Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

July 6, 2007


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Journalists Roundtable


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Guests:
  • Mary Jo Pitzl - Arizona Republic
Category: Journalists Roundtable

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Richard Ruelas:
>>It's Friday, July 6, 2007. In the headlines this week, the governor signed an Employer Sanctions Bill into law. We'll also take a look at other new laws in the state. And we'll look at a shake-up inside Senator John McCain's 2008 Presidential campaign.

>>Announcer:
Horizon is made possible by the contributions from the friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

>>Richard Ruelas:
Good evening. I'm Richard Ruelas and this is The Journalists' Roundtable. Joining me to talk about these and other stories are Mary Jo Pitzl of the "Arizona Republic," Dennis Welch of the "East Valley Tribune," and Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. Arizona now has one of the toughest immigration laws in the country. The governor signed a new employer sanctions bill. For a show like Horizon, this is like Paris Hilton for "Horizon" and "Horizonte" - saturation coverage. Mary Jo, were you surprised the governor signed it?

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think at the Capitol it was a mixed bag. Personally I wasn't surprised. I think that for some political calculations and based on some history, the governor was probably almost compelled to sign this legislation. You should remember it passed both the House and Senate with real heavy margins, it got almost half of the Democrats in the legislature to vote for it. Not quite but just shy of that. The governor herself has been talking since 2005 about the need for a meaningful Employer Sanctions bill so that you address the magnet that brings people here for jobs as opposed to always just punishing the immigrants.

>>Richard Ruelas:
There was criticism right away. Howie, three minutes after she signed the bill, the chamber of commerce called it catastrophic?

>>Howard Fischer:
An interesting coalition here. You have the State Chamber of Commerce and the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce saying oh, my god, the world as we know it will end, combined with some fairly left-wing Latino groups to say, oh, my god, you know, people of color will be leaving whether they're here legally or not and saying somehow, the governor shouldn't have signed it, she should have waited for federal action. Which she waited and waited and waited for. The funny thing, you had these Hispanic groups who tend to be fairly labor oriented blaming the business communities. They should have done more to keep her from signing. This makes no sense. I don't know what part of this they thought she wasn't going to sign. It occurred within a week after the federal legislation failed. As Mary Jo pointed out, she said last time, send me a bill with meaningful sanctions. How could she veto this? They sent her a bill with meaningful sanctions. It's so meaningful she thinks it's too harsh, it might mean that hospitals and nursing homes might have to close down.

>>Richard Ruelas:
Dennis, you talked to business owners this week. What are they saying?

>>Dennis Welch:
Well, they're saying they're already seeing some consequences of this. Not so much this bill but the entire general attitude about the illegals working here, that they're seeing the number of applicants for jobs have really been drying up, that in years past they'd get more than enough applicants to come out there and they're not seeing as many.

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
The reaction from the business community has been of shock and being stunned. Already, there's talk about a constitutional challenge to this. I almost wonder if they really didn't think she was going to do this or sign this and are absolutely stunned that this thing is on its way. It won't become law until January 1.

>>Howard Fischer:
The fascinating thing since we mentioned this constitutional challenge, there are interesting issues here. The federal government has said, only we can discipline companies that hire people here illegally. The one exception is that it says if we discipline a company for hiring people illegally the state can rescind their license. This sort of skips the step there. It says we will rescind the license if we determine, not the federal government, that they're here illegally. I'll bet somebody lunch there will be at least a stay on this by some federal judge between now and January, while they explore the issues.

>>Richard Ruelas:
Which is I guess the purpose of that lawsuit that I guess the Latino leaders might serve as a front for. But didn't Rep. Steve Gallardo last session introduce a lot of amendments that asked for employer sanctions?

>>Howard Fischer:
There you go looking for consistency [laughs]. It was much easier to say we don't like bills that pick on the immigrants. We should pick on the employers. That is the magnet. It's been the mantra year after year. All of a sudden they have a bill that picks on the employers. Suddenly some folks are saying, wait a second, we didn't mean that kind of bill to pick on the employers. Now they're saying we should wait for federal action. I got news for you. The left, the right, the center, up and down, nobody is going to wait for federal action. It isn't going to happen until after the 2008 election if then.

>>Richard Ruelas:
The way these things might normally work might be that the state attorney general might set some ground rules that county attorneys follow. Do you have a read on implementation? Who's going to decide how to go after the employers?

>> Dennis Welch:
County Attorney Andrew Thomas held a press conference this week saying while he intended to uphold the law, we don't know how we're going to uphold the law. There are so many questions out there. He's going to put together a committee of people to look at how we should implement and enforce this law, who's going to be on that committee, how many, we don't know. Lots of questions.

>>Richard Ruelas:
Do you envision a scenario in which the Maricopa County Attorney has a different set of standards than the Yavapai Attorney?

>>[All three panelists]:
Oh, yes.

>>Howard Fischer:
Part of it is that this allows for anonymous complaints, unsubstantiated complaints, rumor, innuendo, hearsay. For example, you work for the "Arizona Republic," I might call them and say, the county has illegal people working there because I'd like to harass the Republic. This is the kind of thing that can occur.

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
There is also an issue of manpower. Most of the enforcement money is going to Maricopa County - $1.5 million. A half million to Pima and a half million divided among the other 13 counties. Maybe that gets you one investigator among those 13 counties. So, you know, just think about that. You'll have to have some kind of way to sort out what are deemed frivolous complaints or less specific complaints from the more serious ones. You know, this law, the ink's barely dry and people are trying to figure out details.

>>Richard Ruelas:
What do you need to follow a complaint? Do you need a name of an employee?

>>Howard Fischer:
This is part of the problem. There are a lot of unintended consequences here. That gets to the other part of what the governor said when she signed it. She said there's no critical infrastructure "exemption." The idea being on first offense for knowing violation you can have your license suspended up to 10 days, mandatory for intentional. Let's assume St. Joseph's Hospital is found to have on its janitorial staff or on a CNA, a person who was hired illegally and apparently knowingly. Do you close down St. Joseph's Hospital for 10 days? Who does that benefit?

>>Dennis Welch:
Some labor attorneys that I talked to said, how do you defend against this thing? What if you take all the right steps, run all your employees through the program and do everything correctly and still have illegals working for your company? Are you still penalized? They don't know.

>>Howard Fischer:
Well, but there seems to be, at least within the law, some defense in there. They have what they call a rebuttable presumption. If you use the employer verification information system, which used to be called the basic pilot program, and you show you use it, you have what they call a rebuttable presumption. In other words, you go into court and it's presumed your people are here legally. It then becomes a burden on the prosecutor to say you purposely inputted false information. So it still means a lot of companies are going to wind up in court. Whether they lose their license remains to be seen.

>>Richard Ruelas:
There also seems to be a dispute about that program and its data. What do you know about how that program is operating?

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
It all depends on the eyes of the reader and what reports on this formerly called pilot program you look at. But there are errors. It turns up errors often because perhaps some names are wrong, perhaps someone got divorced and didn't let the Social Security Administration know about that. They might transpose numbers and digits. Those seem to be the most common errors and there's a way to fix those things. It's not necessarily easy. It does put the burden on the fingered employee to go back and fix that but if you're here legally and they transform the letters on Pitzl, which happens a lot [laughs], I'm going to get that fixed because I want my social security payments, whatever will be left of them by the time I can collect them. But the feds are pledging that they're putting more money into this program, the governor sent off letters as she signed this bill, saying get more money in this program, because we have Colorado, I'm not sure if Oklahoma is going to rely on this system. But I think increasingly you'll see a lot more states pouring in to try to use this federal system. It's got to become a little faster and a little more accurate.

>>Richard Ruelas:
This being, of course, one of the most heavily scrutinized and debated bills in the last few years, there of course was a typographical error in it which the governor mentioned in her signing. And some other things she wants to fix. She wants to call a special session. She said last night she hadn't talked yet to the legislative leaders to figure out if they're on board yet. Do you have a read on if these problems can be fixed?

>>Howard Fischer:
Here's the problem. When we talked to Russell Pearce about the issue of critical infrastructure, he said, look, you have to be proven not to have hired an illegal, but knowingly. The first offense is an optional ten days. So if you're a hospital, there's no requirement for a judge to suspend your license. Second thing he says, look, knowingly means you had somebody standing in front of you, you're looking at their I-9 form and their social security card and they're looking at you and saying, so you're 6'4" and Swedish, yeah, that works for me. If you're making a knowing violation, I think it's going to be real hard to actually get convictions on this. All the talk about how the world is going to end, people are going to leave the state in droves, I think it will be a long time before we actually see a conviction.

>>Richard Ruelas:
Will we see a special session?

>>Dennis Welch:
We talked to Senate President Tim Bee and he said he was open to the idea that if there were problems that need to be addressed he'd be willing to do such. I haven't heard anything on this from the House side.

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
I don't have a strong sense of it at all. Everybody scattered as soon as the session ended ten days ago.

>>Howard Fischer:
Some of the stuff the governor wants to correct -- for example
-- an anti-discrimination provision. The argument is we already have that in state law, that you can't apply your actions in a way that's discriminatory on the basis of race, creed, age or country of origin. So you don't need one specifically in this law.

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
So will we have a special session to fix the typo?

>>Howard Fischer:
Well, that may be. It's not unusual. But here's the other piece of the equation. Once they're in session, even if they've supposedly agreed on everything, the mischief starts. Mary Jo had this great little story the other day of how Jake Flake, who's a rancher said, gee, I didn't want to vote for this thing and I was forced to and the mischief starts. And there may be a little bit of Monday morning quarterbacking, a little bit of buyer's remorse in the thing. It will be interesting to see if they undo it.

>>Richard Ruelas:
Then, of course, we get to the possibility of initiatives still hanging in the breeze. I think we'll be talking about this issue for quite a while. There are also, believe it or not, a number of other bills signed into law this week. One aims to improve air quality. And Mary Jo, what changes have to be made?

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
Most of the changes are directed at tighter controls on the construction industry, some controls on leaf blowers, some mandates on cities to start paving their unpaved road shoulders, all this is an effort to curb particulate pollution. In addition, they're trying to address a growing ozone problem. Parts of Pinal county are going to get a cleaner burning gas, beginning next summer, for their use. It will be the same stuff we in the Valley use.

>>Howard Fischer:
One of the interesting things about the bill is it's so current in the legislature and so common, they're doing this because the federal government has said unless you have a plan by the end of the year to show how you'll come into compliance, we'll cut hundreds of millions in highway aid, we may limit the business locations here and business expansions. But this bill doesn't get us there. We're actually required to reduce something like 13,000 tons of particulates and this gets us to about 10,000 or somewhere in there. And so for all of the stuff that's been done and all of the grousing about, oh, my god, you're hurting our community, you're hurting someone else, it doesn't even get us there. So they're going to have to get some other things done. Whether that's legislative, whether the Maricopa Association of Governments can do a few things, how much credit we get for that stinking trolley, who knows.

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
Actually the Valley already gets credit for your trolley. But I think the air quality gurus are relying on the cities and towns to make up that extra 20 percent that's needed to make this plan pass muster with the feds. They don't anticipate going back to the legislature. It was very difficult to get this bill through. The legislature will not have any appetite to come back and put more controls on that. They have other battles to fight, like employer sanctions and Flores.

>>Richard Ruelas:
Another city and town battle - finally the subsidy battle. How did that bill get through and what happened this year that didn't happen in previous years?

>>Dennis Welch:
They ignored the legislative warnings in prior years. For years lawmakers have been warning you need to stop using these tax giveaways to developers for these developments and they haven't done it. A recent example, we've seen tens of millions of dollars for malls in Mesa and Tempe and what not. And finally the legislators said, enough is enough.

>>Howard Fischer:
It even went beyond that. This is the funny thing. The legislators had told them year after year, do something. We had, you know, Mayor Phil Gordon in there and the rest of them saying, don't worry, we're going to fix it. We have some legislation that says we have to study it and everything else. What do they do? While the legislators are watching, a $100 million for City North, and then the town of Surprise, $240 million in incentives to get somebody located on their side of the street as opposed to across the street in Glendale. I mean, for the love of god, did they not notice that legislators were watching? I mean, talk about stupid! [laughter]

>>Richard Ruelas:
Bail on illegal immigrants or suspected illegal immigrants who are suspected of serious felonies, the governor signed into law a bill that changes the probable, changes the standard of proof to probable cause. This was hot among legislators who thought that some judges were circumventing the law. How do you think this went through the legislature?

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well, this went through the legislature with a bunch of outrage. Because mostly they were very upset with the judiciary for not enforcing the provisions of Proposition 100, which Arizona voters approved in November. And sponsor Linda Gray, Senator Gray says, really this wasn't needed, but if we have to spell it out again, there's a parenting lesson as with the city tax incentives, we will spell it out and they made it very clear what the standard of proof must be to determine that you could hold someone without bail based on their immigration status.

>>Richard Ruelas:
This ends what we came to know as the Simpson hearings which involved prosecutors and defense attorneys headed down to initial appearance court, essentially.

>>Howard Fischer:
This bill goes even broader than the standard being probable cause. It says to the judges, you will consider certain things. The judge was saying, it's true they admitted they were here illegally but I don't think I can use that, or a guy had a deportation order in his pocket, I can't use that. This says you can use any evidence secondhand, third hand, double hearsay, secret sources. It said to the judges, if you have any reason to have probable cause to believe they're here illegally and if they're charged with a serious crime and the presumption of guilt is evident there, then you will hold them. As Mary Jo said, the lawmakers said to the judges, what part of this didn't you understand?

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
There was another bill the governor signed that played out problems from the ballot back in November. That was on the minimum wage. Initially after that passed, people who provide jobs for developmentally disabled people said, you know, we can't be held to the standard of minimum wage because it will bankrupt us. These people don't work at the same rate and level as able people. They got that fixed with the industrial commission. And again, an 11th hour decision at the legislature, lawmakers passed what they believe will be a legal shield that will protect these folks, these employers from being sued for not following the minimum wage law. It's interesting with that, with bailable offenses, think of a couple of other things that are sort of loose ends that never quite get addressed by the ballot measures.



>>Richard Ruelas:
Right. Speaking of things that haven't quite got addressed yet, Tim Hogan went back into court again.

>>Howard Fischer:
This lawsuit that started in 1992, when I had as much hair as you did, the federal judge ruled in 2000, you're not properly funding English Language Learner programs, you're not giving students an opportunity to learn. We went through several orders to the legislature to fix it. They said we fixed it. The judge said no. They said we fixed it again. The judge said no. The last order from the judge in March was you have until the end of this legislative session to fix it. Guess what? They said, well, maybe we'll just wait on an appeal. So Hogan went into court today and said, your honor, look, these people have had years. They've known what the issues are. If they don't want to fund all the money, there are certain things they can do to get rid of the illegal parts of this. You should start imposing sanction, perhaps half a million a day, perhaps going up to $2 million a day and maybe we'll get their attention. That seems to be where we're headed next, back to federal court.

>>Richard Ruelas:
And possibly, if fines are imposed, another special session? Will you ever get a vacation?

>>Howard Fischer:
What? And miss all this? I mean, special session on E.L.L., special session on fixing employer sanctions, perhaps a few other things. They always find something wrong. You pass 300 some bills, guess what, there's always going to be mistakes.

>>Richard Ruelas:
The state looks to be, I mean I know there's the option of contributing a dollar on the A.P.S. bill to those who have a tough time paying the electric bills, I don't know what all went to the state of Arizona. What's going on with the state being late on paying their electric bills? Is that being fixed?

>>Dennis Welch:
I guess they may be late again. They were late in the past. There may be some more problems about that. I think Mary Jo knows a little bit more about that than me.

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
Yeah. Lawmakers didn't appropriate enough money, or so say the folks that run state agencies. So they came in with a request to get an extra $1.7 million to pay the bills for the year that just ended. They got it. So they're happily paying off all those overdue bills. But they're saying, you know, we got less money for this year for utility bills than we've had for the previous year. And there's no way they can make up $1 million in energy savings unless they, I don't know, close a bunch of buildings and turn off the air conditioning.

>>Howard Fischer:
The other thing that happened this week is we found out that the new budget that started out July 1 - we started out they were supposed to have $500 million cash carried forward from last year. Well, it's $140 million less than that, which is not a problem, except for the fact that they have spent every nickel of the '08 budget. We're supposed to end the '08 fiscal year with $1 million. Basically we're already $139 million in the hole. Other than that it's a perfect budget.

>>Richard Ruelas:
John McCain, our favorite presidential candidate, Arizona's favorite son, might not be a presidential candidate much longer. What happened in this campaign?

>>Howard Fischer:
Are you making a prediction here?

>>Richard Ruelas:
Well, it seemed to be some alarm bells, I guess.

>>Dennis Welch:
He's not raising as much money as he's supposed to. Here's a guy who started off a favorite to win the nomination and walk away with the presidency. I think the conventional wisdom is he tied himself to this President and to Iraq. He's seeing the dividends of that.

>>Howard Fischer:
And the other piece of this is not only that revenues are coming in less, this guy is spending money like a drunken sailor. He took in $11.2 million in the last quarter. It's not as much as the $13 million something he took in in the prior quarter. But $11 million is still quite something. But he spent virtually all of it. Now he's at the point well, I got to lay off staff. As you head down the road to a bunch of early primaries on February 5, including possibly here in Arizona, then you better have that money, better have the staff. You can do something with volunteers, you can do something with free media. But you need real money to wage a presidential bid.

>>Richard Ruelas:
I guess every time you start talking about money troubles, maybe voters start thinking they might not be worth endorsing.

>>Howard Fischer:
Let's go a step beyond that. When you start talking about money troubles, the donors stop giving. If the donors don't see you as viable, you know, some people give if they like the person. Other people give because they think this guy will be the president and I will have an entree. Well, the less they think this guy will be the president, the less they give. So it becomes a rotating and revolving problem.

>>Richard Ruelas:
The issue on infant formula. There was an issue by Rep. Kyrsten Sinema?

>>Howard Fischer:
This is great fun. Federal law says you're not supposed to sell infant formula past its use by date. The reason doesn't have to do with safety, but it might not have the full complement of nutrients. If all you're feeding the infant is the formula, it might make a difference. Well, Sinema, I won't say she doesn't care about infants, but this had nothing to do with infants. This has to do with the fact that United Food and Commercial Workers is involved in an organizational effort at Bashas' markets. Remember Eddie Basha, the good Democrat? Well, his employees are not unionized. Safeway and Fry's are. What the UFCW did, they sent a bunch of people in, found all these cans of infant formula beyond the code. They said, that's because of the fact they don't have the staff, the union staff and the proper staffing, and therefore we want to pass a law to say it's going to be illegal to sell infant formula past its code date under Arizona law. Look, should you not sell infant formula past the use by date? Of course. Is this something that really is a major problem in the state? I don't think it's as much of a problem as the UFCW believes. They just see this as a chance to bash Bashas'.

>>Richard Ruelas:
The governor's veto pen didn't get used very much but was used last week five times. Any of those bills you see coming back next session, self-defense bill or railroads?

>>Mary Jo Pitzl:
Not self-defense, which would have allowed several folks who currently have pretty serious convictions and some time that they're going to have to serve for crimes, it would have given them a chance to come back and get a re-trial, arguing this new self-defense. I don't think that's going to go anywhere except in the courts. There was a gun storage bill that Sen. Chuck Gray from Mesa proposed. It got through pretty easily and it's one of those gun issues that I think will be back. This would have required all public buildings to provide storage for people who want to bring in their weapons. If you don't have enough storage for the weapon, then you can allow that individual to carry their weapon into the public building. And the governor vetoed it, saying, we just passed this law a year ago on carrying of these weapons. Let's let this play out a little bit and see where it goes.

>>Howard Fischer:
And the railroad bill, as you know, started out giving the corporation commission the power to veto railroads putting in new yards like the one they want to build in Picacho. In essence, they diluted it down to give the power to the corporation commission to hold hearings but not veto. The governor vetoed that. I don't see them bringing it back, since the bill didn't do much of anything other than call for public hearings, why put yourself through that again.

>>Richard Ruelas:
Yeah, boy, for a summer where usually politics is quiet, seems like we're still going to be jumping for a while here. Howie, Mary Jo and Dennis, thanks for joining us this evening.

>>Announcer:
From the state's new employer sanctions law to the state's right to work law, many important issues determine the way workers in Arizona make a living. In our regular Monday feature, One on One, two political types go head-to-head on those and other issues Monday night at 7:00 p.m. on Channel Eight's "Horizon."

>>Richard Ruelas:
On Tuesday, we'll look at Taliesin West and its architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Wednesday we'll tell you about the Autism Society of America's National Conference being held in Scottsdale. Friday we'll be back with another edition of the Journalists' Roundtable. I'm Richard Ruelas. Coming up next, why is the federal government poised to cut health insurance for poor children? That's next on NOW. Have a great weekend.

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