There was a short-lived children’s show in the 1960s called “Shenanigans.” Its opening theme song began:
“Shenanigans! Let’s have some fun and play Shenanigans. My name is Stubby Kaye and I would like to greet you with howdy do, welcome to … Shenanigans!”
However, at this point in the session, one can just as easily substitute the names of legislators and be welcomed to their versions of “Shenanigans!”
First, welcome to an example of the “Strike Everything” shenanigans as played using SB1217 and HB2186. HB2186 was originally an education bill – “school meals, unpaid fees” – intended to protect students from being embarrassed or bullied at school due to unpaid lunch money. It was appropriately assigned to the Education Committees. Suddenly and belatedly, when SB1217 stalled in the House its language – to create a special tuition rate for non-citizen, AZ high school graduates – was inserted into HB2186 via a “strike everything” amendment. And so much for protecting our younger students from being harassed, but I digress.
Even though the strike everything version of HB2186 is still clearly an education related bill it was assigned to the Health and Human Services committee which just happens to be co-chaired by Sen. Carter (R LD15) who is also – drum roll – the original sponsor of SB1217.
Only thanks to the watchdog group AZRRT (AZ Rapid Response Team) and Jose Borrajero who authors the “AZ State Legislature Week in Review,” we learned that the strike everything amended HB2186 was revived, put on the agenda and reheard in Senate Rules on April 15th after having already been defeated once in – wait for it – Senate Rules. All that information is missing from the bill tracking page, and the bill is still being noticed on the Rules agendas as “school meals, unpaid fees” even though that is no longer representative of what the bill, if passed, will put into law – not even close – so much for transparency in the legislative process.
Next, welcome to the shenanigans know as the “Floor Amendment” which is exemplified with SB1346. This bill – “common school districts; realignment; exemption” – which initially pertained to a one year exemption from achievement profiles and letter grades for schools/districts under defined circumstances seemed to be routinely moving through the Senate and House that is until April 10th. When suddenly Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Shope (R LD8) offered an unrelated floor amendment striking the language of ARS 15-716 (C) – what some refer to as the “no promo homo law” – from the AIDS/HIV instruction statute. This floor amendment was made two months after the deadline for introduction of bills and after committee hearings, allowing for community input, had ended for this session. The floor amendment language flew out of the House, into the Senate, onto the governor’s desk and was signed within 24 hours – give or take – talk about marching in double-time.
Finally, we will soon be welcomed to “Budget Reconciliation Bills” – a.k.a. BRBs – shenanigans. We don’t yet know what this session’s BRBs will bring. However we do know the consequences of one such BRB, from the 2015 session, which separated the State Board of Ed from the AZ Dept. of Ed.
Prior to the BRB, under ADE, the SBE had 11 full time employees (FTEs); an executive director, a deputy director, an admin assistant, a Move On When Reading (MOWR) program specialist and the 7 FTEs of the investigative unit. However, the deputy director position was funded from the MOWR program (if that program was federally instead of state funded such supplanting would be illegal). Therefore the SBE was appropriated funding for TWO employees dedicated to serving its members and facilitating meetings. Bear in mind it is ADE’s staff that’s charged with implementing SBE policy and programs unless otherwise specified in statute such as MOWR was at that time.
Ultimately after that BRB the MOWR program was moved under ADE which should have included 2 but only moved 1 FTE and the 7 FTEs of the Investigative Unit returned to ADE. Therefore the SBE should have 2 but actually retained 3 FTE positions. But since that BRB the SBE now has FIVE FTEs and, last I heard, the current “budget ask” requests an additional FTE; doubling the size of the staff of the SBE in just a few years.
BRBs are intended to put into the budget only that which has been passed by the legislature. Yet this particular BRB turned the process on its head. It was used to insert into the budget what had already been defeated that session by a floor vote in the House.
According to the legislative website there are 137 adopted “strike everything” amendments this session. All in addition to the “deals” such as tax conformity, that pushed off legislation vital to AZ taxpayers into this a non-election year when it was easy to veto or the bill last session which gave an un-elected bureaucrat unfettered taxing authority over a new the motor vehicle “fee” doing an end run around the two third super majority required to raise taxes.
Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the intent of any particular bill, the problem is the “Shenanigans!” our elected representatives are willing to use with or without the consent or even knowledge of “the governed.” And we are part of the problem if we are willing to accept that achieving whatever our “end” justifies whatever the “means” that gets it into statute.
Ours is supposed to be a legislative process under which proposed statute is vetted through a public process allowing for community input from all sides during the full-fledged committee process. It should always be an open, deliberative and contemplative process; not one of knee-jerk amendments that come out of left field without the opportunity for input OR behind the scenes deals holding bills from a legitimate hearing OR the resurrection of bills that failed under the process OR creating policy through the budget process OR bills designed to circumvent voter approved propositions. We’ve witnessed much of all of the above this session.
Howdy do and welcome to . . . this year’s round of … “Shenanigans!”