Arizona Senate Republicans Release 11 Priorities For Upcoming Legislative Session

Arizona Senate Republicans Release 11 Priorities For Upcoming Legislative Session

By Daniel Stefanski |

With the start of the 2024 Arizona legislative session just weeks away, Republicans took time this week to roll out their agenda for the upcoming months in a divided state government.

The plan, released by the Arizona State Senate Republican Caucus on Thursday, featured eleven categories for 2024 – budget approach, inflation relief, law enforcement & military, education, water, infrastructure, health, government, judiciary, elections, and litigation. The caucus looked back at the year that was in 2023, writing, “Senate Republicans unified in the face of divided government, passed a fiscally conservative and responsible budget historically early in the legislative session, provided inflation relief, funded critical infrastructure projects, protected school choice, and served as a check on executive and federal overreach.”

Senate Republicans also previewed their efforts for the next legislative session in the plan, stating that they would “remain laser focused on easing the burden of rising costs for our citizens, while continuing to stop dangerous California-style policies from being implemented in the Grand Canyon State.” They added that they would “remain unified in protecting freedoms and constitutional rights, advocating for family values and safe communities, promoting free market principles and limited government, and stopping radical ideologies from infiltrating the way of life and opportunities we’ve established over the past decade for all Arizonans.”

‘Unified’ was definitely a key theme Senate Republicans wanted readers to take away from their plan for 2024, as it was central to a successful 2023 despite razor-thin majorities in both legislative chambers and a Democrat in the Governor’s Office. Republicans in both the Arizona House and Senate were highly disciplined on a number of fronts throughout the 2023 legislative session, staying unified on almost every issue while relentlessly fighting for conservative principles. Because of their cohesive strategies, Republicans were able to gain major victories and concessions from Governor Katie Hobbs when it mattered most, as well as to win points with the general public for their work.

2024 promises to be a more challenging year for legislative Republicans. Hobbs will be starting her second year on the job and has a new chief of staff who is respected by many on both sides of the aisle. Hobbs will also be looking for more wins to showcase for her base in what will certainly be a volatile election year on all levels. The governor was soundly criticized by many in her party for, what appeared to be, a capitulation to Republicans over the most-recent budget compromise – especially when it came to Arizona’s historic school choice program. Hobbs spent the rest of the year taking critical and damaging aim at ESAs.

Senate President Pro Tempore T.J. Shope cheered on the plan, saying, “Honored to be a part of the Arizona Senate Republicans family! We will work hard to deliver for the hard working people of Arizona!”

Senator Anthony Kern shared similar sentiments: “Republicans have your back, Arizona, and will ensure State 48 ‘NEVER’ looks like Democrat controlled California!!”

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

High Schoolers To Learn About Communism From GOP Lawmakers Who Survived It

High Schoolers To Learn About Communism From GOP Lawmakers Who Survived It

By Corinne Murdock |

High schoolers will learn from firsthand experiences of the evils of communism in a documentary series featuring two Arizona lawmakers who survived it.

The series, produced by the University of Arizona (UArizona) Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, features House Speaker Ben Toma (R-LD27) and Rep. Quang Nguyen (R-LD01) sharing their personal accounts of communism and their emigration to America. Toma escaped from Romania, and Nguyen escaped from Vietnam. 

Nguyen praised UArizona for granting war survivors like him a platform to enlighten future generations. 

The videos were created in response to the state legislature passage of a bill sponsored by Nguyen last year requiring high schools to incorporate a comparative discussion of political ideologies: the principles of communism and totalitarianism compared and contrasted with America’s founding principles.

Nguyen recounted how, a week before the Fall of Saigon, his father boarded him and his brother on an airplane with hundreds of other people. Nguyen was 12 years old at the time; his father advised the brothers that they wouldn’t see their family again. He and his brother were transported to Subic Bay, then Guam, then to Travis Airforce Base, Fort Pembleton, and finally Fort Chaffee. 

However, Nguyen and his brother were able to reunite with his family in San Joaquin, California. Nguyen explained that he only ever experienced kindness among American military members, contrary to the narratives he heard that the U.S. forces had invaded his country. To this day, Nguyen says he visits with Vietnam veterans nationwide to thank them.

The representative shared that his quality of life in America was better than in Vietnam: he was able to get a strong college education and well-paying employment as a young man. 

Nguyen explained that hallmarks of communism include government control of food source, specifically severely limiting the supply; control of education, specifically focusing on propagandizing children; and confiscation of weapons. 

Toma’s video includes his mother and father, Ana and Cornel Toma. They recounted how the Romanian secret police labeled their family as an enemy to the government. 

Ana recalled how government indoctrination in schools taught her and her peers false history, such as that the rest of the world loved and admired Romania as a great nation, when in fact she would later learn that few Americans knew of Romania’s existence. Ana also recalled waiting in lines for hours to obtain food, sometimes reaching the front without receiving the few rations available. 

Cornel recalled how the government took away people’s cattle and land, only allowing them one cow and a half-acre of land. Those who dared speak out would “disappear overnight.” The government also didn’t allow people to have vocational freedom: similar to the military, the government assigned citizens their vocations and where they would live.

The Toma family was forced to flee Romania after the Secret Police began visiting them. They only managed to escape after a family friend convinced a member of the secret police to assist in smuggling them out of the country under the guise of a vacation: at that point, the Toma family wasn’t allowed to leave the country otherwise. Ana and Cornel were forced to escape first, then send for their children.

Ana and Cornel navigated the legal immigration process for admittance to the U.S., traveling across Turkey, Greece, Italy, and Rome over the course of about a year. Ana said that, upon first landing in America, she witnessed a novel display of patriotism and love for America that touched her deeply.

“I was so impressed that somebody love the country so much. I was impressed by the attitude they had on the flight. I thought, ‘This is the first taste of freedom,’” said Ana.

The Toma family settled in a two-bedroom apartment for their family of seven. Speaker Toma shared his delight in the abundance of America through the simple joy of eating oranges: something not possible in Romania. Ana and Cornel shared that they found work rather quickly.

In addition to Toma and Nguyen, the series will include Mesa Community College economics professor Sylwia Cavalcant, who fled Poland’s communism. 

Freedom Center Director Mary Rigdon said that the series would serve to advise students of the realities of communism.

“The mini-documentaries powerfully demonstrate our commitment to inform current and future generations, consistent with the Center’s mission to be an intellectually diverse, inclusive, and nonpartisan resource for leaders and students seeking to address society’s significant challenges. We appreciate the opportunity to highlight the power of freedom in a democratic society,” said Rigdon.

Watch the documentary series here.

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

Arizona Lawmakers, Governor Move Toward Harm Reduction

Arizona Lawmakers, Governor Move Toward Harm Reduction

By Jeffrey A. Singer |

Arizona’s Governor and lawmakers are displaying an enlightened shift in strategy addressing the overdose crisis. After the state experienced an estimated 48 percent jump in overdose deaths during the first eight months of 2020 (a 32 percent increase in most populous Maricopa County in all of 2020), they decided to embrace harm reduction.

On May 14 the Arizona House voted 48–11 to pass SB 1486, which removed fentanyl test strips from the list of legally prohibited drug paraphernalia, after the Arizona Senate voted unanimously in favor of the bill. On May 19, Governor Ducey (R) signed it into law.

Fentanyl test strips, made by a Canadian biotechnology company, were designed for urine drug screening. The tests strips are not approved for sale in U.S. drugstores or other outlets by the Food and Drug Administration, but harm reduction organizations—including “needle exchange” programs— have been buying them and handing them out to IV drug users who use them “off‐​label” to test heroin, cocaine, and other drugs for the presence of fentanyl. Researchers claim the tests strips are highly accurate and can detect up to 10 analogs of fentanyl. They also find they save lives by causing drug users to use smaller amounts and/​or take a drug more slowly when they detect it contains fentanyl.

When signing the bill into law, Governor Ducey said:

We want everyone who is using drugs to seek professional treatment. But until someone is ready to get help, we need to make sure they have the tools necessary to prevent a lethal overdose.

Speaking of “needle exchange” programs, syringe services programs (SSPs), the term public health professionals use for “needle exchange” programs, are endorsed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, and the American Medical Association. In January 2020, then‐​Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams and Professor Ricky D. Bluthenthal of the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine spoke at the Cato Institute on the benefits of syringe services programs. They are proven to reduce the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, and other infectious diseases. They also serve to reduce overdose deaths because one of their services is to distribute the overdose antidote naloxone as well as fentanyl test strips and other drug‐​testing materials. Dr. Adams pointed out SSPs offer the added benefits of screening IV drug users for hepatitis and HIV so they can get treatment, and bringing many of them into rehab programs.

Although federal law permits syringe services programs, many states prohibit or make the operation of SSPs very difficult. Researchers at Temple University’s Center for Public Health Law research reported in the July/​August 2020 Public Health Reports:

Thirty‐​nine states (including the District of Columbia) had laws in effect on August 1, 2019, that removed legal impediments to, explicitly authorized, and/​or regulated SSPs. Thirty‐​three states had 1 or more laws consistent with legal possession of syringes by SSP participants under at least some circumstances. Changes from 2014 to 2019 included an increase of 14 states explicitly authorizing SSPs by law and an increase of 12 states with at least 1 provision reducing legal barriers to SSPs. Since 2014, the number of states explicitly authorizing SSPs nearly doubled, and the new states included many rural, southern, or midwestern states that had been identified as having poor access to SSPs, as well as states at high risk for HIV and hepatitis C virus outbreaks. Substantial legal barriers to SSP operation and participant syringe possession remained in >20% of US states.

Until now, Arizona was among the states where paraphernalia laws prevented SSPs from operating out in the open. At least four such programs, all privately funded, have been operating in the state but constantly fear police interdiction—as do their clients. If they were explicitly legal, they could establish permanent locations and raise funds.

After an unsuccessful attempt to legalize syringe services in 2018, then‐​Representative Tony Rivero (R‐​Peoria) tried again in 2020. I testified on the benefits of SSPs before the House Health Committee in February of that year. A bill to legalize syringe services passed the House 50–10 but died in the Senate. This year Senator Nancy Barto (R‐​Phoenix) introduced SB 1250, legalizing SSPs. The Arizona Senate passed the bill unanimously in mid‐​April, and it passed the House 56–2 with 2 abstentions on May 18.

On May 24, Governor Ducey signed SB 1250 into law.

The bill requires operators of SSPs to “offer disposal of used needles and syringes,” but unlike laws in some states, it does not require one‐​for‐​one exchanges with people who access the programs. One‐​for‐​one requirements pose an undue burden on syringe services programs. The priority should be getting clean paraphernalia out to users in order to reduce the spread of disease. The Arizona law gets the priority right.

After multiple unsuccessful attempts, it is gratifying that Arizona lawmaker’s views evolved from initial reluctance to a now near‐​unanimous embrace of harm reduction as a rational, evidence‐​based, and compassionate approach to the drug overdose crisis. Add the enactment of these two harm reduction measures to the recent enactment of HB 2454, which allows Arizonans to access telehealth services from health care practitioners who hold out‐​of‐​state licenses, and 2021 is proving to be a year in which the rest of the country can look to Arizona for leadership in health care reform.