Merger bill snuck into Senate after dying in House

Merger bill snuck into Senate after dying in House

On March 25, Republican state Rep. John Fillmore issued a news release that lamented his House colleagues’ refusal to even consider his bill mandating the merger of some 200 school districts in Arizona.

“While I’m disappointed that HB 2077 was not given a hearing this session,” the Apache Junction representative said, “I will keep fighting to remove duplication and excess waste in our current system by consolidating and unifying our school districts.

“Instead of the state mandating how school districts are consolidated, HB 2077 would maintain local control by letting parents, teachers, administrators and local elected officials determine how to consolidate. The cost savings, which I estimate could be up to $500 million a year, will be dedicated to classroom spending and teacher salaries.”

On April 4, he issued a new press release, ripping Democrats for voting against a measure that seemed to be dead just about 10 days earlier.

This time, he hailed the Senate Appropriations Committee for approving the bill and sending it to the full Senate for consideration.

“Classrooms in our state need every dollar possible to educate our children, so it’s disappointing that Democrats would support the wasteful and redundant status quo of excessive school boards and bloated bureaucracy,” Fillmore said.

So, what happened in that time?

A legislative device called a “strike everything amendment,” or striker bill.

The merger proposal replaced the contents of a bill that the House had passed on a completely different matter, giving Fillmore’s merger effort new life.

When it arrived at the Senate, HB 2139 had nothing to do with school districts.

Introduced by Fillmore, HB 2139 made it a crime to deface campaign signs.

Fillmore, vice chair of the House Education Committee, had put the consolidation proposal in HB 2077, which never got a hearing and was essentially DOA.

Ahwatukee state Sen. Sean Bowie had written to his constituents about “strike everything,” also called “striker bills,” even before the hearing last week.

Calling the legislative procedure “perfectly legal and also a little sketchy at the same time,” Bowie gave an example of how it works.

“Let’s say you have a bill that passes the House, but is assigned to a committee in the Senate where the chairman doesn’t like it and won’t give it a hearing. You have two options here: your bill is dead, or you can strike your bill onto ANOTHER bill, with the exact same language, essentially taking over that other bill and claiming it as yours.”

Bowie noted “this happens often at the Capitol” and tends to happen more frequently toward the end of the session, “when deadlines come up and members are running out of time.”

He anticipated a half dozen striker bills last week, calling the consolidation measure one of two “troublesome” measures.

The other dealt with tougher penalties on “political speech” in classrooms – “no doubt a response to the Red for Ed movement last year,” Bowie said, adding “I am of course opposed to both.”

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