Elections, CPS among Arizona political issues on horizon for 2014 - East Valley Tribune: Immigration

Elections, CPS among Arizona political issues on horizon for 2014

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Posted: Wednesday, January 1, 2014 10:00 am | Updated: 1:31 pm, Tue Jul 1, 2014.

Everyone has done a list of the Top 10 events of the past year.

But what might prove more useful are the Top 10 things to watch out for in Arizona politics and government for the coming year, above and beyond the normal legislative battles over budgets, tax breaks and regulations.

1. Leadership changes:

It's an election year and new people will be elected to many of the state's top offices.

That most likely includes a new governor, though Jan Brewer continues to make noise that she remain eligible for yet another term despite constitutional two-term language that would appear to prohibit such a move.

With or without Brewer, a lively Republican primary remains in store, with two other statewide elected officials hoping to make the leap to the top: Secretary of State Ken Bennett and Treasurer Doug Ducey. But the race also has drawn a cast of characters ranging from former Go Daddy legal counsel Christine Jones to state Sen. Al Melvin and disbarred former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas.

The survivor will face off against Fred DuVal, so far the only Democrat in the race. But there is a possibility of others, notably Kingman radio station owner Rick Murphy, who is hoping to qualify as an independent.

The domino effect includes fights to replace Bennett and Ducey, with openings also on the Arizona Corporation Commission.

And then there's one more, which leads to:

2. Tom Horne's legal problems:

Horne wants another term as attorney general.

But a brutal Republican primary fight is shaping up with former state Gaming Director Mark Brnovich, and an independent expenditure committee already has taken slaps at Horne for his other problems.

That mainly surrounds the question of whether he illegally coordinated the expenses made in his successful 2010 race by Business Leaders for Arizona, what was billed as an independent committee.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk already has concluded there is enough evidence to support charges of violations of campaign finance laws. But Horne — and Kathleen Winn, who headed the independent committee and now works for Horne in the AG's office — are contesting the findings.

A hearing is set for February before an administrative law judge, and her findings may not be the last word if either side appeals.

Even if Horne survives the primary bid, he faces a repeat of his 2010 general election contest against Democrat Felecia Rotellini.

That political fight relates to the next issue on the 2014 agenda.

3. Campaign finance:

The subject of “dark money” burst onto the national scene after the U.S. Supreme Court loosened the rules for corporations to get involved, at least indirectly, in political races. That led to various independent campaign committees being set up.

While the justices allowed the expenses, they have never disturbed existing rulings which have say states can impose reporting donation and expenditure requirements on the “express advocacy” for someone's election or defeat.

Arizona has such laws. In clearest terms, courts have said express advocacy uses certain “magic words” like “vote for,” “elect,” or “defeat” when referring to either candidate.

But Arizona law also says reporting is required when there are advertising, mailers or other communication “that in context can have no reasonable meaning other than to advocate the election or defeat of the candidate.” Factors include putting the candidate in an unfavorable light and the timing of the communication.

A trial judge rejected contentions by the Secretary of State's Office that 2010 ads for Felecia Rotellini broke the law, ruling the commercials did not have any of those “magic words.” He concluded that the rest of the law dealing with other factors was too nebulous to be enforceable, declaring it unconstitutional.

The Court of Appeals will hear arguments this year on that.

There also are expected to be several measures introduced at the Legislature designed to tighten up on reporting requirements.

4. Redistricting:

The other big shuffling in Arizona politics will come at the Legislature, but it remains to be seen whether the lines drawn by the Independent Redistricting Commission and used for the 2012 race will remain in place for this year.

A lawsuit pending in federal court contends the five-member commission ignored requirements to create 30 districts of relatively equal population. The Republicans who sued say that lines — and people — were moved around to create more districts where Democrats have a better chance of electing a candidate.

In another federal courtroom, Republican legislative leaders are challenging the state's nine congressional districts. They argue that the U.S. Constitution empowers on the Legislature to craft congressional lines.

In another federal courtroom, Republican legislative leaders including Senate President Andy Biggs, are challenging the state's nine congressional districts. They argue that the U.S. Constitution empowers on the Legislature to craft congressional lines.

But attorneys for the commission say that voters, who are the ultimate state lawmakers, were within their rights in approving a 2000 ballot measure which took that power from the Legislature and gave it to the five-member panel.

A win by GOP leaders likely would let the Republican-controlled Legislature craft new lines that would alter the current 5-4 Democrat-Republican lineup in the legislative delegation.

A third lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court challenges the congressional lines on more technical grounds. It contends the commission did not follow the proper procedures.

5. Child Protective Services

The uproar that followed the disclosure that more than 6,500 reports of child abuse went uninvestigated shined new light on the entire operation of that division of the Department of Economic Security.

On a surface level, lawmakers will have to decide the question of whether CPS should become its own Cabinet-level agency reporting directly to the governor. Some proponents of that contend that would lead to more accountability.

There is also the question of whether the governor will fire DES Director Clarence Carter.

But the discovery of the uninvestigated cases brought public attention to larger questions about the agency.

One deals with staffing levels, but there also are concerns about whether caseworkers spend too much time focused on the wrong problems, separating a child from a family in cases where some social services would be more helpful — assuming the funding were there.

All of that will get caught up in the perennial fight over how much the state should spend, how much of its current cash carry-forward should be saved, and whether it makes sense to provide new tax breaks for businesses in hopes of stimulating the economy.

6. Abortion rights:

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide this year whether to allow Arizona to enforce two of its laws dealing with abortions, both pushed through the Legislature by Cathi Herrod and her Center for Arizona Policy.

In one case, Arizona wants to ban abortions at the 20th week of pregnancy, with only narrow exceptions. A federal appeals court said that law runs directly contrary to the precedents set as far back as the landmark case of Roe v. Wade in 1973, which concluded that women have an absolute right to terminate a pregnancy prior to viability of the fetus.

Proponents of the law concede that does not happen until at least the 22nd week, but they cited what they said is more recent evidence — albeit disputed — that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks and that the risk to a mother from the procedure at that point is elevated.

The second case involves Arizona's efforts to deny Medicaid family planning funds to any organization that also performs abortions. That is aimed at Planned Parenthood which also provides various family planning services.

Existing state and federal laws already preclude public dollars for elective abortions. But backers of the measure argue that any government dollars that support Planned Parenthood indirectly subsidize abortions.

A third case making its way through federal appellate courts this year deals with a state law that bars a doctor from performing an abortion if the reason for terminating the pregnancy is the gender or race of the child. A challenge brought by black and Asian civil rights groups was dismissed after the judge said they lacked legal standing.

7. Medicaid:

Last year Gov. Jan Brewer cobbled together a coalition of all the Democrats and some Republicans to expand eligibility for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid program, using dollars from the Affordable Care Act. But her program also is built on what amounts to a tax on hospitals to pay the state's share of the cost.

Republicans who oppose expansion point out that the levy was approved by a simple majority vote of both the House and Senate. They contend the Arizona Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of each chamber for any tax hike.

Brewer has argued it is an “assessment” and not a tax.

At the same time, her attorneys have gone to court to have the challenge tossed, saying only those affected — meaning the hospitals — have standing to challenge the legality of the levy. But the hospitals, assured of making more back through more patients having insurance, have so far sat on the sidelines.

Whatever a trial judge rules on whether the dissident lawmakers have standing to sue is virtually certain not to be the last word, with the case ultimately winding up at the Arizona Supreme Court.

8. Driver's licenses:

In 2012 the Obama administration created a new program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It allows those who came to this country illegally as children to remain — and even to work legally — if they meet certain other conditions.

But Gov. Jan Brewer directed the state Department of Transportation to deny licenses to those who qualify.

She cited a 1996 state law saying licenses are available only to those who presence in this country is authorized by federal law. Brewer contends that the decision by Homeland Security not to deport those in this program is not authorization but simply prosecutorial discretion.

Dreamers lost their first bid to get a federal judge to order Brewer to issue them licenses, with that request for injunctive relief now before a federal appeals court.

Regardless of the outcome of that appeal, the underlying case remains in federal court in Phoenix, with hearings set for this year.

9. Medical marijuana:

Rulings are expected this year on several legal fronts.

On the broadest perspective is the argument by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery that the 2010 voter-approved Arizona Medical Marijuana Act is legally preempted by federal laws that make possession and sale of the drug a felony.

So far, though, courts have said voters were legally entitled to decide that individuals with certain medical conditions and a doctor's recommendation are entitled to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of the drug every two weeks. The courts also have said counties cannot block zoning for dispensaries.

A separate legal fight is occurring over whether that 2010 law allows only the use of the plant and its parts or whether dispensaries also can sell products with only the extracts of the psychoactive chemicals of the plant.

The Arizona Supreme Court will decide if motorists who test positive for a metabolite of the drug — one that can be found weeks later — can be charged with driving under the influence of drugs.

10. Gay rights:

A decade ago the state Court of Appeals ruled that gays in Arizona have no fundamental legal right to marry. The judges said state lawmakers are entitled to conclude that permitting marriage only among heterosexuals promotes the state's interest in procreation and raising children in stable families.

Since that time Arizona voters have put a ban on same-sex nuptials into the state constitution.

But no federal court in Arizona has looked at the issue, and given what has since occurred elsewhere, that raises the possibility a federal judge here might reach a different conclusion.

A more likely fight would be over the question of whether Arizona is forced to recognize same-sex weddings performed in states where they are legal.

Last year the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act that forbade the federal government from recognizing gay marriages. But the justices never looked at another section of DOMA that, for the moment, says states are free not to honor weddings performed elsewhere.

Other potential issues to be dealt with or possibly resolved in 2014:

- Can the Tohono O'Odham legally build a casino on land the tribe acquired on the edge of Glendale;

- Are charter schools entitled to the same per-pupil funding as traditional public schools;

- Can universities and community colleges charge tuition to “dreamers” that is more than available for residents but less than the out-of-state tuition some say they must charge;

- Does Arizona have to register those who use a federally designed voting form even though it does not require proof of citizenship as required by Arizona law;

- Are lawmakers finally ready to put some restrictions on texting while driving;

- What will lawmakers do with the small amount of money collected so far to construct a border fence on private property;

- Should Arizona revamp its individual income tax brackets to move toward a single tax rate;

- What will be the outcome of the state's appeal of the finding of liability in connection with the Yarnell Hill Fire.

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