Capitol Watch

After seven weeks in session, the Arizona Legislature has started passing bills to the Governor to sign into law. HB 2151, which replaced its identical-twin bill, SB 1156, which will enable tribes to participate in the “pay-as-you-go” unemployment insurance (UI) system enjoyed by other government entities, was unanimously approved by the House on Feb. 19. The Senate voted 26-3 on 2151 two days later, and the bill now sits on Gov. Hull’s desk, awaiting her signature. This bill conforms to changes made in federal law last December.

Other tribal bills are still working their way through the process, while many have stalled on the road. HB 2296, the tribal-state tax bill, is now a bill to authorize a study committee on tribal-state taxation issues. However, it was held again, and as any bills not heard in their house of origin by March 9 are stalled for this session, time is running out for 2296 and several other tribal bills.

HB 2299, the Fredonia learning site bill, was also changed into a tribal-state tax agreement bill. This bill would enable tribes with a tax code to assess just one transaction privilege tax for any business, be it Indian or non-Indian owned. It passed the House Native American Affairs Committee on Feb. 22, and looks to be headed toward Appropriations.

Another amended bill: HB 2530, the tribal venture capital bill. HB 2530, approved by Native American Affairs the same day, would authorize the Department of Commerce to grant capital funding to tribal enterprises which meet certain criteria, including a provision for matching funds and a requirement for the funding to be monitored by a small business investment corporation (SBIC). Economic development specialist Wynne Hall, Warm Springs Tribe, returned to the committee to explain about Federal legislation that will enable each state dollar invested in the tribal venture capital fund to be multiplied by three dollars in federal matching funds. Rep. Mark Anderson (R-Mesa), who voted “yes” for HB 2530, noted that he has encouraged rural economic development.

Other tribal bills approved by Native American Affairs: HB 2529, the Navajo Code Talkers monument bill, HB 2479, the tribal community services bill, and HB 2305, the Navajo veterans’ service building bill.

Wide Ruins School Board gets their bill through one committee

Over on the Senate side, Wide Ruins Community School scored a base hit. The Senate Education Committee approved Wide Ruins’ Rural Charter Schools Transportation bill, SB 1024, by a 6-2 vote Feb. 22. An amendment offered by Sen. Jack Jackson will lower mileage requirements from 25 miles to 20 from a paved road, and sets a funding cap of $500,000 for extra transportation funding for what Wide Ruins Executive Director Albert Yazzie calls “unique road conditions in remote rural areas.”

Yazzie added after the hearing, “We were really focused on getting this bill through. We approached several committee members and won their support,” which enabled the bill to clear the committee. Next on Yazzie’s agenda: wooing the Senate Appropriations Committee to approve the extra transportation funding.

Yazzie brought not only Wide Ruins School Board President Larraine Lee, but fellow parent Ronald Hale and representatives from Shonto, Tolani Lake, Nazlini and Kinlichee charter schools to advocate for the bill.

“We appreciate [ACIA Executive Director] Ron Lee’s guidance in helping us with this bill,” said Yazzie. “And tell everyone that we’ll be back again!”

Hopi TANF bill on the fast track

SB 1406, sponsored by Sen. John Verkamp (R-Flagstaff) Rep. Albert Tom (D-Chambers) and several other legislators, is speeding through the Senate. After passing handily in the Senate Family Committee, SB 1406 won a unanimous vote from Senate Appropriations. Sen. Jack Brown (D-St. Johns), another co-sponsor, spoke warmly of the Hopis, saying, “They’re good neighbors.”

More funding for tiny school districts?

Another bill, which could affect tribes, passed in the Senate Education Committee. SB 1414, which will authorize tiny school districts to exceed their budget cap by extra bonding when their school grows, passed handily. McNary Elementary Superintendent John Anderson reports that “I and my teachers make $10,000 to $20,000 less than what we all used to make in Phoenix” to help offset the budget cuts that McNary, on the White Mountain Apache Reservation, has endured.

“Proposition 301 [revenues] will generate only $30,000 for my school,” he said, and only $10,000 of that will be available for teacher salaries. Anderson also reports barriers with accessing impact aid monies that are supposed to help public schools on trust lands. Other small schools, such as the Grand Canyon School District face similar straits; SB 1414 seeks to alleviate these by allowing the bonding.

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