It’s no secret that Arizona is in trouble. The state spends more money than it takes in — the latest estimate is that the budget is out of balance by about $2-plus billion. But despite the obvious challenges of the economy this past year, there have been some real gains in protecting liberty and preserving individual rights in the last legislative session.
Last spring the legislature passed tort-reform to protect emergency room doctors, established a new Regulation-Oversight Committee to decrease stifling regulation on Arizona businesses, and passed legislation requiring parental consent for abortion.
Those who know me, know how I feel about the right to bear arms. In this last legislative session, we passed several bills that strengthen gun rights and protect gun owners in the exercise of the Second
Additionally, we passed legislation to help families. First, the legislature passed an important referendum that you will all vote on in 2010, called the Healthcare Freedom Act that prevents anyone from being forced to accept government health care. We created higher standards for fingerprint clearance cards, bringing the state into compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection Act, preserved funding for abused and neglected children, and established a requirement for Child Protective Services to look for available relatives of children in foster care. This can lessen the trauma when they are suddenly taken into state custody and also preserve family relationships.
Another new law eliminates some of the red tape around financial assistance for military families. It reforms the Military Family Relief Fund to allow more family members of Arizona residents killed in military service to access funds to help them survive after the loss of a loved one. The fund is made up entirely of private donations, but was previously so restricted that no one in need could get financial assistance.
Despite having to make small cuts in the education budget, education did get some benefits in this last session. For instance, we expanded the Technology Assisted Project Based Instruction (TAPBI) program statewide (renamed Arizona Online Instruction). Previously only seven school districts and seven charter schools participated by offering online instruction, and student enrollment was limited. Now any approved district or charter may participate, and the enrollment caps have been eliminated. In addition, we expanded the ability of school districts to contract with insurance pools, and exempted school districts and charter schools from some taxes.
Finally, the legislature cut property taxes three times, although these cuts did not receive final approval. They do demonstrate, however, the determination of the legislature to protect property rights and lift the burden of government off the backs of Arizona residents.
I’m looking forward to this next session to provide a new opportunity to pass legislation that will reduce regulations, provide more individual freedom, help our economy recover and decrease our deficit.