PHOENIX — Undeterred by its defeat last year, Gov. Doug Ducey said Monday he will again ask lawmakers to approve his school-safety plan — including a controversial provision to allow judges to take guns away from people considered dangerous.
But at this point, what the governor wants in the plan that his fellow Republicans question — and his refusal to consider the universal background checks Democrats want — could again doom the proposal.
In his fifth State of the State address, Ducey also repeated his plea to lawmakers to adopt a drought-contingency plan ahead of a Jan. 31 deadline set by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, at which point federal officials are threatening to decide how to allocate the dwindling water supply out of Lake Mead.
The governor also:
- Made a pitch for more career and technical education, saying those classes are training people for jobs the state needs to fill;
- Said he wants to bolster the state’s “rainy-day” savings account from the current $450 million to $1 billion, a figure that would be about 10 percent of a normal state budget, to be prepared for the next financial downturn;
- Promised to make good on last year’s plan to raise teacher pay an average of another 10 percent by 2020 on top of the current 10 percent increase, though there was no mention of pay hikes for counselors, bus drivers, custodians and others not included in the teacher package.
Ducey took a slap at regulatory boards that refuse to recognize professional licenses people have earned in other states when they move here.
“And before those unelected boards feign outrage, let’s remember: Workers don’t lose their skills simply because they move to Arizona,” he said, calling those board members “bullies.”
He also surprised lawmakers by telling them the state once again owns the House and Senate buildings.
Facing a $3 billion budget shortfall in 2010, the state sold off a package of state buildings for $1 billion in up-front cash from investors. Since then, the state has been leasing the buildings from the current owners, with the state scheduled to take back possession in 2030.
What the governor did here is a bit of a public relations maneuver. There was no additional cash paid out. Instead, with the debt now down below $800 million, the lenders agreed they no longer needed as many buildings as collateral.
Restructuring the debt does decrease what the state would owe between now and 2030 by about $109 million.
But from an image standpoint, the action eliminates one area where Arizona became the butt of “Daily Show” jokes on Comedy Central for selling off the buildings in which state legislators meet.
Out of Ducey’s speech, the school-safety plan is likely to create the most friction for him.
Ducey told lawmakers his starting point is the plan he offered last year, which he said was based on a study of the five deadliest school shootings of the past two decades, and is focused on prevention.
One common element in those shootings, he said, was the belief they might have been prevented because there were people who had observed the soon-to-become shooters and raised questions about public safety.
That led Ducey to propose his STOP plan, Severe Threat Order of Protection. It would set up a procedure to allow not just police but family members and others to seek a court order to have law enforcement take an individual’s gun while he or she is locked up for up to 21 days for a mental evaluation.
Senate Republicans approved the proposal last year, but only after removing provisions to allow family members, guidance counselors and school administrators to refer to the courts people they consider a danger to themselves or others.
Even with that change, Eddie Farnsworth, then the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, refused to even give the measure a hearing.
On Monday, Ducey said he’s ready to go at it again — including the STOP orders.
Farnsworth, now a state senator, said he remains skeptical that Ducey can craft a plan that protects the constitutional rights of gun owners.
And he said that’s only part of the problem; Farnsworth is also concerned about locking people up for mental evaluations based on someone’s complaint.
“I think the intent’s good,” Farnsworth said. “I think we have to find a way to do it without violating the Constitution.”
Some elements of the plan proved noncontroversial last year, such as more police on school campuses and more school counselors.
Democrats, in general, have had no problem with STOP orders. But they remain adamant: “We want universal background checks” before guns are sold, said House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez after the governor’s speech. “We know it saves lives.”
Federal law requires licensed firearms dealers to conduct background checks when a gun is sold to ensure that the buyer is legally entitled to possess it. But those rules do not apply in person-to-person sales, including sales by individuals at gun shows.
Ducey, in his speech, said he is taking ideas from a gun-control group spearheaded by former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. She was seriously wounded in the 2011 shooting spree outside a Tucson-area supermarket that left six others dead and wounded 13, including Giffords.
But there was no mention of universal background checks during Ducey’s approximately 40-minute speech, despite that being a touchstone of what the Giffords group wants. And even after the speech, the governor sidestepped questions about closing what some have called the “gun-show loophole.”
“We’re going to improve these background checks,” Ducey said.
That’s what he proposed last year, when he said law enforcement agencies should be required to put more information into the database checked by gun dealers. But none of that includes a requirement to cover individual sellers.
One thing different this year, Ducey said, is more resources. He said there will be funds to put a police officer in every school that wants one.
“We know when a police officer is around, it makes things safer,” he said.
Not good enough, said Fernandez.
“We are committed to universal background checks,” she said. And Democrats’ votes will be needed if Republicans balk.