Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

June 13, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists Roundtable


  • Don't miss HORIZON's weekly roundtable where local reporters get a chance to review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Amanda Crawford - Arizona Republic
  • Mark Brodie - KJZZ radio
  • Mike Sunnucks - Business Journal
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
>>> It's Friday, June 13th, 2008, tonight we'll discuss the latest on the Employer Sanctions Law. Arguments were heard this week by a federal appeals judges. This week presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama took shots at each other. And we remember the late senator Jake Flake, next on Horizon.

>> Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of Eight. Members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

>>Larry Lemmons:
Good evening, I'm Larry Lemmons in for Ted Simons. And this is the "Journalists' Roundtable." Joining me this evening Amanda Crawford of the Arizona Republic, Mark Brodie of KJZZ radio and Mike Sunnucks of the Business Journal. Federal appellate judges kicked up a challenge this week to the Employer Sanctions Law. Mike, what's the latest?

>>Mike Sunnucks:
Opponents of the Sanctions Law which looks to take away licenses of businesses they catch knowingly hiring illegals or take another shot at it, they've lost numerous times in court, they lost in federal court here in Phoenix so appealing up in San Francisco in the Ninth Circuit, every conservative --

>> Mike Sunnucks:
A favorite appeals court, and making the same arguments they did before, that the state oversteps its bounds, it's a federal matter, problems with the E-Verify System and they want to undo Judge Wake's ruling here which upheld the law. It's interesting the same week this went on Arpaio and Thomas went into the water parks, Big Surf and Water World and Sun Splash and launched their first investigation, they're going to look to see whether they were knowingly hiring illegals. But the court is going to consider this. We don't know exactly when they'll rule. It could be weeks, could be later in the summer.

>>Larry Lemmons:
And interestingly enough, talking to Howie yesterday, we had called by phone and he was saying that the judges were not particularly open to the case that this was only a federal issue and the states should --

>>Mike Sunnucks:
The federal law, you know, carves out a place for states to go after folks; it's licensing which the law is based on. County prosecutors like Andy Thomas can go in and investigate folks if they catch them knowingly hiring illegals and take their business license away. It's carved out in the law. That's where the states can go after it. The questions, the business folks and Hispanics against it are bringing up is whether it's going too far and whether the states can pro actively go after folks or whether it needs to be a federal violation first.

>>Mark Brodie:
And as Mike said, the folks who are challenging this law lost in court here and from reading the accounts from San Francisco doesn't look like they're overly optimistically some about their chances there as well. By all accounts it seems pretty reasonable to expect it's going to end up at Supreme Court in Washington on one side or the other.

>>Amanda Crawford:
And the states arguing they have an interest in fighting illegal immigration in the state and this will be watched around the country because other states as we know municipalities have tried similar laws so this will be watched around the nation especially it gets to the Supreme Court.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
One thing in Wake's argument, a compelling state interest to protect the rights of workers impacted by illegal immigration, legal workers, whether they're immigrants or native born, that are here and being displaced by people hiring illegals under the table for less money. We'll see how the court rules on that. It they back him up on that.

>>Larry Lemmons:
One thing too that I thought was interesting and a little bit confusing, one of the judges I told you before we came in, Walker I believe his name was, was saying that the system used right now is, quote, "rife with fraud" and yet the same system that they want to bring in, the E-verify System, is the same one that's being used here.

>>Mark Brodie:
The thing about E-verify is opponents have long said it's, quote, "not ready for primetime." That if all the businesses in Arizona decided all at once they were going to use it or the state mandated all the businesses had to use it, the system would crash. The other argument we've heard is that Congress meant it to be voluntary, they never -- they did not mean it to be a mandatory system businesses had to use and the other thing about E-verify, it just matches names with social security numbers, it doesn't tell you if, you know, if documents are forged. There are certainly some valid points perhaps to the thought that E-verify might not be the perfect system, but you can also say that E-verify has probably improved since it's sort of gotten this notoriety and amount of attention it's gotten over the last several months.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
President Bush issued an order this week requiring all government contractors to go by E-verify, and kind of the point of E-verify is a red flag, you know, if something pops up, you're supposed to check them out and see if you can get the right paperwork and if there's a problem and it continues and they can't verify, they're supposed to terminate them. But there is problems with that all along, but it is a system and businesses are supposed to verify who their workers are anyway so they're supposed to be following law. But businesses have a hard time making a genuine argument on this. Looks like they're just trying to kill everything and not want to enforce the law at all.

>>Amanda Crawford:
There is the argument that this is creating a hodgepodge system across the nation and that's the argument. That's the argument for federal reform, the federal government if they got their arms around it each state wouldn't have to recreate the wheel and figure out how to enforce immigration. We'll see that play out in the courts as well. If Congress got on the ball maybe this wouldn't be an issue.

>>Mark Brodie:
Something that could potentially soften the blow for another court loss for the business groups, last month the legislature did change, tweak the Employer Sanctions Law sort of clearing up some confusion that had been in there dealing with independent contractors saying that it only applied to folks hired after January 1st when the law went into effect, not everybody who had been an the payroll, things like that. So some concerns business groups had brought up were addressed, many others clearly since they're going for another court case have not been.

>>Larry Lemmons:
As we heard from Howie, this could go on for weeks and weeks and could end up in the Supreme Court where everybody in the country is watching then. One thing I wanted to point out about the water park rights you were bringing up, they said about E-verify if these companies use them, that is a good defense.

>>Mark Brodie: It's a laudable defense under the law absolutely.

>>Larry Lemmons:
This is the first case, Mark, I believe, that they were talking about how Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe actually used in this act that's still under a lawsuit.

>>Mark Brodie:
Yeah they had started I think they said in February they had gotten a tip from a former employee that this company had been knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. They investigated for about four months and then this past week went in and arrested I think 10 people and charged nine of them with fraud for forging identification documents to get jobs. Both Joe Arpaio and Andy Thomas were very clear to say this is not an employer sanctions case. It might be at some point but now it's not and the investigation, they still have worked to do for the investigation to try to figure out if the employers knowingly hired the illegal immigrants.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
The company that owns them, the water parks, says they were following E-verify and following the rules and checking things out and weren't knowingly hiring. It's interesting they went after water parks, of all the issues with immigration and the border, drug gangs, people running guns back and forth; they're out at the water slides picking up maintenance workers. That kind of hurts Arpaio and Thomas' case in this.

>>Amanda Crawford:
But that's been the argument about the Employer Sanctions Law from the beginning, are you going to arrest the dishwashers or the drug dealers? They're not under the employer sanctions anyway.

>>Larry Lemmons:
In this particular case they had an employee who apparently went, an ex-employee, went and said hey, here's your evidence. I've been working with these guys. This is what they're doing.

>>Mark Brodie:
There are supposedly other cases out there they mentioned at their news conference this past week that they are still looking into other tips, following up other tips they've gotten. So this is the first most likely not the last that we'll hear about, you know, the foreseeable future.

>> Mike Sunnucks:
One thing you say in defense of businesses like this, they're an above board business, not operating under the table like a lot of contractors hiring illegal folks, they're paying taxes. And if you're duped by somebody's fake I.D.-You can only go so far in asking stuff, you can only go so far in asking somebody.

>>Larry Lemmons:
Because then you have potential legal problems.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
Yes. If you're only asking Hispanic workers to prove themselves over and over again you'll face lawsuits and that's not fair. So for them to go after somebody like this when you've got a lot of real bad guys coming across the border, illegal activities and a lot of contractors are not paying any taxes at all, I think the public is more on going after those types of folks instead of Sun Splash.

>>Larry Lemmons:
Speaking of another lawsuit, Amanda, you were talking about the lawsuit filed last week, the state against the Maricopa County Health System.

>>Amanda Crawford:
Yeah, the Maricopa Integrated Health System. It's the Maricopa County Health District that runs-

>>Larry Lemmons:
"MIHS"-that's what you called it.

>>Amanda Crawford:
Maricopa Medical Center, they run that. The disputes over tens of millions of dollars in federal funding the state gets every year, the state gets about 100 million in federal funds that are supposed to pay for uncompensated care costs from hospitals, and of that, you know some goes to private hospitals some goes to Maricopa, and a good chunk stays in the General Fund. And the Maricopa health district thinks they should get more of the money. It's their certification, brings in $60 million to the state, but they only keep 4 million of it. And because of the change in our agreement, our federal waiver, Maricopa actually has to sign off on this disbursement and they use that leverage to say we're not going to sign off unless we get more of the money and this ended up in court because under state law they're required to file the certification to sign off on this payment by June 2nd and they didn't. So the state took them to court. And interestingly yesterday actually the other hospitals joined in and they joined in --

>>Larry Lemons:
Banner Health, Phoenix Children's Hospital-

>>Amanda Crawford:
Yeah Banner Health, Phoenix Children's Hospital, University Medical Center in Tucson, they signed on as supporting the state saying Maricopa by doing this is endangering all of our money, by holding up the federal disbursement of dollars. So it's an interesting case and it's $55 million that if this doesn't get settled by the end of the budget year, it's another $55 million hole, and already, you know, deficit heavy budget I think we have $2 billion deficit right now in the state. Another $55 million to spill, but you have to think about it in future years, it's 55 million every year, it's this disbursement every year this money that they're fighting.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
And the hospitals are really having a hard time financially. The money they get from the state, the AHCCCS, or from the feds, for every dollar they give, service they provide, they're not getting that back from the government in the first place, and they're thinking about cutting the reimbursement rates that AHCCCS give to hospitals as part of the budget deficit, deal with that. so they're all facing a tough time, especially with the Maricopa county hospital, they've been in a turf war with Banner and some other folks over the U. of A. Med. Center downtown, they want to build some kind of teaching hospital and they're competing over that also.

>>Amanda Crawford:
And Maricopa says we really need to replace our aging facilities and if we had this money we'd be able to do that. But all hospitals are struggling with uncompensated care. The state's argument is we use this money for Medicaid. That budget has been soaring too. So everyone's struggling with healthcare, healthcare dollars a fight over where the dollars go.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
The county hospital does serve a lot higher percentage of indigent folks than a lot of the other private hospitals in town; they probably take in a lot of those folks.

>>Amanda Crawford:
Right.

>>Larry Lemmons: What strikes me though is that I guess up until this year you said this is the first year that the feds have required them to sign off on this, to provide this. So why is that? Why has it not been done before?

>>Amanda Crawford: Just a change in the waiver, I don't know exactly why they decided to do it. It was reconfiguring how states are getting the money and making sure they're using it and giving money fair for uncompensated care costs and Maricopa really latched onto this. They started threatening a year ago, knowing they had to sign up by this year, they started threatening a year ago, you need to sit down with the state, you need to work on this disbursement, get us more money and they were asking for money by 2012 and it started heating up before the lawsuit was filed, Maricopa went into the governor's office and demanded that they pass state legislation in 10 days to increase the share they get by 2012 or they weren't going to sign, and can we pass any legislation in 10 days is sort of where and how it ended up in court.

>> Mike Sunnucks:
If the courts look at this, can't Maricopa the hospital make the argument if we portion this out fairly by who deserve and how many indigent people we have, that their stake will go up maybe?

>>Amanda Crawford:
Potentially, but the centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services that is in charge of this, the one that drafted the waiver, the one Maricopa's arguing that C.M.S. is saying this is supposed to go directly to hospitals but C.M.S. told me that yeah, we want this to go to hospitals, but we're not going to get involved in this matter of how the state disburses it. They said the state's not doing anything illegal so we'll see if the courts disagree.

>>Larry Lemmons:
Doesn't it go into the General Fund?

>>Amanda Crawford:
55 million goes into the General Fund.

>>Larry Lemmons:
So they can basically do with that whatever they want?

>>Amanda Crawford:
Right. That's why they're arguing that. They're saying it's healthcare dollars, goes to Medicaid, so you replace them somewhere. But it will be interesting to see what the courts do.

>>Larry Lemmons:
Ok, they're supposed to come up with a budget by June 30th. And say, for example, this lawsuit isn't decided until then, that's really going to complicate matters.

>>Amanda Crawford:
It could, yeah. It could mean that the 55 million's just not in the budget plan. The hearing's June 27th. So it's really cutting it close.

>>Larry Lemmons:
Another hospital, the State Veterans' Home, had some issues a couple of years ago, really bad things happened, a guy lost his job over it as a matter of fact. But there was another investigation or inspection that's probably a better word, of the hospital and something else came out.

>>Amanda Crawford:
Yeah, what happened is the veteran's home released a man who had signed himself in and he was really eager to leave. He was recovering from brain surgery, 67-year-old diabetic veteran and they released him and they actually drove him to his house, hired a locksmith to come in and open the house because he didn't have keys, and left him there. Without any medications, without any home health services, and three state agencies are involved, Deputy of Economic Services, their Adult Protective Services Division, went in there and was called on this guy and said -- reported him to the Health Department, who then inspected and said you have an obligation to provide care to someone who can't care for themselves and it was irresponsible to let this guy go home without having a nurse there, without having his medications and the report finally came out about a week ago and one of the things it revealed was that people at the home I think they were torn on whether this guy could care for himself or not. The doctor had signed him out and said he was fine. But the home didn't send him home with any medications because they were afraid he wouldn't know how to take them and he's a diabetic, so it's really kind of all over the place here, the Veteran's Home could face fines, it has to be still worked out.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
Continuing problems with responses and staffing and, you know it could be some problems for the governor. This thing's gone on for a while and it's a state agency and she's charged with overseeing this and they haven't really solved all the problems there. And it's not the V.A. (Department of Veterans Affairs) which is a federal system which is huge.

>>Larry Lemmons:
Everyone is confused about that.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
It's a huge system, had problems for years and years, but this is a smaller scale of that and I think it would behoove the governor to take action on this and improve this and show a little more activity on this.

>>Amanda Crawford:
All the agencies involved are the governor's agencies, so the agency that caught it was the governor's agency too. So it's interesting in a political perspective where you give her credit, for the veteran's home or for the health inspectors who went in there and found the problems. That's kind of the hard part.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
Back to the beginning, they weren't really forthcoming when they came out. Kind of tried to hide it from everybody. They hired --

>>Amanda Crawford:
16 months ago, the first incident that launched this series was immediate jeopardy called with some patients that were going to set themselves on fire and stuff, 15 months ago, last February.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
They hired a law firm friendly to the governor's office and they could have handled it better and been more open about it and could have been a lot more pro active ask she could have later looked good, like you said, they are the ones that caught it. They could have been way more active and it festered and doesn't seem like things are getting solved.

>>Mark Brodie:
When it first happened, you have the legislature at the first day of it at least kind of ended in a circus atmosphere and became sort of a personal kind of situation and the whole situation just spiraled down from there, so I would imagine that most people involved want to try to at least avoid some of that this time and just sort of get it worked out now without having to go through all that.

>>Amanda Crawford:
You can't ever look at the nursing home industry in general, it's fraught with these kind of problems, but now at this point especially all these incidents you have the immediate jeopardy 15 months ago which was the first incident, there was another inspection this fall that was really bad, where people weren't getting the right kind of wound care they needed, then have you this incident, another incident where a guy was not being supervised in his wheelchair and sheared off his toes a few months back, so it's continued problems taking it beyond the norm for an already troubled industry.

>>Larry Lemmons:
Do you think this is fair, maybe it isn't, this particular case because it comes on the tail end of some other things make it look a little bit more severe than perhaps it actually is?

>> Mike Sunnucks:
There's a pattern of just inefficiency and lack of care. And they have a problem competing, hiring nurses is a competitive field and morale is bad and nurses often leave to take a position in the private sector to get paid more and who can blame them but it seems continue a pattern of not great care and not great oversight.

>>Mark Brodie:
You touched on the difference between the V.A. and this facility, but I think since Walter Reed happened there's been a new emphasis on caring for veterans and I think a lot of times in the public it doesn't matter if it's the federal or state responsibility, when these things happen people really get upset and worked up about them.

>>Amanda Crawford:
And you would think with all the scrutiny that things would get better and the fact that it's not, that's kind of the scary part that everyone's watching and they've been watching for more than a year and you still have these kind of things happening so that's really the nut of this, you know.

>>Larry Lemmons:
Change the topic a bit. We could go back to immigration, somewhat relate the. But apparently the State of Arizona, like some other states they just don't like the idea about Real I-D.

>>Mark Brodie:
Yeah, Real I-D is not the most popular idea the federal government ever brought forward if you're a state. Arizona this week voted, the legislature voted to opt out of Real I-D not so much opt out, just prohibit the state from taking part in it. And it will be interesting to see what the governor does with it because she has her own deal with homeland security-

>>Larry Lemmons:
She's been supporting it right.

>>Mark Brodie:
With the three in one driver's license and I think 10 other states have already opted out. The deadline keeps getting pushed back, I think it's next year at this point for states to have Real I-D or something on par with Real I-D, so it will be interesting to see how the governor deals with it and how the federal government deals with it in relation to the state's going forward.

>> Mike Sunnucks:
It's interesting the opposition on that. You've got civil Libertarians, A-C-L-U crowd on the left and real conservative folks on the right don't like the idea; see it as a national I-D and going towards big brother.

>>Amanda Crawford:
And it's also a big money item. That's the reason states are out thing out, it costs states a lot of money and states are not doing well now. We're certainly not doing well and it's a federal mandate, unfunded and costs a lot at the state level.

>>Larry Lemmons:
And the idea to see who's a citizen or not?

>>Mark Brodie:
Yeah it's supposed to be a national standard for identification, and in some states are easier to tamper with the driver's licenses and others some have a stricter standard of proof to get a license, transfer a license, so the idea was especially after September 11th of '01 was to have the national standard so, you know, if you go anywhere in the country you are -- everybody's on the same page. The issue is could potentially be rather that if states that opt out of this, if the federal government decides to keep going along with it, states like Arizona that could potentially opt out. People who live in those states might not be able to go on airplanes because you have to present that kind of I-D.

>>Larry Lemmons:
And Pay the extra $15.

>>Mark Brodie:
Exactly. Only if you're checking a bag.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
The government's reputation isn't good. E-verify has problems, terror watch lists are never that good, all these lists they have aren't very good and they don't do good setting things up so I understand why states would want to back out of this.

>>Larry Lemmons:
We want to talk a bit about McCain and Obama as well. The race is finally on, Hillary Clinton is out. You have two candidates. How do you think it's shaking out on the economic front?

>> Mike Sunnucks:
I think the economy's going to be the defining issue here, gas prices are $4.13 a gallon here, record high, crude oil's high, food inflation, and people are really feeling the pinch, and then neither of them campaigned on that during the primaries. They both campaigned on foreign policy. McCain wants to stay in Iraq, win the war, Obama wants to bring the troops home. And with both I think whoever kind of grabs the voters' attention when it comes to gas prices and the economy will have the advantage here. CNN had a poll that showed Obama ahead in terms of how voters see the economic issues, I think that's a function of who's in power, you got President Bush in there, he gets the blame for kind of what's going on. But McCain has going after Obama this week on gas prices, McCain was to repeal the federal 18 cent federal gas tax for the summer and Republicans are really trying to go after Democrats on more domestic drilling, they say if we drill more we can help bring prices down. The problem for McCain, he doesn't support that. He voted against ANWR. He wants California and Florida to be able to block offshore drilling, so it's interesting to see how this plays out. Obama for his part promised middle class tax cuts, wants to go after oil companies and roll back some of these tax cuts that were passed during the Bush administration for the wealthy. I think whoever grabs the economy and goes with it can win.

>>Larry Lemmons:
McCain was saying, kind of interesting, he doesn't have this kind of business experience unless you count his campaign last year. Pretty funny.

>>Mike Sunnucks:
Maybe his wife can give him some information.

>>Larry Lemmons:
There you go- it's a never-ending well. Kids count this year, we're bad.

>>Amanda Crawford:
We are continuing to be bad. We're worse than last year. We were 36th out of 50. Last year 39th this year. I think there have been previous reports we've been in the doldrums of the 40s, so if you want to look at history that way maybe we're a little better but we're not doing very well, and it's no surprise to anyone who's lived in Arizona, we are -- our schools don't do well on any of these rankings, the way we provide kids don't do -- we just always at the bottom, teen pregnancy rates, ours is high, it's gone down by still high, same with high school dropouts and health insurance, we have, you know, a really high rate of uninsured kids in the state and uninsured people in general and those factors have kept us low. There's a couple areas, I know Mark has the list here, where we were -- where we're not in the bottom half of the states, but all in all, yeah, you know. I think it's like one of those low birth rates, what low birth weight we do really well in. So our kids are healthy in their weights. Other than that we're doing pretty poorly.

>>Larry Lemmons:
Before we get away, I wanted to say something about that passing away of Senator Jake Flake. What sort of impact did he have on this state?

>>Mike Sunnucks:
He was kind of a throwback. He was 72. He was a cattle rancher up at snowflake, very established well-known Latter Day Saints Family, and he was at the capitol he was a respectful guy, everybody liked him. In politics these days it's a full contact sport, a lot of people are a little disingenuous and I don't think anybody could say that about Jake, a very nice man, kind of a throwback rural conservative, maybe not as ideological as some folks but still very conservative and pro business and it's unfortunate.

>>Mark Brodie:
He also had the unique ability to turn any kind of situation into a ranching metaphor. Anything that you would ask him, he could turn around into some kind of, you know, telling a tale about, you know, being on the ranch or saying something about herding cattle or something like that.

>>Amanda Crawford:
And he was the last cattle rancher in the legislature, like you were saying throwback to a bygone era.

>>Larry Lemmons:
Thank you very much. That's all we have time for I'm afraid. Mark Brodie, KJZZ, Amanda Crawford, Arizona Republic, Mike Sunnucks, the Business Journal. Thanks for joining us on the "Journalists' Roundtable."

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