Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Brewer: Time for Action is NOW! UPDATED 12:15am 6-12-13

Just after posting earlier this evening, I learned that Gov. Brewer had called a surprise special session of the legislature to get the BUDGET ball rolling. The Arizona House had been procrastinating for close to a month and Speaker Tobin had earlier in the afternoon adjourned his chamber until Thursday.

Appropriations chair John Kavanagh, ever the tough guy -- or at least he talks like it -- had scheduled his committee to meet Thursday morning to essentially pour sand in the gas tank by introducing strike everything amendments to all nine of the Senate budget bills that had not yet been heard in committee.

Apparently, Brewer had a few tricks up her sleeve and called Kavanagh's bluff.

From coverage by the Arizona Republic:
Fed up with weeks of debate and delay on her top legislative priority, Gov. Jan Brewer called lawmakers into an unprecedented special session late Tuesday, bypassing the leadership of her own party to push through Medicaid expansion and the 2014 budget.
The governor’s surprise move comes after House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, adjourned until Thursday, stalling efforts by a bipartisan House coalition to pass Brewer’s 2014 budget and Medicaid expansion.
Many legislators were on their way home when Brewer called key lawmakers to a meeting in her offices, where the special session plans were organized. They agreed to unseat the speaker and Senate president, if necessary, to get Medicaid expansion and the budget passed.
Brewer issued a special session proclamation at 5 p.m., and by then Democrats and the expansion-friendly Republicans were already gathering on the House floor.
Matthew Benson, the governor’s spokesman, said Brewer had waited long enough, and that Tobin adjourning the House until Thursday “was the final straw.”
Bipartisan coalitions in the House and Senate that have backed Brewer’s expansion plan for months will push it through, starting tomorrow, along with nine bills that make up the fiscal 2014 state budget.
The rules give broad authority to a simple majority of the 60-member House. Including the power to bring bills to the floor, create committees and replace leadership.
The House Medicaid coalition includes at least 32 members, and there are at least 18 in the Senate.
The Republic also reported that Chandler Republican Rep. Bob Robson believes neither Biggs nor Tobin will have to be removed from their positions in charge of each chamber because they will allow the bills to be acted on. This special session will apparently bypass Kavanagh's Appropriations Committee and bring the budget bills directly to the floor.

Sen. Steve Farley sent out his weekly Friends O'Farley report this evening.
When 5pm rolled around we discovered that the Governor decided she had had enough. Here is her tweet from a few minutes later:
"It's time to complete the people's business. No more delays. No more stall tactics. No more games. #SpecialSession #AZMedicaid"
At 7:15pm we President Biggs gaveled us into Special Session, but no other Medicaid opponents were on the floor. We first-read the Governor's budget bills and Medicaid expansion, then adjourned for the evening.
These budget bills are basically the Senate budget with a few changes for the better, including removal of the sunset date for the Medicaid restoration, and the restoration of the Department of Housing. (emphasis mine)
The plan as it exists now is for us to come in tomorrow (regular session floor at 10:30am, special session at 11am), second read the bills, debate in Committee of the Whole, then third read and send to the Governor for signature after midnight on tomorrow night/Thursday morning. Stay tuned.
So how did we get here?
We did virtually nothing for the rest of last week until yesterday, when only two bills were heard in the House Appropriations Committee -- the Senate budget's Health bill (SB1492), and a strike-everything bill allowing warrantless searches of abortion clinics, and needlessly restating the federal Hyde Amendment that precludes federal funding from going towards abortions (SB1069).
[SB]1069 was heard first -- it is primarily another ideological effort to divide the moderate bipartisan coalition that supports the Senate budget. Despite its clear violation of the U.S. Constitution's ban on unreasonable search and seizure, the bill obtained a party-line 7-4 approval. It was scheduled to be debated on the House floor today, but it was retained on the calendar for a future date. I hear there will be an effort to further amend the bill to make it marginally better. The topic may be moot now that the special session has changed all the dynamics.
The Medicaid restoration, as contained in the Senate Health budget bill, was heard next. The arguments weren't much different than we had heard on the Senate floor when we passed it a few weeks ago. Proponents like AHCCCS Director Tom Betlach laid out the state's four options:
1) Continue freezing out single childless adults, despite the violation of the voter-approved law to the contrary. This would cost us $880 million in taxpayer dollars over three years, confirmed by the Legislature's own budget advisory committee.
2) Restore coverage for all childless adults, but do not cover those earning between 100% and 133% of the poverty level. This would cost us $1.3 billion over the next three years, even with federal matching funds, but would be consistent with voter-approved law.
3) Drop coverage for all childless adults -- the 63,000 people currently covered, including 5,000 cancer patients and 2,000 people with severe mental illness. This would cost us nothing but our souls, public safety, and the death of our healthcare system from the cost of unreimbursed care. The Governor calls this option "morally repugnant and fiscally irresponsible."
4) The Governor's plan to restore coverage for 240,000 childless adults in poverty and expand coverage to 57,000 more adults earning up to 133% of the poverty line. This actually EARNS us $100 million in the General Fund over the next three years.
So there it is: Pay nearly a billion dollars in taxpayer money over the next three years to NOT cover 297,000 people and drive our hospitals into bankruptcy, or rake in $100 million more to our state treasury while covering them all. Any other choice but the Governor's plan amounts to wasting taxpayer money, human lives, and the Arizona economy to make a political point.
The arguments against this were basically twofold: 1) We hate Obama and Obamacare, so we should be willing to hurt ourselves in order to prove how much we hate him and his policies; and 2) We can't guarantee the Feds will keep giving us these matching funds four years from now, so we shouldn't cover anyone in the meantime so we won't have to drop them if the money ends in the future.
The first argument is not worth rebutting due to its raw and fearful partisan nature. The second argument makes no sense -- wouldn't those nearly 300,000 people who currently lack healthcare rather have coverage for the next four years than to not have coverage at all? Additionally, the same people making this argument had no problem chopping 130,000 childless adults and 60,000 kids in poverty three years ago when the budget picture looked bleak. Why would they have any trouble doing the same in the future?
A particularly interesting argument was offered by Rep. David Livingston (R-Peoria), which was that since Republicans control all branches of government, they should adopt a "Republican budget". I would argue that the Governor has amply proven her Republican credentials, and she supports the Senate budget. In any case, the Arizona people don't need a Republican budget or a Democratic budget, -- we need a budget that works for everyone, regardless of party.
Livingston has proposed his own "People's Budget", which simply cuts 5% across the board from everything -- health care, roads, hospitals, schools, CPS, developmentally disabled services, everything -- then hoards away hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to do nothing for the Arizona citizenry. Not sure which "people" he is talking about to whom he dedicates this slash-fest, but I know I've not met any of them.
In that Monday Approps Committee, the Senate Health budget bill was defeated on another party-line vote 4-7. As as it turns out, it looks like that may have been the beginning of the end of the Governor's patience on this issue.  
I expect to be able to watch House floor debate live online and hope to report on the action Wednesday evening.

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I was told that 15 House Republicans refused to attend the opening of the special session this evening, opting instead to sit in the House gallery (where citizens sit to observe the live proceedings). If I can obtain a picture, I'll post it.

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On a different topic, the application deadline to fill the vacant seat on the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission passed on Monday (June 10). Thirteen names are listed with their applications on the Supreme Court's website. I'm told the Appellate Courts Commission on Appointments plans to meet on Monday, June 17 and hopes to forward a list of three names to House Minority Leader Chad Campbell from which he will be able to make a selection. I'm not sure about candidate interviews or other aspects of the vetting process.

I will try to verify the date, time and location of the meeting and obtain further details. When I have them, I post the information to the blog.

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UPDATE




In what appears to be a protest of the start of the Special Session, "conservative members" of the House GOP caucus sit in the gallery rather than at their desks on the House floor.  John Corey Wentling commented, "We came up two short to deny them a quorum."

Of course, Wentling appears ignorant of House Rules which state:
RULE 6: ROLL CALL, QUORUM, CALL OF THE HOUSE
A. Every member shall be present within the Hall of the House during its sitting, unless excused by the Speaker prior to roll call or necessarily prevented; and shall vote on each question put, unless the member has a personal financial interest in the question, as set forth in Rule 36, or unless the member is excused from voting in accordance with Rule 14.
As we understand it, the House was prepared to oust Andy Tobin from his position as Speaker if he were to allow any shenanigans. So, Wentling, apparently a friend of whited sepulchre Tom Jenney, doesn't know his elbow from his a******... er, from the House Rules.

Jenney listed the GOP members in the gallery, but for simplicity's sake, I'll note that John Kavanagh is the nearest and Eddie Farnsworth is at the far end of the first row in this pic.

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Video from KPHO Channel 5/CBS in Phoenix shows a little bit more of the drama from this evening.

WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather

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