CASUAL CONFLICTS

ARIZONA LAWMAKERS OPERATE UNDER A SYSTEM INCAPABLE OF STEMMING CONFLICTS OF INTEREST.

"Bob [Burns] will talk about those things [bills he likes] in caucus. But I don't see him coming in and out of members' offices" lobbying them individually, says the anonymous Republican, who opposed the optometry legislation. "That's a very powerful way to move people."
Brenda Burns did not return calls from New Times.
Mention the topic of conflicts to members of the legislative inner circle and they always mention Brenda Burns. But no one was willing to publicly accuse her of breaching legislative ethics. That's not surprising, says Dana Larsen.

"It's very rare that one member will rat out another, even when they know of or suspect a conflict," Larsen says. Indeed. The House Ethics Committee file for 1994 is empty--so, for that matter, is the Senate Ethics Committee file--despite what many observers and participants in state government privately claim is a blatant conflict on Bob Burns' part.

"I think everybody, everybody, talks about it [Bob Burns' possible conflict]. But there was no formal complaint filed," says House Minority Leader Art Hamilton, the sole Ethics Committee member still around from 1989, when the panel advised Burns to recuse himself on child-care-related votes. And until a complaint is filed, or until Burns asks the committee to revisit the issue, Hamilton says there's nothing he can do.

For now, it's business as usual. And few appear to care. "There's a long history of this in the legislature, and nobody thinks anything of it," says Rena Honan, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club and first-time candidate for the legislature this fall. "There's a warped sense of rightness and wrongness down there."

In 1993, Honan awarded Representative Jack Brown, a rancher, the "quote of the session" in a local Sierra Club newsletter. He was commenting on legislation--which ultimately passed--that calls for the voters' opinion on a feedlot tax exemption.

Brown told his colleagues, "Well, I've got a few cows, but I'll vote for it, anyway."

@rule:
@body:Bob Burns never did relent on the $100 million Success by Six package. So children's advocates cobbled together something called the Arizona Children and Families Stability Act, a $16.5 million effort to elevate the state's dismal standing in services for children and families. That effort failed, as well. So did a much-ballyhooed education-reform package.

But both the withered Success by Six and ed reform made it through Burns' House Appropriations Committee after his colleagues begged and scraped, trying to win the chairman's favor and pass a prochild bill--at times, it seemed, any prochild bill--in an election year.

Burns eventually allowed the Stability Act out of his committee. He says the most significant changes came in areas that had nothing to do with private day care.

He did, however, try to pluck the following plums for his industry during the 1994 legislative session:

ù Burns added private day-care centers to the pool of preschool providers eligible for $10 million in at-risk preschool funds as part of the education-reform package.

ù Burns co-sponsored legislation--which eventually became part of the Stability Act--that would require public schools with day-care programs to meet standards set for private centers. (This chagrined public-school advocates, who maintain public programs would have to shut their doors if the standards were applied too quickly.)

ù Burns launched a successful fight against a bill that would have eased standards for people providing day care in their homes--even though he didn't actually vote on it.

"Those people [home-care providers] are direct competitors, you know; the day-care home system is in direct competition with the center system, so I said, 'Okay, maybe I shouldn't vote on this one,'" Burns says.

But that didn't stop him from arguing against the bill in a House debate. The bill's supporters say Burns was instrumental in killing the legislation.

ù In the waning hours of the session, Burns almost succeeded in putting the state's current staff-child ratios for private day-care providers into statute, making it considerably more difficult to tighten guidelines in the future.

Under current law, the state Department of Health Services has regulatory authority over guidelines, including ratios. "Let those people [who want tougher guidelines] come to the proper arena to try and set public policy," Burns says.

His arena.
"The day-care law says that every two years the rules and regulations need to be reviewed," Burns says. "The history has been that they [DHS] review and increase regulation. Review and increase. Review and increase. Every two years, it's the same old story."
Not true. According to the Arizona Administrative Code, DHS hasn't increased ratio requirements for private day-care centers since 1988.

The guidelines Burns wants to put into law rank Arizona among the bottom third in the country, according to information compiled by Summa Associates, a local nonprofit child-/elder-care provider.

Burns makes no bones about his motivation: the bottom line. "It [a more stringent ratio] reduces the number of children you can serve--at the same time driving your cost up, requiring you to have many more employees," Burns says.

While the least publicized, Burns' raid on ratios is clearly the most significant. Ratios have been the bane of his existence, both at the legislature and at his Glendale day-care center, Rainbow Elementary Prep II.

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