In a race against Thursday’s deadline to prevent a potential conflict between state law and the federal election calendar deadline, Republican lawmakers have advanced a proposed set of bills while Democrats have balked. It’s unlikely the bills will become law, however, as Gov. Katie Hobbs quickly rejected them as “dead on arrival.”
Republican lawmakers from both the House and Senate announced their proposed solution, two bills, on Monday afternoon; by Tuesday morning, a joint committee had advanced the bills.
In a press release, the lawmakers said that the pair of bills, SB1733 and HB2785, would provide counties with an additional 19 days in the primary election calendar and an extra 17 days in the general election calendar to comply with federal deadlines.
State Sen. Wendy Rogers (R-LD07), chair of the Senate Elections Committee, expressed hope that Hobbs would sign the legislation if passed, claiming that a refusal would cause election turmoil and voter disenfranchisement. However, Hobbs dismissed the proposal almost immediately after its release.
“This commonsense solution promises to strengthen voter confidence, is backed by all Arizona county recorders, and allows our men and women who are serving in our armed forces overseas the opportunity to cast a ballot in our elections,” said Rogers.
HB2785 sponsor State Rep. Alexander Kolodin (R-LD03) remarked that it was “highly unlikely” the feared calendar conflict would come to fruition, and that the solution was “more complicated” than some other, unnamed solutions.
“There were many simpler ways to solve this problem, some of which do not require legislative solutions,” said Kolodin. “Nevertheless, we negotiated in good faith and agreed to accept this more complicated solution in exchange for signature verification and several other commonsense reforms.”
The solution aligns with recent requests by election officials, including that of Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates over the weekend.
On Tuesday, both SB1733 and HB2785 passed quickly and narrowly out of a special joint meeting with the Senate Committee on Elections and the House Elections Committee. Democrats uniformly opposed the bills, while all Republicans voted for them.
Arizona House Democrats described the bills as “a Christmas tree of unrelated and controversial policy provisions” that they and, likely, Hobbs would oppose.
Arizona Senate Democrats claimed that the alleged excess provisions in the proposed legislation would disenfranchise voters and hinder ballot access.
In a joint statement issued over the weekend, Hobbs and Secretary of State Adrian Fontes clarified that the governor wouldn’t approve any bill that carried “harmful unrelated legislation.”
The contested provisions include the imposition of the state’s first signature verification standards, as well as the expansion of signature curing hours to the weekend before and after an election for those elections including federal offices.
The proposed legislation would also create a category of verified early ballots exempt from review for voters who show ID when turning in their mailed early ballot in person.
The Arizona Association of Counties gave their support for both bills during Tuesday’s committee hearing.
If all else fails, run and hide. That seems to be the motto for Katie Hobbs anytime she’s confronted with a challenge. We saw it during her 2022 gubernatorial campaign when she refused to debate Kari Lake. We saw it when she ducked reporters asking for her reasoning behind refusing to debate Kari Lake. We saw it when she hid in a restaurant bathroom after another reporter asked her why she didn’t like discussing politics. And now that she’s governor, it should come as no surprise that Hobbs has chosen the same approach when it comes to the border crisis.
During the last three years, the Biden administration has completely abandoned its constitutional duty to protect each state from invasion, and Texas had enough. The state moved to defend itself from an unprecedented flow of illegal immigration due to the federal government’s negligence. And it has so far been supported by governors from 25 states who signed a joint statement standing with Texas.
Given Arizona’s dangerous situation at our own border, you would think Governor Hobbs would sign on or at least have something to say. But once again, she has chosen to run and hide…
Arizona’s leading legislative Republicans are taking the state’s Secretary of State to court in advance of the 2024 election cycle.
On Wednesday, the State Senate Republican Caucus announced that President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma filed a challenge in Maricopa County Superior Court over the recently published Elections Procedures Manual (EPM), “requesting the court throw out a number of provisions in the EPM, which violate or conflict with current Arizona election laws.”
“Both the Secretary and our Governor have a track record of not following the law. As a result, I’m taking action to protect the integrity of our elections,” said President Petersen. “This reckless EPM opens the door to unlawful activity and undermines the voter confidence measures Republican lawmakers have implemented over the years.”
Toma added, “The Arizona Legislature is taking steps necessary to protect the integrity of Arizona’s elections…. Secretary Fontes has exceeded his jurisdiction, using the EPM to exercise lawmaking powers that do not belong to him. Our lawsuit aims to halt this overreach and nullify the unlawful provisions in the manual to ensure a fair and lawful electoral process for all Arizonans.”
The lawsuit, which was filed by attorneys of Statecraft PLLC and Snell & Wilmer L.L.P., asked the Superior Court for a preliminary injunction prohibiting the implementation or enforcement of the 2023 EPM to the extent it purports to:
Allow county recorders to merely move to inactive status – rather than cancel the registrations of – voters who affirmatively stated on juror questionnaires that they do not reside in the relevant county and have not responded within 35 days to a notice from the county recorder;
Prohibit county recorders from relying on information provided by third parties in determining whether there is reason to believe a registered voter is not a United States citizen;
Delay implementation of statutorily required maintenance of the active early voting list until January 2027;
Excuse mistakes or errors in the statutorily required registrations of paid or out-of-state ballot measure petition circulators;
Compel county boards of supervisors to reflexively vote to adopt only the returns provided by the election official when conducting a canvass; and
Authorize the Secretary of State to certify a statewide canvass that consists of returns of fewer than fifteen counties.
The legislative Republicans will have stiff opposition in court from the trio of statewide Democrats who were responsible for producing and approving this EPM: Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, Governor Katie Hobbs, and Attorney General Kris Mayes. When Fontes issued the 2023 EPM at the end of last year, he said, “Free, fair and secure elections have been this group’s commitment to the voter from the very beginning. This is what happens when a committed group of leaders comes together to serve their community. It’s good for our democracy and it’s good for Arizona.”
Governor Katie Hobbs, who preceded Fontes, said, “Partisan politics should have no role in how we run our elections. This EPM builds on the 2019 EPM and 2021 draft EPM from my tenure as Secretary of State and will ensure dedicated public servants from across the state will have the guidelines they need to administer free and fair elections. Together, we can protect our democracy and make sure every Arizonan has the opportunity to have their voice heard.”
As Secretary of State, Hobbs was required to finalize the EPM in 2021, but a divided government shared with Republican Governor Doug Ducey and Attorney General Mark Brnovich stymied the quest to secure a green light for the manual. Hobbs and Brnovich were also mired in an ongoing political feud, which resulted in legal bar charges that the Secretary of State brought against the state’s top prosecutor and several of his attorneys. After receiving Hobbs’ updated manual, Brnovich sued the SOS “to compel her production of a lawful EPM.” Brnovich alleged that “the SOS failed to provide the Governor and Attorney General with a lawful manual by October 1, 2021, as required, and instead included nearly one-hundred pages of provisions not permitted under the EPM statute.” The challenge from the former Attorney General was rendered unsuccessful, and the state was forced to revert to the previous cycle’s EPM (2019) to govern the 2022 races.
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.
Gov. Katie Hobbs has introduced legislation that would end the entirety of Arizona’s school choice program come 2032.
On Monday, Hobbs announced the release of the bill, part of a forthcoming package, to bring to heel and then end the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program.
In the press release announcing the legislation, neither Hobbs nor Democratic leaders mentioned the provision ending the entire ESA Program: both the universal and special education components. The coalition characterized the legislation as containing accountability and transparency measures.
As justification for the legislation, the governor repeated claims of misused ESA funding that have been debunked by Arizona Department of Education (ADE) officials.
“Arizonans deserve to know their taxpayer dollars are being spent giving Arizona children the education they deserve, not on luxury car driving lessons, ski trips, and water park passes,” said Hobbs. “We must bring accountability and transparency to the ESA program.”
The bill, SB1399, was introduced by Sen. Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein (D-LD12). Under the bill, the ESA Program would end on July 1, 2032 unless continued by an act of the legislature approved by the governor.
The bill also would:
Require educators at ESA-funded schools to have a higher education; at least three years of teaching experience; and specialized skills, knowledge, or expertise related to the subject matter of instruction
Require fingerprinting and background checks for ESA-funded educators and tutors
Prohibit sales of items purchased using ESA funds
Require preapproval of transactions of $500 or more
Require the purchase of the least-expensive version of educational goods or services
Require ADE to disclose the legal rights waived by admission to the program
Require ADE to estimate the funds needed for the ESA program for the upcoming fiscal year
Implement additional performance and fiscal reporting requirements for ESA-funded schools
Require ESA-funded schools to adhere to outside individualized education programs or Section 504 plans
Establish annual audits of ESA-funded schools
Establish a legislative committee review of the ESA program to determine its economy and efficiency, achievements and shortcomings
Epstein also didn’t mention the bill’s total eradication of the ESA Program. Rather, the senator indicated that her issue with the ESA Program concerned its universalization.
“The unaccountable government expansion of ESA vouchers has put our state’s financial security, and our students, at risk,” said Epstein. “These commonsense safeguards will be vitally important for giving Arizona children a safe and quality education, and bring the same accountability and oversight to ESAs that we expect for any taxpayer spending.”
Similarly, House Minority Leader Lupe Contreras (D-LD22) — anticipated to introduce mirror legislation soon — said that the legislation consisted of “basic standards” for transparency and accountability.
The governor put the legislature on notice of the forthcoming legislative package earlier this month.
The day after Hobbs dropped her legislation, ADE Superintendent Tom Horne released the latest data on the ESA Program. Horne reported a projected surplus of $28 million through the 2024 fiscal year, which ends in June.
Citing the projected surplus, Horne denounced the accusations from Hobbs and Democratic lawmakers that the state’s budget woes were attributable to the ESA Program expansion.
“Whatever budget issues state lawmakers are facing this year, they have not been created by the ESA program or any other aspect of basic state aid for education,” said Horne. “The fact there is a surplus in basic state aid, including the ESA program, demonstrates our commitment to good financial stewardship.”
Matt Beienburg of the Goldwater Institute, a major proponent of the ESA Program, said that Hobbs’ proposal constituted “an all-out assault” on students and their families as well as a “government takeover” of private schools.
“Building off Gov. Hobbs’s recent proposal to rip away 50,000 ESA scholarship awards, this legislation goes even further and would terminate the entire ESA program—including for students with special needs—before thousands of these children even complete their studies,” said Beienburg. “This legislation would impose a government takeover of private school tuition rates and operational decisions, attempting to destroy private education and parental autonomy, forcing thousands of families back into a system they’ve desperately tried to escape.”
A contentious fight is brewing in the Arizona legislature, the possible reauthorization of the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA). Governor Hobbs has made the reauthorization a top priority of her administration this session, mentioning it in her State of the State address. But the debate has an ironic element considering the history of its inception.
In 2011, the state was crawling out of a crippling recession, having lost literally hundreds of thousands of jobs and even selling off the state Capitol buildings to dig out of a deficit. The legislature, in collaboration with the Brewer Administration, introduced an omnibus bill sold as a “jobs package” which refashioned the bureaucratic Department of Commerce into the Arizona Commerce Authority, and incorporated both new targeted tax credit programs and incentives, as well as phased in corporate income and commercial property tax cuts.
Democrats a Decade Ago Opposed the ACA
The bill at the time was uniformly opposed by Democrats, including then Representative Katie Hobbs. Republicans mostly coalesced around the bill, with a handful of key conservatives voting in opposition of the legislation, largely in protest of the corporate welfare and multi-million-dollar “deal closing” fund with no legislative oversight. For those unfamiliar with the deal closing fund, it is a large pot of money appropriated to the Director of the Commerce Authority to throw at corporations to convince them to relocate to Arizona.