Legislative Update: AZ, CO, NM, & UT

Arizona

Gov. Ducey Names Kyl as McCain Successor

After the passing of Sen. John McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey has appointed former Sen. Jon Kyl to serve out the remainder of the late senator’s six-year term. Ducey commented at the press conference announcing his selection that “now is not the time for newcomers and not the time for on-the-job training.” Further that Kyl is a “beacon of integrity, highly regarded by people on both sides of the aisle and able to work across party lines to get results.”

Kyl, a Republican, has indicated that he is willing to serve until the end of the year, but would not comment on any timeframe afterward. If Kyl steps down at the end of the session, the governor would be required to appoint another replacement.

Court Removes Education Funding Measure from November Ballot

The Arizona Supreme Court struck down and removed Proposition 207 which would have increased income taxes for individuals making more than $150,000 finding that the description of the tax was not clear. Opponents of Prop. 207 claimed that the use of a “percentage” rather than “percentage points” increase was deceptive illustrating that the tax rate would have been increased by 76 and 98 percent increase rather than 3.46 and 4.46 percent increase. The Court found that the language “creates a significant danger of confusion or unfairness.”

Proponents of Prop. 207 claim the measure was the work of thousands of volunteers, which had the backing of the Arizona Education Association, and the state’s teachers union, now emphasize the importance of electing officials that support public education.

The intent of Prop. 207 was to increase education funding for public and charter schools in response to the years of cuts experienced since the recession. The measure could have brought in an additional $690 million to help restore the $1 billion in cuts to education by the legislature.


Colorado

Redistricting Measure on November Ballot

Colorado is taking its political boundary matters to the voters this November. Constitutional amendments Y and Z changes the way the state’s political boundaries are drawn for both the statehouse and Congress. Currently, the controlling political party at the General Assembly has much of the power to draw districts. If approved, those duties go to an independent commission.

The most controversial ballot measure would prohibit oil and gas drilling within 2,500 feet of home and schools. If approved, the proposed setback would all but ban drilling in the state which is one of the state’s largest economic drivers. Both gubernatorial candidates have voiced opposition to the initiative claiming that it goes too far. The oil and gas industry is expected to spend millions of dollars to defeat the measure which is being proposed by environmentalists.


New Mexico

Groundbreaking Lawsuit Finds New Mexico Education System Unconstitutional

First Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton has ruled in the Yazzie v. New Mexico class action lawsuit filed in March 2014 that the state’s public education system is a “dismal failure” and violates students’ constitutional rights to a sufficient education. Plaintiffs argued that funds are distributed in arbitrary and inequitable ways that leave at-risk students without a basic education to go to college or pursue a career.

Lead Plaintiff Wilhelmina Yazzie provided examples of the inadequate funding in the Gallup-McKinley County Schools which included teachers requesting parents to donate old socks to be used to clean dry-erase boards, and an insufficient supply of textbooks for students. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the school district did not respond to Yazzie’s complaints for years. “All we’ve heard is ‘Sorry we can’t do that, or sorry we don’t have that, or sorry we can’t give that to your children. But it’s not a good enough excuse,” Yazzie said.

Judge Singleton ruled that the state is responsible for assuring that students receive an adequate education.


Utah

Ballot Measures Include Medical Marijuana Initiative

Utah is another state where voters will be deciding the future of the medicinal use of marijuana on the November ballot. If approved, Proposition 2 the Utah Medical Cannabis Act will allow patients, on the recommendation of a physician, obtain a medical marijuana card and to buy cannabis products from private run dispensaries sanctioned by the state. A recent poll in June indicates that 66% of voters are in favor of approving the Utah Medical Cannabis Act.

Proposition 3 asks voters to fully expand Medicaid to provide health-care coverage to 150,000 lower income Utahns. The state currently has a Medicaid waiver before the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that partially expands Medicaid while imposing work requirements on recipients. If approved, Prop. 3 will bypass the waiver process to fully expand Medicaid under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. The initiative proposes to combine $90 in state funding through a 0.15% sales tax increase of approximately $800 million in federal Medicaid funding.

Proposition 4 will create an independent, unelected redistricting commission to recommend electoral maps which then must be approved or discarded by the Legislature without amendment. Better Boundaries, the proponent of Prop. 4, said the initiative is meant to fix a broken redistricting process. “There’s an inherent conflict of interest when legislators draw their own electoral boundaries, as they have the power to choose their voters instead of voters choosing their representatives.” Opponents of the initiative claim the initiative is unconstitutional by interfering in the Legislature’s redistricting process.

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