Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

February 9, 2007


Host: Michael Grant

Journalists Roundtable


  • Don't miss HORIZON's weekly roundtable where local reporters get a chance to review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Le Templar - East Valley Tribune
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Howard Fischer:
It's Friday, February 9th, 2007. In the headlines this week: a bill that would create a statewide DNA database is making its way through the legislative process. State senators have voted against using money from the rainy day fund to pay for freeway construction, and Attorney General Terry Goddard issued an opinion on the state's new minimum wage law, saying there are to be no exceptions. That's next on "Horizon."

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Howard Fischer:
Good evening, I'm Howard Fischer of "Capitol Media Services." Joining me to discuss these and other stories are: Le Templar of the "East Valley Tribune," Mary Jo Pitzl of the "Arizona Republic" and Doug Ramsey of News 92-3 KTAR radio.

Howard Fischer:
Lawmakers this week took the first step in creating a statewide database of DNA. A proposal approved by the senate judiciary committee would require DNA samples to be taken from anyone arrested regardless of the charge.

Howard Fischer:
Le, you've been following this. What's behind this change?

Le Templar:
As you already know, we already require convicted felons to provide DNA and the intent is to help police solve future crimes. Senator Chuck Gray is making the argument that isn't enough. We need a much broader database so that when cases come along we're having trouble finding suspects and he's tied the baseline killer case in his example, we would have database of anybody who's ever arrested. Basically, once you're in handcuffs they'll be swabbing your cheek - would be kept on file and could be tapped to solve those cases.

Howard Fischer:
I suppose the argument you could have everyone's DNA on file, where's the line here?

Le Templar:
He draws the comparison, and it makes some sense, when you're arrested they get your DNA he says the intent is to give police something that's a unique identifier. The courts have ruled that keeping fingerprints, even if you're never convicted of the crime is acceptable. So he thinks that the DNA will be allowed as well.

Howard Fischer:
Doug, you've followed the legislature for many years. What's the thoughts in terms of you've got a lot of lawmakers that say they're civil libertarians; a lot of lawmakers who say they're law and order. How does this balance work out?

Doug Ramsey:
It's a constant tension that's going on. These law and order guys campaign on that. And they sponsor the bills; they try to follow up in the legislature. It seems like that it always outweighs the civil liberties part of it. I think the civil liberties part is more a Democratic issue than Republican once they get in office.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
You've got to keep in mind, too, that Senator Gray is a former Mesa police officer so he has a lot of experience from the field and brings a lot of law and order background to this legislation.

Howard Fischer:
Do you think this legislation will get through eventually and maybe be signed by the governor?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I don't have a good feel for that. I didn't hear the debate in the committee so I'm not quite sure where that debate is going.

Doug Ramsey:
She always comes down on the side of law enforcement, though. At least 99 percent of the time. She may sign it.

Howard Fischer:
Sticking with the issue of law and order and crime if you will, one of the issues that have come up is how long it takes to get between the time somebody's arrested on a murder charge and getting them to trial. Andy Thomas has been pushing and, in fact, helped craft some legislation to speed this up, to require trial toss start within 18 months. At the same you have some questions of can you do it in 18 months? Again, let me get back to the same with the DNA question, where's the balance here?

Le Templar:
The state law requires in order to fulfill the speedy trial requirement under constitution that definitely cases should go to trial 18 months after the charges were filed. But the court has a number of exceptions, allowing for due process; defense attorneys could argue we don't have enough time, haven't been able to find proper representation, that sort of thing. Andrew Thomas correctly points out the oldest cases are taking years to get to trial. We have a real backlog of cases and people have been accused of these crimes and not being brought to justice and so he's crafted legislation that basically says, it will be an 18-month mandatory period where the trial must take place, one 30-day exception would be aloud. The Supreme Court would have to grant it. It couldn't be the trial judge that grants it. And he thinks if you just bring out the hammer you'll force defense attorneys to quit dragging their feet and they'll have to get onboard in getting these cases before a judge.

Howard Fischer:
One interesting question that comes along with that is that some of the defense attorneys have said there just aren't enough defense attorneys who are qualified to handle death penal cases are. Are we going to end up with a collision in the system here?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
You already have a lot of tension going on because, again, Thomas has been saying that defense attorneys need to step up the pace of their work. They're saying, we can't. We're stretched to the limit. And it might be a game of, what would you call it when you stare each other down and see who's going to blink first on that.

Howard Fischer:
It becomes a question, too, that Maricopa point has many more death penalty cases than other counties.

Doug Ramsey:
Well over 100 right now.

Howard Fischer:
I think four in Maricopa County at the same time. Is this just a function that that this county attorney and the others before him are harder on these cases, more law and order oriented than Pima?

Doug Ramsey:
I mean, yeah. Andrew Thomas ran on a platform. He was going after these people, pushing for the death penalty in a lot of cases. He's followed through on that. You're seeing the results now. There are some cases where they can't find qualified attorneys to represent the clients; I think there's about 8 or 10 of them right now. These cases are going to be delayed. Victims' rights advocates are complaining that the victims shouldn't have to wait that long for resolution in their cases.

Howard Fischer:
That raises the other part of the question. You get these people convicted. They've got to go somewhere even if they were waiting execution or life in prison. You're talking about a report this week as far as how prisons are going to expand. What is this going to cost taxpayers?

Le Templar:
A lot of money. Perhaps over the next decade an extra $3 billion. The Council of State Governments and the Pew Research Center are collaborating on a study of Arizona's prison system and population trends. And what they've concluded is, if there are no changes in our sentencing procedures - and there actually have been some proposed changes from Andrew Thomas -- but if nothing were to change our population would go up about 52 percent in the next decade. From 35,000 now to a little over 56,000 in ten years. We are short, already, about 4,000 bed spaces. And the state is working towards a contract to build 3,000. But we've got to find somewhere around 20,000 more, 17,000 more over the next decade. Not only once you build the prisons but you pay for staffing them. We already have a problem in recruiting and retaining corrections officers. It poses a real dilemma. The governor and key lawmakers are involved in tracking the study. In about a month the group is supposed to come back to the state and offer some ideas what the state could do or some alternatives the state could do to deal with this trend.

Howard Fischer:
That becomes the other part of the question. Again, this becomes the balance we keep talking about here. The lawmakers decide we're willing to spend another couple hundred million for prisons or they decide maybe they decide there are some people behind bars nonviolent offenders we can put out on intensive probation.

Doug Ramsey:
I would expect the latter to happen. Another overriding principle of the legislature is they're cheap. They don't want to spend any more they have to fix products. I would assume some nonviolent offenders may be getting some sort of early release sometime soon.

Howard Fischer:
Before we move along, there was a hearing this week by a bill proposed by representative Kyrsten Sinema to make, yet another crime, this one for domestic terrorism for anyone who carries a gun while they are patrolling. I.E. the Minutemen. That didn't go so well for Kyrsten, did it?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
It was a hearing that stretched for more than four hours. It was preceded by a fair amount of drama. Representative Sinema had received a lot of threatening e-mails. I've read some of them. I don't know. They're pretty obscene. Maybe a threat is in the eye of the beholder. But nobody was necessarily saying they were going to come to her physical address and do her physical harm. But they came pretty close to saying exactly that but in much more colorful and obscene terms. So all this drama preceded it. That led to heightened police presence at the hearing. So you walk into this hearing room to this phalanx of security officers and police officers. It would have pertained to anybody patrolling with a gun who's not affiliated with law enforcement.

Howard Fischer:
Understood. Fair enough. The idea of using the state's rainy day fund to speed up construction in Arizona hit a dead end this week as senators voted against the proposal. Mary Jo, you covered that hearing. Why did this whole idea go belly up?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think there was a philosophical disagreement to some extent about what the rainy day fund is there for. The majority of the senators decided it's sunny out there. The rainy day fund was set up to tide the state through tough economic times. There has been no empirical evidence that the state economically is hitting the skids. Senator Burns, Bob Burns, who proposed tapping into the rainy day fund says, we've got a real tough time with our road congestion.

Howard Fischer:
That's the question, Doug. Bob Burns says we have an economic slowdown. They would help put more people to work. He said if you're out on the freeways at rush hour we have an emergency. Are we at the point that we're ready to take $450 million out of a $650 million fund?

Doug Ramsey:
Well, I think there are certainly quite a few senators who would be happy to do that. Some of the people that voted to keep this $450 million for highway construction also said that the-- I forgot my train of thought.

Howard Fischer:
I'm sorry.

Le Templar:
I want to point out that part of the spirit there was not the philosophical issue, was the fact that they didn't like how the money would be divvied up. There are several rural lawmakers would make the argument that Maricopa County wants it all for themselves when there are other highways out there too and they actually have more miles of highway and the actual formula they were going to apply to this was that 60 percent of the money was going to be used for Maricopa County.

Howard Fischer:
Sixty percent of the lawmakers are from Maricopa. Come on.

Le Templar:
That's where most of the people are and that's where the real congestion is, too. So that's the argument the urban lawmakers were making was, we're dealing with -- the money's going to attack the problem. But it's an ongoing urban versus rural issue that rurals don't want to be ignored.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Senator Burns suggested -- interesting I asked him if this would come back. He said, "Well, perhaps." He's not averse to the idea of bonding which is the governor's proposal. He's saying, "Why not bond plus this and that would get you about 850 million. A lot more bang for your buck. Even that doesn't build you lots and lots of miles."

Howard Fischer:
There is another option that keeps coming up, the idea of toll road, toll lanes, hot lanes, some people call them Lexus lanes. Is that going anywhere?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
It's going hot and heavy in Senator Gould's transportation hearing. Should be some good listening on Tuesday when this comes up. He's bringing in folks in from a libertarian think tank to talk about hot lanes, toll lanes. Hot lanes are the ability to let solo drivers use a carpool lane for free. He's proposing something called fast lanes, which from a quick look at the bill, sounds like the same thing to pay a toll to drive alone in the car pool lane.

Doug Ramsey:
I think that bill would allow private contractors to actually build the lanes and operate them and collect the tolls. That's a little bit different than using the existing H.O.V. lanes.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Part of it does say it would allow them to convert into carpool lanes.

Howard Fischer:
That raises an interesting question which is you have H.O.V. lanes, car pool lanes that have been paid for, I-17, down the 60, down I-10, and a reserve of people who are car pooling, buses, et cetera. What's this idea? Are people going to accept the idea that if you can afford it you can drive in it alone? That's why it gets called, I guess, "Lexus" lanes. Is that sort of anti-populace?

Doug Ramsey:
I don't think people will stand for it if you look at the letters to the editor the last couple of days when this idea surfaced. People are not going to accept this idea on the surface. It will have to be sold pretty hard for people to go along with it.

Le Templar:
Of course, Senator Tibshraeny is taking a different approach. He's offering creation of regional transit authorities that would authorize new roads as toll road. To get to your problem, we already paid for that stretch of pavement. Why do I have to pay again to drive on it? His idea is we only have toll road where there isn't any freeway now. That's the way, the mechanism for financing. That's to get them on the map and actually on the dirt faster. And a lot of opposition to toll roads. But it would get over that problem of totally existing lanes.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think governor Napolitano found the sentiment. She said if I wanted to live in New Jersey I would have been there so I could pay tolls. This state tried experiments with tolls back in the 90's. They put out bids if somebody wanted to use a toll road to finish the 202 around South Mountain. They couldn't find a way to make that work financially.

Howard Fischer:
A little more about the car pool lanes, the governor issued I guess an order today, saying that people who buy these nice hybrid vehicles, the Lexus, the Prius, you seem to have one of those I think, Mary Jo, are now going to get to use the car pool lanes as single occupants during rush hours. What's behind that change and what are we giving up to get that?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
The governor -- and in interest of disclosure I do drive a Prius. I don't drive freeways very often although it will help getting out here, especially at rush hour. The governor says this is part of her clean air initiative. She's trying to step up her profile on air pollution issues, perhaps because this greater metro area faces -- we've blown a federal deadline for clean air. And hybrids do empirically have lower emissions. So you give them an incentive. As we saw during the whole alt fuel buildup in the early 90s and 2000s, giving people access to that car pool lane is an incredible incentive.

Howard Fischer:
One of the issues is the tradeoff is we're going to take all the people who bought the alt. fuel vehicles who now get to use those car pool lanes and take them off. She seems to be doing this unilaterally even though the legislature gave her permission to do this.

Le Templar:
Personally I'm a little stunned by. This because the law says that if you have an alt fuel vehicle with the proper plate you have access to the lanes during rush hour. And from what we understand from her order, she doesn't think she has to come back to the legislature and get the law changed first, that basically ADOT's going to recall those special plates, you get a normal plate, I guess. I don't know what you're going to get. But it's not going to allow you in the car pool lane anymore if you have an alt fuel vehicle. I would imagine some lawmakers will throw a fit about this in terms of -- they already accused her during her first term of acting unilaterally and not respecting legislative process. This will feed that perception.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
But there's also an interesting wrinkle to this. There's also a law on the book that says let hybrids into the car pool lanes. Senator Blanchard, Jeff Groscost successor, got that bill through in the year 2000. When they looked at why it wasn't being implemented they said we're being held up by the fed. Because they have gas emissions. But the bi-fuel vehicles also have gas emissions. Why do they let them in? They said nobody asked so they just drove them in.

Howard Fischer:
Exactly. All this comes back to the issue of the brown cloud, the foul air over the valley. There were some efforts earlier this week by the governor and Senator Allen to deal with that. That sort of got off to a very rocky start.

Doug Ramsey:
It sounded good at the news conference. Real high hopes, real high expectations. But then a couple of hours later it got into Senator Burns-no, Jake Flake's committee, national resources committee in the senate. And they took out about half the bill. They eliminated restrictions on plowing and raising dust. There was going to be an expansion of the clean air area around the metro Phoenix area and the Pinal County. That got pulled out. Obviously there's still a long way to go in this bill. Carolyn Allen says it will be three or four months before it's finally written. A lot of negotiation will take place in the meantime. This is certainly not the final say.

Howard Fischer:
If I'm reading correctly from what you're saying, what's left in the bill now is pretty much you can't use leaf blowers on high pollution days?

Doug Ramsey:
That's pretty much it. Well, I think there's something in there about outdoor burning during the winter high pollution months. But not much else.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
This just happened -- Senator Flake is the one who ran the amendment that took out most of the clean air measures. And he said, look, this is a way to get industry to the table. They feel they've been not fully represented in the formation of the bill up to this point. So this is a way to knock some heads and get them all to sit down together. I don't think we'll -- we will see a serious air pollution bill but it will probably be late in coming.

Le Templar:
That's my question, Mary Jo, are the industries recognizing the fact that the E.P.A. is not going to just walk away from this, that if we don't address the problem they could pull our federal highway fund?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think industry recognizes that. The problem is not me, it's you. There's a lot of finger pointing. Get tougher on the ago industry, get tougher on sand and gravel and home building but leave me alone.

Doug Ramsey:
Those industries feel like they've done a lot already. Anytime you go past a construction site you see water trucks going back and forth. They don't want it all on their shoulders. They want to make sure everybody contributes to the solution.

Howard Fischer:
Arizona attorney Terry Goddard, this week, issued an opinion regarding the minimum wage law and how it relates to developmentally disabled workers. Doug what did Goddard say about how broad or narrow the law is?

Doug Ramsey:
He says it covers the disabled and that they'll have to be paid the minimum wage. So that sets up a problem for people who are trying to pass a bill in the legislature to fix what the voters passed in November to exempt those developmentally disabled workers. That bill may not have any effect, even if it is passed at this point. You've also got the industrial commission considering a rule to reclassify these workers to say they aren't employees, to say they are trainees or clients, not employees so they wouldn't have to pay the minimum wage.

Howard Fischer:
How do we get around this? There seems to have been a gap. Several states passed minimum wage laws last November. A couple of them put in the exception for the developmentally disabled. We didn't. Was that an oversight or was that done purposely?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
It was done purposely. The framers of proposition 202 which gave us the minimum wage law testified to lawmakers last week that they want at least a minimum wage paid to these low wage workers. Now, that wasn't real clear to voters of course when they went to the ballot. People have been surprised at the development since. The significance of Goddard's opinion he was doing that in response to a request from the Republican legislative leadership. Lawmakers have been torn on this feeling that while sympathetic, it's hard to some of the workers idled they think their hands are tide because of the way the proposition was written. Goddard is saying, yep your hand are tide.

Howard Fischer:
So do we end up with a rule change and try as Doug says finesse the law and say employees are covered but you people are no longer employees?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
That seems to be the discussion right now, where the different camps in this debate are angling towards. It will set up a new level of bureaucracy and will require more paperwork and probably some headaches. Yet to see if that will happen.

Howard Fischer:
Speaking of bureaucracy the state Department of Health Services is trying to interpret another ballot measure which bans smoking in most indoor places and bans smoking near the entrances of buildings. We're still trying to figure out I guess what does "near" constitute?

Le Templar:
Right. Well, the people who put that initiative on the ballot tried to cover all the angles. The agency that's forcing the Department of Health Services has discovered a few places where they weren't as specific as they needed to be. One of those is how close can you be to a building, the entrance to a public place before you can start smoking. My understanding is looking at 15 feet area that would be protected in front of the entrance. Although I've heard other states allow 20 or 25 feet. And as the clean air advocates are at want, they want it as broad as possible to keep you -- when you go near the building if you're not smoking you're not going to breathe the smoke. That's supposed to be the intent.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
You can just see this being a headache especially on streets, perhaps Mill Avenue, where store fronts are quite close together. You put 15 feet here and 15 feet there and 30-foot buffer zone. I don't know, get the yard sticks out, folks. This is going to be fun.

Doug Ramsey:
Another interesting angle to this, too. You're allowed to smoke on outdoor patios. There's no buffer zone between the patio and the door going into the restaurant. I can imagine somebody opening up the door and a whole cloud of smoke going in. And the only thing the rule says is that smoke can't get into the building. They don't say anything about how you keep it out.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Maybe we'll all go to back door entrances like at Durant.

Howard Fischer:
I like that. All of you have been out to the capitol, have watched legislative action. And now people who have cable systems will get the benefit of seeing the excitement of the Arizona House and Senate. What do you think, Doug? Is this must see TV?

Doug Ramsey:
I don't think so. 24-hours a day, seven-days a week of lawmakers. I wonder what's is over. Because right now you have a lot of committees meeting, a lot of hearings, plenty of material. But once the legislature adjourns what do you do for the other six or seven or eight months out of the year 24-hours a day?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Oh, I have some ideas. As a somewhat avid watcher of Channel 11, the Phoenix government channel, that you will have programs about senator so-and-so's representative X-Y-Z's program. How this bill is now law, how it's working. Here's how those smoking regulations are playing out. I think we'll see a lot of explanation of how government's working.

Howard Fischer:
Do we run into problems, though, we start toward elections and there's Jim Weier's smiling face on Channel 23?

Le Templar:
They already had a problem with that in city channels where unintentionally it seems suddenly a discussion about local mayor's races pop up and the mayor's candidates aren't there to share their side. Also I think I'll be interested in seeing how this place out on local cable channels is how much time Republicans get versus Democrats. Or if the minority, majority were to switch at some point.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I hear there's some footage now how drying out the flood damage at the senate building. That will be fun to stockpile.

Howard Fischer:
We'll all get our stop watches and watch. Thank you very much for joining me tonight.

Larry Lemmons:
The state legislature will consider a bill that will not allow children to be granted custody to a parent that has engaged in polygamy. And in honor of Black History Month we begin a four-part series looking at the contributions of African Americans to American history. Monday night on Channel 8's "Horizon."

Howard Fischer:
And please join us Tuesday as we continue our Black History Month profiles. Have a very pleasant evening. For "Capitol Media Services," I'm Howard Fischer. Good night.

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