Roberts: 7 Arizona lawmakers who got one right

April 5, 2017
Arizona Republic
Laurie Roberts

It’s a fairly well-established fact that I can be a tad hard on our esteemed leaders.

OK, I can be downright brutal when they rev up the crAZy. (What can I say? It’s a gift.)

Contrary to how it may seem, however, not all is doom and gloom in the dark money-lined hallways of power over the state Capitol. Every once in a while there’s a spark, some small glimmer of hope that not all of our leaders are absolute nitwits.

Every once in a while, they actually get one right.

Last week, I unveiled Arizona’s Spectacular Seven, seven legislators who by their actions this year have left their mark (a big ol’ bruise, mostly) on Arizona.

Cue reader Michael McAfee: “Now, how about identifying some of the heroes? Reporting is by its nature a mostly negative venture. There are many more stories about road rage than about friendly drivers allowing traffic to merge smoothly. Let’s ID seven Legislators who have introduced sensible bills that either have or would have had a major positive impact on our society if it had been passed.”

Major positive impact? Come on, Michael, we’re talking about the Arizona Legislature.

But I can come up with seven legislators who have tried, at least, to do something good for our beloved state this year.

First up: A few honorable mentions

To House Education Chairman Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, who shielded us from yet another round of national ridicule by killing Rep. Bob Thorpe’s wacky bill to bar schools and universities from discussing anything that might “promote division, resentment or social justice.”

To Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, who shut down Rep. Tony Rivero’s quest to make it more difficult to prosecute people who fire off their guns near your house.

To Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, for his efforts to get his colleagues to at least consider whether we really need 333 exemptions to the state sales tax. (Sadly, the answer apparently is YES as his bill was killed in the House.)

To Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, for trying to ensure that the majority rules on homeowners’ association boards.

And now, my picks for the Surprising Seven, legislators who each offered up a good idea. I may not agree with everything they do (or even hardly anything that some of them do), but here is something they got right.

No. 7: Rep. Jeff Weninger

This Chandler Republican is taking aim at unscrupulous movers who hold your living sofa hostage in order to squeeze you for more money.

While interstate moves are covered by federal law, movers within the state hold all the power when they’re holding your furniture. Consumers have complained that the price to move their stuff suddenly rises when it’s time to unload the moving van.

Weninger, at the request of Attorney General Mark Brnovich, has given us House Bill 2145, requiring that in-state movers give accurate price quotes and preventing them from holding your kitchen table for ransom over a payment dispute.

The bill passed the House unanimously and is awaiting a vote of the Senate.

No. 6: Sen. Kate Brophy McGee

A guy T-bones your car and naturally, he carries only the minimum amount of insurance required to pay for your injuries: $15,000. About enough to cover a sprained ankle.

Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, proposed boosting the state’s minimums to $25,000 per person and $50,000 per incident (up from $30,000).

Arizona’s minimum requirements haven’t been changed since 1972. According to a report by the Insurance Information Institute, 30 states already require $25,000/$50,000 liability coverage. Only six other states match Arizona’s low expectations for insurance coverage.

The insurance lobby opposed Brophy McGee’s bill, saying the estimated $80 annual boost in premiums would lead to more people driving without insurance.

But Brophy McGee wasn’t buying it. She’s heard too many stories of the cascading problems of people injured through no fault of their own. “The car got totaled, the medical bills piled up, they lost their job …,” she said. “They thought they were protected. They weren’t.”

And they won’t be. While Brophy McGee’s bill cleared the Senate, it was DOA in the House.

No. 5: Rep. Vince Leach

Yep, the same Vince Leach who made my jaw dropper list last week, for undermining our right to make laws via initiative. Turns out this Tucson Republican isn’t beyond all hope. Leach spearheaded the successful drive this year to cut back on a tax giveaway that’s a favorite of Phoenix and several other Valley cities. The Government Property Lease Excise Tax allows certain developers to avoid paying property taxes for decades.

Because of his efforts, cities in the future will only be able to give developers a pass on property taxes for eight years rather than the current 25 years.

While they get a pass on doing their part to fund schools, can you guess who gets to make up the difference? (I bet you can.)

Leach’s bill was signed into law last week.

Nos. 4 and 3: Rep. Noel Campbell and Sen. Bob Worsley

The two of them have at least tried to do something about the crying need to invest in some of those rutted cattle tracks we call our state transportation system. Arizona has about $20 billion worth of work that needs to be done, either expanding or fixing roads, but no money with which to do it.

That’s because we haven’t raised the gas tax since 1991 and the money that goes into the Highway User Revenue Fund is regularly raided to pay for other stuff.

Campbell, R-Prescott, proposed raising the 18-cent-per-gallon gas tax by a dime, reasoning that we have one of the lowest state gas taxes in the country.

Worsley, R-Mesa, proposed that counties be allowed to ask voters if they want to raise the gas tax. He also proposed taxing alternative fuels, given that alt fuel drivers use the roads, too, and thus should help pay to maintain them.

None of their bills went anywhere given that T word is generally guaranteed to make Republicans break out in hives. But hey, power to Campbell and Worsley for actually trying to address the inescapable (but alas, easily ignored) fact our roads are falling apart.

No. 2: Rep. Mark Cardenas

For the last two years, this Phoenix Democrat has been working to help older Arizonans who can no longer afford to pay the property taxes on their homes. The state has an Elderly Assistance Fund, once supplied with money from delinquent tax lien sales. But the Legislature turned off the tap in 2015 and the fund will run dry next year.

Cardenas’ House Bill 2006 would have allowed these homeowners to reclassify their homes to class six properties, cutting their taxable value in half. About 22,800 homes would have been affected, at a cost to the state of $900,000. House Ways and Means Chairman Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, wouldn’t even hear the bill.

In Maricopa County, nearly 14,000 homes qualify for the elderly assistance tax credit. That’s roughly 20,000 citizens who soon will have to make some tough choices: pay taxes or buy food. About 800 of them live in Ugenti-Rita’s district.

Many are just like Carol, who contacted the Maricopa County Treasurer’s Office late last year, hoping for relief. “In the month of October, I had less than $100 to spend on groceries,” she wrote. “I am 78 years old, diabetic and handicapped. I ask you not only for myself but for all the seniors that can’t afford much, PLEASE reduce the taxes. I am so tired of just trying to squeak by …”

No. 1: Rep. Maria Syms

A woman is raped and the evidence that might allow police to catch her attacker sits there, on a shelf. Untested.

Thousands of these “rape kits,” just sitting there.

This Paradise Valley Republican, in her first year at the Legislature, was outraged enough to answer Gov. Doug Ducey’s call to do something about the 6,000 rape kits sitting on a shelf. Thus came House Bill 2268, requiring that hospitals and clinics notify the police within 24 hours of collecting evidence of a possible sexual assault. Police, in turn, must submit the evidence for testing within 15 days.

Her bill, which also provides funding to clear the backlog, was approved unanimously and signed into law in March.

“This new law will give dignity and justice to victims and will make our communities safer by getting violent offenders off the streets,” she said.

“This effort demonstrates what can be achieved by working together to fix a serious problem,” Ducey said, when signing the bill.

What can be achieved by working together? More of this, please.