Our state Legislature’s back in session.
Be afraid, be very afraid.
If this is the usual session, we’ll see a bunch of nutty bills come to the surface, ammunition for comedians and pundits to once again point out that Arizona is, as Jon Stewart calls us, “the meth lab of democracy.”
But the good news? Legislative leaders have called for a short session, as legislators are all up for election this year and need that time to raise money and campaign.
Still, the bills are pouring in already, 50 introduced in the House, 76 in the Senate at the time of this writing.
And two are colliding with each other already.
One is SB 1068, sponsored by a bunch of Democratic senators, including Tempe’s Ed Ableser. Here’s what it calls for:
A legislator who casts a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives or the Senate with respect to any bill, memorial or resolution in which the legislator has a direct financial interest shall prepare a written statement that identifies the bill, memorial or resolution, the legislator’s vote and the nature of the legislator’s direct financial interest. The legislator shall file the statement with the Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives or the Secretary of the Senate. The statement shall be posted on the internet web page corresponding to the legislator as found on the legislature’s website. The Web page for each legislator shall have an area entitled 'Disclosure of Direct Financial Interest' for each statement to be posted.
In other words, if my representative floats a bill and will have a direct financial benefit from that bill’s passage, he must file a statement explaining how it benefits him.
Not that he can’t benefit from it, just that he has to disclose the specific benefit he or immediate family members get from passage.
Sounds pretty reasonable. We should know if a legislator is lining his pockets by bills he tries to push through the House and Senate.
Speaking of helping yourself through legislation you sponsor, there’s another bill, this too by a senator, that should be mentioned — SB 1048.
This bill, if enacted into law, will expand who can use the tuition tax credit, allowing more money to go to tuition organizations. Organizations that can keep 10 percent of the money coming into their organization. Of course, that means more money for operators of those organizations.
Operators like Steve Yarbrough. A state senator from Chandler. A guy who runs one of the largest tuition disbursement groups in the state, the Christian School Tuition Organization.
And a primary sponsor of the new legislation that has the potential to increase the profits of groups like his.
A recent Channel 5 report showed that Sen. Yarbrough made a nice little salary with his tuition gig, almost $100,000 in 2011. Not to mention the money he pays himself for a company that does the business end of his tax credit company, not to mention the money he pays for the rent to his landlord — him. All told, he got close to $700,000 of tuition tax credit money.
And so if his bill passes, Yarbrough’ll be in line to make even more. But if the disclosure bill also passes, we’ll know more about what he’s up to.
So what’s the status of the two bills? Well, Yarbrough’s is sailing through the early stages of this session, having already had a first reading in the Senate Finance Committee whose chair happens to be ... you guessed it, Steve Yarbrough.
It’s on the fast track to passage.
Meanwhile, the Democrats’ disclosure bill? On the road to nowhere. Not assigned to even a first reading by any committee.
In other words, our Arizona Legislature’s in mid season form, helping out the powerful and keeping the rest of us in the dark.
Just the way they like it.