CEBV Weekly: 2023 Preview Edition
The days of a Republican trifecta are gone. What happens now? And what does the Hippocratic Oath have to do with it?
For the first time in over 10 years, Arizona’s three branches of government are controlled by more than one political party. We have a Democratic governor, but the new legislature has the same razor-thin partisan makeup as the last one. The one-vote Republican majority in each chamber has moved even farther right, with MAGA extremists replacing nearly every mainstream Republican. If they stick with the same unilateral approach they’ve long relied on — trying to strong-arm bills through on partisan lines — it will likely go poorly.
Regardless, we can expect them to test the waters. The Senate went all-in on extremism, electing MAGA hardliner Warren Petersen as their president. Republicans allowed three candidates who ultimately lost their races to participate in the decision, which was settled by a single vote. Once crowned, Petersen promptly stripped rival David Gowan of his Appropriations chairmanship in favor of radical supporters (election denier Wendy Rogers, for example, will chair Elections). Some Republican senators grumbled, but there’s no sign of an impending revote.
By contrast, House Republicans passed on MAGA extremist leadership in favor of a speaker with a track record of getting bills passed. Ben “Count to 31, Jake” Toma is the architect of 2021’s massive tax cut for the wealthy and 2022’s universal ESA voucher expansion, and has a track record of standing firm against the House’s “no caucus.” He shouldn’t expect roses, though; much of the House Republican incoming class is wet behind the ears and more than a bit belligerent.
Fully half of this year’s House lawmakers are freshmen.
All hopes for common sense now rest on our new governor. Will our state government address water, infrastructure, public education, affordable housing, and the other pressing issues that face our state? Or will it double down yet again on MAGA extremism and making it harder to vote? At the Democratic Governors Association’s recent annual winter gathering, Katie Hobbs “described a relationship with Republican state Senate leadership that is so strained, she has had no communication with them and does not plan to.” Arizona’s record for most bills vetoed in a single year is 58, under Janet Napolitano in 2005. Hobbs could eclipse that quickly if she chooses to.
It’s probable that fissures between the various factions we’ve just described will widen during session. This may present an opportunity for the minority party to peel off enough votes to get a few bills through. Even so, we shouldn’t expect any big things from this divided legislature. Rather, we’re reminded of the Hippocratic Oath: first, #DoNoHarm. It’s far more important that pro-democracy lawmakers refuse to compromise away their values in the name of “getting things done.”
So yes, we’re expecting another wild and lengthy legislative session in 2023. But the landscape reads differently this year. With self-described allies now serving in several statewide positions, including the 9th Floor (governor’s suite), we have far more tools at our disposal than we have had in over 10 years.
Session Preview: Top Issues
Abortion (again). On the campaign trail, Hobbs said she intended to call a special session to repeal the 1864 state law banning abortions in all cases except for medical emergencies, and replace it with a law that’s “in line with where the majority of Arizonans are.” With this legislature, that would likely have been an uphill battle at best. Former house speaker JD Mesnard, who accused Hobbs of "punching us in the face” by revisiting the issue and complained that “it's going to be a long four years" with her in office, is pretty representative of the Republican caucus viewpoint here.
Then, last week, the Arizona Court of Appeals unanimously ruled the 1864 law unenforceable, leaving last session’s 15-week ban as current law. A Hobbs spokesman says that decision "made the special session unnecessary." The issue hasn’t gone away, but the pressure is relieved. A citizen’s initiative on the topic is widely expected for 2024.
Averting disaster for public schools (again). It’s Groundhog Day: public schools face the catastrophic prospect of being legally unable to spend $1.4 billion in funds the Legislature has already allocated to them. Unless two-thirds of lawmakers (40 House representatives and 20 senators) vote to lift the outdated Aggregate Expenditure Limit before March 1, Arizona’s public district schools — which serve 70% of the state’s schoolchildren — will have to cut spending for this school year by nearly 20% across the board. That would mean teacher layoffs, program cuts and school closures, which would be ruinous for not just public schools, but entire communities, many of them rural.
Last year, lawmakers waited until the last moment to pass a one-year waiver. They then crafted a “bipartisan compromise” budget predicated on the verbal promise of a special session to resolve the cap. This was incredibly gullible, as the special session of course never materialized. When pushed to honor his promise, Gov. Ducey shrugged it off, tried to load in unrelated issues like more money for school vouchers, then dodged until the clock ran out. (In the immortal words of Samuel Goldwyn, verbal promises aren’t worth the paper they’re written on — especially in politics.)
It’s encouraging to see that David Cook (R-7), who sits on the House Education Committee, has already introduced HCR2001, a clean one-year waiver of the cap. The next step would be for Speaker Toma (R-28) to assign that bill to a committee, and for the bill to receive a hearing — but Hobbs has also signaled her intent to play hardball by calling a special session. This will spotlight the issue and challenge holdouts who are dragging their heels. As with the 2018 special session on opioids, this can happen at the same time as regular legislative work (general session). Lawmakers will simply gavel out of one session and into the other on the same day.
A tug-of-war on voting rights (again). The wait for full election results isn’t new to Arizona. Early voting has long been popular here, and ballots returned close to Election Day always take time to process. But MAGA Republicans are becoming desperate. Though they’ve suffered three straight drubbings at the polls, and created the very problem they now face by telling people to hold onto their ballots until the last minute, they show no signs of stopping their attacks on our freedom to vote. This year, we can expect them to try to do away with voters’ ability to return mail ballots at the polls on Election Day; this past November, almost 20% of voters chose that option.
At first, Hobbs seemed unlikely to play along, saying the legislative change “could impact people’s ability to vote” and pointing out “the folks crying out for election integrity are the ones undermining it.” Now, however, she and some Democratic legislative leaders are signaling they may “compromise” on requiring on-the-spot verification so voters can feed their mail ballots into tabulators — even though Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer says that would break the chain of ballot custody, harming election integrity.
We couldn’t oppose this more. Lawmakers who were elected on promises to protect our freedom to vote shouldn’t "pre-concede" to the demands of election deniers, especially when our current process isn’t broken. (So what if counting takes a few extra days?) Just as with school vouchers, these so-called small incremental changes comprise an orchestrated long-term attack. We urge voting rights advocates to stiffen their spines — we’ll be watching closely, and we’ll hold them accountable.
Budget battles (again). Divided government is messy by nature. Gov. Hobbs will promote policy that won’t make it anywhere. The Republican-controlled legislature will send bills to Hobbs’ desk that will be dead on arrival. With divided government, that’s all to be expected. But things will get truly interesting when it comes time for the legislature to fulfill its only constitutionally required obligation: passing a budget.
It’s important to remember here that Hobbs has the final say. Unlike when she served as Senate Minority Leader, she doesn’t have to compromise. Expect her to set expectations early, then follow through when pushed, as Jan Brewer did in 2013 when she indicated she wouldn’t sign any state budget without a Medicaid expansion. We’re looking forward to seeing her budget proposal, which comes out Friday and will largely set those expectations.
Introduced Bills: An Early Look
As of this writing, lawmakers have introduced just 52 bills, a drop in the bucket compared to last year’s whopping 1,747.
Don’t relax — they’re coming.
Far too many of these 52 bills push manufactured, divisive culture-war issues: criminalizing sitting on the sidewalk (SB1024) and panhandling in medians (SB1022), making fentanyl a felony murder charge (SB1029), and regulating drag shows like strip clubs (SB1030). None of these will get past Gov. Hobbs. CEBV’s longstanding policy is not to waste our time or yours by covering inflammatory bills that have no chance of passage. You’ll only hear about these again if something changes.
Note, however, that Kavanagh and Livingston chair the powerful Senate and House Appropriations Committees. The fact that majority leadership is introducing bills like these is yet another damning piece of evidence on how they intend to try to govern, and also indicates that they plan to try to test Gov. Hobbs’ mettle right away.
RTS is available on just one of these bills, HB2003. (Leadership can’t assign bills to committees until after the Legislature convenes on Monday, but certain lawmakers are chomping hopefully at the bit.) You can also use RTS 2.0 to give any of these bills a quick thumbs down.
SB1001, sponsored by John Kavanagh (R-3), would ban teachers from using a student’s chosen pronouns without written parental permission. Trans youth are twice as likely to consider suicide as their peers; gender-affirming care, which may include using a person’s chosen pronouns, lowers suicide risk. The bill continues the recent Republican theme of pushing manufactured, divisive culture-war issues for political profit. Education advocates say the bill further politicizes teachers, which will deepen Arizona’s ongoing teacher retention crisis. We expect Hobbs to veto this if it makes it to her desk. OPPOSE.
SCR1002, sponsored by Anthony Kern (R-27), would ask voters to restrict their own direct democracy powers by requiring a supermajority vote on constitutional amendments. Last year’s Prop 132, which instituted a requirement for a 60% supermajority vote on tax measures, started out as applying to all voter-initiated ballot measures — a high bar that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country. The bill is motivated by majority lawmakers’ increasing frustration with measures they don’t like (voters’ frustration with lawmakers who don’t listen apparently doesn’t figure in) and their fear of losing control of the lawmaking process to Democrats. Resolutions don’t require the governor’s signature, so if both Republican-controlled chambers pass this measure, it would head to the 2024 ballot without Gov. Hobbs having the chance to veto. OPPOSE.
HB2003, sponsored by David Livingston (R-28), would slash corporate income taxes nearly in half by 2025, from their current 4.9% to 2.5%. Last year, Republican lawmakers slashed personal income taxes to 2.5% beginning this year, leaving experts concerned that Arizona won’t have enough revenue to sustain critical services once pandemic relief money runs out and the inevitable next recession arrives. Arizona’s tax giveaways already far outpace the entire state budget, and our unbalanced tax structure relies heavily on volatile sales taxes; AZ is already one of just 11 states with a corporate income tax rate below 5%. The question is whether Hobbs will abandon common sense and sign off. She told an Arizona Chamber of Commerce forum in September that she believes Arizona has a healthy tax structure. Scheduled for House Ways & Means Committee and House Appropriations Committee, Wednesday. Use RTS to OPPOSE.
HB2014, sponsored by David Livingston (R-28), would quadruple over 3 years the amount Arizona spends on a specific type of STO (School Tuition Organization) voucher. STO vouchers, which topped $1 billion back in 2017, are paid for by dollar-for-dollar tax credits that siphon funds from the state coffers that fund public schools. Arizona capped STO voucher growth in 2019 due to bipartisan agreement that the exponential increases were harmful. While similar to a bill from 2 years ago, this bill also blurs the lines between ESA and STO voucher funding. Arizona’s ESA voucher program ballooned by 400% this year, with the vast majority of funding going to families who have never sent their children to public school. OPPOSE.
HCR2001, sponsored by David Cook (R-7), would waive Arizona’s archaic school spending cap for one year, averting teacher layoffs, program cuts and school closures. Without this waiver, the public district schools which serve 70% of the state’s schoolchildren will be legally unable to spend $1.4 billion in funds the Legislature has already allocated to them, and would have to cut spending for this school year by nearly 20% across the board. The bill will require a two-thirds supermajority vote before March 1. SUPPORT.
2023 Session Timeline
Monday, 1/0 2023 Legislative Session begins Thursday, 1/12 Last day to introduce House bills before the 7-bill limit begins Monday, 1/30 Senate bill introduction deadline Monday, 2/6 House bill introduction deadline Friday, 2/17 Last day for a bill to get out of committees in its originating house Monday, 2/20 Crossover Week begins (most committee hearings are suspended) Friday, 3/24 Last day for a bill to get out of committees in its crossover house Saturday, 4/22 100th Day of Session (the stated end goal; can be changed)
Flag this handy list of contact info, committee chairs and assignments, freshly updated for 2023.
Know the committee chairs and legislative leaders. For a bill to have any chance at becoming law, it must first be assigned to committee. Bills that never get assigned or heard quietly die. RTS 2.0 is one way to help move a stalled bill, but there are other ways too. If a bill isn’t assigned, contact the House Speaker and the Senate President. If a bill is assigned but isn’t on an agenda, contact the chair of the committee it was assigned to. Consult this committee list for contact info and this flowchart for how to weigh in as a bill becomes law.
Be ready to contact your legislators. Your legislative district has changed with redistricting; look it up here. Store contact info for your new representatives and senator in your phone now so it’s easy to reach out later. Pro tip: flag each with a keyword such as “Rep” so you can pull them all up at once.
Bookmark CEBV’s Linktree. Want other ways to take action? Need to stay informed? Looking for our social media, inspiration, or self-care tips? Look no further than our Linktree.
Request to Speak. Sign up for an account if you don’t have one, dust off your password if you do.
Use our website. Civic Engagement Beyond Voting’s website features tons of resources, including a RTS training video that’s 5 minutes well spent.
Attend our Happy Hours. CEBV’s Zoom RTS Happy Hours start up again on January 8! The first portion will feature a legislative preview and Q&A with Melinda and a featured guest. On January 8, that’s House Minority Leader Andrés Cano. The second portion will include information on the other areas of state government we intend to keep our eye on this year, along with ways to make our voices heard even more loudly. We’ll meet every Sunday at 4 PM through the end of session; sign up in advance here.
Pick up the phone. If a state lawmaker gets 10 calls a day on one topic, their phone is ringing off the hook. By contrast, emails are easy to ignore: each lawmaker gets hundreds every day. When you call, be polite and introduce yourself by name. If you’re a constituent, say so. And consider reserving phone calls for less-friendly lawmakers, to avoid clogging the works for the ones who share our values.
Testify in person. Talk about making a difference! Usually, only lobbyists testify, so regular people who take the trouble to travel to the Capitol for a committee hearing can really get lawmakers’ attention. It’s not as hard or scary as it sounds, we promise: CEBV will be there with you every step of the way. We will help you shape your message, go with you to the legislature, and amplify your testimony afterward on traditional and social media.
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