By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- While issues surrounding the ongoing emergency and election laws are likely to command a lot of legislative heat and light, there are dozens of other subjects, great and small, that will be debated.
One of the big battles will be what new hurdles lawmakers will try to put in the path of individuals and groups seeking to propose their own laws.
The approval of Proposition 208 to raise taxes on the state's wealthiest to add cash to K-12 education stung the business community which waged a full-court press against it. And those same interests are now working to get a judge to void the voter-approved 3.5% income tax surcharge on individual earnings above $250,000 and $500,000 for married couples filing jointly.
Now the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry already is trotting out what it calls "potential reforms'' to the system.
One is requiring more than a simple majority of votes cast to enact any changes. Had that provision been in place it would have quashed many of the measures that have been approved in recent years, including Proposition 208.
Another proposes that the required signatures to put measures on the ballot come from each of the state's 30 legislative districts or what will be 10 congressional districts.
On one hand that ensures that circulators cannot qualify for the ballot simply with support from the Phoenix metro area. But the flip side is it effectively gives residents of any one area of the state veto power.
And there also is a proposal to have anything approved by voters self-destruct after a given number of years unless reenacted at the ballot box. That, however, forces those who got a measure approved in the first place to again have to spend money to keep it on the books.
Even if the Republican-controlled legislature agrees to any or all changes, there is a check on their power. These all need constitutional amendments which can be approved only if voters ratify them in 2022.
There is one proposal out there that does not have the support of the business community: Allowing those circulating initiative petitions to use the same online system for gathering signatures that is available for political candidates.
Democrats, who remain in the minority, are hoping to focus attention on the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"There are a number of Arizonans that are hurting,'' said Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios.
One priority is altering the maximum unemployment benefit available to workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. At $240 a week, it hasn't been altered in 17 years. Only Mississippi pays less.
But Gov. Doug Ducey, in an interview with Capitol Media Services, showed no interest in altering that formula.
"We certainly want to make sure that if somebody is displaced that they don't fall through the cracks and that there's a social safety net for them,'' he said.
"But I want public policy to encourage people to get back into the workforce,'' Ducey said.
He acknowledged that the Arizona economy is not back to pre-pandemic levels. In fact the state Office of Economic Opportunity said that the state has recovered just 201,200 of the nearly 295,000 jobs lost since February.
Ducey said he prefers to think of it as the number of people employed now is 96.4% of where it was before the virus hit.
But foes run the risk that if they do not take up the issue there is the chance that voters will -- and in a form that, if approved at the ballot, lawmakers cannot change. That's exactly what happened in 2006 and again in 2016 when voters hiked the state minimum wage after the Republican-controlled legislature refused.
Water also will again be a focus as lawmakers realize the "drought contingency plan'' adopted in 2019 is not a permanent and long-term solution.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers wants to look to "augment'' supplies. But that depends on finding those with water rights elsewhere willing to sell them.
At the same time there is discussion about restricting the transfer of water from one county to another, a concern of some rural lawmakers who fear developers and cities buying up groundwater rights and leaving communities with limited reserves for growth.
Among other likely subjects for legislative consideration:
- Curbing the power of the Arizona Corporation Commission to set energy policy, including requirements for renewable energy, leaving the panel solely with the ability to set rates.
- Deciding whether sex education classes, which already are optional, should not be available for anyone younger than the fifth grade.
- Considering whether Arizona should have a lieutenant governor who would be elected on the same ticket with the governor, like the president and vice president. The current system makes the secretary of state first in line of succession, regardless of whether that person is of the same party as the governor who quit, died or was thrown out of office.
- Restoring the right of local governments to impose restrictions on vacation rentals, including number of residents in a building and how many can be in any given neighborhood.
- Eliminating requirements for students to be vaccinated before they can attend school.
- Forbidding homeowner associations from barring residents from flying any flag that honors "first responders.'' These will be added to a list that includes the U.S. flag, flags of tribal nations, flags of military branches, the POW/MIA flag, and the "Gadsden flag,'' the familiar coiled snake on yellow background.
- Debating whether to reduce prison sentences for certain nonviolent offenses, both from a social policy perspective and as a way of saving money on the Department of Corrections which already eats up more than $1 billion a year of state funds.
- Allowing community colleges to offer four-year degrees as a less-expensive alternative to state universities. Similar plans have been beaten back in prior years by the Arizona Board of Regents.
- Requiring that doctors seeking to perform breast enhancement surgery on women provide more complete disclosure of the side effects.
- Raising the tax on gasoline or finding other revenue sources for road construction and maintenance, as the fund has taken a major hit with less travel during the pandemic.
- Setting new restrictions on drone operators about where they can go and at what point an overflight becomes intrusion on private property and activities.
- Deciding whether athletes in interscholastic or intramural sports can play only in accordance with their gender at birth or whether someone who identifies as a different gender and perhaps has undergone hormone treatments can compete in that gender.
- Criminalizing food tampering, which also would consist of taking an item off the shelf, licking it -- and possibly taking a selfie -- and then putting it back.
- Requiring that any new or renovated school buildings have windows that open.
- Banning the sale of eggs that do not come from cage-free chickens.
- Repealing a constitutional amendment that excuses lawmakers from arrest in all cases except treason, felony crimes and breach of the peace. It also allows legislators to avoid civil process during legislative sessions, and for 15 days prior to each session.
- Levying fees on internet platforms that act as "publishers,'' meaning they edit and remove certain content versus simply allowing anyone to post.
- Making it more difficult for police and prosecutors to use civil procedures to seize cars, money and other property if there is no underlying criminal conviction.
- Mandating that police and prosecutors put officers who have been judged to be dishonest on a publicly available "Brady list.''
- Restricting access to weapons by people determined to be a danger to self or others.
- Making the results of genetic tests the property of the individuals tested.
- Consolidating the separate boards that regulate barbers and cosmetologists into a single oversight agency.