Lake Havasu City’s legislative delegation hopes the 2020 Legislative Session moves more quickly than it did in 2019, when legislators finally wrapped up state business on May 28.
“It is an election year this year and historically sessions are shorter when it is an election year,” said District 5 Representative Leo Biasiucci, of Lake Havasu City. “So I think that will be one reason why it may be shorter. Secondly, we have been working on the budget since last year so we kind of got ahead of the game instead of waiting until the session started. So we are really ahead of schedule with a lot of bills and a lot of the budget stuff. Hopefully that will translate to a shorter session so that I can get back home to my district.”
District 5 Senator Sonny Borrelli agreed that working ahead on the budget should help, but said things always seem to move more slowly than they should in the legislature.
“It always starts out that way until we start getting into session,” said Borrelli, of Lake Havasu City. “Then, of course, a lot of the Democratic members like to talk forever on the house floor to slow things down. You always have those type of shenanigans that go on – primarily in the house… We are hoping that people have the same mindset: Let’s get the job done and get the heck out.”
But no matter how long the session lasts, Borrelli said there are a few things that he would like to get accomplished by the end. Borrelli is either a sponsor or co-sponsor on 23 proposed bills for the upcoming session on various topics, including four bills aimed at increasing safety and accountability within the medical marijuana industry. He said schools and veterans will be his main focuses as the 2020 session begins.
“I’m working to give the ability to school boards and city councils to be able to go into executive session to be able to discuss security issues,” Borrelli said. “That is a tool that they need to have, and actually asked for. And of course I am working on veterans issues, like I always do.”
Borrelli’s big push for veterans this year will be to get a veterans home built for Northwestern Arizona in Mohave County.
Although the final location has yet to be determined, Borrelli said Kingman is the most likely site because a private party has offered to donate 30 acres for the facility. The bill, SB 1112, is asking for Arizona to pay for a one-time expenditure of 35 percent of the construction costs, which comes out to about $25 million. The federal government would pay the remaining 65 percent for construction and ultimately take over operation and maintenance of the facility.
Biasiucci is listed as a sponsor or co-sponsor on a total of 14 bills so far, including four bills that he believes will be a particularly high priority for him.
Biasiucci said he has been working with Mohave County Assessor Jeanne Kentch on House Continuing Resolution 2009, which aims to freeze property taxes for qualifying veterans with a service-connected disability.
“This bill would freeze their property taxes so that it wouldn’t go up at all in the next three years,” Biasiucci said. “Veterans fought for our freedoms. We are the greatest country in the world. The freest and most prosperous, and a big reason for that is because of our veterans. So anything we can do to help them out, I am all for. And when we are sitting with record revenues in the state the first group we should look at is our vets.”
Other top priorities Biasiucci mentioned are HB 2093 which aims to make Arizona a 2nd Amendment sanctuary state, HB 2088 which would move $5 million from the general fund to the State Lake Improvement Fund, and HB 2055 which proposes adding an option for community service rather than fines for a civil traffic violation.
Cobb, of Kingman, is currently listed as a co-sponsor for four bills but hasn’t introduced any bill into the house yet. She said that she is working on a few bills that will be coming in the weeks ahead, however.
Cobb said probably the largest bill she plans to propose is a provider rate increase which she said would take advantage of federal funding that would bring about $1 billion into the state.
“So our hospital providers and our general providers would be able to get a provider rate increase,” Cobb said.” I’m doing that outside of the budget because it costs us some dollars up front, but we get those back once we get the federal match.”
Water will also be a big priority for Cobb. She said she plans to introduce a bill regarding fourth priority water rights, as well as a rural management bill that would allow for local control of groundwater.
Early peek at the budget
Rather than waiting for the session to officially begin, state legislators decided to put in a lot of the legwork ahead of time this year. Cobb, who chairs the Appropriations Committee in the House of Representatives said working ahead on the budget used to be common, but she said legislatures in the past seemed to shy away from it during the recession to allow proposed cuts to come from the governor’s budget first.
Cobb said that has left legislators playing catch up in recent years, which can sometimes create problems.
“I decided last year that I wasn’t going to do that and I was going to start working on it early on,” she said. “So I did... “I have been negotiating with the Appropriations Chair on the Senate side (Senator David Gowan), we have been working together. We pretty much have a framework and we have had some communications with the governor’s office and I think we are fairly close to what the governor’s framework is also. That is usually where we are at in about March.”
Cobb said she expects one of the big focuses in this year’s budget to be education. She mentioned the need to fulfill the legislatures promise to teachers of a 20 percent raise by 2020 as one example – which would require another 5 percent raise across to complete. Cobb said they are also looking at other ways to support schools in the budget.
“If we have money we want to relieve a lot of debt,” Cobb said. “The district additional assistance is something that we have been working to restore, which is the extra money that they could use for anything that they want to use it for. I think that is going to be a priority on my budget.”
Another area Cobb said she is trying to address in the budget is infrastructure. She said she want to make sure that each of the department’s infrastructure is sound. She specifically noting the need for improvements within the Department of Corrections, which she said is long overdue.
Infrastructure improvements such as roads will also be a priority.
“We have a surplus, and when you have a surplus I think the things that we need to take care of are things that we neglected in the past, which are things like our infrastructure,” Cobb said.
Biasiucci said one of his top infrastructure priorities is to get SR 95 repaved from Lake Havasu City to Bullhead City. Borrelli’s bill for a veterans’ home would also fall under infrastructure.
“We need to figure out what is going to be our priorities, but SR 95 is one of those,” Cobb said. “I know there is a bridge in Lake Havasu that has requested some funding and Senator Borrelli has a bill for a VA home. All these have to go into the infrastructure package and we have to figure out what the infrastructure package is going to be. It has got to be balanced. I can’t have it just leaning towards Mohave County. We have to have it very balanced throughout the state.”
Other priorities for the budget this year include paying off debt incurred during the great recession, and to catch up on pay raises for state employees.
Working as a team
All three of District 5’s state legislators have spoken about how well the trio functioned as a team in 2019 and stressed the need for that to continue in the 2020 session.
“We are on the same page most of the time on a lot of issues,” said Borrelli. “We want to make sure that we stand strong four our district. People don’t understand that there are over 30 legislators that represent Maricopa County interests – what we call the state of Maricopa. We have three counties in our district and in the past they know how to pick us off and divide us up. So we just make sure that they don’t try to do that to us. We stick together and we work with other legislators throughout the state that are also rural. It is rural Arizona against the state of Maricopa all the time, so we have to make sure that we stick together on issues.”
While Borrelli said the District 5 representatives agree about 90 percent of the time, but disagreements do arise.
“We are not always going to agree, which is a good thing,” Biasiucci said. “We don’t want to be agreeing on every single bill together. But being a team, I think the main thing is that all three of us respect each other, and respect each other’s opinions. So when there are bills that are especially going to impact our district and our county we always come together, talk about it, figure out how we are going to make it work, and figure out who we need to talk to. Whether it is a good bill or a bad bill all three of us are always in communication with each other to give our opinions – agree or disagree.”
“We don’t always agree on everything, but we have made a sort of unwritten agreement where if there is something on the agenda that you’ve got and I don’t like it, I will just vote no,” he said. “I’m not going to trash my seat-mate. Just vote no or vote yes and be done with it. Don’t try to make it personal. A lot of folks make things personal around here, which is part of the beast, but we just try to work together. If rural Arizona doesn’t stick together then we don’t we are going to get rolled over like we have in the past.”
Cobb said she has had that type of relationship with Borrelli since joining the house, but all three local representatives have been on the same page since Biasiucci’s election in 2018.