Tamale Bill Clears First Hurdle At Arizona Legislature

Tamale Bill Clears First Hurdle At Arizona Legislature

By Daniel Stefanski |

A surprisingly controversial bill from 2023 cleared its first hurdle this week at the Arizona Legislature.

On Wednesday, HB 2042 (“The Tamale Bill”), sponsored by Representative Travis Grantham, passed the House Regulatory Affairs Committee with a 6-0 vote. According to the overview from the Arizona House, this bill would “expand the foods that meet the exemption for cottage food products if requirements are met, and establish program guidelines and requirements.”

The Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS) oversees the cottage food program. Its website states this program “allows individuals to make homemade products that are neither potentially hazardous nor Time or Temperature Control for Safety Foods, and offer them for commercial sale.” According to AZDHS, the law was amended twice – once in 2011 and another in 2018. The 2011 change “allow[ed] residents to produce non-potentially hazardous baked and confectionery products in their homes and offer them for commercial sale within the state.”

In a statement to AZ Free News, Grantham said, “I’m glad it passed committee unanimously and I hope the governor will sign it into law this time.”

Grantham’s reference to the governor’s future action harkens back to the 2023 legislative session, when Katie Hobbs vetoed the bill after overwhelmingly bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. In her April 18th veto letter to Speaker Ben Toma, Hobbs gave several reasons for her decision, including that the proposal “would significantly increase the risk of food-borne illness by expanding the ability of cottage food vendors to sell high-risk goods.” After the governor’s veto, the Arizona State Legislature attempted to override the action, but fell five votes short in the House of Representatives.

The President of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL), Nellie Pou, wrote a letter to Senate President Warren Petersen and Speaker Toma after Hobbs’ decision last year, supporting the “efforts to override the Governor’s veto.” Pou expressed disappointment in Hobbs’ veto, writing, “By signing this bill, the Governor had an opportunity to support the Hispanic community and personal freedom that should be accessible to everyone. Our community should not fear legal repercussions for selling their homemade foods.”

Democrat State Representative Alma Hernandez also made clear her disappointment over the spring 2023 veto. Hernandez said, “As a public health professional, I am VERY disappointed to see that a bipartisan bill allowing Arizonans to make an honest living by selling things like tamales, tortillas, and sweets legally was vetoed by Gov. Katie Hobbs. It makes no sense.”

After Senate Democrats released a statement to announce that they would not provide “the required votes needed to override” the governor’s veto of the bill, Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts took the legislators to task, saying, “Senate Democrats’ change of heart on the tamale bill isn’t about protecting the people from imagined illness. It is all about protecting a governor from embarrassment.”

Hobbs may now get a second chance at “redemption” if the bill were to clear both chambers for the second year in a row. The 2024 version does include some changes in hopes that the Governor’s Office will be more receptive this time around.

Representatives from the Institute for Justice – AZ Chapter, Barry Goldwater Institute for Public Policy Research, Arizona Free Enterprise Club, Arizona Craft Producers, North Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, and Americans for Prosperity – AZ, indicated their organizations’ support for The Tamale Bill as it commences another legislative journey. The Arizona Restaurant Association remains neutral on the proposal.

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

Lawmakers Call On Mitchell To Investigate Phoenix Ukraine Gun Scheme

Lawmakers Call On Mitchell To Investigate Phoenix Ukraine Gun Scheme

By Daniel Stefanski |

Arizona Legislative Republicans aren’t finished with the City of Phoenix’s action to donate firearms to Ukraine.

Last week, three Arizona State Representatives sent a letter to Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell, calling on the prosecutor to “immediately undertake a criminal and civil investigation of City of Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and City Councilmembers for their intentional and flagrant violation of state law in connection with their actions surrounding the City’s Ordinance S-50010.”

The letter from Representatives Travis Grantham, Quang Nguyen, and Selina Bliss, follows a response from Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes regarding a 1487 complaint for “a recently passed City of Phoenix ordinance allowing the illegal donation of 599 unclaimed firearms to Ukraine’s national police force.” Mayes’ report found that “Arizona law requires cities to dispose of unclaimed firearms by selling them in the manner provided by statute, yet the Ordinance provides for Phoenix to dispose of its unclaimed firearms by donating them to Ukraine via an export company. Because a ‘donation’ is not a ‘sale’ – and because the Ordinance conflicts with A.R.S. 12-945 in other related respects – it violates that statute, and therefore also violates A.R.S. 13-3108(A) and A.R.S. 12-943.”

Attorney General Mayes’ findings forced the City of Phoenix to repeal the Ordinance, as the lawmakers admitted in their letter to Mitchell. However, the legislators noted some “alarming details” contained in Mayes’ report “that confirm the City Council’s lawlessness and egregious disregard for state law.” One of those details was that when faced with the threat of the Attorney General’s investigation, the City’s counsel disclosed that the City has already completed the firearms transfer contemplated by the Ordinance and the Agreement.

The three state lawmakers argue that “neither the AG’s Report nor the City’s repeal of its Ordinance absolves the City Mayor or Councilmembers of criminal or civil liability for their misconduct,” hoping that the County Attorney could determine “the extent to which the City’s elected officials conspired to: (1) knowingly and repeatedly violate state law – particularly after we alerted them to the illegality of their conduct; (2) conceal their conduct; and (3) interfere with, coerce, or thwart the Attorney General’s S.B. 1487 investigation through improper means or communications.”

At the end of the letter, the legislators wrote, “In a free society, it is critical that our elected officials follow the rule of law, even when they may disagree with the underlying policy of the law. Citizens in our state are held to this standard every day. Arizonans reasonably expect – and the law demands – that government leaders likewise comply with state law or risk serious consequences for their intentional disregard of the law.” They added their collective hope that “the Mayor and City Councilmembers must also be held fully accountable for facilitating crimes of others through their illegal transfer of weapons, including but not limited to domestic civil offenses, war crimes, and organized crimes defined in Chapter 23 of Title 13.”

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

Small Businesses Find Some Relief In Legal Guardrails Placed On Legislation

Small Businesses Find Some Relief In Legal Guardrails Placed On Legislation

By Daniel Stefanski |

The leader of one of Arizona’s influential organizations for small businesses is breathing a sigh of relief after navigating the first year of a divided government.

Last week, the Arizona State Director for the National Federation of Independent Business, Chad Heinrich, wrote an op-ed for the Arizona Daily Star, looking at the aftermath of the 56th Legislature in relation to how small business owners faired during the extended session.

Heinrich noted that “while several of the bills introduced this past session would have impacted small businesses – some good, some bad – a few did not make it across the finish line in the Legislature, and others fell victim to Governor Katie Hobbs’ veto.”

One of Henrich’s “good” bills was HB 2019, which was sponsored by Representative Travis Grantham. The NFIB-AZ Director stated that “small-business owners who are subject to licensing and permitting regulations at the local government level will benefit from the passage” of this legislation, which was given the nickname of “The Permit Freedom Act.” Henrich explained that “this bill puts in place three safeguards for permit applicants by requiring the local government to provide: 1. Clear criteria for whether a permit will be granted or denied, 2. An explicit deadline for when the government will decide whether to grant or deny the permit, and 3. A meaningful day in court for cases where the applicant thinks the government wrongly denied the permit.”

HB 2019 was signed by Hobbs on April 18, after passing out of the state house with significant bipartisan support.

The report card from Heinrich was not all favorable, however. He praised the “support from our member small-business owners” in helping to “quash several bills that would have been detrimental to small-business owners and their operations.” The two bills Henrich used to illustrate his point were HB 2290 and HB 2555.

According to Heinrich, HB 2290 “sought to impose additional healthcare mandates and thereby would have made healthcare coverage further out of reach for many small-business owners.” Henrich wrote that “small business owners owe a debt of thanks to leaders in the Senate for stepping up and holding firm against this detrimental legislation.”

The other bill on Henrich’s “bad” bills list, HB 2555, “would have mandated that businesses accept cash as form of payment.” Henrich opined that this policy would have “put many different types of businesses at risk – especially those that are located in areas of greater crime risk and those that do business through transactions of larger dollar amounts.” He again thanked the Senate for serving “as the final arbiter,” ensuring that this bill “did not receive a vote of the full Senate.”

In his op-ed, Heinrich also addressed tax increases on small business, highlighting “a few legal guardrails in place in Arizona” that make these actions challenging. He listed two of those guardrails – Prop 108 (passed in 1992) and Prop 132 (passed in 2022) – that give pause to tax increases, whether by the state legislature or the ballot box.

As he closed his op-ed, Henrich encouraged NFIB members to “continue to focus on supporting those who vote with small business on issues that matter within the legislative branch while also keeping close watch on the regulatory environment which is largely governed through the executive branch.”

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

Group Warns Legislature About “Data Mining Of Children”

Group Warns Legislature About “Data Mining Of Children”

By Daniel Stefanski |

A conservative grassroots group is warning the Arizona legislature about the westward expansion of a provider of digital mental health solutions.

On Tuesday, the Arizona Women of Action shared information about Kooth’s pending partnership with the State of California and its interest in working with the Arizona Legislature, tweeting, “the data mining of children & increase in mental health services with a decrease in parental involvement is of grave concern.”

On its website, Kooth describes its company as “pioneering innovators of digital behavioral health care, giving a range clinically proven, research evidenced therapies for dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, or what every (people) may be going through.” Kooth asserts that its services cover “over 15 million people internationally.”

In March, the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) revealed that “it will launch the Behavioral Health Virtual Services Platform, a new technology-enabled services solution for all children, youth, and families in California, in January 2024. The platform is part of Governor Newsom’s Master Plan for Kids’ Mental Health and the Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative (CYBHI), a $4.7 billion investment in youth behavioral health.”

Governor Newsom rolled out this plan in August 2022 “to ensure all California kids, parents and communities have increased access to mental health and substance use services.” At the time, Newsom stated, “Mental and behavioral health is one of the greatest challenges of our time. As other states take away resources to support kids’ mental health, California is doubling down with the most significant overhaul of our mental health systems in state history.”

The announcement from DHCS added that it had “selected Kooth to support the delivery of equitable, appropriate, and timely behavioral health services to youth and young adults (ages 13-25).” DHCS noted, “Kooth will also integrate with other partners to provide a seamless user experience, including providing services and supports to children (ages 0-12) and their parents/caregivers.”

Kooth’s CEO, Tim Barker, said, “We’re excited to partner with DHCS and the State of California to help transform access to digital behavioral health support for youth across the state. Working together, we believe this represents a step-change in providing early and responsive access to behavioral health care to help address the growing youth mental health crisis.”

California’s selection of Kooth follows the launch of a pilot program in late 2022 in Pennsylvania, which had bipartisan support from state lawmakers. In a news article on November 2, State Senator Lisa Baker said, “This pilot project has the potential to fill some crucial gaps. I am pleased to see that several school districts in northeastern Pennsylvania will be participating. Our constituents will be encouraged to see constructive action on problem-solving that has bipartisan support.”

The piece in the Times Leader added context from Senator Baker, including that “the web-based counseling program by Kooth US was awarded a grant through the Department of Human services that enables school districts to opt into the services without cost to students, parents or the district;” and that “the grant was funded in the FY 2022-23 state budget in acknowledgement of the mental health crisis currently being faced by young people.”

Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Capital Star reported that a bipartisan coalition of legislators would be traveling to Arizona to “highlight their work with the Pennsylvania Health Department’s contract with Kooth US.” Kevin Winters, the General Manager for Kooth US stated, “The model that we are using now in Pennsylvania has the potential to break down the barrier of access to mental health, and we’re grateful for the advocacy of these legislators in funding this program for students. We’re anxious to expand the model to other states, and honored to present it to such an important audience in Arizona.”

One of the Pennsylvania legislators who came to Arizona in February, Representative Ryan Bizzarro, shared pictures of the event on his Instagram, writing, “Increasing access to mental health services for Pennsylvania students isn’t a partisan issue. In fact, Pennsylvania is the only state that was able to put partisan politics aside and work on modernizing mental health services by creating a space for digital mental health care – all while increasing access for everyone. And now, we’re helping the Arizona state legislature do the same! I’m happy to be part of this bipartisan / bicameral group of Pennsylvania legislators working to change the future of mental health care not only in our commonwealth, but across the U.S.”

While Arizona welcomed this delegation from Pennsylvania, the state legislature was also considering a bill to address the state’s mental health issues among teenagers. Republican Representative Travis Grantham sponsored HB 2635, which would have “authorized a school district governing board to develop or purchase a digital application to assist with threat assessments.” In February, the proposal passed both the House Education and Rules Committee without a single vote in opposition, yet it was held from final passage in the chamber because, in part, of concerns from grassroots groups like Arizona Women of Action.

The critique of Grantham’s bill caused him to introduce a floor amendment to his original proposal, changing the focus of the digital application to assistance with “suicide prevention and substance misuse.” The amendment also removed “the requirement that the digital application allow students to report safety issues and receive anonymous clinical support,” and it required “the digital application to provide suicide prevention and substance misuse resources to parents and, subject to parental consent, students.”

Representative Grantham explained that his amendment “put guard rails on the current bill,” and told AZ Free News that “many of his colleagues were concerned that the legislation was too broad and could invite mental health counseling that became even more damaging than the problem itself.” That bill remains on hold.

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

Ethics Committee Finds Stahl Hamilton Violated House Rules

Ethics Committee Finds Stahl Hamilton Violated House Rules

By Daniel Stefanski |

Another Arizona Legislative disciplinary issue may be reaching its conclusion.

Last week, the Arizona House of Representatives Committee on Ethics transmitted its report on the complaint filed the previous month against Democrat Representative Stephanie Stahl Hamilton. The May 1 complaint was levied by three Republican Representatives: Justin Heap, David Marshall and Lupe Diaz.

The ethics complaint alleged “that on three separate occasions in March and April 2023, Representative Stahl Hamilton moved two Holy Bibles from their locations in the Members’ Lounge and hid them under the Lounge’s couch cushions and in a refrigerator in the shared Coffee Bar.”

After a response by Representative Stahl Hamilton and an Evidentiary Hearing held on May 25, the Arizona House Ethics Committee found that “Representative Stahl Hamilton purposely removed the Bibles from their locations within the Members’ Lounge on three separate occasions;” that “Representative Stahl Hamilton purposely concealed the Bibles in a manner that was disrespectful to other Members;” that “Representative Stahl Hamilton did not fully apologize for her conduct;” and that “Representative Stahl Hamilton’s repeated actions offended some Members of the House, violated the inherent obligation to protect the integrity of the House, and caused the House to expend resources.”

Representative Stahl Hamilton did not appear at her hearing – as noted by the report: “Given the fact-intensive allegations in the Complaint, the Committee would have preferred to hear testimony from Representative Stahl Hamilton. Indeed, the Committee had prepared questions for Representative Stahl Hamilton relevant to this investigation.”

The five-Member committee (comprised of Representatives Joseph Chaplik, Travis Grantham, Gail Griffin, Christopher Mathis, and Jennifer Longdon) found “that the evidence sufficiently supports a conclusion that Representative Stahl Hamilton’s repeated behavior, taken as a whole, constitutes disorderly behavior in violation of Rule 1 of the Arizona House of Representatives.” The Committee did not stipulate a specific punishment to accompany its findings, but left that decision up to the entire chamber, stating, “Based on this finding, and because Representative Stahl Hamilton’s violation of Rule 1 involves House property and took place on House property, the Committee deems it appropriate for the House as a whole to decide what disciplinary measures, if any, should be taken.”

The finding by the Committee, “that Representative Stahl Hamilton did violate Rule 1,” was unanimous.

It will now be up to House Speaker Ben Toma and the entire chamber to decide which appropriate consequence, if any, fits Representative Stahl Hamilton’s actions.

This process involving Representative Stahl Hamilton is the second of the legislative session for the Arizona House. The first occurred with former Representative Liz Harris, a Republican, who was expelled by a vote of the full chamber after the conclusion of the Ethics Committee’s deliberations.

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