When the State House voted Friday to pass HB2898, the K-12 Education budget bill, it marked the end of a grueling process that resulted in passage of a $12.8 billion budget package for Fiscal Year 2022.
A key provision of HB2898 is the establishment of new academic standards for K-12 students in the area of civics. There was also funding for a number of special programs for students and a variety of new rules for school board and school districts.
But much of the debate about the bill centered on whether more money should have been allocated.
Rep. Aaron Lieberman (D-LD28) acknowledged HB2898 includes “a lot of money,” but he argued it was not enough. Lieberman noted 2,000 classrooms across the state do not have assigned, permanent teachers, something he said could be remedied by spending one-fourth of the state’s $2 billion surplus.
“It’s clear now more than ever we need every dollar,” Lieberman said in voting against the bill.
However, Rep. Bret Roberts (R-LD11) questioned why more focus is not on the decisions of school boards who spend the billions of dollars provided each year through federal funding and from the legislature.
“Why are we not asking the school boards why they’re not giving the money that the legislature sends to the school boards to the teachers?” he asked on the floor. “Why are we not holding the school boards responsible for the money that we send them to give to the teachers? When are the teachers going to hold the school boards responsible?”
Rep. Walt Blackman (R-LD6) expressed similar frustration, noting that many of the chamber’s 24 Democrats who were present Friday complained the funding in HB2898 was too low. So they simply voted against the bill.
Blackman acknowledged K-12 funding in the bill “may not be enough” but said those representatives who vote green -yes- are demonstrating they “support education by action.” Which is why he was disturbed to see so many red -no- votes.
Democrats may give myriad reasons for what is wrong in HB2898 or what could be done differently, he said, “but if we are really dedicated to teaching our children K-12, and that is a non-partisan issue, then why do we have red votes?”
“This can’t be an issue where we are upset and we take our marbles and we go home because we don’t have enough marbles to play,” Blackman said, adding that all of the votes should be green because “nothing is perfect.”
The House K-12 Education bill will now be transmitted to the Senate, which last week passed its own education bill. There is now one significant difference between the bills which will need to be reconciled.
That difference involves a major expansion of the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) which is currently available to about 250,000 students. The Senate’s budget bill added two eligibility criteria which would make ESAs an option to 700,000 students, including children from Title 1 schools where at least 40 percent of the families are considered low-income.
However, three Republicans in the House voted against an amendment which would have included the ESA expansion in HB2898. The amendment died without those votes and the three Republicans also voted against a later attempt to insert the failed amendment into the main bill just prior to final voting.
Sen. Paul Boyer (R-LD20) is a teacher and a major supporter of ESA legislation. He took to Twitter after the House vote to express his disappointment with the ESA decision.
“Meanwhile, minority students are 6 to 12 months behind their white counterparts. This defeat of ESAs for Title I students makes sure those same students never leave the school that’s failing them,” Boyer tweeted.
Since early on in the legislative session, Arizona Rep. Bret Roberts has tried to convince his fellow lawmakers that it was crucial to protect citizens from mandatory COVID-19 vaccination demands.
A bill, HB2190, introduced by Sen. Kelly Townsend on Roberts’ behalf would prohibit companies and government agencies in Arizona from demanding proof, referred to as a vaccine passport, of someone’s vaccination status in order to receive government benefits or enter a place of business.
HB2190 stalled out but fast forward nearly three months to Ducey’s decision this week to issue an executive order banning Arizona’s universities and community colleges from mandating that students show proof of their COVID-19 vaccination status or be forced to wear masks “in order to participate in learning.”
The governor’s action came after Dr. Joanne Vogel, Vice President of Student Services for Arizona State University (ASU), announced that students who have not received the COVID-19 vaccination would be subjected to daily health checks, twice-weekly testing, and mandatory face mask use in all indoor and outdoor spaces on ASU campuses.
Rep. Travis Grantham, the Speaker Pro Tempore, issued a statement Tuesday calling for the immediate rescindment of Dr. Vogel’s COVID-19 policy or her departure from ASU. At stake is not only students’ freedom to be vaccinated or not, but the university’s finding, according to Grantham.
“I have received numerous calls from concerned parents whose kids have no other option but to attend a state university,” Grantham noted. “It’s important that this tyrannical policy must not prevent any Arizonan from accessing our state university system. Moreover, as the legislature prepares to pass a state budget for next year, I will not support funding for any state university that intends to harass or discriminate against non-vaccinated students on campus.”
Rep. Jake Hoffman also opposes the ASU policy which he called “a gross abuse of students’ liberties.” He pointed out Tuesday that the state’s universities receive hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds and that it was common knowledge lawmakers have language in the pending state budget which would prohibit ASU’s COVID-19 policy.
“They’re just basically giving the Legislature the finger and that’s a problem for our State,” Hoffman said in a radio interview. “It’s an unacceptable overreach by a political subdivision of the state.”
In announcing his executive order, Ducey called on the legislation to codify his executive order into law. The question now is whether the legislation Ducey is seeking will be HB2190 or if it will include something else.
For his part, Roberts said during a radio interview Tuesday morning that the governor’s executive order is “a good start” but he believes all Arizonans -not just students- deserve the same protections. Which would be provided by HB2190.
Roberts also said he is not surprised by the ASU vaccination dustup, although he found it interesting the University of Arizona did not try to implement such as policy. He remains hopeful his vaccine bill -or something similar- will pass.
The problem, he noted, “is future political interest” of those who have so far opposed legislating vaccine policies for private and public purposes.
“If the people make it clear that future political interest are in jeopardy then maybe there’s a chance” of passing HB2190, he said. “I put the right of the individual to make that choice (to vaccinate or not) before a business should be able to dictate whether or not you have to give up your personal medical information in order to particulate in commerce.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita provided a shout-out to Roberts for “taking an early lead on this important issue,” and called on lawmakers to prohibit vaccine passports “from ever being mandated by any government or business.”
An executive order issued by Gov. Doug Ducey is temporarily protecting Arizonans from having to reveal their COVID-19 vaccination status in order to shop, attend public events, or receive government benefits. But Ducey’s executive orders issued under the state’s emergency powers laws cannot last forever, so Rep. Bret Roberts is pushing his fellow legislators to provide ensure permanent protections.
On Thursday, Roberts will be watching as the Senate considers HB2190. The bill started out as criminal justice legislation sponsored by Roberts but later became the subject of a strike-everything amendment by Sen. Kelly Townsend to prohibit businesses and government agencies in Arizona from demanding citizens provide proof, or what is referred to as a vaccine passport, of their vaccination status.
Many communities across the country are supporting the use of a vaccine passport policy, despite what Roberts called the risk of creating “a second-class society” of people who will not -or cannot- receive the COVID-19 vaccine. HB2190 seeks to protect the rights and private medical data of Arizonans while ensuring citizens are not forced to prove their vaccine status in order to shop for groceries, enter a bank, or visit their child’s school.
According to Roberts, the bill would also prohibits the government or private businesses from seeking information about a person’s post-transmission recovery if they ever fell ill from COVID-19.
Under HB2190, a business entity, a ticket issuer, or the state, a county, or local government entity or official is prohibited from basing access to a good or service or benefit on whether a person has received a vaccine. The bill also prohibits the state, a county or local government entity or official from requiring a person to receive a vaccine.
One thing Ducey’s temporary executive order and HB2190 do not address is the employee – employer relationship. That means a boss could possibly terminate an employee who won’t, or can’t, take the COVID-19 vaccine. Another thing HB2190 does not do is interfere with healthcare professionals who need to ask a patient’s vaccination status as a matter of public health concern.
Roberts has waited several weeks to see HB2190 get on the Senate calendar. He tweeted Wednesday evening that anyone seeking office should “give serious thought to their position” on vaccine passports.
“I could be wrong but I don’t think this…one will be forgotten,” he tweeted.
If HB2190 passes, it would make a violation of the new law a Class 3 misdemeanor. It would also allow a state court to suspend any state or local business license, permit, or certification for up to 30 days if the business violates the statute. The bill must receive at least 16 ayes from the 30 senators.
As a bill to prohibit vaccine passports appears to have stalled in the Arizona Legislature, Congressman Biggs this week introduced his No Vaccine Passports Act to prevent federal agencies from issuing any standardized documentation that could be used to certify a U.S. citizen’s COVID-19 status to a third party, such as a restaurant or an airline.
Biggs’ bill follows a report that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is encouraging vaccine providers to push people to share their personal health and vaccination data through their smartphones. Healthcare professionals and civil rights activists are now that surveillance system could be used to create a vaccine passport.
“I am profoundly disturbed that the Biden Administration would even consider imposing vaccine passports on the American people. My private healthcare decisions—and yours—are nobody else’s business,” said Biggs. “Vaccine passports will not help our nation recover from COVID-19; instead, they will simply impose more Big Brother surveillance on our society.
Biggs applauded Florida Governor Ron DeSantis “for being an early leader against vaccine passports at the state level. My No Vaccine Passports Act builds on his efforts and will further protect Americans’ privacy rights and fundamental freedoms.”
On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting vaccine passports. Abbott said a system to track those who have been inoculated against COVID-19 infringes on citizens’ rights.
This is the correct direction to go. Medical records should always remain confidential. No one should ever have to show papers for private medical decisions made between you and your doctor. #VaccinePassport#covidhttps://t.co/qpIAvvpGav
Arizona State Rep. Bret Roberts has proposed the state-level bill to prohibit vaccine passports. The bill has stalled due to the efforts of at least one lawmaker who believes private businesses should be allowed to require them.