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Wasting everyone's time

By Moniqua Lane
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
April 20, 2000
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As if a shamefully underfunded public education system, a laughable public healthcare system and a pathetically low-wage economy aren't problems deserving of attention, Arizona legislators have spent this last session engaged in the final throes of a three-year contest of bravado with each other. Tuesday night, the Senate finally passed House Bill 2554, an anemic version of a bill that would have banned all gifts from lobbyists outright. The bill itself, which is rather innocuous, is not the insulting part. Rather, it is infuriating that state representatives can waste three years and who knows how many dollars trying to pass legislation they know is entirely unnecessary and ineffectual, while ignoring actual issues.

Numerous bills banning gifts have been passed in the House, usually with the expectation that they would die in the Senate. Until last week, that expectation was dutifully fulfilled. Senators called house members' bluff, however, when they passed a house bill that would have enacted a total ban on lobbyists giving gifts to legislators. This caused house members, on Thursday, to gut their own legislation in the face of restrictions.

House Bill 2554 is the result of such grandstanding. The bill makes it illegal for lawmakers to accept free tickets to most sporting and cultural events, excepting events at which lawmakers are speaking or those to which all legislators are invited. Legislators are still free to accept smaller gifts such as food and drink, as well as larger ones such as air travel and weekend stays at golf resorts.

When speaking to The Associated Press, Rep. Ken Cheuvront, D-Phoenix, identified a problem with the legislation. He said, "The perception out there by our constituents, by the people of Arizona, is that we're being bought and paid for when we're being taken to lunch, playing golf and taking free trips to Hawaii. I hope in the future we will pass true lobbyist reform."

Rep. Cheuvront gives articulate voice to a nice sentiment, but the lack of true lobbyist reform may not be such a great problem. Gifts from lobbyists grease the legislative wheels, and if it takes a few theater tickets from the Sierra Club to preserve a swath of pristine wilderness, that's fine. Of course, this means that the NRA or R.J Reynolds have the same tools at their disposal. If reformers want to level the playing field, fine. However, as Speaker of the House Jeff Groscot, R-Mesa, told the AP, "I have a hard time finding the problem we are fixing." He did, regardless, vote in favor of the bill.

It was Rep. Laura Knaperek, R-Tempe, who correctly identified the problem when she spoke with the AP reporter. "It was just a ploy anyway," she admitted. House Bill 2554 is worse than just a ploy. It is a sickening waste of taxpayer time and money - time that could be spent working out meaningful education reform, money that could be spent paying for community college tuition vouchers. This "ploy" was drawn out over three years and only came to an end on Tuesday - 27 days after the targeted end of the legislative session. To waste such time, money and energy on what Sen. Chris Cummisky, D-Phoenix, calls "a slight adjustment from the status quo" is absurd.

On the same Tuesday, lawmakers passed a bill - HB2363 - that took spending discretion away from local school districts. Administrators were given a list of options on which to spend $20 million, but now they are required to spend the money on teacher pay raises. The legislation isn't so bad if you're teacher, but it kicks square in the teeth those students who have no choice but to attend classes in dilapidated buildings and learn from out-of-date texts.

Legislators, also on this day, passed HB 2497, which would spend $5.5 million to build and improve juvenile detention centers. There are no provisions for prevention or rehabilitation programs. Twice in one day the legislature fails to fix any problems.

Just like HB 2554 is not quite a win for lobbyist reform and HB 2363 is not quite a win for education, HB 2497 is not quite a win for troubled teens. Apparently, these lobbyists need to start dishing out more free food, drinks and vacations. No Cardinals' tickets, please.

Moniqua Lane is a political science and history junior. She can be reached at Moniqua.Lane@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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