Arizona Sheriffs Ask Lawmakers To Increase Funding For Border Security

Arizona Sheriffs Ask Lawmakers To Increase Funding For Border Security

By Daniel Stefanski |

Arizona sheriffs are pushing state officials to increase funding for border security.

Last week, the Arizona Sheriff’s Association sent separate letters to Governor Katie Hobbs and legislative leaders. Those letters requested Arizona to “double its contribution to local law enforcement to allow (sheriffs) to deploy more resources to interdict human and drug smugglers.”

The sheriffs opened their letter by pointing to the $12 million included in the 2023-24 state budget “to help law enforcement handle crime related to illegal border crossers.” Though these sheriffs were “grateful for the assistance,” they asserted that “the situation at the border has only worsened” since the funds were negotiated by the Arizona Legislature and Governor Hobbs.

David Rhodes, the President of the Association and the Yavapai County Sheriff told AZ Free News, “It is our local communities that are grappling day in and day out with the impacts of an insecure border. We are not just pulling over DUI suspects or patrolling neighborhoods. Sheriffs deputies across the state have become quasi-border patrol agents, seizing fentanyl pills, and arresting human traffickers. And the problem isn’t getting better, it is only getting worse.”

In their letter, the sheriffs wrote, “As Governor and the leaders of our Legislature, we understand you must balance spending priorities. And the federal government holds the ultimate responsibility for securing our border and stanching the flow of drugs and illegal crossers. However, can there be any doubt about the federal government’s abject failure in this area? Your eyes haven’t deceived you. Indeed, daily the media attention highlights the disastrous impacts of an open border. The scourge of fentanyl spreads like a cancer in communities large and small. Much of that deadly drug flows through Arizona. Arizona sheriff’s deputies seize millions of fentanyl pills every year. And the smuggling through our state’s highways shows no signs of abating.”

Just last month, a Cochise County Deputy Sheriff was seriously injured as he attempted to stop a suspected smuggler, who was trying to evade apprehension in her vehicle. When talking to local media about the rash of similar incidents plaguing his county and department, Sheriff Mark Dannels said, “Just this week alone, I’ve had a patrol car damaged, I’ve had two officers, deputies that were trying to be run over by smuggler drivers. This is every day down here.”

The sheriffs promised that, if the legislature were to appropriate more funds for border security in the next budget, they would use it for “more deputies patrolling the roads, more canine handlers and dogs to sniff out drugs, and better technology to match the wealth and equipment used by the cartels.”

As they ended their letter, the sheriffs added a plea for state leaders to heed their calls, saying, “No amount of state money will allow us to seal the 200-mile-long border to all illegal activity. But by making a small investment, Arizona will at least make a dent while improving the safety of our local communities. As this year demonstrated, our state leaders believe border security through effective law enforcement is worth an investment. We hope you see the wisdom in furthering that financial commitment.”

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

Bill To Prevent Ranked Choice Voting Earns Cosponsors in Both Chambers

Bill To Prevent Ranked Choice Voting Earns Cosponsors in Both Chambers

By Daniel Stefanski |

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) has the attention of national and local Republicans – especially as a group may be forming to push this voting reform measure onto the 2024 Arizona ballot to affect future elections.

After the Republican National Committee (RNC) voted last week to oppose RCV, Arizona Representative Austin Smith, who is a freshman member of the legislature and the Arizona Freedom Caucus, introduced HB2552 to prohibit RCV in the Grand Canyon State.

Ranked Choice Voting is most prominently featured in Alaska, where voters rank their preferences in each election until one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote. If RCV were to be successfully pushed by special interest groups in the 2024 election, Arizona’s primary and general elections would be effectively eliminated in favor of this new progressive system.

According to the Pew Research Center, “62 jurisdictions nationwide have adopted the voting method” – and more are on the way in the near future, including the attempt to airdrop it into Arizona.

Representative Smith posted on his Twitter account this week that his legislation had “support from a majority of the Republican caucus in both the Arizona House and Senate.”

Smith does not appear to be wrong about that. The bill has garnered 38 cosponsors from both legislative chambers.

The bill also appears to be destined for a quick vote as it has already received a first and second read in the Arizona House in its first week of existence.

RCV has long been a target of Representative Smith. Soon after Smith won his general election contest in November 2022, he tweeted that “We can never allow rank choice voting to happen in Arizona.”

In an exclusive interview with AZ Free News, Representative Smith explained why he introduced this legislation:

“I introduced HB 2552 with a majority of Republican lawmakers of all stripes because we’ve seen in the test run with RCV that it doesn’t work. It actually deepens problems with elections. It hurts voters and makes the process of tallying even harder. We shouldn’t make the process of vote tallying even harder for election workers and sow distrust in the process even more.”

Representative Smith’s bill has been met with tremendous applause from many people around Arizona and nationally, including two former elections officials in the state, David Romney (Election Services Division of the Arizona Secretary of State’s office) and Jen Wright (Assistant Attorney General and head of the Election Integrity Unit).

Should this legislation pass the Arizona Senate and House, it remains to be seen whether it would be signed into law by Democrat Governor Katie Hobbs, who has promised to use her veto stamp on bills she believes are partisan in nature.

This potential uncertainty if and when the legislation reaches the Ninth Floor won’t stop Representative Smith, however, from seeing his bill across the legislative finish line. Smith told AZ Free News, “It’s important for the legislature to show Arizona citizens that Republicans are going on the offensive to prevent bad policies from hurting Arizona’s elections. The best defense is a good offense, and my bill does just that.”

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

Universal School Choice Expansion for Arizona Families Passes House Committee

Universal School Choice Expansion for Arizona Families Passes House Committee

By Corinne Murdock |

On Wednesday, the State House Ways and Means Committee passed legislation establishing school choice for all parents who choose to use it. The 6-4 approval marks a historic advancement for expansion of the state’s school choice program, Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA).

The legislation, HB2853, comes from State Representative Ben Toma (R-Peoria) about 11 years after the ESA Program launched.

Bipartisanship was far from the committee during discussion of this bill. Democrats insisted that voters in the past rejected universal ESA expansion, that families would spend their ESA dollars frivolously or wastefully, that there weren’t enough regulations on non-public schools, and that public schools would be bled of crucial funds. Republicans insisted that post-pandemic voters support universal school choice, and that parents knew what was best for their children and would choose accordingly.

Toma challenged the idea that Arizona’s public schools were underfunded, something that Democrats like State Representative Kelli Butler (D-Paradise Valley) and Arizona Education Association (AEA) President-elect Marisol Garcia testified. Toma asked for a definitive number that constituted “fully funded.” Garcia suggested that outranking other state’s funding totals would constitute “fully funded.” In response, Toma pointed out that education funding increased by 48 percent during his tenure in the legislature, adding that much of those funds didn’t end up in teacher’s salaries.

State Representative Brenda Barton (R-Payson) concurred with Toma’s assessment, saying that in her 11 years she’s never gotten a hard answer from any public school proponents or officials of what “fully funded” meant for them. 

Chairwoman Shawnna Bolick (R-Phoenix) estimated 25,000 students might utilize the ESA program if expanded under HB2853. 

“If we’re helping a student get a lifeline, at the end of the day I’ll actually know we’re doing a good job as a legislature,” said Bolick. 

Several Democrats insisted that they wanted to see long-term data on ESA students’ performance rates. Toma said there wasn’t a way to issue a fair comparison of those students because a majority of current users had disabilities, and comparing performance across different disabilities wasn’t an “apples to apples” comparison.

State Representative Pamela Powers Hannley (D-Tucson) argued that program effectiveness could still be measured through methods like sheer counts of private and charter school students.

“I think it’s important to know how many students are enrolled across the state because this is state money,” said Powers Hannley. 

There are about 1.1 million charter and public school students. 

State Representative Mitzi Epstein (D-Chandler) compared private schools to Walmart stores, insinuating that they were a less desirable option that communities were stuck with. Epstein also challenged why taxpayers should have to pay for children to visit the school they desire. 

As a rebuttal for worry over potential private waste of public dollars, Toma pointed out the controversy over Buckeye Elementary School District paying its superintendent over $1.7 million in “additional compensation” from 2016 to 2021. Toma doubted that one individual’s misuse of ESA funds would reach that amount. He added that whenever people are involved, misuse is bound to happen. 

“There are issues with any sort of system in which human beings are involved,” said Toma. “Fraud [with ESAs], if there is fraud, is less than one percent.”

In an attempt to cite waste of school funds, Butler listed allowable ESA expenditures she found objectionable, such as a bouncy castle and a tonal home gym costing thousands of dollars. Both Bolick and Toma reminded Butler that the Arizona State Board of Education (SBE) and the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) approved the handbook, clarifying further that Superintendent Kathy Hoffman’s office was responsible for writing it.

The two GOP legislators suggested that their Democratic peer take up her grievances with Hoffman.

Bolick also noted that bounce houses are within individualized education plan (IEP) parameters for curriculum-related therapies. Butler said that was besides her point. She went on to claim the state can’t afford to give every special needs child in the state their own bounce house for several hundred dollars — rather, schools should just purchase one for all special needs students. Butler called the tonal home gym “beyond the pale,” at which point Bolick cut her off for “beat[ing] a dead horse.” 

Bolick and Butler contended over whether the entirety of Arizona’s 1.1 million charter and private school students would actually use ESAs. 

Butler referenced access to ESA funds as “debit cards” repeatedly, to which Toma and Cobb objected. They, along with Bolick, explained to Butler that she was referring to an outdated system. They also contended with Butler’s attempted characterization of ESA funds as “thousands of dollars in a bank account.” At that point, Bolick suggested again to Butler that she seek out instruction from Hoffman about how the ESA Program works currently. 

Among those to testify in favor of ESA Program expansion was Jennifer Clark, a mother of five. She explained that ESAs have helped several of her children with special learning needs like dyslexia and disabilities. 

Clark further described how the public school system was currently failing her daughter with its stalled processing of her educational needs. She insisted that HB2853’s allowance for outside assessments would expedite solutions for situations like her daughter’s.

“All Arizonan families deserve equitable access to ESAs regardless of their income or zip code,” said Clark.

Drew Anderson, a South Phoenix Democrat and pastor, pointed out that the majority-white crowd protesting with the likes of Save Our Schools against the bill didn’t represent or understand the needs of minority parents — especially those in inner city schools like the Roosevelt School District. 

“I don’t see anybody screaming ‘save our schools’ in south Phoenix,” said Anderson. “I hear them screaming ‘save our children.'”

Anderson described how inner-city children in his area, many from the Roosevelt School District, had to do school at McDonalds during the pandemic because they didn’t have internet at home.

The pastor then explained that one of his church members admitted to selling drugs on the side to get his siblings out of public schools. Their mother is deceased, Anderson explained, and one of the man’s younger sisters was attacked by a group of 14-year-old girls at her school.

“He had to find whatever means he could to try to get his brothers and sisters into private schools. He’s putting his freedom on the line to do that,” said Anderson. “Why is it that the rich kids can afford to go to these better schools, but these poorer kids can’t?”

HB2853 would empower parents with access to taxpayer funds already allocated for their students to apply to the schooling of their choice. The bill would appropriate $2.2 million and 26 full-time equivalent positions from the state general fund in 2023 to the ADE.

HB2853 would also enable ESA funds to be used for public transportation; computer hardware; educational technology like calculators, personal computers, laptops, tablets, microscopes, telescopes, and printers; consumable educational supplies like paper, pens, and markers; and additional disability services and education plan costs.

As for enrollment eligibility, the legislation would reduce the number of hours needed for K-12 online students to qualify by about half. It would also require students in grades 3-12 take nationally standardized tests, which may be swapped out for exams chosen by parents or qualified schools. Students with disabilities would be exempted from that examination requirement. Additionally, qualified schools with 50 or more ESA students must issue the aggregate test scores of all enrolled students or all ESA students annually. 

Furthermore, the bill would expand the appeal deadline to 15 business days, and allow parents to represent themselves or designate non-attorney representatives in appeals hearings. 

If passed as introduced, HB2853 includes a retroactivity clause rendering it effective as of July 1 of this year. 

HB2853 angered school choice opponents. They claimed that the bill would rob public schools of their funding and award it to private schools and special interests.

At the time of press, GOP gubernatorial candidates Matt Salmon and Karrin Taylor Robson signaled support for HB2853. 

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

Navarrete’s LD30 Vacancy Hits Snag Due To Shortage Of Elected Democrat Precinct Committeemen

Navarrete’s LD30 Vacancy Hits Snag Due To Shortage Of Elected Democrat Precinct Committeemen

By Terri Jo Neff |

Efforts to fill the vacancy created by Tuesday’s resignation of Sen. Otoniel “Tony” Navarrete (D-LD30) in the face of child molestation charges will take a bit longer than expected, after it was discovered there are not enough Democrat LD30 precinct committeemen to make the nomination.

At least 30 elected precinct committeemen are required, but there is only 29, according to information obtained from the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office. That means the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors will have to appoint a citizen’s panel which will be tasked with nominating three Democrat candidates.

The board of supervisors will then vote to appoint one of the three candidates as LD30’s senator. The process could take two weeks or more if a rift occurs among within the party and interested candidates.

Navarrete announced his resignation five days after his Aug. 5 arrest on seven felonies involving sexual misconduct with minors. He had his initial court appearance the next day and was released from jail Aug. 7 to await trial after posting a $50,000 secured bond.

Numerous public officials called on Navarrete to resign as soon as word of his arrest became public, including Gov. Doug Ducey, Senate President Karen Fann, and Rep. Raquel Teran, chair of the Arizona Democratic Party.

The one-sentence resignation letter to Fann and Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios was followed by a written statement in which Navarrete “adamantly” denied “all allegations that have been made.”

Navarrete’s resignation put the brakes on an effort by Sen, Kelly Townsend for an ethics investigation. Sen. Sine Kerr, chair of the Ethics Committee, previously confirmed receiving Townsend’s complaint about Navarrete, but on Tuesday she dismissed the complaint as moot.

Court records show two boys, ages 16 and 13, told detectives with the Phoenix Police Department of being sexually molested by Navarrete in the past. The older boy alleged multiple incidents of abuse over several years. Among the evidence described in a probable cause statement is a confrontation call between Navarrete and the younger boy during which the then-senator reportedly admitted to engaging in sexual misconduct.

RELATED ARTICLE: Calls For Navarrete’s Resignation Include Attention On Hotlines For Abused Kids

Confrontation calls are utilized by investigators in hopes of getting an alleged perpetrator to provide a confession or other incriminating evidence.

Navarrete has been ordered to have no-contact with the two victims named in the charges. He is also required to comply with electronic monitoring. If convicted of all charges, Navarrete faces a mandatory prison sentence of nearly 50 years.