May 14, 2005
State lawmakers who ended their regular session early Friday shouldn’t start their summer vacations just yet.
Leading Democratic lawmakers are urging Gov. Janet Napolitano to veto a $42 million plan approved by the Republican majority to address a court order related to educating students who aren’t fluent in English.
A bipartisan plan to resolve a 15-year-old lawsuit called Flores v. Arizona was supposed to be part of a deal between Republicans and Napolitano on an $8.3 billion budget package.
But the Republicans approved their own proposal Friday after Democrats insisted any agreement must include additional money in future years. Napolitano hinted later on Friday she might veto the Flores bill and other parts of the budget package, which likely would trigger a special session in the next few weeks.
"When I negotiated the agreement last week with the all-day kindergarten and the medical school and so forth, it was with the understanding that the Republicans would sit down and negotiate a Flores resolution with the Democrats," Napolitano said. "I think I have to look at that whole package now in light of the fact that the Legislature did not negotiate a compromise on Flores."
Passage of a bill on the Flores case was the Legislature’s final action in the 2005 regular session, which lasted 123 days before ending about 1:15 a.m. Friday.
On the final day, lawmakers also narrowly approved a compromise on Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards that will allow some high school seniors to graduate in 2006 and 2007 without passing the test if their grades are high enough. Napolitano said she plans to sign that bill.
The Legislature also approved a measure intended to crack down on methamphetamine dealing by forcing some nonprescription medicines that contain pseudoephedrine to be placed behind store counters. But a compromise on that bill means the pills won’t have to be sold by a pharmacist and customers won’t have to sign logbooks or show photo identification.
Meanwhile, Rep. Laura Knaperek, R-Tempe, failed in a last-minute bid to establish a pilot program for four-year degrees from community colleges with two sites in Maricopa and Pima counties.
Lawmakers usually put aside their differences on the last day of a session to celebrate their triumphs and commiserate on the low moments. But debate turned rancorous Thursday after Republican leaders decided to act on the Flores case without any Democratic support, turning the final day into a 13-hour marathon.
The Flores lawsuit claims Arizona doesn’t provide enough money to schools trying to teach English learners, or about 175,000 students statewide. In January, a federal judge ordered the Legislature to adequately address the issue before the end of the regular session, or the state could face sanctions such as the loss of $400 million in federal highway dollars.
Republicans say they met a Democratic request for next year by adding $28.5 million to about $13.5 million already in the approved budget for new teacher training and reducing classroom sizes. But Republicans refused to commit to more spending in the following two years, even though a legislative study concluded the state actually should be adding $70 million to $200 million.
Senate President Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, said the federal judge should view next year as a transition period while the state creates a series of new programs to move all schools to language immersion for English learners instead of bilingual teaching. English immersion was mandated by state voters in 2000.
Republicans also want to require all school districts and charter schools to report how they are using local taxes and federal dollars to teach English learners, so the Legislature has a clear picture of the actual costs involved.
But Democratic lawmakers accused Republicans of adopting a new delaying tactic in a lawsuit lost by the state five years ago.
"For the Republicans to come forward at the 11th hour with a shoddy fix that does next to nothing for children and merely pays lip service to the court is nothing short of arrogant and irresponsible," said Rep. Phil Lopes of Tucson, the top-ranking House Democrat.
Napolitano, also a Democrat, already has set a record number of vetoes for an Arizona governor at 48 bills. Many of those rejections were expected as the Legislature took a strong turn to the conservative right this year.
But a second veto of the $8.3 billion budget package would result in a dramatic confrontation with the Legislature just before the July 1 start of the new fiscal year. Even narrower vetoes of certain portions of the budget popular with Republicans, such as the corporate tax credit for private school denotations, would spark a lot of anger, GOP leaders said.
"Will she go back on the budget deal? I don’t think so," said Sen. Jay Tibshraeny of Chandler, the third-ranking Senate Republican. "That would create real problems within our caucus."
But Napolitano said Friday that Republican lawmakers should have tried harder to reach a deal with Democrats on the Flores case.
"This is an Arizona issue. These things shouldn’t be done on such a partisan basis," Napolitano said. "I’m disappointed they decided on such an important issue of educating kids to go party-line."
Napolitano has nine days to act on all remaining bills on her desk.