Republicans Leading Historic Effort To Raise Teachers’ Salaries

Republicans Leading Historic Effort To Raise Teachers’ Salaries

By Daniel Stefanski |

Republicans are leading a historic effort to raise teachers’ salaries, while most Democrats are resisting the current approach in the Arizona State Legislature.

On Monday, the Arizona House moved HB 2800, sponsored by freshman Representative Matt Gress, closer to a final vote in the chamber, amending it in the Committee of the Whole session. This bill “mandates each school district and charter school increase the base salary of all eligible teachers as prescribed.” It also “creates the Pay Teachers First Fund and appropriates a total of $1,100,000,000 in FYs 2024 and 2025 to the Fund for required teacher salary increases.”

According to figures provided by House Republicans, HB 2800 would give Arizona teachers the fourth highest ($50,554) starting salaries in the nation, compared to a current ranking of 27th ($40,554).

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne previously announced his strong support of this bill and appeared at a press conference at the state capitol last week with Gress and other lawmakers to tout the legislation’s movement through the House.

When asked by AZ Free News about why he supported HB 2800, Superintendent Horne replied: “I support HB 2800 because no school is better than the quality of the teachers in the classroom. Our surrounding states pay more so we lose good teachers to them, and we can no longer afford to do that.”

Representative Gress thanked Superintendent Horne for his support of the bill, writing, “Thanks @RealTomHorne for your advocacy on #HB2800. Raising teacher pay is key to recruiting and retaining excellent talent. We will not be deterred by the unions who are actively pressuring House Democrats to kill a $10,000 pay raise for teachers.”

Gress submitted a floor amendment to his bill Monday, which passed. The changes, in part, “removes the stipulation that an eligible school may receive the prescribed per teacher base salary increases from the Pay Teachers First Fund only for the lesser of the number of eligible teachers that a) are employed by the school; or b) would be employed by the school if the school had 15 students per eligible teacher.” It also tweaked elements of the proposed school online transparency portal, school districts facilities master plans, and appropriations.

Though both Republicans and Democrats campaign on adequately funding public education in Arizona, Representative Gress’s proposal has met with fierce resistance from many Democrats and school & teacher organizations around the state. Five Democrats voted against the bill in the House Appropriations Committee, and representatives from the AZ School Administrators Association, AZ Education Association, Save Our Schools Arizona, and AZ School Boards Association have registered their opposition.

In the lead-up to Monday’s deliberations, the House Democrat Caucus ardently campaigned against HB 2800, calling it a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and “deeply flawed.”

Should the bill pass the House, it will soon head to the Arizona Senate for consideration and a potential vote in that chamber in the near future. If it clears the Senate, Democrat Governor Katie Hobbs will be forced to decide between giving teachers a $10,000 raise or denying them this much-needed increase.

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

Election Transparency Bill Has Bipartisan Support

Election Transparency Bill Has Bipartisan Support

By Daniel Stefanski |

An Arizona legislative proposal to increase transparency into state elections is slowly making progress through the Senate, and it appears to have some bipartisan support.

SB 1324, sponsored by Senator Ken Bennett, “requires a county recorder to publish a list of eligible voters, with outlined information, on the county recorder’s website 10 days before a primary and general election,” and it “requires the Secretary of State to digitally publish a list of all persons who voted in an election, all ballot images and a sortable cast vote record” – according to the purpose provided by the Arizona Senate.

In defense of his bill after shepherding it through the Committee of the Whole session, Senator Bennett said, “The answer to confidence in our elections is transparency. As leaders of this state, we should not fear transparency. Candidates, whether they’re winners or losers, should not fear transparency. County and state election officials should not fear transparency. If things were done right in the election, there’s no need to fear that detailed information being released so people can verify.”

During the Committee of the Whole session, three amendments were added to the bill – two from the bill sponsor and one from Democrat Senator Christine Marsh. Bennett alluded to Democrat Secretary of State (SOS) Adrian Fontes supporting his second amendment, which would prohibit “the SOS, county recorder and other county officer in charge of elections from altering or adding any voter data as part of any security measure in implementing the requirements relating to voter lists and ballot images.”

The multifaceted Marsh amendment “requires the SOS to establish and administer an electronic portal to receive requests for access to the ballot image materials”; “requires, for a person requesting access to the materials, the SOS to require the person’s contact information and a declaration signed by the person stating that the person will not use the material for a commercial purpose as prescribed by statute, alter the images or information, or use the information or images for voter intimidation”; and “classifies, as a class 5 felony, the act of using any portion of a voter list or ballot image for a commercial purpose or intentionally altering any information of images of the voter lists, ballot images or cast vote record.”

Marsh was asked if she would support SB 1324 after her amendment was adopted and told her Republican colleagues that she was still a no on the bill.

Bennett explained that his bill is about “four pieces of data: before the election, release the list of people eligible to vote in the election; after the election and canvass, release the list of who voted in the election; the ballot images – there should be one ballot image for everyone on the who-voted-list; the cast-vote record, which is a spreadsheet with the votes of individual anonymous ballots.” He engaged several questions and answers from his Democrat colleagues during the Committee of the Whole session.

In February, the Senate Elections Committee, chaired by Senator Wendy Rogers, approved the legislation with a party-line 5-3 vote.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican, announced his support for SB 1324 back in February after it passed through the Senate Elections Committee. Richer stated, “Elections work when there is openness and transparency. SB 1324 does that by creating a system where each county recorder can inform voters before and after every election about who is eligible to vote while protecting voter confidentiality. All three – the list of eligible voters, the list of who voted, and the cast vote record – will be available to anyone who wants them. SB 1324 and Speaker Ben Toma’s legislation, HB 2560, contain similar language and will further strengthen our elections by enshrining the kind of transparency that can build public trust in our elections.”

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

Carter Bill Would Curb ADOT Messaging On Roadways

Carter Bill Would Curb ADOT Messaging On Roadways

By Daniel Stefanski |

A bill to limit a certain government agency’s arsenal of communications is advancing through the Arizona Legislature, though it became a tough sell for Democrats on the House floor after earlier bipartisan votes in committees.

HB 2586, sponsored by Representative Neal Carter, “restricts the Arizona Department of Transportation’s (ADOT) dynamic message signs (DMSs) to display only messages that are directly related to transportation or highway public safety and outlines exceptions,” according to the purpose provided by the State Senate.

During his testimony to the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, the bill sponsor, Representative Carter, explained that “this bill is the law in other states.” His reasons for introducing the bill were that some of the ADOT freeway signs are a “little bit distracting” because there are messages that may not be related to transportation and otherwise inappropriate to share with commuters; and that there was good cause to worry “about government effectively using it as an advertisement for other things.” He told the committee that this would be worrying “because the people making those decisions should be elected people,” and it would be a “slippery slope” to have bureaucrats at ADOT deciding what to market or message.

When questioned about the legislation by the committee chairman, Representative David Cook, Carter clarified that it would not be the intent of HB 2586 to “specify how to make the messaging” – for example, limiting the creativity of the content as long as it was directly related to transportation. Representative Carter’s chief concern was signs that aren’t communicating directly about transportation – like “No Burn Days.”

Chairman Cook and Carter both agreed that ADOT messaging about vaccines would be a good example of what should not be included on the signs for passersby.

Representative Carter amended his bill to allow “the Arizona Department of Transportation to display reminders to vote on dynamic message signs.”

The bill passed out of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee with a 7-4 vote, with one member absent from the final deliberation. One Democrat voted in support. The Rules Committee unanimously approved the legislation with an 8-0 tally.

On the House floor, Democrat Representative Cesar Aguilar highlighted his opposition to the bill, arguing that the policy “would impact Arizona’s culture of signs we see on the road,” noting his perception that the ADOT “Don’t Drink and Drive” signs would be banned should this legislation be signed into law. Carter rejected that assertion, saying that the aforementioned signs were transportation-related and would not be subjected to the updated regulations of his bill. Carter also touted the bipartisan support for the bill during the committee process. Unlike in committees, though, HB 2586 did not receive any support from Democrats on the House floor, passing 31-28 – with one Democrat member not voting.

HB 2586 was transmitted to the Senate and was approved by the Transportation and Technology Committee earlier this month with a party-line 4-3 vote. It awaits further action from that legislative body.

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

Bill Would Expand Arizona’s Cottage Food Program

Bill Would Expand Arizona’s Cottage Food Program

By Daniel Stefanski |

A bill to expand Arizona’s Cottage Food Program is picking up steam and attracting significant bipartisan support in the state legislature.

HB 2509, sponsored by Representative Travis Grantham, deals with the sale and food preparation of cottage food. The purpose of the legislation provided by the Arizona Senate is to add “to the cottage food products exemption, food products that are potentially hazardous or require time or temperature control for safety to the extent allowed by federal law.” It also “prescribes sale and delivery requirements for cottage food products.”

The Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS) oversees the program. Its website states that this program “allows individuals to make homemade products that are neither potentially hazardous nor Time or Temperature Control for Safety Foods, and offer them for commercial sale.” According to AZDHS, “the Arizona State Legislature changed the law in 2011 to allow residents to produce non-potentially hazardous baked and confectionery products in their homes and offer them for commercial sale within the state. The law was amended in 2018.”

When asked for a comment by AZ Free News on why he introduced this bill and why its passage would be important for Arizonans, Representative Grantham replied, “This bill expands an existing program that has been in place since 2010. The current program would stay exactly the same, except for the expansion that we are seeking, which simply allows more food to be sold. This bill is important because: It allows home food producers (cottage food) to earn additional income in the way that best suits their needs, while keeping current health and safety mechanisms on the books; Cottage Food Producers tend to be lower-income earners using this as supplemental income, doing it as a hobby, or entrepreneurs starting their businesses before moving to a larger operation that better suits their needs.”

Grantham added “this bill does not affect home-based business regulations and all zoning requirements must still be followed.” He shared that “currently if you would like to sell homemade foods in Arizona, you have extremely limited options. You have to ensure that you are abiding by the Food Code, which ends up being very confusing for home practitioners and you can only sell things that are ‘shelf-stable.’”

In a House Regulatory Affairs Committee hearing earlier this year, Representative Kevin Payne commented in support of Grantham’s bill, saying, “people who make these cottage foods are abundantly aware of their reputation and the last thing they want to get is a bad one. They don’t want to be making food that’s poisoning people and then that gets out; they’ll be out of business in a heartbeat. So I have a lot less fear about these people making people sick than I do about actual restaurants.”

In February, HB 2509 passed the House Regulatory Committee (7-0) and the House Rules Committee (8-0). It later cleared the House chamber with a broad, bipartisan vote of 52-8. After its transmission to the Senate, it was approved by the Commerce Committee with a 6-1 vote, though it was amended.

Representatives from the Arizona Restaurant Association and the Chandler Chamber of Commerce have signaled opposition to the bill. The Arizona Department of Health Services and the County Supervisors Association of Arizona are maintaining a neutral position.

Representative Grantham is hopeful that this legislation will pass the House and be signed into law. He told AZ Free News that he believes “in the right for business owners to pursue their passions without government standing in the way, while providing consumers with the information they need to decide what is best for them.”

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

Bill Eliminating Food Tax Sent To Hobbs

Bill Eliminating Food Tax Sent To Hobbs

By Daniel Stefanski |

Arizona Republicans continue to advance solutions to improve the financial situations of their constituents, and Democrat Governor Katie Hobbs will soon be faced with a decision on enshrining that relief into law.

This week, the Arizona House passed SB 1063, sponsored by Senator Sonny Borrelli in the Senate and Representative Leo Biasiucci in the House, which would repeal the food municipal tax across the state. The 31-29 vote to clear the bill from the Senate chamber featured another party-line standoff between Republicans and Democrats, as it did earlier in the year when the Senate voted on this legislation.

The bill sponsor in the House, Majority Leader Biasiucci, celebrated the passage of his legislation after votes had been cast, saying, “Removing the grocery tax would save hundreds of dollars per family. All the Democrats voted NO because they stated saving a family pennies would mean nothing. Proud to stand with my Republicans to remove the tax on groceries.”

In the aftermath of the bill’s successful outcome, the Arizona House Republican Majority Caucus wrote, “House Dems voted against eliminating the tax on your groceries, saying it cuts $160 million to cities. The truth is cities will gain $700 million in shared income taxes alone from last year to next year. It’s not about the $ or public safety; they’ve prioritized city bureaucracy over Arizona families who are struggling in this time of record inflation.”

After the Senate passed this legislation in late February, President Warren Petersen gave an exclusive quote to AZ Free News on why it was so important for legislators to take this action on behalf of their constituents: “Over the past year, prices have skyrocketed between 15% And 45% on basic grocery items like eggs, butter, lettuce, coffee, bread and poultry. Senate Republicans believe that everyday necessities should not be taxed, especially when inflation is at historic levels and our Arizona citizens are struggling to make ends meet. This bill provides broad-based relief to those who need it most and can save families hundreds of dollars annually. We’re happy this bill passed the Senate, but we’re disappointed that all Senate Democrats continue to play political games with lives and livelihoods of our taxpayers by voting against the measure.”

When asked by AZ Free News on why he supported the bill, Senate President Pro Tempore T.J. Shope replied, “As a former grocer, the tax on food has always troubled me. I can’t count the amount of times I had people ask me to place a necessary item back on the shelf because they were just a dollar or two short. We provided much-needed relief to people, and I was proud to vote yes.”

Though there has been much pushback against this bill from Arizona cities and towns, at least one municipal councilmember, Jack Hastings from Surprise, appears to be in support of this proposal.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimated that SB 1063 “would reduce municipal transaction privilege tax by up to $195.6 million in fiscal year 2026. Many Arizona cities and towns opposed this legislation. The League of Arizona Cities and Towns listed the preservation of food taxes as one of its legislative priorities “to ensure that municipalities may continue to provide vital services to their population, now and in the future.”

SB 1063 will soon be transmitted to Governor Katie Hobbs, who has already made quite the hobby of vetoing reasonable Republican initiatives sent to her office on the Ninth Floor of the Arizona Executive Tower. Her previous words, however, are already being used to hold her accountable – even before the legislation reaches her desk. An Arizona-based researcher tweeted a reminder of a months-old Hobbs’ statement to a local media outlet on this issue, where she stated that she was “not going to say no to anything if there’s a way to provide relief for Arizonans.”

The governor will have the opportunity to put those words into action in the very near future.

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.