The only reasonable conclusion I can draw from the legislative session that just ended is this: Republican legislators think nothing is more important to Arizona than teaching the Bible in public schools and restricting women’s access to contraception and abortion. Jobs? Education? The economy? Not nearly as important.
Jobs, according to Senator Al Melvin, are his number one priority. Well, as Vice Chair of the Senate Economic Development and Jobs Creation Committee, he had the opportunity to make good on his commitment. But when the smoke cleared at the end of the session, nine of the committee’s ten scheduled meetings had been canceled. So much for job creation – and Melvin’s endlessly repeated campaign promise.
The Budget? If you blinked, you missed the public discussion and negotiations, because there weren’t any. Governor Brewer and Republican legislators hammered out the details behind closed doors. The budget bill was presented to the legislature at the end of April and approved days later. We still don’t know exactly what’s in there. We know a tiny fraction of the money taken away from our school children was returned this budget, while prisons got an additional $70 million. (We’ll need more prison beds to house all those undereducated children, right?) Money meant to help people battling foreclosure – $50 million – was swept up and added to the general fund. Businesses will get tax breaks, and the rest of us will pay for them.
Remember when we passed a one cent sales tax in 2010, the one Republicans said we didn’t need? Well, this year they socked almost half of it – $450 million – into a “rainy day fund.” Otherwise, they say, we’ll run short of revenue when the sales tax expires.
If the legislators didn’t spend their time on jobs or the budget, what did they do all session?
They debated, then passed a Bible in the Classroom bill. Never mind that teachers were already free to discuss the Bible and other religious topics in public school classrooms, and schools, if they wished, could already offer Bible as Literature classes, so long as they made sure they were teaching, not preaching. Now we have a bill directing the Department of Education to create a Bible class to be used in public schools, with the “teaching not preaching” restriction still in place.
Legislators proposed a bill restricting bullying in schools but decided against it because the bill included restrictions against bullying gays and lesbians. Conservative groups feared that might lead to pro-gay education, so it was killed.
Then there are the War on Women bills.
Federal funds disbursed to organizations providing women’s health services – services like screenings for breast and cervical cancer – can’t go to Planned Parenthood because, along with offering a wide range of women’s health services, the organization uses money from private donations to make abortions available.
Abortions are banned once a woman is 20 weeks pregnant. Actually, it’s more like 18 weeks. According to the law, pregnancy begins at the end of a woman’s last period, as much as two weeks before conception.
But restricting abortions didn’t go nearly far enough. Arizona joined other extreme Republican legislatures in the fight against women’s access to birth control. Employers, simply by claiming they have religious objections, can remove contraception coverage from employee health care.
Want to fire women for using contraception? Now it’s legal.
There’s not room enough to list all the damage the Republicans unleashed on the state. They added more money for private school vouchers. They took protections away from government workers, meaning they can be fired if their managers don’t like their work, their looks or their political affiliation. And they submitted a constitutional amendment to voters that would allow Arizona to take over federal land.
And they prayed – yes, “prayed” is in the language – that the federal government will dump nuclear waste in Arizona.
I’m praying too, praying voters will toss out the scoundrels who foisted this abominable legislative session on the people of Arizona.