Worst Fest

Trivial and meretricious bills crowd the Legislature's final days

But instead, DHS' child-care-licensure budget was cut by $592,000. Instead of having more money to license more day-care centers, DHS will have $205,000 less than last year.

It appears that the Legislature will restore the $205,000 in the final days of the session, but Children's Action Alliance officials are furious that the entire requested amount will not be provided.

The Child Welfare League of America suggests that one licensing specialist should serve 40 to 50 day-care centers. Under current staffing, each DHS licensing specialist monitors 76 centers.

With current funding and an expected increase in centers to be inspected, the number of facilities per caseworker will exceed 100.

Irene Jacobs, lobbyist for Children's Action Alliance, says, "What they're doing, in a backdoor way, is deregulating child care."

Another area that has a direct impact on children is the way in which tobacco tax funds will--or won't--be used.

Debate continues on how much of the tobacco tax money should be spent on prevention programs. Health Committee chair Gerard is frustrated. Only about $12 million will go to DHS for prevention next year, she says, while tens of millions more could be used.

"Here you've got $100 million, basically, of free money, and [legislators are] very happy not spending it," she says. Gerard believes her colleagues are trying to hoard the money for a rainy-day fund.

Meanwhile, Don Morris, a member of the Tobacco Use Prevention Advisory Committee and the Coalition for Tobacco Free Arizona, contends that the tobacco industry is chipping away at existing laws. Morris opposes Senate Bill 1384, sponsored by heavyweights like Senate President John Greene, Republican of Scottsdale, which is pending in the House. The bill would take compliance-testing powers--in which convenience stores and other businesses are tested, to see if they sell cigarettes to minors--away from localities, local law enforcement and DHS and give it to the state Department of Liquor Licensing and Control.

The liquor department is not set up to do this, Morris says. He calls SB 1384 the "tobacco industry protection bill."

And where, in all this, has Governor Fife Symington been? Lawmakers and lobbyists say the governor's absence has been conspicuous. Usually, Symington sends emissaries to pull for him in the legislative tug of war. This year, they've just been monitoring progress, with the governor making a few personal calls to lobby for key legislation like the environmental audit bill.

And some not-so-key legislation, in the eyes of Becky Jordan. She says, "I find it interesting that the governor finds that one of the more significant bills in the session is banning same-sex marriages."

The same-sex-marriage proposal, introduced by Representative Jeff Groscost, died in the House.

But like tort reform, school vouchers and free parking, the same-sex-marriage proposal could still come back to haunt legislators this week.

"It seems to me that they never give up on anything," Jordan says.

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