The 122-day legislative session this year was different than those in recent years in one significant way.
Lawmakers were not looking for places to cut spending. In fact, there was actually a bit of cash available even after taking care of existing programs and the normal additions driven by formulas linked to inflation and the growth in everything from the number of students to people enrolled in the state’s health care program.
But the fact that there were dollars to spend sent various interests scurrying to get their share.
Lawmakers put more money into education, including bigger raises for teachers than Gov. Doug Ducey requested. But the question remains whether any of that will make a difference in the fact that four out of every 10 new Arizona teachers quit in the first two years.
Republican legislative leaders point out that the $34 million in the budget for a 1 percent raise this coming school year, with a promise of another percent next year, is not the only money available for teacher raises. Schools are getting a $128 million increase in basic state aid to compensate for inflation and student growth.
Education advocates counter those dollars also have to cover changes in the cost of everything from utilities and supplies to school buses.
There also is $38 million for “results-based funding,’’ awarded to high-performing schools. Lawmakers also agreed to ease the requirements for who can teach in public schools.
But the potentially biggest change is the decision to remove all restrictions on who can get vouchers of state dollars to attend private and parochial schools.
Proponents want universal vouchers for everyone. With that politically unacceptable, they had to settle for removing all restrictions on eligibility but agreeing to a cap of about 30,000, about 3 percent of students in public schools.
One area that came up short was ensuring that Arizona has the funds to build new roads and repair the ones it has.
The situation is so bad that even the trucking industry is willing to pay more in gasoline taxes rather than put up with the delays that eat into profits and the potholes that lead to repairs. And the 18-cent-a-gallon levy is worth nowhere near what it was when it was last increased in 1991.
Members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure approved asking voters to boost the levy. But that was quashed when the bill could not get a hearing in the Ways and Means Committee, through which all tax bills must pass.
A Senate-passed bill to give county officials the power to ask local voters to impose their own dime-a-gallon gas tax hike for up to 20 years. But that gained no traction in the House.
Lawmakers agreed to ban license plate covers that are designed to make numbers and letters unreadable to speed cameras, but refused to require motorcycle riders to have helmets.
Lawmakers did agree the state’s newest drivers – those with learner’s permits or in the first six months of getting a license – should not be using any wireless communication devices for talking or texting.
But to get even that, proponents had to agree to make it a secondary offense, meaning a citation can be issued only if the motorist is pulled over for another reason. And the restriction doesn’t take effect until July 1, 2018.
Law and order
It wouldn’t be a legislative session if there were not multiple efforts to make it easier for Arizonans to buy, sell, carry and use guns.
Lawmakers agreed to ban local governments from requiring those who sell weapons to be sure that the buyers are legally entitled to own them.
Gun-rights advocates failed once again to allow people who have concealed weapons permits to remain armed when entering public buildings unless there are guards and metal detectors. And legislation to ease laws making it illegal to fire off guns in city limits hit a dead end.
Lawmakers found money to do DNA tests on new rape kits and clear up the backlog.
And legislators agreed to make it harder for police and prosecutors to seize property they contend was involved in criminal activity.
Lawmakers tightened their grip on the right to write new laws.
Initiative organizers will no longer be able to pay circulators by the signature. And judges will be able to invalidate petition drives if there is not “strict compliance’’ with all election laws, a departure from court rulings that voters should be given the last word if there is “substantial compliance.’’
Lawmakers would not hear a proposal to require that those who want to propose new laws must get a certain percentage of signatures from each of the state’s 30 legislative districts, leaving intact laws which set a minimum number, regardless of where the signatures are gathered.
Also dead is a proposal to ask voters to repeal a constitutional provision that now bars lawmakers from tinkering with what has been approved at the ballot.
Health and welfare
This year lawmakers voted to spell out what doctors must do when an abortion results in a live birth, including what actions medical staff must take to try to keep the baby alive.
It proved controversial because of concerns that it will force doctors to do procedures on babies too premature or too deformed to survive, depriving parents of the minutes to bond with the child before it dies.
At the other extreme, another law is designed to protect health care providers and hospitals that refuse to participate in assisted suicide, euthanasia or mercy killing.
Lawmakers did agree to reverse the decision two years ago limiting lifetime benefits for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families to just one year, making Arizona the stingiest in the country.
The legislation contains various provisions that would reduce benefits by half for a single violation of rules, including kids not attending school at least 90 percent of the time or failing to immunize a child.
Lawmakers both extended existing tax breaks and credits that were set to expire, expanded some of them and even created some new ones.
Some of these are aimed at major manufacturers, giving them additional incentives to do research and development in Arizona, with state taxpayers effectively reimbursing them for part of the cost. They also are getting new property tax breaks on the equipment they buy.
And legislators agreed to give businesses some protections against lawsuits for failing to comply with the Arizonans with Disabilities Act.
In the category of “who knew that was illegal?’’ students attending public schools or summer camps now will be able to put on their own sunscreen without a note from home or a prescription.
Moving companies that say the cost has risen from the original estimate can’t refuse to deliver household goods.
Farmers will now be able to grow hemp for industrial uses if they get federal permission.
The San Tan Valley can schedule a vote to incorporate.
Foster children will be able to buy their own car insurance.
Lawmakers did agree that students journalists should get First Amendment protections though the fate of that measure is up to Ducey. Ditto with legislation to exempt the profits on gold and silver U.S. coins from state capital gains taxes.
And a proposal to ban teaching “social justice’’ in schools proved to be a non-starter.