Ducey Sets March 15 Deadline To Get Students “Back In The Classroom”

Ducey Sets March 15 Deadline To Get Students “Back In The Classroom”

By Lori Hunnicutt |

On Wednesday, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey issued an executive order returning schools to in-person, teacher-led instruction.

The governor said his team, relying on the metrics developed by the CDC, have determined that 12 of Arizona’s 15 counties “are in phases where all schools are safe to open, including in the state’s two largest counties, Maricopa and Pima.”

Ducey’s order requires schools to return to in-person learning by March 15, or after Spring Break.

The order includes an exception for middle and high schools located in counties with “high” transmission of COVID-19, as defined by the CDC ⁠— which currently includes just three Arizona counties: Coconino, Yavapai, and Pinal.

While the governor recognizes the decision may be controversial, he noted in his announcement that the “CDC is clear that there is a safe pathway for all schools to open at any transmission level, and to stay open if they implement proper mitigation strategies. A student may continue participating in virtual instruction if their parent or guardian chooses so.”

Scot Mussi, President of the Free Enterprise Club said that Ducey’s announcement “is a major step in the right direction.”

“Arizona’s children have been out of school for far too long,” said Mussi. “The Club commends Governor Ducey for standing with parents and students and taking action today that follows the science. ”

“Since August of 2020, I have supported schools reopening and remaining open,” said Arizona State Rep. Beverly Pingerelli, who is also a member of the Peoria Unified School District Governing Board. “The scientists were telling us that our younger population was significantly safer than our older populations and we had appropriate precautions in place. And we know students learn best when they’re in a classroom setting. Teachers using sick outs to protest is not acceptable in my view, particularly when they have had priority access to the Covid vaccines and many I’ve spoken to have already been vaccinated.”

Bill To Rename And Clean Up Permanent Early Voting List Heads To House

Bill To Rename And Clean Up Permanent Early Voting List Heads To House

On Tuesday, the Arizona Senate passed SB1485, a bill sponsored by Sen. Ugenti-Rita intended to clean up the permanent early voting list.

SB1485 requires a county recorder to remove a voter from the list, now dubbed the Early Voting List (EVL) and stop sending the voter early ballots if the voter fails to vote by early ballot in both the primary election and the general election for two consecutive primary and general elections in which there was a federal, statewide or legislative race on the ballot.

The bill also requires a county recorder or other officer in charge of elections to notify a voter on the EVL who did not vote an early ballot in both the primary and the general election for the two most recent general elections for federal office by December 1 of each even-numbered year prior to removing that voter from the EVL.

The bill passed along party lines in a vote of 16 – 14.

According to an AP report, approximately 200,000 registered voters currently meet the criteria to be dropped from the list. If the bill passes, they would get a letter asking them whether they want to remain on the permanent early voting list and would be removed if they don’t respond.

Nothing in the bill prevents a voter from being placed back on the list.

Biden Administration Rescinds Approval For Job Creating Resolution Copper Mine

Biden Administration Rescinds Approval For Job Creating Resolution Copper Mine

WASHINGTON – On Monday, the Biden administration rescinded its approval for the proposed Resolution Copper mine, just days before it was to transfer thousands of acres of federal land for the project.

The Department of Agriculture said it ordered the rescission to allow for a “thorough review based on significant input from collaborators, partners and the public” after the January release of a final environmental impact statement on the project.

Gov. Doug Ducey said he was “extremely disappointed” in the reversal.

“Undoing lengthy, comprehensive, and already-completed federal environmental studies on a whim with the changing of federal administrations doesn’t work,” Ducey said. “This type of activity threatens an untold number of major projects in Arizona and around the country.”

The proposed mine was expected to generate up to 1,450 jobs for workers who would receive $149 million in compensation annually. He said it could be worth about $1 billion a year in direct and indirect economic impact for the state.

Under a congressionally approved swap the federal government would have given 2,422 acres of copper-rich land to Resolution Copper in exchange for 5,459 acres of other land in southeast Arizona.

Critics say the deal would have violated the land known as Oak Flat, however as part of the deal, Resolution Copper would have maintained public access to areas within Oak Flat including the campground and recreational trails and climbing, after completion of the land exchange mandated by bipartisan legislation that passed Congress in 2014.

Resolution Copper had planned to work with a local small business part-owned by members of an Arizona Native American Tribe to maintain the campground areas infrastructure and access trails.

“I am very disappointed in the Biden Administration’s decision to halt Arizona’s bipartisan supported Resolution Copper project previously cleared by President Trump. This project would have created nearly 4,000 well-paying jobs and added more than $60 billion in economic value in Arizona,” said Congressman Paul Gosar.

“The project underwent lengthy and comprehensive environmental studies spanning the two previous administrations, yet Mr. Biden once again ignores sound science, wipes out thousands of more jobs and discounts the significance this copper mine is to clean energy, our electrical grid, solar panels, wind turbines and hundreds of other needs,” continued Gosar.

“There is nothing sacred about this property. This is mining land first and foremost. The tribal historian confirmed that in 2011. Additionally, the Forest Service conducted hundreds of consultations with Native American tribes and the town of Superior about how best to proceed,” concluded Gosar.

Out-Of-State PAC Seeks To Influence Arizona Election Laws

Out-Of-State PAC Seeks To Influence Arizona Election Laws

By Terri Jo Neff |

A Denver-based political action committee has poured more than $800,000 into lobbyist efforts to influence legislation involving Arizona’s election laws, and some of their literature has come under challenge as being outdated or misleading.

Unite America’s website proclaims it supports electoral reforms such as nonpartisan ballot initiatives and legislative campaigns which “increase competition, participation, and accountability in the political system.” The group, which utilizes the tagline Country Over Party, also operates Unite Arizona and is registered to conduct lobbying activities in the state.

Since Arizona’s legislative session started on Jan. 11, Unite America – Unite Arizona has taken positions on several election-related bills, including one which the group opposed that seeks to reduce the number of un-utilized ballots being mailed out. The group has also supported a bill that would replace Arizona’s presidential primary process with a complex new format.

Unite America also claims to be focused on “ease of voting through more accessibility” although critics say some of those efforts unnecessarily open the door to more opportunities for election fraud.

In 2019, Unite America Institute rated Arizona with a score of 28 out of 50 for implementing election law changes which adhere to Unite America’s principles. That prompted the group to focus on lobbying to change what it calls “the unjust nature of presidential primary elections [PPE] in the Grand Canyon state.”

The solution, according to Unite Arizona’s website, is to enact complex legislation such as HB2378 to establish Rank Choice Voting (RCV) for use during the PPE.

Under RCV, voters in a presidential primary would rank candidates in order of preference. It can make it easier for more candidates to do well in the early round of a crowded field, but the Unite Arizona website does not address the number of ways RCV is vulnerable to manipulation nor how expensive it would be to overhaul Arizona’s election process.

HB2378 was opposed by the Arizona Association of Counties, which represents those who actually run elections. The bill failed to make it out of committee.

One bill Unite America – Unite Arizona is fighting is SB1069 (now active as SB1485) which if enacted would remove around 200,000 of the state’s 3.2 million voters currently on the Permanent Early Voter List (PEVL).

That figure of how many voters may be impacted was provided to legislators by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat. But anyone reading Unite Arizona’s website would believe the legislation calls for “massive changes to PEVL that would disenfranchise millions of voters.”

However, the legislation introduced by Republican Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita would only require a county to drop a voter from PEVL, or what becomes EVL, if the voter fails to utilize their early ballot in both the primary and general election in each of the last two election cycles.

Voters would also be sent a notice about their lack of us of PEVL before removal, and despite suggestions to the contrary, the bill does not effect a voter’s actual registration file.

But Unite Arizona contends legislation like SB1069-turned-SB1485 would “be detrimental to Arizonans’ ability to fairly vote in elections” and would “create obstacles that would increase the difficulty of voting by mail.”

In addition to misleading statements about the legislation, some voters and legislators point to outdated information on the Unite Arizona website that does not reflect amendments to the legislation, thus giving an incomplete and inaccurate view of the Ugenti-Rita’s bill.

Mesa City Council Set To Vote On Gender Identity Ordinance

Mesa City Council Set To Vote On Gender Identity Ordinance

By B. Hernandez |

On Monday, March 1, the Mesa City Council will consider a new ordinance to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the protected classes in the city’s nondiscrimination laws. While the new rules are welcome by city leaders and residents, how they will be implemented has raised concerns.

The “nondiscrimination laws” which are meant to be a shield to protect people from unjust discrimination have raised concerns for parents of young children and individuals with closely held religious beliefs.

For young parents, the prospect of allowing children to use bathroom facilities with people who identify as sharing the same gender but are of the opposite sex has raised both safety and privacy concerns.

For religious advocates, like Cathi Herrod, Director of the Center For Arizona Policy (CAP), the concern is that the “ordinance would be used as a sword against individuals and organizations who have a historic understanding of marriage and gender.”

Supporters say the ordinance would merely replace the city’s existing fair housing code to provide a much broader set of protections, some of which already exist under state and federal law.

In contrast, Herrod’s group claims that the proposal would mean the following:

● Fitness centers, water parks, public swimming pools, and similar facilities would have to allow all men identifying as women access to women’s showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms.

● Women’s domestic violence shelters would be forced to allow a man identifying as a woman to share living quarters, showers, and bathrooms with vulnerable and abused women.

● Sex-specific jobs like an employee at a women’s shelter could not be denied to a man identifying as a woman.

● Faith-based adoption agencies would be forced to choose between placing children in same-sex households against their beliefs or closing down their adoption services.

● Wedding vendors like cake bakers and florists would be forced to choose between their livelihood and their faith.

● A religious bookstore would not be free to require all employees to adhere to their religious beliefs.

Herrod and others say the proposed “ordinance undermines constitutional freedoms of speech and religion, threatens women’s and girls’ privacy, and limits religious organizations that serve communities.”

Bill To Clean Up Early Voting Lists Goes To Senate Floor

Bill To Clean Up Early Voting Lists Goes To Senate Floor

By Terri Jo Neff |

State senators are expected to debate Monday whether to approve a bill that requires Arizona’s 15 county recorders to drop registered voters from the Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL) who do not respond to a drop-notification letter that they have not utilized their mail-in ballots in a four-year period.

Since 2007, registered voters have been allowed to submit a written request to add their name to PEVL, which ensures the voter automatically receives a ballot by mail for each election instead of having to request one every time. More than 3 million voters in Arizona are on PEVL.

State law specifies that a failure to vote by early ballot does not constitute grounds to be removed from PEVL, although there are estimates that more than 100,000 PEVL voters across Arizona have not voted by early ballot in the last four years.

In January, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-LD23) introduced SB1069 which would have required county recorders to remove PEVL voters who do not cast their early ballot for two consecutive primary and general elections for which there was a federal, statewide or legislative race on the ballot.

The intent, according to Ugenti-Rita, is to ensure unwanted ballots are not mailed out, saving counties money and ensuring ballot integrity. PEVL would become EVL if the bill passes.

“There’s a cost associated with sending out ballots to people who aren’t voting by mail,” she said during one a committee meeting last month. “There’s also an integrity component,”

Every time a PEVL voter casts an early ballot in a primary or general election that includes a federal, statewide or legislative race it would restart the voter’s drop-off clock. Being removed from PEVL has no impact on a voter’s registration status.

As a safeguard, Ugenti-Rita’s legislation requires the county recorders or other county elections officials to send a written notification by Dec. 1 of each even-numbered year to any PEVL voter identified as being subject to removal. Such voters who wish to remain on PEVL must then send back a signed notice with their address and date of birth within 30 days.

On Feb. 16, Ugenti-Rita’s bill failed to pass the Senate Committee on Government on a 15-15 vote. Days later the text of SB1069 was swapped into SB1485, another election-related legislation. The full Senate is slated to vote on SB1485 on Monday.

The legislation is supported by the Barry Goldwater Institute for Public Policy Research, but has been opposed by the Stonewall Democrats of Arizona, the Arizona Education Association, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. Another PAC which opposes SB1069-turned-SB1485 is Unite Arizona, a political action committee financed by the Unite America Election Fund based in Denver.

Despite the fact that Arizona has one of the most progressive early voting processes, Unite America/Arizona is fighting an effort to ensure that early ballots get to living residents of the state. The group’s website continues to use the now-challenged claim that election equipment can be hacked in order to sell their voting reform package which includes only mail-in ballot elections.

According TransparencyUSA.org, the Unite American Election Fund gave more than $850,000 in the past year to Unite Arizona. In turn, Unite Arizona gave $505,000 to Our Arizona Values, representing all of the funds received by that group.

Public records show 99 percent of the funds received by Our Arizona Values was paid to Polestar, which spent nearly $240,000 last year in an unsuccessful effort to unseat Sen. Nancy Barto (R-LD15) in the Republican primary. Barto is seen as strong voice on the Senate Judiciary Committee and has introduced bills this session aimed at election integrity issues.

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As sponsor of the bill, Ugenti-Rita has spent a lot of time responding to attacks by legislators who contend dropping voters from PEVL interferes with voting rights. She said during last week’s Senate Rules Committee meeting that she was offended by how some opponents appeared to be “purposefully mischaracterizing” the bill in an attempt “to demonize it” with voters.

“If you want to oppose the bill because there’s an actual provision in there that you don’t like, I mean, I get it,” she said last week. “But attacking voting rights? This is a voluntary list that we’re taking about. There is no right to be on PEVL.”

Ugenti-Rita added that suggestions by some legislators that the bill attacks individuals’ rights to vote or that it could prohibit someone from voting “is very dangerous rhetoric in a time when inflammatory, incendiary language should not be utilized especially when we are discussing relevant policy.”

The now-SB1485 is quite different from a PEVL bill introduced this session by Rep. Kevin Payne (R-LD21) who sought to do away with PEVL completely, even though in some counties more than 80 percent of all ballots cast in the 2020 General Election came in via mail or were dropped off early.

Meanwhile, election-related Senate Bill 1025 introduced by Sen. Kelly Townsend (R-LD16) passed the Senate on a 16 to 14 vote last week and is awaiting a First Read in the House.

SB1025 had been expected to receive greater bi-partisan support as it was intended to ensure voters understood what it meant if a machine reader alerted to an overvote situation. The bill requires election officials or polling station judges to know what an overvote (or undervote) warning means so they can explain it to in-person voters who might be faced with such a warning.