste Management Open. And even Attorney General Kris Mayes said that's not exactly proper use of public funds.

So that became the basis for when it, when that bill went to the Senate for Jake Hoffman, who never really liked the idea of incentives in the first place. He calls it crony capitalism to go ahead and say, you know, let's just tear the authority apart. We'll parcel out some of the different functions of it and we'll get rid of some of those tax incentives and you'll have to take it because that's the way the Senate wants it. Well, now we're back in the House Commerce Committee, which says, you know, we've got to strike everything amendment. So we're gonna put back out what we had before, which means there'll be two versions of the, of the Commerce Authority measure going forward. And now we see which of them can get 16 votes in the Senate and 31 in the house.

We know the governor likes the version that continues the authority. But the question becomes if she's presented with the authority version that breaks it apart, what does she do now into a game of chicken? Because the authority will cease to exist on July 1 without some form of legislation.

BRODIE: Howie, how big of a battle do you anticipate this issue being in the, the weeks between now and sine die?

FISCHER: Oh, I think it's gonna be a very big issue because each side is gonna try to make sure that the other side doesn't have the votes again. This is more than just a, let's screw with something the governor wants from the Republicans perspective. At least some of the Republicans. It's a question of philosophy. Now, this is dividing Republicans again. David Livingston, who is a Northwest Valley lawmaker, wants to continue the authority. He sees a benefit in it. Jake Hoffman says, I don't.

Now what makes it even more interesting is for a lot of these lawmakers, they have some industries in their district that got money because of the fact that we have a Commerce Authority that helps get grants, get incentives both in terms of, of state and as well, federal dollars. Look at the president coming to town over Intel, now that was federal money. But again, they only got this far because they had some state grants that were, that had been going back all the way to the Brewer administration. And so they see this very strictly, you know, bringing home the pork perspective.

BRODIE: Howie, last bill I want to ask you about deals with organized retail theft, which at the beginning of the session was a fairly big topic of conversation. Where does this bill stand now?

FISCHER: Well, I know you're gonna be shocked to know that politics reared its ugly head at the Arizona Legislature. This bill in fact did get out of the House. It's sponsored by Ben Toma, who's a Peoria Republican, who's the speaker of the House and is also a candidate for CD8. [It] went over to the Senate was assigned to the Judiciary Committee, which is headed by Anthony Kern, who is also running for CD 8. Kern decided at the end of his last committee, well, I just don't have the time and I might have had the time had Toma and some of the other Republicans and Democrats not gone to Israel for 11 days. So I'm just not gonna hear it.

So now Mr. Toma has to go back to the aforementioned House Appropriations Committee, find a strike everything amendment to try to put it back out to make sure that there's some version of the bill alive. You know, who gets the, to win in the end? I'd say that probably Toma is more likely to win than Anthony Kern. But again, you know, politics is the very strange in Arizona and with both of them running for CD8, I think there's a lot of, test of personalities going on.

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