Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

March 25, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Legislative Update

  |   Video
  • Arizona Capitol Times reporter Jim Small shares updates from the state capitol.
Guests:
  • Jim Small - Arizona Captitol Times
Category: Legislature

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Here now to fill us in on the latest news from the state legislature is Jim Small, a reporter from the Arizona Capitol Times. Jim, good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

Jim Small:
Thanks for having me, Ted.

Ted Simons:
Another spirited debate regarding school vouchers, and the court decisions comes down today. Response at the capitol?

Jim Small:
I think it was predictable. Republicans have largely been very much in favor of these programs, and were very disappointed by this case. And by the ruling today. They felt that they really had a program that they could move forward with, and kind of use as an introductory step to vouchers and hopefully expand it. I talked to a couple people who said, this was -- the ruling today, while it's bad, at least it's good in the sense we it tells us where we stand. We have more than just conjecture. We have more than just advocates one side or the other saying yes or no. We have the court saying, here's where the line is.

Ted Simons:
So vouchers might have hit a dead end, but things like tax credits, it sounds like they’re going to double up their efforts.

Jim Small:
Yeah. Tax credits have already been ruled by the court to be perfectly legal because money never enters the state treasury. One Republican legislator I talked to today said that's going to become the model -- how can you take the tax credits and maybe be creative and try to find a way to expand and to get more vouchers and more students, more school competition.

Ted Simons:
Interesting news coming out regarding stimulus money and higher education. Talk to us about this.

Jim Small:
Basically what's happened is the federal U.S. Department of Education has put out a proposal, a draft proposal of rules, and they would be for states to apply for stimulus money. One of the things that's in there, it's a change from what people were expecting: analysts said, OK, states need to fund their education, their K-12 and higher education at 2006 levels, and if they can, try to keep it at 2008 or 2009 levels. Department of Education came out and said, at least in the draft proposal, actually, you need to keep them at the 2008 or 2009 levels. The 2006 levels are not going to be the baseline. So in essence, what it means is about 160 million dollars in university and community college cuts that were passed in January, at this moment look like they're going to have to be replaced if the state wants to receive about $775 million worth of stimulus money.

Ted Simons:
My goodness. There was such a hue and cry when those cuts were announced. Now it looks like they might be going back in. Response from lawmakers on that?

Jim Small:
Well, that's been tricky, because these are still draft rules. No one knows exactly what's going on. This could change. The federal education department’s supposed to vote in the next two weeks and make them permanent. Things are still a little up in the air. I know lawmakers, legislative leaders have asked the federal government for some guidance; for them to look at Arizona's situation and say whether those cuts, are they going to need to be backfilled or can they move forward with them as they are now.

Ted Simons:
A similar rope, if you will, attached to stimulus money regarding access eligibility. Correct?

Jim Small:
Yeah, there is. A federal agency ruled that Arizona is not in compliance with one of the guidelines, and the guideline in particular has to do with Access and how the state determines when people are eligible to receive Access. The state used to have a redetermination period of one year, which meant every year someone on Access had to apply again and make sure they were still qualified. Last year part of the budget that was passed at the very end of June included rolling that back to six months. And it's something that was pushed by Republicans and the idea is that if you check every six months, you're going to have more people who drop off the Access rolls because they get a raise, they get a better job, they get health insurance at their company, so they no longer need public health care. And basically what the federal government is saying is, after July 1st, you can't have changed from that one year redetermination. The state approved it in June, but didn't take effect until September. So they've ruled since it didn't take effect until September it violates that July 1st deadline and so Governor Brewer's office has basically appealed it and said, look, we passed this, this was done by lawmakers before that deadline. Just because it took effect then you shouldn't hold that against us.

Ted Simons:
So a lot of stimulus money up in the air regarding a lot of things that the legislature has already done. Jim, great stuff. Thanks for joining us.

Jim Small:
Thanks, Ted.

Photo Radar

  |   Video
  • A bill to ban photo radar is in the works. State Representatives Sam Crump and Eric Meyer discuss the pros and cons of photo radar.
Guests:
  • Sam Crump - State Republican Representative
  • Eric Meyer - State Democratic Representative


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
A bill to ban photo radar on state highways was heard today by the house appropriations committee. More on the hearing in a moment, but first here's what some people are saying about photo radar.

Mike Sauceda:
House bill 2106 would have Arizona join seven other states that already ban photo radar. Right now, the Arizona Department of Public Safety is operating nearly 70 mobile and stationary cameras. The bill would also eliminate the photo enforcement fund, which was set up to provide money for the state's general fund. Here's what some people in downtown Tempe thought of photo radar.

Man on the street:
Not just half, not just 60% of them, I think all of them should be gone. Now, the little vans they have on the side with the cameras, I guess that's all right, the little mobile vans and things like that. But just the ongoing camcorder on the freeway at all times, I think that's invasion of privacy.

Man on the street:
I think this is a great thing. It reduces traffic accidents, people are more aware and alert that the photo radar is there. So people drive with more caution.

Woman on the street:
Pinal County, where we live, has just finished with photo radar. The sheriff has shelved as being inefficient and a cause of accidents. In Maricopa County, the blinding lights I think are horrible and can also cause accidents. What I didn't realize until recently is that we're kept on tape for a period of time, and I think that law-abiding citizens going about their business have no need of big brother watching who's going where. I think it's just horribly intrusive, and for a while I was on the fence. I'm no longer on the fence. No photo radar, thank you very much.

Ted Simons:
Joining me now is Republican Representative Sam Crump, sponsor of a bill to ban photo radar on state highways, and Representative Eric Meyer, a Democrat who's opposed to the measure. Thank you both for joining us on "Horizon." What bothers you the most about photo radar?

Sam Crump:
I think the most egregious or annoying part of them is just the big brother sense of government use of technology, which is growing all around us, but I don't think that's a justification, just to look the other way.

Ted Simons:
Do cameras, speed cameras in particular, do they do any good at all on state roadways?

Sam Crump:
I'll stipulate for purposes of this argument that they probably are creating slower speeds, at least where they're located. That's just at that location. People are basically learning where they are, slowing down, smile for the camera, and speed back up.

Ted Simons:
The big brother aspect of all this, is it a bit much to have cameras, especially video cameras, taping people going by on state roadways?

Eric Meyer:
Well, there is some concern about that. And I think the amendment that was heard today in appropriations addressed that to some degree. On the other hand, it does catch criminals. You can use that streaming video for accidents that have occurred at that site, and there have been cases where they've used it to prosecute people that have been caught on film.

Ted Simons:
Critics say this is, at its core, a money grab. Straight and simple. Can you respond to that?

Eric Meyer:
I wasn't involved in last year's budget, so it became part of the budget process. It was a revenue generator in the budget. But for me it's a public safety issue. The evidence is overwhelming in support of slower speeds, fewer accidents, and fewer fatalities. And as an emergency physician, it's important to me to support things that protect public safety, and this is one of those things.

Ted Simons:
DPS is coming out and saying these things do make the roads safer. Is DPS wrong about that?

Sam Crump:
Well, DPS's data, in each hearing where they bring this up, it's a shallow study they did. So something just came out recently in the media showing incidents and fatalities on highways in Arizona have been dropping for the last 10 years. For some of that they can't even explain why. So there's no direct scientifically sound evidence showing that these are doing that. But I'll stipulate again that these are probably reducing speed in these areas.

Ted Simons:
DPS also says that having these cameras out there free up uniformed officers for other things. Again, is that -- do you agree with that? Is DPS wrong?

Sam Crump:
You can look at that at a positive and negative. Their argument would be that frees us up to work on more serious crimes out there. But on the negative, I would say is it -- are they being used as a crutch? In other words, are they not patrolling these areas? Does this allow drunk drivers to do what they do on the highways? Because there's less patrol officers in the area?

Ted Simons:
Is there a law of unintended consequences with this particular law?

Eric Meyer:
If you talk to the DPS officers, they have not changed their patrols based on these cameras. They're still patrolling the areas they patrolled before the cameras were in place. So they're now able to focus on people that are trafficking drugs, drunk drivers on the roads, and addressing those problems and letting the cameras control the speeds in those areas.

Ted Simons:
There is some concern that speed limits are essentially by law suggestions. Reasonable and prudent drivers in certain situations use this as a guideline as opposed to a hard fast law, be it that limit, or 11 miles an hour over, whatever. What do you think about that?

Eric Meyer:
Well, the cameras cause people to travel at a uniform speed. And that translates into fewer accidents and fewer fatalities. That's the way they work. So it protects all of us on the road by doing that.

Ted Simons:
And we found out as of taping time this did pass out of committee today. Can the system be overhauled without getting rid of cameras on state highways? Speed cameras?

Sam Crump:
That would presume that one is okay with the use of the technology in the first place. And then of course one could tweak them with the signage or the speed limits at which you're going to get a ticket. My concern, and what a lot of people don't realize, the contract that DPS signed with the private company Red Flex, actually requires them to have the technology available to issue point A to point B tickets as well. Meaning, they could read your license plate when you leave Phoenix, and if you arrive in Tucson, if you got there too fast, they'll send you a ticket in the mail. That's an example of technology in the hands of the government.

Ted Simons:
And yet, I know some viewers watching right now would say, good. Get them. They're knuckleheads on the roadway, get them off the roads.

Sam Crump:
Sure, and then the next step could be using OnStar technology, to put a chip in every car and every time you commit any transgression, you'll just simply get your list of transgressions and a bill in the mail.

Ted Simons:
Back to red flex. The concept of the privatization of law enforcement, which is kind of what we have here, that does that bother you at all?

Eric Meyer:
On some level. I think when you asked about what could be changed, I think we need more oversight. There should be a committee that oversees this, I think DPS should be involved in making sure the cameras are working properly and calibrated properly. If we were going to privatize -- well, we have, but if we're going to keep it that way, I think significant changes in oversight need to be made.

Ted Simons:
How do you feel about that, the concept of privatization in law enforcement in this aspect?

Sam Crump:
To me that's not the big concern. To me, the fact the profits are going off to this company of a foreign company, it doesn't bother me that much. I think a lot of times I'm arguing for efficiencies by privatization. The real issue here again is the big brother. We've got several arms of government. We've got a justice of the peace that's thrown out hundreds of these because he believes it's an unequal application of the law. If you get a ticket from an officer you get points on your record, the same ticket from a camera you don't get points on your record. We've had a sheriff who's pulled them from his county. We’ve got a county attorney who’s said he’s not going to prosecute criminal speeding.

Ted Simons:
And yet, the bottom line, if people watching right now say I know driving the freeways it's not as crazy as it used to be, I'd rather have these things there. Is that bottom line not bottom enough?

Sam Crump:
Well, I understand that sentiment. But I don't think the question is public safety by any means. Certainly we have all sorts of constitutional protections, due processes, and so forth.

Ted Simons:
Last question, does this law turn otherwise law-abiding good, safe, responsible, reasonable drivers into criminals?

Eric Meyer:
I don't think so. It only targets those people that are speeding. So if you're not speeding you don't get a ticket.

Ted Simons:
But can you go faster than 11 miles an hour on an Arizona highway and not be speeding? Not driving in an unsafe manner?

Eric Meyer:
I would imagine that you could. If you -- if there is no one else on the road and it were a straight road, I would imagine people do that all the time. People are clocked at 130 miles an hour on these cameras and haven't been caught.

School Vouchers

  |   Video
  • A discussion about the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision to strike-down Arizona’s school voucher programs for foster kids and children with disabilities. Supreme Court Ruling
Guests:
  • Tim Keller - Executive Director, Arizona Chapter of the Institute for Justice
  • Andrew Morrill - Vice-President,Arizona Education Association
Category: Education

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Good evening welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled today that the state school voucher programs are unconstitutional. The programs, enacted by the legislature in 2006, use state dollars to help disabled and foster kids attend private schools. The court says the programs violate article 9, section 10 of Arizona's constitution, known as the aide clause, which states that no tax shall be laid or appropriation of public money made in aid of any church or private or sectarian school. In its 21-page opinion the court said the voucher programs do precisely what the aid clause prohibits. These programs transfer state funds directly from the state treasury to private schools. Here now to talk about the court’s decision is Tim Keller, executive director of the Arizona chapter of the Institute for Justice. He's an attorney who represents families who benefit from Arizona's voucher programs. Also joining us is Andrew Morrill, vice-president of the Arizona Education Association, the state's largest educators' organization. The AEA is one of several plaintiffs that had challenged the state's voucher programs. Good to have you back on the program.

Tim Keller:
Thank you.

Andrew Morrill:
Good to be here.

Ted Simons:
Tim, let’s start with you. Reaction to the court decision?

Tim Keller:
The initial reaction is, this is not the end of the line for school choice in Arizona. We're going to look at every single legal and policy option available to us and initially to help these particularly vulnerable students stay in the private schools that have been benefiting them so much for the past two years.

Ted Simons:
Specifically, the court says these are aiding private and religious schools, and the constitution specifically says you can't do that. Why is the court wrong?

Tim Keller:
Well, we do believe the court is wrong on both the law and the facts. The school choice programs are not designed to aid schools or institutions. They are designed to aid individuals. They help families to go out and choose the best available education regardless of whether that education is in public school or private school.

Ted Simons:
Andrew, as far as the idea that it don't help schools, it helps individual parents making choices regarding education. Didn't fly with the courts.

Andrew Morrill:
Didn't fly at all.

Ted Simons:
Why not?

Andrew Morrill:
Their ruling was crystal clear. A unanimous decision. Probably because in fact the money does aid schools, schools that accept students. Here's what we know is true in Arizona, just as it was 24 hours ago. Arizona is the choice friendly state in the country. Arizona parents have more forms of choice at their disposal, even tonight upon the ruling, than just about any other state. They can still send students to private schools; they can still contract for services for special needs students with a public school shepherding the overall education. They can still choose the district school or a private school of their choice. What the Supreme Court said was more on the funding. Certain funding, what wasn't going to be allowed -- public funds for private schools wasn't to be allowed.

Ted Simons:
That being said, with all those options and choices, why is this choice not good? Why is it wrong for parents to have this particular choice?

Andrew Morrill:
Well, it's certainly wrong in the eyes of the majority of Arizona voters, and it's wrong on -- I guess the court ruled on matters of law and constitution. We'll take it on a matter of principle. Vouchers still amount to a school accountability waiver. You're using public funds in an opt-out system. Private schools do not have to take the AIMS test or administer the test to their students, public schools do. Private schools do not have to follow federal mandates for an IEP or Individual Education Plan for special needs students. They don't fall under IDEA, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. They don't have to open their books. Their transparency to the greater public, public schools do. It's a matter of accountability and transparency, and these are waivers in use of public funds.

Ted Simons:
Waivers in use of public funds. Comment, please.

Tim Keller:
Absolutely not. The programs make the schools accountable to the one person who is most important to be accountable to, i.e., the parent who chooses that school. And even though Arizona is in fact a leader in choice, there's one choice that they can't make, that is the same choice public school districts make every day. Arizona law allows public school districts to take these same children with disabilities, place them in private schools and use state funds to pay the tuition.

Ted Simons:
But it's still funneled through the public education system. Correct?

Tim Keller:
That is correct. But it's state dollars paying private school tuition. Under the court's reasoning today, what the public school districts do every day is unconstitutional. And many other school choice programs in Arizona will be jeopardized by this program, particularly at the higher ed level.

Ted Simons:
Why is it okay for the state to do something that the court says parents can't?

Andrew Morrill:
In point of fact, not many schools do. It's the request of parents under individual education plan that the federal government mandates and when, and the cases are rare, when a public school cannot provide a service that can be provided by an outside private resource, funding can go to that resource on a contract ad hoc basis, the school retains overall stewardship for education of the student, and in fact, most of the time it's not a private school that picks up that service. Most of the time it's a private provider for a special needs student. More of a facility outside a private school. The real fact is, private schools are not well set up in the main to educate special needs students. That's why you don't see a tremendously large population of special needs students in Arizona's private schools.

Ted Simons:
If the public school system can essentially do a better, wider-ranging job of doing what Andrew mentioned, why is that not a better idea than going forward with this private school option?

Tim Keller:
The parents I represent would tell you what they received in the public school system was little more than baby-sitting. And what they've been able to find in the private sector at their private schools have been teachers dedicated not just to keeping their child safe for a period of time, but actually learning what their child needs to know in order to learn and succeed. We've seen tremendous gains, both academically and socially, in children that before they were a part of the program, weren't even speaking in some instances.

Ted Simons:
There has been some talk this issue was set up to be a test case in front of the Supreme Court, in front of the highest court that you could find, and that these were sympathetic students that would help your cause. Your comments?

Tim Keller:
That's absolutely not true. The state legislature saw an opportunity to do something beneficial for some of Arizona's most vulnerable special needs students and created a program designed to assist them. That is what --

Ted Simons:
Okay. But allowing these children to go to specialized schools, how does that threaten government neutrality? Is it that much of a threat?

Andrew Morrill:
Here's the real issue behind all of this. The Supreme Court in Arizona has ruled unanimously, and if the book on vouchers hasn't closed, at least the current chapter has. It's not so much a threat as it is a principle of fairness. What is fair for every student in Arizona schools? Private or public. If we have identified certain things that some private schools offer to students, why are we not building a system of education that educates every student according to those services? Why are we still tinkering around the edges and figuring out an opt-out mechanism for some students? I don't know a teacher I've ever met who would walk around his classroom and pick out those students that he or she thought deserved the best education. Let's build a system that educates every student to the highest ideals. We can do it, we can start today.

Ted Simons:
Very quickly, why -- the folks you represent, your group, why are they not working with public schools, if there is a specialized private school that offers something different or special, why aren't they working to get that more into the public schools?

Tim Keller:
My clients are not anti-public school. But what they are is pro-education. And education is not a one-size-fits all product. It takes a wide range of methods to properly educate students and every parent deserves to have the choice to choose the school that will best meet their child's unique educational needs, regardless of whether it's in a public or private setting.

Ted Simons:
We have to stop it right there. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us.

Tim Keller:
Thank you.

Andrew Morrill:
Thanks.

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