Several state lawmakers spent last Wednesday afternoon attending the 2022 Arizona Farm Bureau AgFest on the lawn of the House of Representatives.
The Arizona Farm Bureau is the state’s largest farm and ranch organization, and serves as the industry’s voice. The Jan. 19 event showcased the state’s $23.3 billion agriculture industry to legislators.
Among those attending was Sen. Sine Kerr, who chairs the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, Energy, and Water.
Kerr is no stranger to the Ag business. She grew up in rural Buckeye and with her husband now owns a large dairy farm.
“Agriculture is essential to Arizona’s prosperity,” Kerr said at the event. “We all depend on the work our ranchers and farmer are doing for our state and country, and I will do my absolute best to always advocate for them at the state legislature.”
Some of the other lawmakers who attended AgFest were House Speaker Pro Tempore Travis Grantham, as well as Reps. Leo Biasiucci, Frank Carroll, David Cook, and Joel John. Senate President Karen Fann was also on hand, as well as Sen. TJ Shope.
Members of the University of Arizona Collegiate Young Farmers and Ranchers, which has its own Arizona Farm Bureau chapter, also took part in the event.
In other Arizona Farm Bureau news, it was announced earlier this month that the organization earned the American Farm Bureau Federation’s New Horizon Award, which honors the most innovative new state Farm Bureau programs.
The New Horizon Award recognized the Arizona Farm Bureau’s partnership with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service last year to launch a conservation agriculture mentoring program. Stefanie Smallhouse, president of Arizona Farm Bureau, accepted the award during the Federation’s annual convention in Georgia.
Arizona Farm Bureau also won in all four Awards of Excellence categories for demonstrating outstanding achievements in Advocacy, Coalitions & Partnerships, Engagement & Outreach, and Leadership & Business Development.
In a very efficient use of 72 hours, the Arizona Legislature finished a special session called by Gov. Doug Ducey to approve a $100 million supplemental appropriation bill which will fund fire suppression and fire mitigation efforts across the state.
“This will help our brave firefighters, at-risk communities and so many Arizonans,” said Ducey, who is expected to sign the HB2001 on Friday. The bill passed with bipartisan support from 24 of 30 senators and 56 of 60 house members.
Much of the funds are earmarked for the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management (DFFM) but millions will also be spent for inmate and non-inmate labor related to work crews from the Arizona Department of Corrections.
The legislation addresses targeted investments toward the labor and equipment needed for wildfire prevention and preparedness, as well as response and recovery operations. Some of the funding is also earmarked for economic assistance for those displaced by fires or post-fire floods.
Only minimal amendments were made to the proposed legislation which had been sent to lawmakers earlier this week with Ducey’s blessing. One amendment changed a job title while another set a $10 million cap for funds to be used as a last resort for private landowners who experience infrastructure damage related to a fire or post-fire flooding.
That reference to landowners triggered one of the biggest debates in the House after Rep. Andres Cano (D-LD3) sought to include $5 million dollars of “last resort” funds for small business owners, many of whom may suffer losses from wildfires but do not own the land on which their business operates.
Rep. Gail Griffin, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, Energy, and Water, opposed the amendment even though she understood Cano’s concern. The problem, explained Griffin (R-LD14), is that a lot of effort was put into drafting the special session legislation and any extra items lawmakers want to fund should be addressed once back in regular session.
Cano’s amendment died on a voice vote. But he attempted to add the amendment back on via a motion once the main bill made it to the House floor. Cano’s effort failed, but it triggered a roll call vote by each representative.
It was revealed during the roll call that Rep. Travis Grantham (R-LD12) had been given permission by House Speaker Rusty Bowers to vote via text message because Grantham was in an aircraft at the time. A rules challenge was sustained which forced Bowers to disallow Grantham’s no vote on Cano’s motion. It also meant Grantham was unable to cast a vote for the fire suppression bill.
Arizona State Forester David Tenney, who is also DFFM’s director, warned lawmakers during a meeting Wednesday that the destructive Telegraph and Mescal wildfires near Globe are just a glimpse of what is expected to be a severe wildfire season in Arizona. He said last year more than 900,000 acres burned statewide; as of Thursday 300,000 acres have burned in 2021 with months of other fires expected.
One-quarter of the $100 million appropriation will serve a dual role: it will fund several ongoing fire industry positions in addition to 720 ADC inmates who will perform fire fuel or vegetation mitigation at sites throughout the state. Tenney says he hopes the crews can clear 20,000 acres annually.
In addition to Grantham, several lawmakers did not participate in the final vote on the fire bill even though remote “Zoom” voting is allowed. They were Rep. Joseph Chaplik (R-LD23) along with Sens. Lela Alston (D-LD24), Sally Ann Gonzales (D-LD3), Tyler Pace (R-LD25), and Kelly Townsend (R-LD16).
Those who voted against the bill were Sens. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-LD23) and Juan Mendez (D-LD26), as well as Reps. Melody Hernandez (D-LD26) and Athena Salman (D-LD26).
Up next for the legislature is trying to pass an 11-bill budget package which had the blessing from Ducey after it was announced Arizona had a nearly $2 billion surplus. The current fiscal year ends June 30 so no new budget would mean a partial state government shutdown.
There has been a stalemate in both chambers related to the three key points of the package: how much to allocate for new spending versus paying down debt, how much of the surplus to refund to taxpayers, and whether or not to transition Arizona to a flat-rate income tax.
To pass any of the 11 bills requires 31 votes in the House and 16 in the Senate. That happens to coincide with the number of Republicans in both chambers, but some members of that caucus have refused at different times to vote for the bills unless changes are made. Everyone is expected back to work Monday in hopes of resolving enough differences to secure the required votes.
Then attention will need to turn to 22 bills which Ducey vetoed when he grew frustrated with the lack of progress on the budget. The House and Senate have reintroduced all 22 bills but have not taken final action to reapprove them. There is also a chance that all or some of the governor’s vetoes could be the subject of a veto override vote.
In what has being characterized by some lawmakers as a “tantrum,” Governor Doug Ducey announced on Twitter Friday afternoon that he has vetoed 22 bills and that he will not sign any other legislation until a budget is passed. In a series of tweets, Governor Ducey characterized the vetoed bills as containing “good policy,” but that he was unhappy that the legislature failed to pass a budget before temporarily recessing for the Memorial Day weekend.
The decision to veto nearly two dozen bills without warning shocked many at the capitol, especially since the Governor was out of town all week at the Republican Governor’s Association meeting in Tennessee.
“It’s unfortunate the governor had to veto 22 bills today including one very important bill dealing with the prohibition of critical race theory indoctrination in government,” Speaker Pro Tempore Travis Grantham told AZ Free News. “This is a direct result of a select few in both the House and Senate, who refuse to do what’s best for the citizens of Arizona and pass a fiscally sound conservative budget without wasteful spending and pork. It’s time to get to work and stay there until we put special interests aside, reduce burdensome taxes on our citizens, and vote for a responsible Republican budget.”
“The Governor’s decision to veto crucial election integrity legislation, as well as, his veto of a bill that would’ve banned taxpayer money from being used to teach the racist, bigoted Critical Race Theory (CRT) ideology is shocking and disappointing for the millions of Arizonans who support these measures,” said Rep. Jake Hoffman.
“The decision to employ strong arm tactics by vetoing over 20 Republican bills, presumably driven by some of his staff and advisors, reflects a fundamental miscalculation regarding the status and progress of the budget negotiations.” Hoffman concluded, “It is deeply concerning that they did not foresee how detrimental indiscriminately vetoing nearly two dozen bills would be on reaching consensus on the budget.”
Capitol insiders told AZ Free News that Governor Ducey has been absent throughout most of the budget negotiations, and most lawmakers have not heard from him or staff about the budget all session. “Not being in town during these final stages of budget negotiations was a real disappointment. If he cares so much, why hasn’t he been here.” said one lawmaker who wished to speak off the record.
The bills vetoed by Governor Ducey today include:
SB1022 unborn child; statutory language
SB1030 guilty except insane; court jurisdiction
SB1074 governance; audits; training
SB1119 attorney general; federal executive orders
SB1121 marijuana; security
SB1127 vehicle speed limits
SB1135 taxes; 529 contributions; ABLE contributions
SB1176 nutrition assistance; benefit match
SB1215 liquor; sales; delivery; identification information
The governor stated in his formal veto letter that the proposed budget agreement “makes responsible and significant investments in K-12 education, higher education, infrastructure and local communities, all while delivering historic tax relief to working families and small businesses.”
Another Capitol insider told AZ Free News, “I don’t think Governor Ducey realizes that his veto rampage likely created more problems than it solved. He wiped out a lot of hard work and expects lawmakers to come back because he now is finally interested in showing up to work after being AWOL all session? A lot of people down here won’t put up with this.”
Negotiations on the budget are expected to resume next week. The Legislature has until June 30th to pass a budget plan before the end of the fiscal year and avoid a government shutdown.
On Wednesday, Governor Doug Ducey signed landmark bipartisan civil asset forfeiture reform legislation intended to ensure innocent Arizonans do not have their property permanently forfeited without a criminal conviction.
House Bill 2810, sponsored by Rep. Travis Grantham, was approved by decisive majorities in the Arizona House and Senate. It becomes law 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.
Currently there is no requirement that the government prove that seized property is connected to a crime, which has resulted in property being taken from innocent people. This legislation protects Arizonans’ rights while maintaining law enforcement’s ability to hold criminals accountable.
The legislation requires that property can only be seized if it is evidence of a crime, has been abandoned, is subject to forfeiture, or it is illegal for a person to possess it. It also includes provisions that ensure that an innocent person has a process to get it returned.