Ten Arizona issues to watch for in 2014

2014-01-01T00:00:00Z Ten Arizona issues to watch for in 2014By Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
January 01, 2014 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX — With the new year upon us, there are a host of issues that state leaders will likely face in 2014.

Here are 10 things to watch for in Arizona politics and government for the coming year, above and beyond the normal legislative battles over budgets, tax breaks and regulations.

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 governor, though Jan Brewer continues to make noise that she remains 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 joining in.

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:

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 Department 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 money raised for his successful 2010 race by Business Leaders for Arizona, what was billed as an independent committee.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk 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.

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 that states can impose requirements for reporting donations and expenditures 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 Rotellini broke the law, ruling the commercials did not have any of those “magic words.” And he concluded 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.

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 draw congressional lines.

But attorneys for the commission say voters, who are the ultimate state lawmakers, were within their rights in approving a 2000 ballot measure that 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 draw new lines that would alter the current 5-4 Democrat-Republican lineup in the congressional delegation.

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.

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.

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.

Abortion rights

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide this year whether to allow Arizona to enforce two of its laws dealing with abortions.

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 funding for elective abortions. But backers of the measure argue that any government money that supports Planned Parenthood indirectly subsidizes abortions.

Medicaid

Last year 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 money 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.

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 Brewer directed the state Department of Transportation to deny driver’s 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. And Brewer contends that the decision by Homeland Security not to deport those in this program is not authorization but simply prosecutorial discretion.

So-called “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.

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 pre-empted 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 2½ ounces of the drug every two weeks. The courts also have said counties cannot block zoning for dispensaries.

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 that a federal judge here might reach a different conclusion.

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