Last week, the Arizona House passed a bill removing algebra II from the mathematics pathway required for high schoolers to graduate, instead offering alternative courses including personal finance, computer science, statistics, or business math. The bill, HB2278, passed mainly along party lines, with several Democrats voting in support of it: State Representatives César Chávez (D-Phoenix) and Mitzi Epstein (D-Chandler). HB2278 appeared before the Senate on Monday for a second reading.
State Representative John Fillmore (R-Apache Junction) told the House Education Committee earlier this month that he introduced the bill because high schoolers need more practical math skills.
“We’ve been taking our kids and pushing them with more college-oriented programs such as trigonometry, algebra, and advanced algebra III. But basic math for the kids to understand, have the ability to amortize a loan, and do business discounting and understanding that sometimes 60 percent off an item in a retail store still may not be a good deal even with that 60 percent, depending on what that margin rate was when they bought it,” said Fillmore.
State Representative Jennifer Pawlik (D-Chandler) attempted to introduce an amendment to have the State Board of Education create multiple alternative math graduation pathways, require that high school graduation pathways have two additional courses teaching algebra II critical thinking skills, and eliminate personal finance from courses suggested for the math graduation pathway. Pawlik’s amendment failed.
During the House floor vote last week, State Representative Michelle Udall (R-Mesa) asserted that, from her perspective as a math teacher, this bill would better equip high schoolers with applicable critical thinking and math skills. She read a list of algebra II standards to the floor, asking them to consider whether they were applicable to everyday life.
“We do use common sense, logic, reasoning. These are things we do need to learn, and there are several different math classes that would teach you those concepts: personal finance, business math, statistics. You’re going to learn real-world, real contexts, and ways to use math — not only to do that critical thinking and reasoning, but in a way that might be more engaging to some students,” said Udall.
Epstein concurred with Udall’s assessment. She noted that she was disappointed Pawlik’s amendment wasn’t passed, and wished that four years of math would be required of high schoolers.
“I do think it makes sense that we want to have rigorous math, we want to have relevant math. And currently, our standards are not achieving relevant math,” said Epstein.
In opposition to the bill, Minority Leader Reginald Bolding (D-Laveen) said that the bill would only “dumb down” the standards.
The House Government and Elections Committee passed a bill prohibiting illegal immigrants from voting, HB2492, on Wednesday. The bill would require those registering to vote to prove their residential address, date and place of birth, and affirmation that they are a citizen using a U.S. Election Assistance Commission form.
If an applicant fails to offer satisfactory proof of citizenship, then the county must attempt to verify the applicant’s citizenship status within 10 days using, at minimum, information from the Department of Transportation (ADOT), Social Security Administration (SSA), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program, National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems Electronic Verification of Vital Events, and any other databases that the elections official has access to within the state, city, town, county, or federal government.
Election officials that refuse to reject a registration form would be subject to a class six felony. If officials find proof that the applicant isn’t an American citizen, then they must notify the applicant of their rejection and refer the case to both the county attorney and attorney general for further investigation. However, if an election official can’t find any citizenship information whatsoever, then they will only notify the applicant of their rejection and offer them 30 days to respond with evidence of citizenship.
The bill would impact federal-only voters — those who made a substantial impact in the 2020 election — because applicants without satisfactory citizenship proof wouldn’t be qualified to vote in federal elections. Exemptions would be carved out for those under the Uniformed And Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), such as military members.
Furthermore, the bill requires that county officials make records of all their efforts to verify an applicant’s citizenship status. They must also present a list of all individuals who registered to vote and haven’t provided satisfactory evidence of citizenship by Halloween of this year. At that point, the attorney general would have until the end of next March to determine each applicant’s citizenship status and submit a report to the secretary of state, senate president, and house speaker.
The legislation sponsor, State Representative Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek), explained that the number of individuals who hadn’t shown Documentary Proof of Citizenship (DPOC) went from 1,700 in 2018 to over 11,000 in 2020.
Hoffman worked with the Arizona Free Enterprise Club to draft the bill, whose deputy director, Greg Blackie, offered testimony to the committee recounting Arizonans’ history of supporting citizenship requirements for voting, citing the state’s approval of Prop 200 in 2004: the Arizona voter-approved initiative that made citizenship a qualification to register to vote.
Both the federal and state government worked to undermine Prop 200. Although the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) requires states to use its federal form for voter registration, Blackie explained that the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) must consult with each state to include tailored instructions on that state’s voter qualifications; however, the EAC hasn’t included Arizona’s requirement of proof of citizenship. In 2013, the Supreme Court overturned Prop 200, ruling that the NVRA preempted Arizona’s proof of citizenship requirement. In 2018, Arizona’s secretary of state and the Maricopa County recorder agreed to a consent decree ignoring Prop 200.
“The result has been the complete proliferation of the federal-only voters list,” stated Blackie. “This bill really is necessary to safeguard our voter rolls, ensuring only qualified applicants are properly registered and voting in our elections, restoring confidence and ensuring in Arizona it’s easy to vote, hard to cheat.”
In announcing her vote against the bill, State Representative Sarah Ligouri (D-Phoenix) argued Arizona’s voter registration processes and ID processes are “completely secure.” Liguori said that Arizona should strike down this bill, as Kansas and Alabama did for similar bills.
“I think this legislation is unnecessary and impunitive to newly-registered and new citizen voters,” said Liguori.
On Wednesday, the House Government and Elections Committee narrowly approved a bill from State Representative Joseph Chaplik (R-Scottsdale) prohibiting government entities or schools from requiring minors to wear a mask without the express parental consent. All Democrats voted against HB2616, ensuring Republicans edged out a narrow 7-6 victory.
“I believe parents should make decisions for their children, not the government,” asserted Chaplik. “The states of Florida and Virginia, with bipartisan support, have passed this similar policy. I will continue to stand for freedom in Arizona for our constituents.”
HB2616 would’ve had greater reach than government and K-12 education: the original bill also prohibited mask mandates in private businesses for both adults and for minors, unless the business had express parental consent for the child to wear one. An approved amendment to HB2616 from State Representative John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) struck those additional provisions.
During the committee hearing, Chaplik explained that obtaining consent was up to the schools. When State Representative Sarah Liguori (D-Phoenix) expressed confusion as to whether schools would be required to obtain written consent for a child that showed up to school wearing a mask, Chaplik clarified that the child arriving to school in a mask was sufficient parental consent.
Liguori lambasted her colleagues for “buying into a political narrative.” She claimed that school districts with mask mandates have opt-out options for parents. That is incorrect. Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), for one, doesn’t mention the option to not wear a mask on school property.
“I hate to get caught up in the politics of the masks, which I believe was intentionally designed as an illusion but its even more of a fantasy to think we as legislators know more than the experts who have trained their entire lives in these fields and have studied the science and data on this day in and day out for the past two years,” said Liguori.
State Representative Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek) challenged Liguori’s assertion that the experts were infallible and that the masks were a political issue. Hoffman reminded the committee of the CDC’s track record of changing their guidelines and goalposts constantly.
“In reality, the science is on the side that kids should not be forced to wear masks,” said Hoffman. “This is not a political argument, it’s an actual medical science argument. There’s countless medical studies to support this, and there are countless health professionals at the highest levels — especially medical doctors, not just public health professionals because there’s a very big difference between an actual medical doctor and a public health professional — they support this.”
On Tuesday, the American Federation for Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten pushed back in an interview with MSNBC against the beginning trend to drop mask mandates in schools. Weingarten admitted that masks are not only intolerable but an impediment to learning.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has also pushed back, arguing in an interview with Reuters this week that “now is not the moment” to drop mask mandates.
Don’t count your chickens until they hatch. That age old adage came into play Monday for Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers when he was unable to secure a yes vote one of the 31 House Republicans, leading to the defeat of three budget bills before the speaker called it a day.
The 60-member House is now recessed until Thursday while budget negotiators are expected to regroup and figure out how to get Rep. David Cook on board with 11 budget bills which need to be passed by June 30 to avoid a state government shutdown.
Cook voted with every Democrat in the House, leading to the defeat the HB2899 and HB2900, which included a cornerstone piece of budget legislation to transition Arizona to a flat rate income tax. His no-vote also led to the defeat of HB2907, a vital transportation budget bill. All three votes died on a 30 to 30 vote.
A major concern is how to garner Cook’s support without renewing an earlier rift among nearly a dozen Republicans who last week were demanding major amendments be made to some of the budget bills. Their dissension led to an 11-day recess that only ended Monday when Bowers called everyone back to work.
It is unclear why Cook remained the only member of the House Republican Caucus to not support any of the bills or amendments put forth for vote Monday. And if Cook had a reason, he wasn’t publicly sharing it.
Others, however, had plenty to say about Cook’s votes, including the Arizona Free Enterprise Club (AFEC). In a tweet, the small business groups tweeted “Shame on Rep. David Cook” after he voted with Democrats to protect the Prop 208 tax hike on small business owners.
“If David Cook continues to carry the water for Red4Ed and the Unions, Arizona will remain one of the HIGHEST small business income tax states in the country!” the tweet read.
One longtime lobbyist quipped, “yep, not a good look to seem left of the Lefties.”
Even the Republican Liberty Caucus turned on Cook, stating he helped Democrats “block the tax cuts in the current budget proposal” even though Cook has been open for several weeks about his displeasure with the budget that came to the House and Senate with Gov. Doug Ducey’s blessing.
For AFEC’s president Scot Mussi, the original budget package included some concerning special interest tax incentives, which he described as giveaways benefiting a few select businesses and industries that were unnecessary and unpopular within the Republican majority in the House.
Shame on Rep. David Cook, the ONLY REPUBLICAN voting with Democrats to protect the Prop 208 tax hike on small business. If David Cook continues to carry the water for Red4Ed and the Unions, Arizona will remain one of the HIGHEST small business income tax states in the country! pic.twitter.com/P2QOS8kAHF
Yet Mussi believed those provisions would be removed via amendments on Monday so that all 31 Republicans would be on board. Instead, every amendment put forth for the three bills considered Monday were defeated, as were the bills themselves.
As Republicans attack Cook’s votes, others like Mussi are hopeful a compromise can be worked out, so that tax cuts and tax relief can get approved. That includes the plan to transition Arizona over three years to a flat rate income tax. And Mussi says don’t believe the arguments that the budget bills are simply designed for the rich, particularly with a flat rate tax plan.
It is important to note, Mussi explained, that the recent passage of Proposition 208 now has Arizona with the ninth highest small business tax rate in the country. And Arizona’s rate is higher than nearby Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.
“The reality is that even after the tax cuts are implemented, high income earners will still be paying nearly twice as much (4.5%) as low and middle income households (2.5%),” he explained to AZ Free News. “Additionally, opponents of the tax plan leave out the fact that much of the tax relief will go to small business owners. This tax cut package makes Arizona competitive again for small business, something opponents to the plan would not like to see happen.”
In a decision seen by some as desperation and others as a brilliant strategic move, House Speaker Rusty Bowers has ordered his 59 fellow Representatives back to work Monday to take up 11 stalled budget bills.
Whether Bowers and other House leaders can pull together 31 votes -the same number of the Republican House caucus- is unclear, but House Majority Leader Ben Toma believes it is time for members to put up or shut up.
Amendments are expected to be proposed for all the bills but there is no guarantee any bill will receive the requisite 31 votes for passage. But Toma said last week taking the bills to the floor will force each representative to go on the record with a vote, something that could come back to haunt some lawmakers if the state government is shut down due to no new budget.
Toma spent months on the budget team before the budget bills were put forth last month with the blessing of Gov. Doug Ducey. He said it is a “constitutional duty” for representatives to vote on the bills, but for those who believe what is on the table is “not good enough, they’re going to need to explain why it’s not good enough, to their constituents and pretty much everyone else.”
Among the issues is how much of the more than $1 billion surplus to spend now, how much to turn toward the State’s debt, and how much to give back to taxpayers via tax cuts. There is also disagreement over how to phase in a flat rate income tax that is expected to result in a 10 to 12 percent drop in state revenues.
Much of the opposition to the tax cuts and flat rate tax plan are based on complaints about the expected affects due to the state’s shared revenue agreement with cities and towns. If less revenue is coming into the state, then less revenue will be received by municipalities, unless the shared revenue agreement is amended.
Last week Speaker Pro Tempore Travis Grantham said it was time to look beyond who was at fault with the original budget plan that did not have better support. Instead, he said it was time to work on finding a consensus to get a budget passed so the legislature can adjourn.
But for that to happen, Grantham says some lawmakers need to realize the surplus “is the people’s money, it’s not the government’s money” and move forward with approving tax cuts.
“The issue we’re having is there is so much money in the pot and there is so many people with so many wants and so many needs we’re having trouble staying focused on the finish line,” he said. “We just need to focus on the budget, we need to focus on cutting taxes, and we need to focus on getting out of there.”
There is also the issue of 22 bills, all Republican supported and some with unanimous bipartisan support, which Ducey vetoed out of frustration with the progress being made on the budget bills. Some legislators are insisting that there needs to be assurance that those bills will all be reintroduced and signed by Ducey before they will vote for the budget.
The Senate is currently set to come back June 10, although Senate President Karen Fann could call everyone back on 24-hours. Like the House, Fann has a handful of budget-objectors in the Republican caucus whose votes are necessary for passage of the budget bills.