The first regular session of the 53rd Legislature is in the books. It was a good one. Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature, led by Senate President Steve Yarbrough and Speaker of the House JD Mesnard, worked together to advance a number of legislative victories for K-12 and higher education, civil justice reform, initiative reform, and water, as well as a state budget that is pro-education and pro-business.
As is always the case, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry was a leader at the Capitol, ensuring that job creators’ voices were heard on the biggest issues of the day.
Here’s just a snapshot of all that was accomplished.
BIG GAINS FOR EDUCATION
The Chamber this session saw a number of education priorities signed into law and a major reform of K-12 financing that was included in the FY 2018 budget.
The final fiscal year 2018 budget included $37.6 million that will go to results-based funding
. Under results-based funding, high-performing schools get a funding boost, with an emphasis on those excellent performers with more than 60 percent of their students on free or reduced lunch; those schools will receive an additional $400 per student. These dollars are to go toward sustaining and growing access to these high-quality school models, including reducing wait lists, mentoring other school leaders trying to improve their lower performing schools, and toward expanding the model into a new school site.
Teacher certification reforms
The Chamber backed SB 1057 by Sen. Gail Griffin, which streamlines the teacher certification renewal process by allowing the renewal of a certificate without additional requirements for a longer period of time post-expiration than existed previously. Gov. Ducey signed the bill into law on March 21.
We were also successful in our advocacy for SB 1042 by Sen. Sylvia Allen, a commonsense alternative teacher certification system that will facilitate the entry of new and qualified talent into Arizona classrooms. The legislation, which was signed into law May 2, confirms what we already know: There’s no correlation between increased bureaucracy and teacher talent.
School budgeting transparency
Another Chamber priority bill in 2017 was designed to improve school-level revenue and budget transparency. HB 2385 by Rep. Paul Boyer requires each district and charter to report what portion of the combined revenue intended for each school’s students makes it to their school from the central office, and details where those dollars go. This information will be required on each school report card. The bill also creates opportunities for principals to be more involved in deciding where resources for their schools are targeted. For students with educational needs that generate higher weighted funding than others, lack of access to their own money is particularly problematic for them and their teachers. The governor signed the bill into law on April 27.
CURBING LAWSUIT ABUSE
This year we took on the spate of highly dubious lawsuits
that have been pursued under the state’s disability access law. Numerous businesses have been targeted for litigation by plaintiffs’ attorneys who, in many cases, are representing clients who have had little to no contact with the supposedly offending business.
The path for this reform was a long and winding one, but a bill by Sen. Karen Fann (<SB 1406), which represented earlier forms of legislation by Sen. John Kavanagh and Rep. Maria Syms, made its way to the governor’s desk and was signed into law on April 18.
Under SB 1406, businesses must be given a written notice of violations before a civil suit can be filed. The bill provides a cure period of 30 or 60 days – depending on whether the violation is technical in nature or a structural violation that would require a government permit to fix – to ensure that a reasonable amount of time is given for the business to reach compliance before facing litigation.
Passage of this bill was a team effort, with a broad business community coalition behind it. The bill also received support at a national level from the American Tort Reform Association and the US Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform. Attorney General Mark Brnovich deserves credit here, too, as his successful efforts to have thousands of these types of cases dismissed helped inform the debate at the Capitol.
ADDING GREATER ACCOUNTABILITY TO THE INITIATIVE PROCESS
Banning pay-per signature, clarifying ability to bring challenges
HB 2404 was signed into law on March 23. This bill, thanks to the outstanding leadership of Rep. Vince Leach, will help reduce fraud in petition signature gathering by banning a per-signature pay structure, which places greater emphasis on the quantity of signatures rather than the quality of signatures. The bill also clarifies the ability and timeline for individuals to challenge the validity of an initiative and referendum’s submitted petition signatures.
Gov. Ducey also signed into law HB 2244, a bill in Rep. Eddie Farnsworth’s name that carried a strike everything amendment by Sen. Debbie Lesko, that ensures that ballot measures adhere to a strict compliance standard for judicial review, rather than just substantial compliance. Under the lower standard, too many initiatives were advancing to the ballot with serious flaws.
Thanks to this bill, the review standard applied to referenda and initiatives are now aligned.
SECURING ARIZONA’S WATER FUTURE
We supported joint resolutions HJR 2002 and SJR 1003 by Rep. Brenda Barton and Sen. Griffin, respectively, that provide authority to the Arizona Department of Water Resources to continue to participate in the updated agreement between the U.S. and Mexico as it relates to the 1944 Water Treaty that governs the Colorado River and governs how shortages are dealt with on the river.
AN ENHANCED MANUFACTURING ENVIRONMENT
SB 1416, which contains a number of elements that will enhance Arizona’s attractiveness to manufacturers, was a major priority of the Arizona Manufacturers Council and is now on the governor’s desk.The bill was shepherded through the legislative process thanks to the dogged determination of Rep. Jeff Weninger.
The bill extends and improves the Quality Jobs Tax Credit; extends the Research and Development Tax Credit; accelerates depreciation for personal property classified as Class 6 that is used in a manufacturing capacity and is located in a Foreign Trade Zone or Military Reuse Zone; makes an important clarification for eligibility of the Quality Facility Tax Credit; and encourages further investment by large manufacturers when that investment might require a major public infrastructure upgrade, while mitigating those infrastructure costs for cities.
This is big. Manufacturing is an essential part of Arizona’s economy, responsible for over 8 percent of total state output, or more than $23 billion.
A STATE BUDGET THAT IS PRO-JOBS, PRO-EDUCATION
The structurally balanced $9.8 billion fiscal year 2018 budget package that Gov. Ducey and legislators came together on was excellent.
In addition to the results-based funding for K-12, the budget also included an ongoing funding stream to back bonds that will allow the state’s universities to fund research infrastructure construction and maintenance, as well as pro-growth tax reforms, such as indexing the personal income tax exemption to inflation and increasing the personal exemption $2200 by tax year 2018.
There was more, from a tax reform that will help us attract more flights
to and from Sky Harbor, to creating greater opportunities for students to pursue an education at a private post-secondary institution, to transportation funding that well help ensure our highways can keep up with demand.
Kudos to the governor and the Legislature for a job well done. Thanks to their hard work, Arizona’s upward trajectory continues.
Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry