Hernandez’s Targeted Tax Exemption Has Attracted Bipartisan Support

Hernandez’s Targeted Tax Exemption Has Attracted Bipartisan Support

By Daniel Stefanski |

Democrat Governor Katie Hobbs hasn’t been willing to compromise on Republicans’ proposals for economic relief for Arizonans, but her one idea for a targeted tax exemption has attracted bipartisan support as it moves through the legislative process.

HB 2401, sponsored by Democrat Alma Hernandez, “exempts feminine hygiene products and diapers from transaction privilege tax and use tax,” according to the overview provided by the Arizona House of Representatives. Republican Representatives David Cook and Steve Montenegro are two of the five co-sponsors on the bill.

Representative Hernandez’s bill has sailed through House committees, passing the Appropriations Committee with a 12-0 vote (with two members voting “present” and one absent) and the Rules Committee with a unanimous 8-0 tally.

Earlier in February, Hernandez explained her introduction and support of this policy, saying, “This would bring meaningful savings for families across AZ who are in need. I am hopeful that this year we will finally get it across the finish line and on @katiehobbs desk.”

Certain Arizona interest groups applauded the passage of this bill from committees, which placed it closer to a vote on the House floor. Arizona List tweeted, “Thank you Rep. @almaforarizona for introducing HB2401, which would eliminate tax on diapers and feminine hygiene products to make them affordable and accessible to all Arizonans. Congrats on its passing and thank you for your leadership on this hygiene equity issue.”

Before being selected as Governor Hobbs’ latest nominee to lead the Department of Child Safety this month, David Lujan took an opposing view to HB 2401, arguing, “Wealthy households do not need a $7 monthly savings on the sales tax for diapers. A better approach to this issue is a grant program which would provide free diapers to low-income parents.”

This exemption was one of Governor Hobbs’s first proposals upon taking office on January 2, which she highlighted the following week in her first State of the State address to the Arizona Legislature.

Hobbs later tweeted out, “Arizonans shouldn’t have to choose between paying their bills or getting what they need to be healthy. But with rising costs, everyday items add up. Eliminating the state sales tax on feminine hygiene products is a real step to provide meaningful relief.”

Should this piece of legislation reach the governor’s desk, it would be a lock for a swift signature from Hobbs to enact it into law. However, Arizona legislative leadership could hold the bill in one or both of the chambers to extract concessions from the Governor’s Office on Republicans’ policy demands.

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

Secretary Of State After Latest Homeless Death In The Zone: ‘Not Great,’ ‘Go Buy A Sandwich’

Secretary Of State After Latest Homeless Death In The Zone: ‘Not Great,’ ‘Go Buy A Sandwich’

By Corinne Murdock |

Secretary of State Adrian Fontes weighed in after the latest tragedy to hit The Zone, a dead man burned in a dumpster, by calling the area “not great” and recommending his favorite lunch order from a local sandwich shop. 

“I had lunch at the Old Station today with a couple people from the office. Things are not great nearby, but the restaurant itself was pretty good,” said Fontes. “#6 Double meat. Diet Coke. Chips. Give them some love. Go buy a sandwich!”

The homeless encampment, nicknamed “The Zone,” covers an area spanning several miles in downtown Phoenix that has made headlines nationwide over the past year.

The sandwich shop, Old Station, resides in the heart of The Zone. Fontes retweeted an interview snippet from “The Gaydos and Chad Show” featuring the shop owner, Joe Faillace, discussing the dire state of the community due to the ongoing homeless crisis. Hours before Fontes sent that tweet, and likely around the same time Fontes was eating his sandwich, first responders were handling the latest dead body to be discovered in The Zone — a man thrown into a dumpster and burned. 

The business owner whose property abutted the dumpster, Angie Ojile, told AZ Free News that she doesn’t know why the city or county isn’t taking a different approach with The Zone, considering the daily patterns of crime and death.

“It’s hard to imagine: a man found in this dumpster, burned,” said Ojile. “It’s like — are we invisible? They say they care, but what I see is indifference.”

Where a memorial may have been laid for the life lost, the city brought another dumpster instead. Ojile said that the residents almost mistook it for the same dumpster where the man was found. 

“Instead of any kind of memorial — being that there was a burned body thrown in there — the city’s display of compassion is to replace it with another beat up, burnt-out dumpster with similar graffiti that most swear was the same. I can’t imagine that it was,” said Ojile.

As AZ Free News reported earlier this month, The Zone has become so overridden with crime that residents and business owners say that their calls to police go unanswered or unheeded. The Zone lies only around three blocks from the Phoenix Police Department headquarters: just over half a mile. 

In the last year, there were over 700 homeless deaths in The Zone. One of those deaths was that of a premature baby, approximately 20 to 24 weeks old, whose remains were discovered burned by a dumpster just weeks before Thanksgiving. Several locals told AZ Free News they believed that the dumpster from that tragedy was the same one in which this most recent death occurred. Whether they were the same dumpster is unclear.

“If they put a memorial up for every person that’s died in The Zone, it would look more like a graveyard than an industrial and residential district,” said Ojile.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Bill To Spur Economic Development Meeting Serious Resistance

Bill To Spur Economic Development Meeting Serious Resistance

By Daniel Stefanski |

Another Republican-led proposal to stimulate and incentivize business development in Arizona is moving through the legislature – though it is unsurprisingly meeting serious resistance from the other side of the aisle.

Senator Steve Kaiser sponsored SB 1559, which deals with a reduction in the income tax and fees for new businesses across the state. According to the purpose of the legislation provided by the State Senate, the bill “prescribes a threshold of five percent of state contracts the Arizona Department of Administration (ADOA) is encouraged to award to new businesses each year and exempts a new business and a person who is establishing a new business from filing fees to establish the new business.” It also “establishes an individual and corporate income tax subtraction in prescribed amounts for a new business’s first three years of operation.”

The prescribed amounts for individuals (income received from the new business) and corporations (Arizona gross income) are 100 percent for the first year of operation, 50 percent for the second year, and 25 percent for the third.

Earlier this week, Senator Kaiser’s piece of legislation passed the chamber with a party-line 16-12 vote – with two Democrat Senators not voting (Burch and Gonzales). This action followed two, prior partisan votes in Senate Committees– first in the Finance Committee back in February, where SB 1559 cleared 4-3; and in the Rules Committee, 4-3.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) previously published data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Business Formation Statistics, showing that there were 7,919 business formations in Arizona in 2022. The JLBC also projected that “the number of new businesses will grow to 8,523 in 2023, 9,173 in 2024, 9,872 in 2025, and 17,561 in 2026.”

Earlier in the Senate Finance Committee, Democrat Senator Mitzi Epstein explained why she was voting against the transmission of the bill to the full chamber, saying that though she was a small business owner and understood the need for these businesses to receive help and access to resources, she believed the provisions of this legislation would be “ripe for abuse.” She feared that SB 1559 would “create a whole new industry” of entrepreneurs helping small businesses take advantage of the tax and fee incentives provided by this proposal (if enacted).

In the committee, Senator Kaiser, the bill’s sponsor, touted his previous experience as a business owner and empathized with young business owners (especially those businesses under five years old) trying to keep their operation afloat and financed in the early years. He stated that “we need to really support our young businesses as much as possible. They do produce the most new jobs compared to existing small businesses and large businesses, and whatever we can do to help them survive and thrive is going to be helpful.”

Another Democrat Senator, Brian Fernandez, told the Finance Committee that he was a no, but he possibly could be swayed to flip his position if there were changes to the bill, inferring that his suggested tweaks mirrored the concerns expressed by his colleague, Senator Epstein.

Representatives from the Arizona Firearms Industry Trade Association and North Phoenix Chamber of Commerce supported this legislation through the Senate process, while a representative for the Arizona Center for Economic Progress registered opposition to the bill.

Before the vote on the Senate floor, the Arizona Senate Democrats Caucus tweeted that “SB 1559 is another handout for businesses,” and warned that “a new business income tax subtraction could cost Arizona’s General Fund an estimated $34.3M in FY25, $36.5M in FY26, and $38.9M in FY27.”

SB 1559 now heads to the Arizona House of Representatives for consideration.

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

ESA Program Reaches Milestone With 50,000 Students Enrolled

ESA Program Reaches Milestone With 50,000 Students Enrolled

By Daniel Stefanski |

Arizona’s first-in-the-nation universal school choice program just hit a major milestone, and it is poised for more successes in the months ahead under a Republican’s stewardship.

Last year, the Arizona Legislature expanded the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) program to include all eligible K-12 students in the state. Former Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, a Democrat, was handed the keys to maintain the legislature’s intent for the program. However, Hoffman did not support the universal expansion of ESAs and according to sources, did not take advantage of all available resources afforded to her by the legislature to ensure the program’s positive developments on behalf of students already in – and yet to join – the system.

At the start of this year, new Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne, became one of the few Republican statewide officeholders and assumed control of the ESA program, which is under the umbrella of the Arizona Department of Education. Per reports since the transition of power, his administration inherited significant problems with the program, and his staff has had to work around the clock to catch up with the outstanding issues and requests in addition to nurturing the program’s growth.

Recently, though, under Superintendent Horne’s watchful eyes, the program has seen more stability and success than ever before, culminating with a recent announcement from the office that there are now 50,000 students enrolled in the ESA program.

When asked to respond to the news of this milestone, Superintendent Horne told AZ Free News, “Students should not be trapped in schools that, in their parents’ judgement, do not meet the particular students’ needs. If the schools are afraid of losing students to private or charter schools, they will make a greater effort to please parents with good academic outcomes.”

This news spread quickly around the state and nation – with many advocates and elected officials chiming in to congratulate Arizona and Superintendent Horne.

Congressman Paul Gosar tweeted, “Arizona is leading the country in education reform; 7 of the top 10 charter schools are in AZ and now with ESA, every student has the choice to find the best school he or she wants.”

Steven Utroska, a Mississippi Director for the State Freedom Caucus Network, wrote, “This is amazing. Could you imagine if 50k students in MS could leave failing government schools and actually get a quality education? It would revolutionize our state, but too many MS politicians would rather pander to the system than provide for the student.”

Jason Bedrick, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, responded, “This is why Arizona is #1 for education choice!”

Despite the good news about enrollment numbers with the program, Superintendent Horne and legislative Republicans have their work cut out for them in the months ahead. Democrat Governor Katie Hobbs and legislative Democrats are seeking to defund and undermine the universal ESA program, eliminating school choice for tens of thousands of Arizona students whose families have elected to participate in the historic opportunity to control their children’s education.

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

Bill Prohibiting Election Officials From Forming PACs Still In Play

Bill Prohibiting Election Officials From Forming PACs Still In Play

By Daniel Stefanski |

Legislation to separate election officials from political action committees is working its way through the Arizona Legislature, though receiving mixed signals from Democrats on their support for the proposal.

HB 2378, sponsored by Representative Leo Biasiucci, “prohibits the Secretary of State, a member of a county board of supervisors, a county recorder or any other officer in charge of elections, or their employee, from being a chairperson, treasurer or other member of a political action committee (PAC),” according to the purpose provided by the Arizona Senate.

The bill passed the House Committee on Municipal Oversight & Elections (MOE) back in January, receiving a unanimous and bipartisan vote of 10-0. It later cleared the House Rules Committee with a 5-3 vote. On the House floor, Biasiucci’s legislation gained 49 votes in support, and only 11 votes in opposition.

After HB 2378 made it past the House MOE Committee in January, bill sponsor, Representative Biasiucci, tweeted: “My bill, HB 2378, just passed the House Municipal Oversight and Elections Committee 10-0. Republicans and Democrats agree, you shouldn’t be involved in a PAC if you also oversee any significant aspect of election operations.”

Representative Austin Smith also celebrated the bill’s approval by the House MOE Committee, writing, “An individual who is an elections officer or employee who oversees any significant aspect of election’s operations may not serve on a PAC board.”

Earlier this month, HB 2378 was heard in the Senate Elections Committee and received more opposition from Democrats there than in the House – perhaps predicting a frostier reception to the policy if and when it arrives on the Senate floor for a vote. Democrat Senator Anna Hernandez explained that she believed “this bill is overly broad” when casting her vote against the legislation in committee. Fellow Democrat Senator Juan Mendez complained that HB 2378 was “only a symbolic measure,” and Democrat Senator Priya Sundareshan said that “this seems to be a particular measure to punish a particular someone in an intraparty dispute.”

Senator Sundareshan’s comments were a veiled reference to Republican Maricopa County Recorder, Stephen Richer, who, in late 2021, formed a political action committee named Pro-Democracy Republicans of Arizona. The PAC posts its mission on its website: “The Arizona election wasn’t stolen. We Republicans simply had a presidential candidate who lost, while we had many other candidates who won. It’s time we Republicans accept and acknowledge that fact. Candidates come and go. But our democratic institutions are long-lasting, and peaceful transitions of power are a hallmark of the United States. We should not abandon this history in favor of conspiracy theorists and demagoguery. To that end, we are launching this PAC to support pro-democracy Arizona Republicans. We hope you will join us. We will win some races. We will lose some races. But either way, we will be strengthening the processes that have long undergirded Arizona and the United States.”

Richer’s creation of this PAC, while serving as Maricopa County’s top election official, angered many Republicans during the 2022 election cycle.

Senate Elections Chair, Senator Wendy Rogers, cast her vote in support of the bill, arguing, “If someone is in a position to influence the outcome of an election, thank you Rep Biasiucci for calling out the need to separate that kind of person from a PAC which is brought together to assert influence as well.”

HB 2378 awaits a vote in the Arizona Senate.

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

Grantham Bill Will Help Kids Find Mental Health Resources

Grantham Bill Will Help Kids Find Mental Health Resources

By Daniel Stefanski |

A bill to help Arizona young adults find necessary help is slowly moving through the state legislature, and its sponsor is doing everything he can to push it across the finish line.

HB 2635, sponsored by Representative Travis Grantham, “authorizes a school district governing board to develop or purchase a digital application to assist with threat assessments,” according to the overview provided by the Arizona House. The digital application would allow “students to report safety issues and receive anonymous clinical support that is available at all times,” and provide “resources to students and parents for mental health, bullying and substance misuse issues.”

In an exclusive statement to AZ Free News about why he introduced the bill, Grantham said: “We have a teen mental health problem, a teen suicide problem, and a drug addiction problem amongst our youth. We can’t legislate a good home life or morality but we can try to provide resources and access to resources that can prevent this from taking countless lives.”

In February, HB 2635 passed both the House Education and Rules Committee without a single vote in opposition. House Speaker Ben Toma is the only legislator listed as a co-sponsor.

Yet even with a broad coalition of support through the committee process, there are concerns about this legislation that are slowing its clearance from the full House. Some grassroots groups have registered their concerns about Representative Grantham’s legislation, urging other members to vote against his bill. The Arizona Women of Action wrote, “Contact reps and respectfully demand they vote NO on HB2635. The problem is computer programs trace kids and load info about them without their knowledge. The info can then be synchronized with the child’s phone and computer. Stop data mining and manipulating kids.”

The critique of Grantham’s bill caused him to introduce a floor amendment to his original proposal, changing the focus of the digital application to assistance with “suicide prevention and substance misuse.” The amendment also removed “the requirement that the digital application allow students to report safety issues and receive anonymous clinical support,” and it required “the digital application to provide suicide prevention and substance misuse resources to parents and, subject to parental consent, students.”

Representative Grantham explained that his amendment “put guard rails on the current bill,” and told AZ Free News that “many of his colleagues were concerned that the legislation was too broad and could invite mental health counseling that became even more damaging than the problem itself.” He hopes that this amendment is the catalyst that springs the legislation from his chamber and into the next.

The feedback for HB 2635 hasn’t been all negative. As the bill evolved through committees, Gina Godbehere Thomas tweeted, “Proud to support HB2635 and advocate on behalf of the Teen Mental Health Ad-Hoc Committee. This Bill, which increases access to Mental Health Treatment through a 24/7 app will save lives and make our community safer. Thank you to all those supporting this important first step.”

Katey McPherson, a school digital wellness consultant, also wrote back in February: “The two places my heart lives. Michigan and Arizona. MSU my Alma Mater. They’ve both built me in so many ways. My nephew spent 3 hours in a shelter in place along with 49,999 students. When will it stop? I am behind HB2635 in an effort to be a part of the change. Please join me.”

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