The 45th Arizona Legislature began Monday, January 8 with a swirl of pomp and ceremony, as Governor Jane Dee Hull gave her annual State of the State address. “The state of the State is good,” said Hull, but added that the work she started five years ago is still in progress. The Governor mentioned the success of Proposition 301, her education initiative, and the Growing Smarter program as successes in her administration
Governor Hull also presented the Legislature with her “wish list” of budget items which include: a 13 percent pay increase for state employees, among the nation’s lowest paid public servants; timely, effective implementation of Prop. 204, which increases income eligibility levels for Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) to 100 percent of the federal poverty threshold; $14.2 million for the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to hire more officers and expand its DNA testing capabilities and gang units; more venture capital funding for New Economy expansion; and establishment of a state umbrella housing authority to maximize housing funds.
New representatives and senators also took their oath of office, and were formally installed in their posts. As expected, the House and Senate leaders, Jim Weiers (R-Glendale) and Randall Gnant (R-Scottsdale), were handily elected House Speaker and Senate President respectively.
Seated behind Rep. Sylvia Laughter (D-Kayenta) of District 3 was her Anglo foster father, former Arizona Attorney Darrell Smith, who proclaimed, “I’m very proud of her. Sylvia always was smart as a little girl, and I think she’ll do a great job at the legislature.”
Newly installed Rep. Albert Tom (D-Chambers), District 3, also brought family members to the Legislature, and told Capitol Watch one of his priorities this session: “I’ve called the county attorneys in Mohave and Coconino counties about the carbon monoxide poisoning on Lake Powell. I’m concerned now that I’m on the Health Committee.” Rep. Tom offered to help with any needed action to prevent more injuries or deaths, and repeated his desire to work with any or all of the five tribal governments in his district.
New Senator John Verkamp (R-Flagstaff) is working with the Hopi Tribe this session to establish a Hopi Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) agency. “It will be exciting to get that done for the Hopis,” said Verkamp. “[A tribal agency] will fit in more with local culture and tradition.”
Indian Nations and State Legislative Day
Thursday, January 11, the Legislature hosted 18 tribal leaders, including Navajo President Kelsey Begaye and Hopi Chairman Wayne Taylor Jr. at its annual Indian Nations and State Legislative Day. The event gives tribes an opportunity to meet and speak with legislators on issues and concerns in Indian Country.
This year’s event featured President Begaye addressing the Legislature on Issues facing the Navajo Nation. Begaye spoke of the need to combat Navajo’s fifty-plus percent unemployment rate by removing barriers to economic development and joining with the state to implement tax credits for high-tech firms. Begaye also asked the Legislature to continue the Commission of Indian Affairs, to support three Legislative bills designed to aid Navajo veterans, and to appropriate funds for Sage Memorial Hospital in Ganado.
Salt River Pima-Maricopa President Ivan Makil, Senator Jack Brown (D-St. Johns) and Representative Carolyn Allen (R-Scottsdale) facilitated a panel discussion on issues, followed by afternoon breakouts. The yearly event is jointly coordinated by alternating legislative houses and the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona.
Keep your eyes on–
HB 2296, introduced by Representatives Laughter and Jeff Hatch-Miller (R-Phoenix), and Senator Jackson, could be an exciting new step in enhancing tribal-state relations. The bill gives the Arizona Department of Revenue (DOR) authority to enter into an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with a tribal government to jointly administer sales and other taxes.
The plan works like this: Say the Hopi Tribe decides to create a transaction privilege, or sales, tax of five percent. The current state sales tax is 5.5 percent. Under the provisions of HB 2296, if the Hopis create an IGA with the state, the Hopis keep five percent and send the remaining 0.5 percent to Phoenix. This bill could forever end the questions of dual taxation, or its corollary, taxation without representation, that other states currently grapple with, as well as honor tribal sovereignty.
Mr. Yazzie Comes to Phoenix
One community member determined to work the legislative process is Albert Yazzie, the executive director of Wide Ruins Community School, which operates as a charter school. Last year, Mr. Yazzie came to ACIA to obtain technical assistance on a legislative bill to obtain more transportation funding for his school. Typical Navajo Nation road conditions take a horrific toll on Wide Ruins’ and other school’s buses and four-wheel-drive vehicles, and Mr. Yazzie must use money meant for his classrooms to get his children to school each day.
The bill stalled in the Legislature, but Mr. Yazzie and his dedicated governing board promised to return. And return they did; last week, the Wide Ruins School Board spend several days lobbying legislators to hear their new bill, SB 1024.
Senator Ken Bennett (R-Prescott), the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, agreed to add the Rural Charter School Transportation bill to Thursday’s committee agenda. All bills must be debated and voted on in one or more legislative committees before the entire house votes on it.
Mr. Yazzie’s hard work paid off; the bill was heard, complete with a slide show showing the roads that the vehicles must travel each day, and prepared by ACIA. However, Sen. Bennett and other legislators spotted problems with SB 1024 in its present form, and the bill was held (not passed to the full Senate), pending work on the wording. Senator Jack Jackson (D-Window Rock) immediately proposed some amendments that may make the bill more palatable to the committee.
Mr. Yazzie has no intention of giving up, though; “I’ll be back,” he vowed.
Next Week: Laraine Lee, Wide Ruins Governing Board President, speaks about road and other conditions in her school; bills under consideration, including more on HB 2296; and more on your legislators.
NOTE: ACIA cannot advocate for or against any bill, but does provide technical assistance to tribal community members wishing to advocate in the Legislature. Call us at (602) 542-3123 for more information.