A 2011 Session Summary

May 8, 2011 by  

The AZ Senate convened in January with the primary objective of improving AZ’s economic climate and approaching the state’s budget crisis responsibly.    In addition to enacting an economic recovery package and a balanced budget, the Legislature also achieved major reforms in the state’s retirement system and regulatory structure.   These and other key accomplishments are outlined here:
A Balanced Budget
This session the AZ Legislature passed the first truly balanced budget in five years – no gimmicks, no new borrowing and no new rollovers.  The budget made responsible and crucial reductions – which were necessary to avoid even deeper cuts in the near future.
Arizona Competititveness Package:   SB 1001 – enhancing our economic environment
  • Establishes Arizona as a national economic leader
  • Includes a mix of targeted business incentives & broad based tax reforms
  • Replaces the AZ Commerce Dept. with the AZ Commerce Authority – a public -private board responsible for a Deal-closing fund, a quality jobs program and a job training program
  • Corporate income taxes are cut from 6.96% to 4.9%
  • Property taxes are cut:  Class I assessment ratio reduced from 20% to 18%
  • Additional 5% accelerated depreciation schedule for prospective commercial personal property
Pension Reform
SB 1609.  The State Retirement System has been headed for collapse.  SB 1609 made necessary reforms to keep the system afloat, maintaining generous benefits for employees while strengthening the funded status of the plans.
  • Cost-of-living-adjustment (benefit increase) mechanism is better insulated from volatile market performance (COLA)
  • Asks employees to contribute a reasonable amount for their retirement benefits
  • Phases out the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP)
  • Points system is eliminated and age thresholds for retirement are established for employees in the state retirements system (ASRS)
  • Prohibits a person convicted of a felony involving the person’s official duties from being able to collect a pension

Education Reform

  • SB 1263 – the Education Relief Act – is a wide-ranging education bill that promotes efficiency by giving schools flexibility, cutting red tape and freeing up dollars for the classroom; maintains funding in the classroom site fund, encourages electronic record keeping and gives the State Board for Charter Schools authority to establish a fund for approved gifts or grants.
  • SB 1303 established the Dropout Recovery Program, which helps high school students who have dropped out of school find a flexible option to earn their diploma.
  • SB 1453 establishes parental consent in the course content for public schools.
  • SB 1521 was passed in order to protect young athletes from incurring additional head injuries during school athletic events.  It requires school districts to implement enhanced policies consistent with how the NFL and other sports programs evaluate  players’ safe play.
  • SB 1553 creates Arizona Empowerment Scholarships – education accounts for students with a qualifying disability, consisting of 90% of the base level support for that particular student, to establish opportunities that will highly benefit a disabled student’s education.
  • HB 2219 creates a study committee to examine unification and consolidation of school districts.  Unification can greatly reduce waste in school districts and save taxpayer dollars.
  • HB 2301 lifts restrictions placed on extracuricular activity funds and allows schools to spend 50% of that money on short-term capital items.
  • SB 1223/HB 2410 grants in-state tuition at any AZ public university or community college to any person honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces and their immediate family.

Strengthening the Family

  • SB 1560 brings transparency and consistency to the foster care process by streamlining processes to allow kids who are in out-of-home placements to find stable, permanent homes.
  • SB 1187 allows married couples going through divorce proceedings additional time to reconcile their marriage.  Parents who file for divorce will also be presented with information during the mandatory parenting class about the impact of divorce on  children and family.
  • SB 1188 gives kids a better chance at having both a mom and a dad in an adoption. Marital status of adopting parents will be considered when children are being placed for adoption through the state or state-licensed agencies. When all factors are equal, preference will be given to placing the child with a married mom and dad.
  • SB 1190 enables families more information on all their options when placing loved ones in care facilities, including private facilities.

Sanctity of Life

  • HB 2416/SB 1246 ensures the same standard of care for women seeking an abortion as for any other medical procedure, strengthens informed consent and prohibits the use of telemedicine to provide an abortion.  Read New Data on the Dangers of the Abortion Pill.
  • HB 2384/SB 1265 prohibits qualifying charitable organizations from providing, paying for, promoting, providing coverage of or referrals for abortions and prohibits the use or allocation of state university or community college student tuition or fees for training to perform abortions.  Read how Indiana is de-funding Planned Parenthood.
  • SB 1030 and SB1169 ensure non-doctors, including physician assistants and nurse practitioners, will not be allowed to perform surgical or medical abortions.
  • HB 2411.  Predators who engage in child prostitution will face tougher penalties when convicted of their crimes.  Strong laws will help deter would-be offenders and will strengthen efforts to end child sex slavery in Arizona.
  • For more info on family bills, read Center for Arizona Policy 2011 Legislative Summary.

Healthcare

Health Care Sharing Ministries

  • SB 1122 protects faith-based organizations from insurance regulators.  Read Heartland Institute article on these low cost alternatives to health insurance.

Electronic Medical Records

  • HB 2620 moves the current system of medical information sharing into a new era that will improve efficiencies in the delivery of health care.
  • A critical element of the legislation is to provide individuals the right to opt out of sharing their personal medical information, or enabling them to select which types of medical information can be shared among providers and insurers.
  • Looking ahead, Sen. Barto participates in the first Health Privacy Summit in Washington D.C. on June 13th.  Read more about security and patient consent at PatientPrivacyRights.org.

Health Savings Account expansion

  • HB 2556.  Employees and employers are finding it advantageous to manage their health care expenses and be responsbible for their own health care decisions.  With state budgets under duress, many states are looking at HSAs as a model for providing health care benefits.   HB 2556 allows individual and corporate income tax credits for employers who provide qualified health insurance plans to their employees  in 2012.

Tort Reform

  • SB 1212 sets a cap on appeal bonds.  Oftentimes the cost of litigation, particularly in the appeals process, is too steep for a defendant to pursue their just course of action.  In order to appeal they must post an appeal bond equal to or higher than the judgment awarded in the trial.  SB 1212 will allow defendants an opportunity to affordably appeal their cases, rather than be forced into a settlement without due process.
  • SB 1429.  Arizona’s medical malpractic environment is a deterrent to attracting and retaining physicians.    SB 1429 ensures that a student in an accredited medical training program is not liable for a malpractice action or owe an independent duty of care under supervised instruction.

Immigration/Border Security

  • HB 2102 requires an individual to present a government issued document containing the individual’s photograph in order to obtain a license to operate a business, perform a professional service requiring a license or to obtain a fingerprint clearance.
  • SB 1464 prohibits consular identification cards as valid ID – to curtail use of this form of identification to derive public benefits in this country.
  • HB 2405/SB 1368 lengthens the sentencing for human smuggling felony offenses without probation, pardon or release until the full sentence term is served.
  • Resolutions to Congress were passed asking the U.S. Dept. of Labor to establish a daily communter worker pilot program, implement a comprehensive border security plan, better use of electronic surveillance, increased Border Patrol presence and improved/expedited prosecution of crimes committed by illegal aliens.
  • SB 1046 requires ICE to take custody of a minor for immigration proceedings.
  • SB 1406 allows the Governor to enter into an interstate compact to create a border fence along the AZ-Mexico border using private funds.
  • SCR 1020 asks voters to enact the “Crime Victims Protection Act”, which ensures crime victims are not liable for damages incurred by a person injured during the commission of a felony – based on the premise illegal immigrants not be able to obtain punitive damages.
  • SB 1495 empowers the Governor to build a stronger presence along the border to enforce immigration laws utilizing the Arizona State Guard as a militia.

Government Reform

  • SB 1148 HOA Dispute Relief. The Legislature came to the assistance of homeowners in dispute with their Homeowners Associations (HOAs) a few years ago by establishing an administrative hearing process to resolve conflicts.  This was intended to mitigate the high cost of litigation that a property owner would have to undertake if they challenged their HOAs.  Unfortunately, the AZ Court of Appeals ruled the process unconstitutional, citing that the authority to appeal an HOA ruling through the Dept. of Fire, Building and Life Safety (DFBLS) was not the appropriate jurisdiction.  SB 1148 responds to the court ruling and clarifies that the DFBLS does hold an additional purpose of resolving these disputes.  Good news for homeowners!
  • SB 1116 prohibits universities and their employees from engaging in various advocacy-related practices specific to utilization of taxpayer dollars advocating for their specific policy interests.
  • SB 1525 curbs impact fee abuse in Arizona.  At its core, the measure ensures that new homeowners pay their share of the cost of services and that they actually receive those services.
  • SB 1546.  More than 40% of Arizona land is federal property.  The measure broadens the classification of property subject to the state’s eminent domain laws by including property possessed by the U.S. Government, opening up development to thousands of acres of land in Arizona  that is currently off limits.
  • HB 2665 is intended to improve the business climate in Arizona by assisting business owners in complying with environmental laws.
  • HB 2541.  The Medical Marijuana Act created certain ambiguities between patient rights and employer rights in addressing drug use on the job to ensure worker safety.  HB 2541 provides employers specific rights.

Judicial Reform

  • SCR 1001 – a ballot measure – asks Arizona voters to approve necessary changes to the judicial merit selection and retention system.  It provides more options to the Governor in appointing judges by expanding the list of qualified applicants, extends terms of office, increases the retirement age for judges and narrows the influence of the State Bar in the nomination process for judges.  Also, it provides a central place for citizens to access court decisions and makes the retention process more transparent through additional public hearings.
  • SB 1499 and HB 2424: Probate Reform –   SB 1499 provides transparency, accountability and protection for the most vulnerable Arizonans, usually elderly or disabled persons, whose assets and life decisions are placed in the hands of a public or private fiduciary who may or may not have their best interests in mind.  HB 2424 establishes a probate advocacy panel charged with further recommending statutory changes to improve the probate system.

Election Reform

  • SB 1412 targets voter fraud such as selling/offering to sell a ballot, collecting ballots but not turning them in, soliciting ballots by misrepresenting oneself as an election official or engaging in a pattern of ballot fraud – creating several felony offenses.
  • SCR 1025 – a ballot measure – will ask voters to prohibit public funds for political campaigns.
  • SB 1472 will provide more information for voters deciding judicial retentions.  The measure requires the Commission on Judicial Performance Review to post biographical information and a list of specific published decisions for appellate judges for electronic publication at least 60 days before a primary election.

What bills didn’t make it this session?  See: ’11 session a success…mostly.

For all Barto-sponsored legislation this session, click here.

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