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Legislative roundup: Last call for bills

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PHOENIX — The Legislature is well into the homestretch with the goal to wrap up the session before Easter still in its sights. This led to busy days and long nights at the Capitol this week. Last call for bills The House and Senate Appropriations committees were the only committees to hold regular meetings this week. This opened many of the bills being heard to strike everything amendments to revive legislation previously killed in the Legislature. This included legislation to bar most from collecting early ballots for elections, which lost a vote last week in the House Elections Committee. The House Appropriations Committee, however, approved this bill and others in a meeting that started at 9 a.m. and continued after the floor session into the early morning hours. Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, and other Republicans argue that prohibiting most...

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Snags showing in Ducey’s inspector general plan

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PHOENIX — Changes are coming to Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed state government watchdog following criticism about transparency and accountability. HB 2420, introduced last week, would create an Office of the State Inspector General for Arizona, who would carry a badge and subpoena power with the mandate of rooting out waste and corruption across state government, a promise made during Ducey’s State of the State address. Critics said the legislation as initially written would create a position yielding power with little accountability. Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for Ducey, said floor amendments would be introduced to the bill in an effort to assuage some of those concerns. During his January speech on the House floor, Ducey said that he wanted to work with the Legislature to create an unbiased inspector general to find savings and “shine a light” on corruption.  “This...

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Fine art tax opponents frame a change

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PHOENIX — Is a new tax creating another case of the struggling artist? Maybe. Regardless, a group of Scottsdale art gallery owners say they are being crippled by a sales tax that kicked in at the beginning of this year. The new regulation adds the transaction privilege tax, Arizona’s sales tax, for fine art sales to out-of-state buyers who purchase the art here and have the seller ship it out of state. This raises the sales tax of these out-of-state sales from the 1.65 percent Scottsdale city sales tax to 7.95 percent. Scottsdale art gallery owners say they are already losing business now that word has gotten out in the art connoisseur community and fear it could drive them out to Western art hub rivals like Santa Fe, N.M. and Jackson, Wyo. “It really puts us in an uncompetitive...

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Legislative roundup: Powdered alcohol, guns and secrecy

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PHOENIX — The Legislature is on track to finish its business early this year with this week being the final one for most committee meetings. The goal for legislators is to wrap up the session in the next couple of weeks, but the House and Senate still saw new legislation introduced. Late changes Keeping with a promise from his State of the State address in January, Gov. Doug Ducey may be getting an independent inspector -eneral who would report on waste and corruption in state agencies. The Senate Government Committee heard HB 2420, which now creates the Inspector General position “to serve at the pleasure of the Governor and report directly to the Governor,” according to the bill summary. The deadline for introducing new bills passed weeks ago, but, of course, there’s a way around that. New legislation can...

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Abortion bill opponents claim scientific fraud

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PHOENIX — An abortion regulation bill moving through the Legislature is under scrutiny for an amendment requiring doctors to inform patients about “abortion reversals,” for which medical evidence is lacking. The House Federalism and States Rights Committee approved the amendment to SB 1318 from Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Gilbert, adding informed consent requirements about medication abortions. SB 1318 prohibits any health exchange in the state from providing abortion coverage and requires doctors admitting privileges be submitted to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Under the amendment, doctors would be required to inform women seeking abortions that the effects of RU-486, the “abortion pill,” can be reversed. It also requires the information to be accessible on the ADHS website. “We’ve come to find out that there is an option when women have taken RU-486 and then they have changed their mind...

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Legislative roundup: Veterans, zombie bills and abortion

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PHOENIX — As the budget passed by the Legislature over the weekend still awaits the governor’s signature to become law, lawmakers resumed business as usual this week. VA testimony Glen Grippen, interim director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, testified before the Senate Public Safety, Military and Technology Committee on Wednesday on progress being made at the VA following the scandal that broke last year revealing veterans were not getting the care they needed. Grippen said the Phoenix VA hired more staff and is seeing more patients. More satellite clinics are being added as well to relive the strain on the main hospital in downtown Phoenix. “You’re starting to hear some rumblings about the VA changing positively,” Grippen added. “We still have a ways to go, but we’re working hard at it every day.” This comes as President...

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Budget roundup: odds and ends from the state’s budget

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PHOENIX — By the time the sun rose over the Copper Dome of the state Capitol on Saturday, the House and the Senate passed a budget deal behind the Republican leadership’s blitzkrieg push to get the budget out and onto the governor’s desk. Gov. Doug Ducey is expected to sign the budget this week. He lauded the Legislature’s budget as a “fiscally-responsible” way to fix the state’s structural deficit and balances the state budget. Arizona has been facing a $1 billion budget deficit. “If we want to see meaningful and lasting improvement in our schools and economy, government must start living within its means and practicing fiscal responsibility,” Ducey said in a statement. “This is a budget that reflects our state’s priorities and for that we should all be proud,” he said. Democrats blasted the cuts in the $9.1...

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Legislative roundup: speeding budget, guns and porn

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PHOENIX — Following closed-door negotiations, Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican House and Senate leaders unveiled a budget deal this week and moved swiftly to push the budget bills through the legislative process. Late Thursday, it appeared the GOP leadership didn’t have the votes to pass the budget deal, but negotiations continued. The new $9.1 billion budget proposal drew strong criticism from Democrats and hundreds of protesters to the Capitol on Thursday, including Arizona State University students who marched from the ASU Downtown campus against proposed university cuts. Budget deal highlights Lawmakers were briefed Tuesday evening about the budget deal and details began emerging on Wednesday. Here are some highlights from the deal: — The new proposal raises cuts to higher education to $104 million, representing about 14 percent of state support. The cuts fall to each university based on...

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Budget plan guts higher education funding

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PHOENIX — The Arizona Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey have agreed to a budget that would deepen previously announced cuts to state universities by nearly 50 percent in a move that prompted sharp criticism from university supporters. The new proposal announced Wednesday would cut $104 million from Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University, which is about $26 million more than Ducey proposed in his budget in January. The $104 million would represent about a 14 percent reduction in state support for universities. The cuts are apportioned to each university based on enrollment size. In Ducey’s original proposal for $77.5 million in cuts, the ax fell $40.3 million to ASU, $21 million to UA and $13.1 million to NAU. Specific numbers to the new cuts were not immediately made available. The new budget would also...

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Legislative roundup for week of Feb. 28

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PHOENIX — In a reminder that the biggest fights in the Legislature lay ahead, hundreds descended on the Capitol Wednesday to protest against Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed budget for K-12 schools. Some legislators emerged to observe or address the stream of teachers, students and other education supporters, many of whom shouted chants of “No more cuts” and “Save our schools.” Solution to Douglas, Ducey spat Lawmakers attempted to solve another education issue in the state on Thursday. An amendment to a bill from Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, offered a solution to the ongoing constitutional fight between Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas and Gov. Doug Ducey regarding the firing of two top Board of Education officials. HB 2184 amends language to state that the members of the Board of Education answer to the board as a whole...

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