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May 13, 2015

Host: Ted Simons

New Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services Director

  |   Video
  • The Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services has a new director. Wanda Wright was appointed by Governor Doug Ducey to lead the agency in March, and will tell us about her vision for the office and talk about the issues regarding Arizona veterans.
  • Wanda Wright - Director of Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services
Category: Community   |   Keywords: veterans,

View Transcript
TED SIMONS: The Arizona Department of Veterans Services has a new director, Wanda Wright. She brings to the job an extensive background with the Air Force and National Guard. We welcome Wanda Wright to “Arizona Horizon. “Thank you for being here, we appreciate it.

WANDA WRIGHT: Thank you for inviting me.

TED SIMONS: What is -- before we Getz get into the weeds a little bit here, what is the Department of Veterans Services?

WANDA WRIGHT: The state entity that advocates for veterans for employment, for education, for any benefit that a veteran deserves.

TED SIMONS: And your role as director is what?

WANDA WRIGHT: Is to manage that. We have several VSOs, veterans services offices in Arizona across the state. We have two nursing homes that support elderly veterans who need long term medical. And just to make ourselves available to veterans for employment, to help them with homelessness and for education.

TED SIMONS: And how does this department differ from the V.A.?

WANDA WRIGHT: They are federal, and we a restate. That is the biggest difference.

TED SIMONS: But there are other differences as well?

WANDA WRIGHT: There are. We file claims on behalf of our veterans. The federal government pays out those benefits. And site brings money into Arizona and it pays those veterans for the things that they need.

TED SIMONS: So you're a bit of a conduit to the V.A.

WANDA WRIGHT: Very much a conduit.

TED SIMONS: A custom nursing homes you mentioned, veterans -- what are veterans benefits offices? What are they?

WANDA WRIGHT: They are offices that any veteran can show up to and ask for assistance. Whether it's assistance for claiming a disability, whether it’s assistance for trying to get a pension, for any medical issues they have. It offers a help mate to sort of navigate through the process.

TED SIMONS: And you're a fiduciary, as well?

WANDA WRIGHT: We do have that as component of veterans services. We have conservatorship for some veterans who are incapable of dealing with their finances on their own. And we support them with that program.

TED SIMONS: And sounds like the goal is well for coordinate services and organizations with veterans.

WANDA WRIGHT: Yes. Yes, to match them up.

TED SIMONS: Okay. You are the new director. What do you see as your vision? What would you like to change, what would you like to see improve?

WANDA WRIGHT: Well, excuse me, from now we’re working on roadmap to employment. That’s a new program we rolled out in April. And that is a system that will connect employers to our veterans as employees. And it also has a component to it that helps veterans to get prepared for employers. Things like resume building and interviewing skills and being able to sit in front of someone to talk -- and know the language of the corporation, to be able to be successful in getting a job.

TED SIMONS: We've had some shows on this actually, the difficulty that returning veterans have just getting back in society. They go to school just getting back into the concept of going to school with students who haven’t had the same life experiences.

WANDA WRIGHT: Yes, that is correct.

It takes them a little while to reintegrate.

That is part of what we do, as well, to try to get them as quickly as possible integrated with support.

TED SIMONS: With that in mind what are the biggest challenges right for you for your department?

WANDA WRIGHT: Right now I'm trying to work on getting some nope our female veterans .We have approximately 600,000veterans, and if you sort of pasta late that 10%, there’s about 60,000 female veterans. Of that there's a number that are homeless or who need some sort of support in their education or need employment. And so sort of what I would like to put together in the next few weeks is some kind of working group to work on those concerns for female veterans.

TED SIMONS: And you mentioned some of those concerns. We just had a terrible incident outside of a V.A. office with apparently a homeless veteran who was getting some benefits committing suicide. Suicide among veterans, it ‘shard to wrap your arms around. It’s like 22 a day or something like this. What’s out there to help these folks?

WANDA WRIGHT: There is definitely a hotline for veterans for preventing suicide. The thing bit is, all of us need to be able to acknowledge the signs that they see. We have a lot of veterans who come home with disabilities, brain injuries, PTSD. If we can acknowledge that they have these kinds of issues and sort of watch them and take care with them, we can help them and lead them to the right places that can help them.

TED SIMONS: And those services are out there, aren't they?

WANDA WRIGHT: They are out there. There’s a lot of counseling at the V.A., there are counselors outside of that. Some of the places that we have for the homeless there are counselors there, as well.

But they have to find it and the has to find them and keep those situations from happening.

TED SIMONS: What does it mean to be the first woman director of this department?

WANDA WRIGHT: Well, I'm not sure. You know, I am the first but I don’t think it makes me any different than any of the other directors. I'm just going do my about toast try to advocate for the veterans, either through legislation or through programs that we offer. And you know, the great thing that I think I bring to the table is that I was a female veteran or I am actually female veteran. And I feel like some of the concerns that I had when I was kind of reintegrating into civilian life, I can help bring those ladies closer to their future is their quality of life.

TED SIMONS: I was going to say, because it may not seem special to you, but for a lot of folks it's pretty big deal. I don't know if it brings any added pressure to you?

WANDA WRIGHT: It does not.

TED SIMONS: Not even close?


TED SIMONS: As far as your military career, did you you see something -- what got you into the military?

WANDA WRIGHT: My father. My father was a Vietnam vet, he’s still with us, he's a Vietnam vet. He wanted me to go to WestPoint. I said dad, I think I'd like to apply to all of them and then choose .I can get into most of them. I decided because of technology in the Air Force that would go there. I went to the Air Force academy instead of West Point.

TED SIMONS: I bet your dad's pretty proud.

WANDA WRIGHT: He's very proud.

TED SIMONS: Congratulations, good luck on the job. A lot of things to coordinate mere but sounds like systems are in place and your all set to go. Thanks so much for joining us, we appreciate it.

WANDA WRIGHT: Thank you.

Plastic Bag Ban for Cities

  |   Video
  • The Arizona legislature passed a bill earlier this year that would bar cities from banning plastic grocery bags. State senator John Kavanagh, who supports the legislation, and Tempe city councilwoman Lauren Kuby, representing a city targeted by the bill, will debate the issue.
  • John Kavanagh - State senator
  • Lauren Kuby - Tempe City Councilwoman
Category: Environment   |   Keywords: sustainability, plastic bags,

View Transcript
TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," hear from both sides on a law that prevents cities from banning plastic bags. Also tonight we'll meet the new director of the state Veterans Affairs Office. And we'll have a summer travel forecast from Triple-A. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon"

"Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. A new law that prohibits cities from banning plastic bags continues to raise a number of questions regarding state control of municipalities, along with environmental concerns. Now here to discuss the issue are state Senator John Kavanagh who supports the law, and Lauren Kuby bee, a councilwoman from Tempe who considered a ban on plastic bags.

Why is this a good law for Arizona?

SEN. JOHN KAVANAGH: It's a good law for Arizona because banning plastic bags and other disposable cups like Styrofoam cups are a very bad idea. There's health issues, there's also the cost issue, the cups and containers and the bags. The cost is passed on to consumers. There's the burden it places on businesses that have stores in multiple jurisdictions where you have a plethora of regulations on bags and cups and what have you. There's the lack of convenience. The so-called Styrofoam food containers are the best in terms of leak proof and they preserve the heat, which makes – which reduces bacteria. For health reasons, cost reasons, convenience reasons and for business development reasons it's best to keep it the way it is. Choice. People can choose to use their own bag if they want to or they can use the one in the store.

TED SIMONS: Why is this a bad law for Arizona?

LAUREN KUBY: This is terrible public policy. First of all, I know, Senator, you've striven your whole life to fight for local decision making. You've railed against federal overreach in state affairs. To me this is an example of the state of Arizona reaching into areas of waste management, areas cities traditionally manage, to get involved in our business. Tempe has a problem like many cities in Arizona. We have a huge amount of plasticwaste. We have 50 million plastic bags, single use plastic bags circulating in the City ofTempe.500 bags per year per person. So this creates a problem with our landfills, only 5% of these bags are recycled properly. Those that are attempted to recycled get jammed in the recycling machines. As a result our taxpayers have to pay $210,000 in costs that are associated with the jamming of the recycling sorters. I'm not done.

TED SIMONS: You are, because I want to make sure he gets a chance.

SEN. JOHN KAVANAGH: Number one, there is nolandfill crisis in the state ofArizona.I lived in New York where therewas a landfill crisis.I was a councilor in New Jerseywhere there was a landfillcrisis.There is no landfill crisis inthe state of Arizona.All government has to livewithin the constitutionalconstraints imposed upon us.Arizona can't do immigrationlaw.The federal government can't dolocal law.The state constitution clearlystates that there are areaswhere the state can preemptlocal laws.Public issues of health, andalso to prevent the creation ofconflicting confusing laws allover the state that willbefuddle businesses.


LAUREN KUBY: Landfills, there are tremendous costs in transporting plastic bags to landfills. County of Maricopa spends $3million a year, 150,000 hours of labor time.65 tons of trash, 90% of that is plastic. So there's a lot of cost involved for cities and towns. It's my responsibility as a councilor to put politics and ideology aside and try and save the taxpayers money. Cities are where we innovate. Cities are where we solve problems for our constituents. Cities is where we manage our waste stream and try to do what's right for the environment, for the citizens of Arizona and for the economy. This is triple bottom line and it's rare in public policy where you can find such a sweet spot where you can benefit the economy, the environment and citizens at the same time.

SEN. JOHN KAVANAGH: Number one, jamming machines. The recyclers went crazy with the stamps that don't require licking because it was jamming their machines .They re-engineered, fixed the machines. I think we can fix machines so a little plastic bag doesn't jam the machines. Let's talk about the amount. People say let's get rid of the Styrofoam coffee cups and use the paper ones instead. Number one, Styrofoam is cheaper to make. It is lighter, less prepared costs to the store and to the landfill.

And styrene enters your bloodstream as a carcinogen.

And a replacement for the Styrofoam which is light is a paper cup which, when you use coffee, you require double cupping or a sleeve which is heavier and takes up more space in the landfill.

LAUREN KUBY: That's why a lot of businesses give incentives to encourage people to reuse bags. These bag prohibitions we’ve seen all over the country, we’ve seen best practices cases all over the country. They have really profound results. We have cases in Washington, D.C., they reduced their single use plastic bag use by 90%.These facts are indisputable. The senator would like to talk about the health impacts. I would like to comment on that. He’s referring to a study done with 64 canvas bags that shows the presence of bacteria in canvas bags. Senator, you have E. coli in your socks. What do you do? You wash your socks.

No, E. coli does not live in dry surfaces.

SEN. JOHN KAVANAGH: Everybody knows.

LAUREN KUBY: It's brought by the plastic industry to make it so we can’t decide these things at the local level.

SEN. JOHN KAVANAGH: Supermarkets are Petri dishes for germs. It’s not just the bags. The shopping carts. I have a study from the University of Arizona where they do swabs of shopping carts. Germs from food, vegetables, chicken packaging, the hands of customers that don't wash their hands, hands from babies. They contaminate the shopping carts, single use plastic bags which people put these foods into and handle. There was a University of Arizona study which showed they were contaminated with all sorts of germs.

LAUREN KUBY: It's been looked at by “Consumer Reports. “And one other point to be really made, it's 99.99% of the germs were found to disappear when you wash the canvas bag. These laws are meant to encourage behavior with consumers to bring their bags inform home, from their garage, from their car. It’s working all over the country.

SEN. JOHN KAVANAGH: Your mandating and banning. I have no problem with giving consumers choice. But there are health concerns.

LAUREN KUBY: There are not.

It's a trumped-up charge.

TED SIMONS: Let's talk about the concerns because there is a concern that a hodgepodge of regulations from city to city means businesses --increases costs to businesses and consumers.

It's that a valid argument?

LAUREN KUBY: No, it's not. Let’s talk about increased costs. They spend two to three cents per plastic bag which they pass on to the consumer. We were just investigating doing everything we could to bring allthe stakeholders together. The proposal we were considering, that the retail establishment would be able to charge 10 cents or more for the paper bag.

The customer would pay that.

Let me finish what I’m saying.

So it's a cost to the public.

What we found across the country is that you see people, generally they remember to bring their bags. If they don't they can simply buy a bag. The retail establishment has the opportunity point of sale to sell reusable bags and make a profit on that. The paper bag is 5 cents, they sell it for a dime. They profit from this.

SEN. JOHN KAVANAGH: If what she says is true, then all of the supermarkets, all of the convenience stores, these retail stores would be lobbying to us ban the reusable ban so they can have their windfall but they are not. They are all opposed to the law. They see the problems with leaking food packages, having to double cup coffee, additional costs for the coffee cups and other bags. And the fact that there was a health issue I'm not going to avoid, because I'm concerned about the health of my constituents. It’s not just that one study. There’s another U. of A. study that says these are Petri dishes for disease.

TED SIMONS: Quick response on both sides here.

Critics say this isn't local control, they say this is local out of control. Respond quickly, please.
LAUREN KUBY: This is an opportunity to put ideology aside, Senator, and do what’s best for our community. Our community needs to solve waste problem in a way that benefits the taxpayers. You’re a fiscal conservative. This would bring $210,000 back to communities so we can investing parks.

TED SIMONS: If the state is increasingly heavy-handed over cities, thesis another example.

SEN. JOHN KAVANAGH: The Arizona Constitution delineates certain areas the state government can preempt. Public safety and health is one, the avoidance of an onerous hodgepodge of conflicting laws that hurt businesses and others.

TED SIMONS:We have to stop it right there. Thank you for a spirited conversation. Thank you both.

Thank you.


Summer Travel

  |   Video
  • The number of Arizonans traveling over the Memorial Day weekend could reach post-recession highs. Nearly 733-thousand Arizonans are expected to travel over the holiday weekend, an increase of nearly five percent. Michelle Donati-Grayman of AAA Arizona will talk about factors leading to the increased travel.
  • Michelle Donati-Grayman - AAA Arizona
Category: Community   |   Keywords: traveling, tourism,

View Transcript
TED SIMONS: An improving economy and lower fuel prices suggest this summer’s travel season could hit post-recession highs. Michelle Donati-Grayman of Triple-A Arizona joins us now to talk about the higher travel rates. Good to see you again, thanks for joining us.


TED SIMONS: Not that I'm a genius or anything, but I got that information from you guys. You’re thinking it could be pretty big summer for travel.

MICHELLE DONATI-GRAYMAN: Triple-A is projecting 37.2million Americans to travel from home for the Memorial Day holiday. We're looking at an increase of about 5% on the state and nationwide levels. This is look took very healthy kickoff to the start of the summer travel season.

TED SIMONS: Low gas prices have to be a major factor.

MICHELLE DONATI-GRAYMAN: Also as you mentioned increasing consumer confidence and low gas prices definitely a big factor. We anticipate that get majority of travelers, almost nine in ten, will be going by car. It's about 642,000 Arizonans getting on the road starting next Wednesday. A pretty big travel No. there. In terms of gas prices we have seen gas prices increase over the last month. They are up about 42 cents over the next month. The statewide average is 72cents per gallon. If you look at what we were paying this time last year,$3.50 a year ago today. There’s still a pretty significant year over year savings of 75 cents per gallon.

TED SIMONS: Don't prices go up over the summer because of blends?

MICHELLE DONATI-GRAYMAN: Leading up to the start of the summer travel season they do. There's a couple of different factors at play right now. We have increased demand, summer blends, something that we anticipate .Oil prices have been doing some interesting things. The market is very volatile right now. We saw prices bottom in the mid40 range, we bounded over 50,they have lately been testing the $60 range. Oil prices make up well over half the cost of a gallon of gasoline. Prices really have no choice about to you follow suit. The other big factor that has-been impacting the prices in Arizona particularly has been refinery issues. There are a number of issues taking place. Sometimes they impact Arizona, sometimes they don't depending on the refinery. You feel there is an incident that has been impacting Arizona price, the Exxon refinery in Torrence, California. There was some pretty Steph damage there. We don't have a date when it’ll be fully operational. The lingering effects have affected Arizona gas prices.

TED SIMONS: Do we have any idea how they will be affected as the sum goes on?

MICHELLE DONATI-GRAYMAN: As we move in to the start of the summer travel season, Triple-A predicts they will continue the upward trend. They should remain below year-ago levels. Once the refinery is fully operational and we get the summer travel season underway we’ll start to see prices level off .Looking at where pricings are now compared to years past on Memorial Day we're leaking to Pay about a five-year low in terms of gas prices before you fill up and head out on that road trip.

TED SIMONS: Could we play touch and go with $3 a gallon by the end of the summer?

You may already have stations in Flagstaff that are above that three mark. If you're heading to California, one of the most popular destinations for Arizonans year-round, you're going to get taste of that $3 for fuel or even more than that. Be prepared for sticker shock there.

TED SIMONS: Before you go, Hotel, motel, rental cars, what are you seeing out there? In terms of costs a little bit of a mixed bag. The cost was lodging and rental cars and airfare is down. If you're flying and about61,000 Arizonans will be, you’ll likely experience a little savings there. But if you rented a hotel room you paid a little more than than you did in 2014.

Airfare is lower because demand going down?

MICHELLE DONATI-GRAYMAN: Demand is not necessarily down. You know, a number of things impact air travel so it could be potentially, you know, travelers book further out to take advantage of those cheaper flights. It really just depends, a number of factors at play when it comes to airfare.

TED SIMONS: I guess pent-up demand. A lot of folks have been holed up, let's go, I don't want to stay home this summer, let's get out of town.

MICHELLE DONATI-GRAYMAN: If you look at East Coast travel, they have stayed in all winter and they want to get out. We really like to kick off summer with a road trip. When you're saving 75 cents per gallon compared to last year, it’s not a bad year to do so. If gas prices continue to remain at current levels, as long as it’s not a significant increase this could be a really big summer for road trips.

TED SIMONS: Alright that's encouraging unless you’re behind a bunch of folks also on the road. Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

TED SIMONS: Thursday on "Arizona Horizon “hear about an international microwave conference being held in Phoenix. And meet the new interim director of the Scottsdale Museum of contemporary art at4:30 and 10:00 on the next “Arizona Horizon. “I’m Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us, you have a great evening.

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