Public Urged To Avoid Using Fireworks With 4th Of July Around The Corner

Public Urged To Avoid Using Fireworks With 4th Of July Around The Corner

The Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management is asking the public to avoid using fireworks this Fourth of July due to the fact that more than half of the state remains dry and fire activity continues.

Fireworks are regulated in Arizona under ARS § 36-1606. Under state law, fireworks sales are restricted to the 4th of July and New Year holidays with only certain types allowed to be sold. Firecrackers, bottle and sky rockets, roman candles, and any type of aerial firework are illegal in Arizona.

While certain fireworks are legal, they can still start wildfires. Just as recent as last year, DFFM fire investigators ruled fireworks as the ignition source of the 260-acre Stage Fire off I-17, northwest of New River. This year’s fine fuel load across the Sonoran Desert remains extremely dry and any spark into that vegetation type can start a fast-moving wildfire. Due to fire activity, resource availability, the drought-stressed fuels, and firefighter and public safety concerns, closures and Stage II fire restrictions remain in place. Fireworks are not allowed on State Trust Land at any time of the year, regardless of restrictions or closures. While precipitation is in the forecast, it will take quite a bit of continual moisture to pull the state out of its drought status and decrease fire activity.

“It’s a matter of situational awareness and personal responsibility. We are in the heart of our fire season and current conditions have prompted closures as a proactive measure to decrease the chance of new wildfire starts. Fireworks have proven to be an ignition source for fires on our lands and what we are asking is that the public understand the threat, make good choices, and if possible, partake in alternative 4th of July activities. Our prevention team will be out again patrolling and making sure everyone is being safe and abiding by restrictions and closures,” said DFFM Prevention Officer Aaron Casem in a press release.

To date, 1,090 wildfires have burned nearly 526,000 acres throughout Arizona on all land jurisdictions.

U.S. Supreme Court Finds In Favor Of Arizona, Ballot Harvesting Law Constitutional

U.S. Supreme Court Finds In Favor Of Arizona, Ballot Harvesting Law Constitutional

By Terri Jo Neff |

In a 6-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Arizona election laws were not “enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose.”

The Court also found that “Arizona law generally makes it very easy to vote. Voters may cast their ballots on election day in person at a traditional precinct or a ‘voting center’ in their county of residence.”

Justice Samuel Alito authored the 44-page opinion for the majority on two cases which were ruled on together. Justice Neil Gorsuch, with Justice Clarence Thomas joining, concurred with Alito’s opinion but tagged on a one-paragraph notation about an issue involving the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which was assumed in the majority opinion but had not been decided in the Arizona cases.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote a dissent on behalf of herself and Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The case involved Arizona’s election laws related to ballot harvesting and to out-of-precinct voting. Specifically, the justices ruled on a law passed by the Legislature in 2016 which makes it illegal for organizations to “harvest” or collect voters’ mail-in ballots and then deliver them to election officials.

The other law requires election officials to invalidate, or not count, ballots that are cast by voters outside their registered precinct.

Gov. Doug Ducey called the ruling “big victory for Arizona voters, the rule of law and the integrity of our elections.”

As reported by AFN earlier this month:

Two Yuma County women charged by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office with ballot fraud are scheduled to be back in court next month, two local election integrity watchdogs say the problem in their county runs much deeper, and it has garnered the attention of the FBI.

Gary Garcia Snyder and David Lara revealed in a radio interview with Sergio Arellano that they utilized hidden cameras to record ballot harvesting incidents at two San Luis polling stations on Aug. 4, 2020, which was primary election day. The city of 33,000 is in the far southwest corner of Arizona on the Mexico border.

RELATED ARTICLE: Concerned Citizens Provided FBI With Videos Of Ballot Abuse, Harvesting In Yuma County

The Court on Thursday found:

Arizona law generally makes it very easy to vote. Voters may cast their ballots on election day in person at a traditional precinct or a “voting center” in their county of residence. Ariz. Rev. Stat. §16–411(B)(4). Arizonans also may cast an “early ballot” by mail up to 27 days before an election, §§16–541, 16–542(C), and they also may vote in person at an early voting location in each county, §§16–542(A), (E). These cases involve challenges under §2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) to aspects of the State’s regulations governing precinct-based election day voting and early mail-in voting. First, Arizonans who vote in person on election day in a county that uses the precinct system must vote in the precinct to which they are assigned based on their address. If a voter votes in the wrong precinct, the vote is not counted.

Second, for Arizonans who vote early by mail, Arizona House Bill 2023 (HB 2023) makes it a crime for any person other than a postal worker, an elections official, or a voter’s caregiver, family member, or household member to knowingly collect an early ballot— either before or after it has been completed. §§16–1005(H)–(I).

[View Court’s Opinion Here]

The Democratic National Committee and certain affiliates filed suit, alleging that both the State’s refusal to count ballots cast in the wrong precinct and its ballot-collection restriction had an adverse and disparate effect on the State’s American Indian, Hispanic, and African-American citizens in violation of §2 of the VRA. Additionally, they alleged that the ballot-collection restriction was “enacted with discriminatory intent” and thus violated both §2 of the VRA and the Fifteenth Amendment. The District Court rejected all of the plaintiffs’ claims. The court found that the out-of-precinct policy had no “meaningfully disparate impact” on minority voters’ opportunities to elect representatives of their choice. Turning to the ballot-collection restriction, the court found that it was unlikely to cause “a meaningful inequality” in minority voters’ electoral opportunities and that it had not been enacted with discriminatory intent. A divided panel of the Ninth Circuit affirmed, but the en banc court reversed. It first concluded that both the out-of-precinct policy and the ballot-collection restriction imposed a disparate burden on minority voters because they were more likely to be adversely affected by those rules. The en banc court also held that the District Court had committed clear error in finding that the ballot-collection law was not enacted with discriminatory intent.

Ducey Signs Budget Bills On Last Day Of Fiscal Year

Ducey Signs Budget Bills On Last Day Of Fiscal Year

By Terri Jo Neff |

On Wednesday, Gov. Doug Ducey signed what he called “a fiscally conservative, forward-looking budget” for Fiscal Year 2022, cutting taxes for all taxpayers for every Arizona taxpayer no matter what their income.

“While we’re giving money back to taxpayers, this budget makes responsible, targeted and substantial investments in the things that matter,” Ducey said. “Under this budget plan, Arizona is paying off more than $1 billion in debt, we’re helping to protect families with the most sweeping child care package in the nation, and we’re making record investments in K-12 and higher education, infrastructure, public health and public safety.”

Ducey received high marks for the budget from the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, particularly the transition of Arizona’s income tax system from a tiered rate to a 2.5 percent flat rate over a three-year period starting Jan. 1, 2022. There are also provisions in the budget for nearly $1 billion in debt payments, as well as another $1 billion to reduce Arizona’s pension liabilities.

Public safety was also a major part of the budget, with $1.5 billion allocated for things like border security and other critical safety investments such as body cameras, increased recruitment funding, and cybersecurity.

K-12 funding was another priority for Ducey, with more than $6 billion allocated, including $47.2 million to develop early literacy programs for children across the state, $30 million for school transportation, and $50 million in student disability aid. One K-12 education bill, HB2898, signed by Ducey makes it easier for families to utilize Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) to help fund lower-income students who wish to attend private schools.

“Arizona’s budget puts students first,” Ducey said after signing HB2898. “Under this plan, we will continue to ensure K-12 students, teachers and schools have resources necessary to help Arizona kids excel in and out of the classroom.”

Ducey has several other bills on his desk which were transmitted this week by the Legislature. Many are do-overs of 22 bills which Ducey vetoed at the end of May in an effort to prod lawmakers to get to work on the budget package.

Although passage of the budget bills took longer than anyone expected in the Republican-controlled Legislature, Ducey’s comments Wednesday stayed focused on the final product, including more options for parents in need of childcare.

Ducey Receives K-12 Budget Bill And Related Education Legislation On Last Day Of Session

Ducey Receives K-12 Budget Bill And Related Education Legislation On Last Day Of Session

By Terri Jo Neff |

The Democrats in the Arizona Legislature may have held firm on their complete opposition to the proposed K-12 budget bill, but all 47 Republicans worked through their differences in the House and Senate to get the multi-faceted House Bill 2898 to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk Wednesday.

The major holdup with the 200-plus page HB2898 involved a Senate amendment which expanded eligibility for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) from about 250,000 students to more than 700,000.  ESAs give credit to an eligible child for most of the government education funding that would have been paid to that student’s public or charter school.

Those funds can then be used toward expenses at private schools as well as other educational costs.

Most House Republicans supported the Senate’s amended version of the K-12 bill but opposition from Reps. Joel John (R-LD4), Michelle Udall (R-LD25), and Joanne Osborne (R-LD13) meant the House ended up approving a K-12 bill which differed from the Senate’s version.

The 16 Republican senators and 31 Republican representatives could pass any bills if they all vote together. But the differing positions on HB2898 required members of both chambers to negotiate a compromise. The result was changes to how soon certain students can qualify for an ESA, although the bill will not benefit another 450,000 students.

Rep. Bret Roberts (R-LD11) supported a larger ESA expansion in the Senate’s bill, but noted the final version still “gives parents more choices.” He added that it “brings the free market into the education system.” Meanwhile, Rep. Jake Hoffman (R-LD12) liked the “opportunities and power” the new legislation gives to parents.

Ducey signed HB2898 on Wednesday along with the 10 other bills which make up the $12.8 billion Fiscal Year 2022 budget package. The new fiscal year starts Thursday.

ESA eligibility was not the only compromise necessary to get HB2898 to Ducey’s desk. An amendment added to the bill with limited debate earlier this week mandated controversial standards for civics curriculum. It faced pushback from Sen. Paul Boyer (R-LD20). Without Boyer’s vote, the entire K-12 budget bill was in peril.

Another compromise led to removal of the last minute civics amendment and Boyer then voted for HB2898.

Other education-related bills were sent to Ducey on Wednesday, including HB2241 which requires information about the Holocaust and other genocides to be taught at least twice between grades 7 and 12. The bill passed both chambers with overwhelming bipartisan support.

The other bill, SB1572, involves early literacy policy at the State Board of Education and the Arizona Department of Education. It impacts dyslexia training and screening requirements, establishes a literacy endorsement for qualified teachers, creates an entry evaluation tool for kindergarten pupils with parental notification requirements, and mandates a K-3 Reading Program report.

Small Business Tax Relief Bill Awaits Governor’s Signature

Small Business Tax Relief Bill Awaits Governor’s Signature

On Wednesday, a bill which revises state tax structure passed out of the Arizona House of Representatives on a bipartisan vote and is on its way to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk. HB 2838, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Chaplik, has no fiscal impact on Arizona cities and towns.

Chaplik says the bill “protects small business from over taxation by the federal government, without impacting the state general fund.”

“Providing Arizona’s small businesses with more working capital and tax relief at this critical moment, without having a negative fiscal impact to the state, is responsible public policy,” said Chaplik.

The 2017 Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) placed a cap of $10,000 on the amount of state and local taxes (SALT) that an individual can deduct on their federal taxes. Experts say this hurts employers organized as S Corporations, partnerships and limited liability companies that pay taxes on business profits at the individual level. This has negatively impacted main street businesses by:

  • Increasing federal taxes for main street employers.
  • Putting main street employers at a disadvantage when compared with C corporations, which are not subject to the new SALT cap.
  • Putting Arizona’s main street employers at a disadvantage when compared to businesses operating in states that have already adopted SALT parity reform.

Fifteen states have already adopted SALT parity legislation since 2017, including: Connecticut, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Oregon, Louisiana, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Maryland. SALT parity legislation is currently advancing in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, Massachusetts, Ohio, and California.

On November 9, 2020, the Department of Treasury and the IRS announced proposed regulations supporting state enacted SALT reform: “The Department of Treasury and IRS are taking the necessary steps to provide fairness for America’s small businesses. These proposed regulations will offer clarity for individual owners of pass-through entities.”

The bill was amended in the Finance Committee to ensure that the mechanics of the legislation are consistent with Arizona law, and the Senate Floor Amendment to the Finance Committee amendment was the result of successful discussions with the Executive and the Arizona Department of Revenue. The amendment clarifies how partners and shareholders can opt out of the election, and changes the retroactivity date from January 1, 2018, to January 1, 2021. This is consistent with other states that have adopted SALT parity.

Governor Ducey Orders Flags At Half-Staff In Honor Of The Yarnell 19 Firefighters

Governor Ducey Orders Flags At Half-Staff In Honor Of The Yarnell 19 Firefighters

Governor Doug Ducey ordered flags at all state buildings be lowered to half-staff on June 30, 2021, in honor of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who lost their lives protecting fellow Arizonans from the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013.

“Arizona lost 19 heroic firefighters eight years ago to one of the most devastating wildfires in state history,” said Ducey in a press release on Tuesday. “These brave men gave their all in defense of our communities, and their service remains among the greatest ever known to our state. We will never forget their sacrifice.”

“When the Yarnell Hill Fire struck, the Granite Mountain Hotshots defended Arizona communities against the flames without hesitation,” stated Ducey. “They didn’t shy away from their duties, and did everything they could to protect those in harm’s way. Today we remember the heroism of these firefighters, and send thoughts and prayers to their families, loved ones and the entire wildland fire community.”