THE END IS NIGH?
The big lull at the Arizona Legislature has come to an end as the budget bills and Medicaid expansion passed by the Senate in mid-May is finally under consideration in the Arizona House of Representatives.
House Speaker Andy Tobin had been trying to negotiate his own plan with Gov. Jan Brewer, who has been insisting on an expansion of Medicaid to 133 percent of the federal poverty level so the state can receive $4.1 billion to the state in the next three fiscal years while providing 300,000 low-income Arizonans with insurance.
As we've reported in the past few months, the proposal has been opposed by most Republican lawmakers because they view it as an extension of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.
But the expansion is supported by the healthcare industry and nearly every chamber of commerce in the state, which has persuaded a handful of Republicans to agree with Brewer and cross party lines to team up with Democrats to get the extension through the Legislature.
The measure hit a roadblock earlier this week, when the House Appropriations Committee, voting along party lines, killed SB 1492, which is the legislation that would approve the Medicaid expansion.
But the expansion is still expected to come back to life on the House floor when the full budget is considered.
ANOTHER ASSAULT ON PLANNED PARENTHOOD
As the Arizona House of Representatives prepared to take up Gov. Jan Brewer's proposed Medicaid expansion this week, a few legislative twists popped up in the last session.
One of which was consideration of a bill in the House Appropriations Committee that launched yet another attack on Planned Parenthood clinics in Arizona.
SB 1069 passed the committee on a party-line vote on Monday, June 10.
The legislation—pushed by the Christian-conservative activists at the Center for Arizona Policy—seeks to find a way to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving any federal healthcare dollars that flow through the state as long as the non-profit organization continues to offer abortion services.
The state has been down this road before. A bit of important background: Using federal or state dollars for abortion services is already illegal in most cases, but Planned Parenthood has taken steps to ensure that abortion services are separate from the funding the organization receives when it provides healthcare services to low-income women in the state's AHCCCS program.
Last year, Republicans in the legislature passed a bill that would block any state funding for any organization that provides abortion services. Essentially, the legislation declared that Planned Parenthood was not qualified based on the abortion services it provided.
Planned Parenthood Arizona sued the state over the new restrictions and won. Federal Judge Neil Wake ruled that the state law was unconstitutional because the state had adopted an arbitrary definition of what constituted a "qualified" health provider; the case is under appeal, but similar attempts in other states have met with the same legal fate.
SB 1069 attempts a new strategy to prevent Planned Parenthood from providing abortions to low-income women. Under the terms of the bill, women could not get abortions from their Medicaid provider, even if they paid for the abortions themselves. That means if a woman happens to already get health-care services of some kind at Planned Parenthood—such as pap smears, STD treatments or birth-control medication, she could not get an abortion from them.
Bryan Howard, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, says the proposed law is just another unconstitutional effort to undermine Planned Parenthood.
"Politics should never interfere with a woman's access to preventive health care just because she is poor," Howard says. "The courts have ruled that states cannot tell a woman where she can and cannot go for health care under Medicaid."
The other portion of the bill would allow surprise inspections of abortion clinics—something that now requires a warrant as the result of a court case that was settled back in 2004. "Arizona abortion providers already provide care under an enormous framework of rules and inspections that is more comprehensive and detailed than that which is imposed on any other class of health care provider," Howard says. "No other type of care is more scrutinized and discussed on the legislative level."
State Rep. Bruce Wheeler, a Democrat who represents midtown Tucson, was blunt in his assessment of the proposed legislation, calling it "right-wing, evangelical, extremist desperation" that "ignores public opinion, court rulings, decency and rights to privacy."
The Skinny mentioned last week that the upcoming city election could be a sleepy affair.
But a new group has filed paperwork to run an initiative to phase out the city's current pension program for most employees.
The Committee for Sustainable Retirement has to collect roughly 12,720 valid signatures from Tucson voters by July 5 in order to land a spot on the November ballot.
Pete Zimmerman of Zimmerman and Associates is coordinating the paid signature drive and anticipates that the committee can gather enough signatures in the next month to qualify for the ballot.
The measure would not affect current employees and current retirees, nor would it affect cops and firefighters because their pension program is part of a state program, Zimmerman said.
But future employees would not be eligible for the pension program; instead, they'd have the option of enrolling in a 401K-style plan, according to Zimmerman.
"In our mind, everybody wins on this thing," Zimmerman says. "The employees will still have their pensions and it will save taxpayer money in the long run and we won't have to cut city services if people don't want to raise taxes."
But there's a fundamental problem with the proposal that Zimmerman wasn't prepared to discuss last week: If current employees are no longer contributing to the underfunded pension plan, there won't be enough money in the long run to make payments to the people who are receiving pensions. We'll be digging deeper into that impact if the initiative makes the ballot.
The effort is being funded by The Liberty Initiative Fund, according to Zimmerman.
The Liberty Initiative Fund is a relatively new player on the political scene. It was active in some California initiatives last year.
California Watch reported last year that the Liberty Initiative Fund was "a new Virginia-based advocacy organization started by longtime ballot initiative activist Paul Jacob. Jacob doesn't like Mitt Romney much better than Barack Obama and wrote of former President George W. Bush's policies: 'Too few of us dubbed it "socialism" back then.'"
California Watch quoted Jacob of saying The Liberty Initiative Fund was designed "to put measures on the ballot that will expand and protect individual freedom, economic freedom, and that will hold government accountable. ... We're relatively a pretty small player, but we think that's going to change, and change rapidly."