A transgender woman testifed to the Arizona House Education Committee that he opposed a bill to expand parental rights, HB2161. The Arizona Daily Independent identified the individual as Liberty Elementary School District Governing Board Member Paul Bixler. The bill that Bixler opposed would prohibit government employees from withholding information from parents concerning their children, or interfering in any capacity unless there’s a compelling interest. The bill also included provisions specific to schools, such as prohibiting school districts or their employees from withholding information from parents related to purported gender identity or requested gender transitions. It also required schools to obtain written informed consent from parents prior to administering any survey soliciting personal information, as well as share a copy of the survey in question seven days prior to administering it. Violations of the bill could result in disciplinary action to the offending employee, a $500 fine for school districts, and lawsuits against the governmental entity or official from the parents.
During Monday’s House Education Committee hearing, Bixler asserted that the legislation would cause harm to befall teens: drug use, depression, dropping out of school, homelessness, depression, and even suicide. Bixler contended that the protections for parents already exist in legislation and no additional ones are necessary.
Bixler also recalled his personal experience with attempting to transition his gender, referencing the difficulty of it. He insinuated that the legislators were handling the topic of transgenderism lightly by approving the bill. Bixler asserted that the bill would put health care practitioners at “personal physical risk” while eliminating much-needed help for children.
“When you threaten a child’s disclosure with exposure, those children will continue to question but will not seek the highly qualified individuals that could assist them. Threatening dedicated, trained caregivers with litigation also threatens the welfare of the children within that same population,” stated Bixler. “By pursuing this legislation, you risk the life that already is fragile of these children. If you pursue this, expect a rise of teen and pretend drug use, drop-out[s], depression, homelessness, and suicide. How do we know this? We know this because we see it over and over and over again. When you marginalize this student population and force them to go into hiding, they won’t stop questioning. They simply will not receive the help that they need. But I believe there’s a bigger question here. This is not only personal proposed legislation targeted on a specific membership within Arizona’s community. It does not appear coincidental that so much proposed legislation is focused on transgender members of Arizona. I have one question for you: what are you afraid of?”
Bixler was elected to his school district in 2020, and will serve until 2024. According to his governing board member profile, Bixler would describe his educational philosophy as “free appropriate education.”
“Sound familiar? I hope so. The words free and appropriate are a promise. A promise rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment and guaranteed in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. All this promise asks is to attend. I believe that this is every child’s constitutional, more importantly, human right. I believe in public education,” stated Bixler. “I am a fiscal realist. This belief is honed from more than 30 years of public school experience. As a 20-year public school administrator, I have served as both member and leader of teams that made tough implementation decisions. I would now like to work cooperatively to make tough policy decisions.”
On another profile, this time with Arizona List, a pro-choice Democratic women’s commitee, Bixler revealed that he spent four years in the Navy and Marine Corps after two years at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in the late 1960s. After that, Bixler received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Arizona State University (ASU), then spent over 30 years in public schools as a teacher, guidance counselor, coach, and administrator. Bixler revealed that he’s married to a woman.
According to Arizona List, Bixler qualified as the first transgender woman to be elected in Arizona. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona (PPAA) endorsed Bixler in his campaign.
Arizona ranked fourth in the nation for job recovery according to the latest report from the Department of Labor’s (DOL) statistics department. The state had 331,500 jobs lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but 345,900 jobs recovered through last December — an addition of 14,400 jobs, or over 104 percent.
Utah, Idaho, and Texas, in that order, outranked Arizona for job recovery. All three surpassed 100 percent job recovery, while the remainder of the states in the top 20 fell anywhere between 99 and 81 percent recovery.
16 out of the top 20 states in job recovery have Republican governors, as pointed out by the Republican National Committee (RNC) research team. The four states with Democratic governors to rank within the top 20 were North Carolina at 10th place, Colorado at 13th place, Washington at 16th place, and Kentucky at 20th place. However, both North Carolina and Kentucky have a Republican majority in their state legislatures.
According to DOL mapping on their report, states with the highest unemployment rates as of last December were California, Nevada, New York, and New Jersey.
In a press release, RNC spokesperson Ben Peterson asserted that Republican policies were stronger enough to offset the negative impacts of the supply chain crisis, inflation, and overall economic downturn prolonged or ushered in by the Biden Administration’s policies.
“Arizona is a beacon of Republican leadership that has delivered a strong economic recovery in spite of significant headwinds like crushing Bidenflation and the supply chain crisis,” said Peterson. “While Democrat-run states try to shut down free enterprise, Republican-led states like Arizona are building strong economies and helping everyday people to get ahead.”
Reuters reported last week on DOL numbers reflecting the third straight week of an increase in unemployment claims. The Census Bureau reported that 8.8 million people reported not going to work between December 29 and January 10 due to COVID-19, likely related to the omicron surge.
In its press release, the DOL said that 48 states reported a decrease in jobless rates from the previous year, 42 states reduced their unemployment rates in December, and eight states maintained stable job rates in December.
Last week, Governor Doug Ducey’s office announced that the state had added over 400,000 new jobs since 2015 and attained the lowest unemployment rate since 2007 despite two years of a pandemic: 4.1 percent.
Ducey indicated last December that Arizona would boast one of the highest rankings in job recovery nationwide based on state reports. The Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) at the time reported that the state had recovered 101 percent of jobs lost during the pandemic, compared to the nation’s 83 percent recovery at the time.
The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) struck down rule changes advancing renewable energy usage that would’ve increased the cost to taxpayers. The energy mandates would have required energy utilities to rely more on renewable energies following a certain timeline, which would have increased the revenue requirements of Arizona Public Service Company (APS) by nearly $4 billion and Tucson Electric Power (TEP) by nearly $1.13 billion — costs which taxpayers would’ve borne, as high as 43 to 58 percent more monthly.
These were energy mandates similar to those rejected by voters in the failed Proposition 127 of 2018, which would have required electric utility companies to acquire a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable resources each year, from 12 percent in 2020 to 50 percent in 2030. About 68 percent of voters rejected Proposition 127.
Chairwoman Lea Márquez Peterson joined commissioners Jim O’Connor and Justin Olson in their “no” votes against the rule changes. Commissioners Anna Tovar and Sandra Kennedy voted for the rules.
APS, TEP, and the Grand Canyon State Electric Cooperative Association (GCSECA) all expressed support for the rule changes.
O’Connor said that the utilities are “serious and sincere” with their clean energy efforts. He said that the utilities don’t need rules from the state, especially since they will pose risks to ratepayers.
“The proposed energy rules represent a multi-year, good-faith effort by a great many. During this long process and after years of opposition, our state’s major electric utilities have embraced clean energy and our proposed rules. I was surprised and I made it the focus of my efforts to understand that turnaround,” said O’Connor. “I have concluded its best for the utilities to remain in charge of their resource plans just as they have in the past and it is better for the commission to continue to rely on its prudent standard for holding utilities accountable for the resource decisions and their costs.”
Tovar said the commissioners should be ashamed that they wasted years of staff and commission work from “getting in the way of what is right.” Tovar called out two of the commissioners, O’Connor and Peterson, for “flip-flopping” on their stance concerning the rules. She lamented that commissioners weren’t willing to compromise, like she claimed she had, for the greater good: economic growth, health, and environmentalism through these rule changes. Tovar added that the rule changes had diverse, bipartisan support statewide.
“What this tells me is that these rules are failing because of politics. And basing our votes on politics is a dangerous game, and it is a dangerous game to play with something so important to Airzona’s future. Ensuring clean energy in Arizona is our future, and it’s one of the top priorities I had even before running for this commission. When I took office, I wanted to change the rules. Make them more aggressive. Get us to a clean future, sooner. But I looked at the fads and I knew there was much work to be done on them,” said Tovar. “Let me be clear: this isn’t the Green New Deal. This is Arizona’s clean energy package and [I am] very proud of the work that has been accomplished thus far.”
Olson expressed confidence that renewable energy was still attainable without costing customers more. He also mentioned how he attempted to compromise by introducing amendments that would help reduce the cost to taxpayers with passage of the energy rules. Olson indicated that Tovar’s characterization of commissioners switching votes was unfair because their change reflected new information that came to light.
“We as a commission should have a very clear policy that tells our utilities that they should invest in the technologies that are the most cost-effective method of meeting the energy demands of our customers. And what we have before us in these energy rules is not that,” said Olson. “That is the appropriate demand. That is what the constitution requires of us to expect of our utilities, and that is what we should continue to pursue. That does not prohibit us and our utilities from increasing the amount of renewable energy resources that our utilities use to provide the energy for their customers. In fact, it creates a win-win scenario where our utilities will be investing in the renewable energy projects that are the most cost-effective. We can benefit rate bearers and adopt these technologies at the same time. That’s the approach we should take.”
Kennedy said that clean energy was cost-effective with modern technology. She asserted that it wasn’t possible to determine future outcomes based on present actions.
Márquez Peterson said she supported clean energy by 2050, but an equal priority for her was affordability for consumers. Márquez Peterson expressed confidence that utilities had turned a corner and were willing to adopt clean energy of their own volition.
“It took years to get actual cost data that consumers have been asking for,” said Márquez Peterson. “I believe utilities should be justly and reasonably rewarded when they make prudent and proactive investments in the next generation of clean and renewable energy resources, so long as they don’t jeopardize the safety and reliability of the grid or the affordability of rates.”
In a statement to AZ Free News, Justin Olson asserted that the commission’s vote respected the will of voters.
“First of all this is a tremendous victory for ratepayers. I fought to enact policies to make rates as affordable as possible. Many times I was a lone voice crying at the wilderness — I was the only vote against these mandates,” said Olson. “This was the commission telling the utilities that they must invest in technologies that are the most cost-effective method of generating energy.”
The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) announced Tuesday that they gave equipment seized in an illegal marijuana growing operation to a local high school for their agriculture classes. The seizure occurred in 2017, approximately three years before marijuana legalization in the state.
“Back in 2017, PCSO seized these lights and other hydroponic equipment as evidence in an illegal marijuana grow operation bust outside of Maricopa,” wrote PCSO. “We recently donated it all to a nearby high school so it can have a second (legal) life teaching agriculture students.”
In November 2020, Arizona legalized recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over through the voter initiative Proposition 207, the “Smart and Safe Arizona Act.” Voters approved the measure by 60 percent of the vote. Additionally, Proposition 207 allowed individuals to petition courts to seal their marijuana-related criminal records dated before November 30, 2020. Applicable records included possession, consumption, or transportation of 2.5 ounces or less of marijuana or 12.5 grams of marijuana concentrate; possession, transportation, cultivation, or processing up to six marijuana plants at a primary residence for personal use; and possession, use, or transportation of paraphernalia related to cultivating, manufacturing, processing, or consuming marijuana.
Prior to the passage of Proposition 207, several similar proposals failed when brought to the ballot: Proposition 203 in 2002 and Proposition 205 in 2016. Advancements in marijuana legalization occurred in 1996 with the legalization of medically-prescribed marijuana in Proposition 200, and an expansion of that through the passage of Proposition 203 in 2010.
As AZ Free News reported, health officials mentioned during Monday’s House Health Committee hearing how recreational marijuana has shadowed fentanyl overdoses and deaths — especially in rising pediatric cases.
In response to the House Education Committee hearing on a bill to enhance parental rights, State Representative Daniel Hernandez (D-Tucson) implied that the fault lied with parents, not with the schools. He said that the legislature should maintain a limited government approach and not create more burdens for schools.
“We [should] encourage parents to be more involved in their children’s education,” said Hernandez. “The vast majority of parents aren’t as engaged as they should be.”
The bill in question, HB2161, was introduced by State Representative Steve Kaiser (R-Phoenix). It would prohibit any employee of the state or its political subdivisions, entities, or institutions from: withholding information from parents related to their child’s physical, emotional, or mental health; interfering in parents’ control over their child’s upbringing, education, health care, and mental health; denying or inhibiting parents’ rights to access any of their child’s written or electronic medical records, attendance scores, test scores, grades, extracurricular activities, club participation, disciplinary or psychological records, admission applications, health and immunization information, teacher and counselor evaluations and behavioral pattern reports, email accounts, and online or virtual accounts and data. Government entities or officials may only invoke control over a child’s upbringing, education, health care, and mental health if there’s a compelling government interest demonstrated.
The bill also included provisions specific to schools, such as prohibiting school districts or their employees from withholding information from parents related to purported gender identity or requested gender transitions. It also required schools to obtain written informed consent from parents prior to administering any survey soliciting personal information, as well as share a copy of the survey in question seven days prior to administering it.
Violations of the bill could result in disciplinary action to the offending employee, a $500 fine for school districts, and lawsuits against the governmental entity or official from the parents.
The bill passed the House Education Committee by a bare majority, 6-5.
State Representatives Walt Blackman (R-Snowflake), Lupe Diaz (R-Hereford), John Fillmore (R-Apache Junction), Quang Nguyen (R-Prescott), Michelle Udall (R-Mesa), and Beverly Pingerelli (R-Peoria) voted for the bill. Those who voted against the bill were State Representatives Daniel Hernandez Jr. (D-Tucson), Joel John (R-Arlington), Judy Schweibert (D-Phoenix), Myron Tsosie (D-Chinle), and Jennifer Pawlik (D-Chandler).
During conversations of the bill, several school-related issues reported by AZ Free News were brought up: the encouragement of students to identify their given names as deadnames and instead identify by their preferred names on identification, the formation of K-12 LGBTQ clubs through an organization called GLSEN whose content focuses on the sexualization of children, the pornographic and explicit book assigned even after promised revocation at Horizon High School, and surveys that encourage students to disclose private information about their home life.
Kaiser said he would “absolutely” consider increasing the penalty to schools from $500, which Fillmore said might be too low because that amount was paltry for school districts.
Schwiebert expressed concern that forced exposure of private, more emotional conversations between a teacher and student would result in hardships for the student. Kaiser asserted that it wasn’t the teacher’s role to serve as a support system. He said he hoped he’d get a call from a teacher if his child was struggling with something, and would be horrified if they didn’t because it’s not their job.
“Their job is to teach my son reading, writing and math, their job is not to console my son. Their job is to let me know,” said Kaiser.
John then asked if there was any time where a student could tell a teacher something in confidence that wouldn’t be shared with parents, exempting information involving something illegal. Kaiser said no.
In response, Udall shared that she had several teenage students in the past approach her about their underage pregnancies. Kaiser said that he didn’t have an answer for that specific situation; Udall advised that Kaiser should consider situations which would allow teachers to leave it to the children to tell their parents.
Fillmore chimed in to ask Udall if there wasn’t a duty to report teenage pregnancies; Udall didn’t have an exact answer, saying that she believed that only incidents related to abuse were those teachers were required to report.
Community members who spoke in opposition of the bill said that it violated the rights of youth, mainly an alleged right to privacy. One example came from ACLU of Arizona spokesman Jeff Esposito who said that the bill was unnecessary at best and dangerous at worst. Nguyen retorted that Esposito and his ilk were driving a wedge between parents and their children by allowing educators to decide what information parents may know.
“You’re, in a way, making a decision for me [as a parent],” said Nguyen.
Fillmore then asked Esposito if his only contention with the bill was the outing of a child’s sexuality. Esposito said no, but then repeated that sexuality and its impact on mental health were of paramount concern.
“What I’m saying is a student may make a choice to reveal private information to a trusted adult and then that trusted adult may make that choice to reveal that information to parents,” said Esposito. “But to jump that line and make that information known to parents before the student is ready […] sometimes those students need a trusted adult to go to and their rights to privacy should be respected.”
Fillmore challenged the notion that children had authority to do what they’d like that suits them best without parental knowledge or oversight.
In closing remarks, Blackman said that schools have no right to subvert parents’ wills or act as a parent would in certain situations. He criticized the implication that preventing government employees from serving as middlemen between parents and children would result in children facing hardships such as homelessness and drug addiction.
“When she’s going to bed at night, she’s going to my house. Not at the counselors’ house and not at the teachers house,” asserted Blackman. “Schools are trying to get in the middle where the parents should be to comfort that child, to teach that child. And all I hear is, ‘the parent has no rights.’ If the parent has no rights for those medical records, is the school going to pay that medical bill? You’re not going to do that. As a parent I have a right to know every single thing that’s going on with my child.”
Diaz added that parents are divinely ordained by God to care for their children — not schools. Diaz said he discerned from parent testimonies that a variety of God-given rights were violated by schools, including the First and Fourth Amendments.
“God created the parents to be the responsible entity for the children,” said Diaz. “Our man’s laws should be a reflection of divine law. Every parent is going to stand before God and answer for their children. And I respect you parents who have come here and have stood for your own parental rights and for your children.”