Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 6, 2007


Host: Michael Dixon

Journalists Roundtable


  • Local journalists discuss the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Mary Jo Pitzl - Arizona Republic
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Michael Dixon:
It's Friday, April 6, 2007. In the headlines this week, the fallout after problems have been discovered at the Arizona veterans home. How far state lawmakers go this week on legislation dealing with illegal immigration. And the President planning another trip to Arizona. Those stories next on Horizon.

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Michael Dixon:
Good evening, I'm Michael Dixon. "Welcome to Horizon". This Friday of course time for the Journalists Roundtable. Joining me to talk about the issues that are going on this week in Arizona Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic, Dennis Welch of the East Valley Tribune, and of course Mark Brodie of K-Jazz. Welcome to you all. Nice to have you here.

Mark Brodie:
Thank you.

Michael Dixon:
Big story of course remains immigration. We have a lot to talk about but we have new things happening in the immigration. Mary Jo, how about you kind of give us an overview where we are and where we're about to come from and where we're about to take another couple tentative steps.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
It was a busy week on immigration legislation this week starting off with the senate appropriations committee. They passed out a bill that will require penalties on employers who knowingly hire people found to be in the country illegal. Business owners would have to sign an affidavit saying no one on my staff is in the country illegally. This has been steadfastly opposed by most of the business community. What makes it much more compelling this time around is there is also a ballot measure that Russell Pearce announced last week. They are out there presumably ready to gather signatures. As Senator Bob Burns asked some of the business community members: which would you rather have? Do you want the poison pill through the legislation or through the ballot? They refused to make a choice and said they believed, continued to believe that employer sanction is a federal responsibility. None the less the senate appropriations committee passed this one out and it will go to the full senate fairly soon. Given the lopsided vote it had in the house last month, we can expect that this will probably get pretty good approval in the senate.

Michael Dixon:
There seems to be a fire being built under the whole immigration issue in the legislature. It's no holds barred, as vicious as they can make it. Why is that? Are they really responding to constituents or is something else going on? You can all jump in on this.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It's both. They're responding to constituent's poll after poll. You talk to law makers who ran for election last fall. What were the big issues? What were people talking about? Immigration, immigration, immigration. Look at the measures that were on the ballot in November top three vote getters were the top three things that dealt with immigration even more popular than raising minimum wage and I think the smoking ban.

Michael Dixon:
What is the next step in terms of--I was looking at some of these things. They are trying to keep--they are trying to say if an immigrant is arrested and it's a felony, what is that all about?

Dennis Welch:
That has to do with proposition 100. I believe that's what you're talking about.

Michael Dixon:
Uh-huh.

Dennis Welch:
Chief justice of the state supreme court ruled surprise, surprise. You have to follow the law on this one. The voters enacted this last year saying if you are charged with a serious crime and found to have been an illegal immigrant, you can't get bail. As we uncovered in the tribune I think last week there was directive sent out by a Maricopa county Supreme Court worker who directed workers there not to check for immigration status. You can see this would cause problems with that.

Michael Dixon:
Certainly, I mean, they are not speaking with one mind. We have a state which you have the business community saying wait a minute. You are going too far. Because the economic reality is businesses thrive on low-wage labor, right?

Mark Brodie:
I think the fact of this prop 100 issue is the lawmakers especially wanted the law to be enforced. Some ridiculously high number of people supported this initiative last November. Their point is I don't care if you agree with it or disagree with it. It's the law. You need to follow it.

Dennis Welch:
Getting back to the business community as Mary Jo said most of the majority of the business communities has been opposed to sanctions and what not but a significant portion of that business community is actually split showing a fracture with what's going on with that whether the valley chamber of commerce came out this week or late last week and said, listen, we're going to support the employee sanction that's working its way to the legislature right now as opposed to waiting to see what would pass on the ballot. Which would be more draconian it could be a lot harder and a lot tougher to deal with.

Mark Brodie:
It's kind of the devil you know versus the devil you don't know kind of situation with them.

Dennis Welch:
Exactly. And then you have some say in the process actually as it goes through. Or more importantly next year if you find there's serious unintended consequences, it's a lot easier to fix than it is something that's been approved by the voters.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
But they may still find themselves with two devils to keep with the analogy, Because there's no guarantee that even if employer sanctions passes the legislator and the governor signs it and there are a lot of lawmakers debating, there's no way she will sign it. We'll see once the bill gets up to the ninth floor. Even if that happens, there's no guarantee the petition drive will stop. Representative Pearce said if he had his druthers, he will get what he wants in the bill he'd recommend it. But this things bigger than him. The genie is out of the bottle.

Dennis Welch:
It's not just Russell Pearce on this. This is Don Goldwater as well as some people with the minutemen are behind this and these people don't want to stop just at what the legislature does. For them the legislature will not go far enough.

Michael Dixon:
That's interesting. I was talking with people in the Catholic Church. As you know, the Catholic Church is opposed to most of the bills and legislation and practices that are coming down hard on immigrants. They want to harbor them. They want to take care of them. They want to educate them. Their whole idea is of course if you just educate them, take care of them, not only are you doing the work the church is supposed to be doing but you'll make them better citizens if not citizens operating in the community and less likely to get in trouble. We rehearsed all of those things. That's a major group in the state. When we hear the reports, it almost sounds as though the entire state is moving towards clamping down on the immigration problems we've had over the last few years. Truth is not everyone feels that way. Are they being represented? Is anybody caring about that position?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think you can point out this week, three immigration bills, anti-illegal immigration bills were killed on the house floor. Very party line vote Democrats opposed to it, Republicans supporting it. You have the Democrats standing up for that line of thinking. However of the three that were killed, one came back the next day on procedural move this is one that would deny a business license to anyone who cannot prove they are in the country legally. This will play out along the party lines of the democrats and some of their advocates are trying to keep people's attention on the fact that these are human elements and people we're talking about. Certainly out in the atmosphere of the legislature you don't see a lot of sympathy for that argument.

Michael Dixon:
I think what's complicating this issue is the border. We have a porous border and people come through. The problem is exacerbated. It's not just we have immigrants here who are trying to work and do all these things. And if you want to characterize them in a good light you can put those over here. You have a porous border where you don't know who is coming through. And the anger, legitimate anger, about uncontrollable borders is in fact coloring other aspects of the immigration issue.

Mark Brodie:
It's almost like there are two separate issues. You have the border, you said people coming across every day. The other issue is people are already here. There are arguments that you maybe have them go home or come back or similar to what they did in the 80's and offered amnesty which I don't think anyone is in favor of. It really is as you point out two separate issues. People coming across the border and the fact that the border is not secure. And you have the people who are already here. What do you do with them legislatively, culturally or anything like that?

Michael Dixon:
The governor's gone to Mexico and met with the Mexican President and we had President Bush trying to make international efforts. Is that translating into anything in terms of Arizona that we can depend on? I mean, has Mexico promised anything along the lines that we're going to look at--it's going to make the things better.

Dennis Welch:
Mexico's always taken the position it's not their job to stop them from crossing into our border. What can you really expect them to do? Set up troops on the border and say you can't go here. Stop here. It's not their job to protect our border.

Michael Dixon:
President Bush is coming back, he's returning, returning to Yuma. What is that about?

Mark Brodie:
It seems like it's a status report on operation jump start which he initiated almost year ago.

Michael Dixon:
Explain that to everyone.

Mark Brodie:
Operation jump state is basically where National Guard troops were sent to the border in secondary roles to assist National Guard troops to do things like building fences and roads and paperwork things that would allow border patrol agents to go out and actually do their jobs and apprehend and detain illegal border crossers. It seems like this is kind of a statues report. See how things are going almost a year, a year after he initiated it. What's interesting is nobody can agree how it's been. Some people say it's great and apprehensions are down and crossings are down and other people say not so much. It will be interesting to see what happens down in Yuma on Monday with the people who say it has been great and the people who say this hasn't been great.

Michael Dixon:
What's the assessment? What do we think? What does Arizona think about it?

Dennis Welch:
It's a mixed review as with anybody you talked to down there. Some say it's a marked improvement. Other people will come back and say well listen it's only some marked improvement now until these people find new routes which almost always happens. It's a porous border. Almost a 400 mile border down there you only have a few thousand extra guards down there. There will be holes and they will find ways to get in the country.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
A couple of days ago I went down to the border with some Arizona lawmakers who wanted to take a look at the situation from mostly an environmental standpoint and we were in the Buenos Aires national wildlife refuge which is a preserve, it's supposed to be a refuge lands and it was pretty trashed. They now have a nice five-mile barrier fence up. One of the refuge manager says yep, we don't have cars and trucks coming over anymore but it hasn't done a thing to stop foot traffic because you can get through and you can go around. You cannot build a fence--they can't build a fence fast enough to cover that whole border. Water will find a way downhill.

Michael Dixon:
What are we likely to see over the next few weeks in the legislature as we wrap this thing up and move on tonight? I mean what is really sitting there? What looks like is going to happen?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well I think the employer sanctions legislation will get its way up to the governor's desk as well as a bill that Representative Ward Nickel has championed to allow the National Guard to be used in the primary use on the border if the governor chooses. Those will land on her desk. Ones that crack down on day laborers as well. The big question will be what will the governor do with these? Will she sign them and try to take some of the steam out of the petition drives that are going on? Will she find flaws in them? They have next year to try again. That's the big drama.

Dennis Welch:
We've talked about that on this show. It would be pretty hard for her to veto another employer's sanctions bill. Considering last year she vetoed one that the sanctions were not strong enough. The sanctions in this bill are tougher. A whole lot tougher than last year.

Mark Brodie:
The republicans in the legislature have been consistent in taking her veto letters and reading them on the floor saying this isn't what she liked and this is how we addressed it. Not to paint her in the corner and saying in respect the fact that she didn't like this we addressed it and hopefully she'll like it.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Last year the governor's argument was that the bill was too weak. You could make an argument that this year's is too tough. We're like the three bears in porridge. It's too hot and too cold and wait until we find one that's just right.

Michael Dixon:
What are you hearing?

Dennis Welch:
She's is notorious for not commenting on pending legislation. Unless she wants to comment on pending legislation.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
She doesn't want to comment on this legislation.

Michael Dixon:
Let's talk about things she has had to comment on were very uncomfortable for her. And that's this whole thing about the Arizona Veteran Home. It just doesn't seem to want to go away that was a big brouhaha that it came up in the first place and it just doesn't want to go away.

Dennis Welch:
No, it doesn't want to go away. And I think she would like it to go away as well as the people on the ninth floor get the focus off the handling of the situation and focus back on the veteran's home and problems there and fix this stuff. People who watch the news or read the paper, there was questions about her staff and how they handled the situation. Key members admitted they messed up by not telling her for six weeks about the problems at the nursing home.

Michael Dixon:
What do they say about that? When someone said why didn't you?

Dennis Welch:
They said they were assured by state health officials that the problems that were outlined in that report were being taken care of by DHS. But it's interesting, I think a lot of people find it interesting, they only really went to the governor after it was known that the republic was about ready to publish a story detailing that surprise investigation, inspection by state health workers.

Michael Dixon:
What can you tell me about that? Anything?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
It was not any story. One of my colleagues got a tip and like any good journalist, followed it through. One of the things the governor didn't know when she learned about it was that there was a deadline hanging over the state's head responding to a critical audit of what's happening at the veteran home. They really had to scramble to put together a report which resulted in a $5,200 fine the state's going to pay.

Michael Dixon:
Serious stuff. You had to address the issues. What was going on there was very serious and was likely not to have emerged if it hadn't been for the national story?

Dennis Welch:
The Walter reed's story?

Michael Dixon:
Yes. That's the first thing that occurred to me. Somebody said, oops, look what we have it in our backyard.

Dennis Welch:
Correct me if I'm wrong. The DHS inspection was the night before the Walter reed stories were broken in the "Washington Post." So this inspection happened before that. I would have thought in light of that somebody on the ninth floor would have said, hey, listen we might need to let the governor know that we had some situations at the veteran home.

Michael Dixon:
These things, the nursing homes and assisted living homes and all the facilities overseen by DHS are supposed to be inspected every year. They are supposed to be, they have minimal staff and go through an annual inspection.

Dennis Welch:
They go through an annual inspection or unless there's a complaint and serious allegations.

Michael Dixon:
Did this leak from an allegation originally or was it a random inspection that turned up?

Dennis Welch:
This was a random inspection.

Mark Brodie:
It was a random inspection.

Michael Dixon:
Wouldn't you think at that point, had Walter Reed not happened is it likely this would have been as big a deal as it was? Because it would seem to me that you--someone lower in the governor's office if it was not such a political thing, would have said handle this. Get this thing done and it might not had had Walter Reed not happened. It might not have gotten to the ninth floor, period.

Dennis Welch:
I would have hoped it would have.

Michael Dixon:
I would have hoped so, too. But she has other things on her mind and we can handle this.


Mary Jo Pitzl:
They did. The record shows so far that's what they did. They let the department of health services who had the regulatory role and cleared up the problems and DHS director health department director Sue Girard this week told lawmakers in their special select committees hearing that they think 80\% to 90\% of the problems have been fixed in mostly issues with the night staff. You would hope patients are not left smoking unattended who are not all together. People lying with feces oozing as some of the testimony, that that would draw attention--not withstanding Walter Reed.

Michael Dixon:
Of course. I guess my question is, you know, as they begin investigating this, have they figured out to do a chain of command? Will this always go to the governor when there's a problem there? Or is Susan Girard going to be the point person.

Dennis Welch:
I guess the governor said she will look at this as far as communication up on the ninth floor. For a couple of days there were hearings into problems of the homes and a lot of hearings focused on what the governor staff knew, when they knew it, when did they tell the governor. I talked to her coach chief of staffs Allen Stevens. I asked him: are you going to handle this any differently? He said: we have to make decisions on a lot of different pieces of information and we will keep going that way.

Mark Brodie:
One of the things she said when she defended her staff yesterday, she said, you know, maybe we need to tighten up our internal communications. If we need to do that, we'll do that. Our staff deals with a lot of different issues and need to make calls and that's what they do.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think also they'll get feedback when the governor appointed an oversight panel headed by Lynn Kirschner former access director head of the AARP in the state and he's supposed to be an administrative review of what happened at the home. I suspect there will be more that comes out of the chain of command. It took the regulator, DHS, the health department to bring it to the light of the head of the veteran services agency when he learned about this. Apparently there's nothing that he tried to send it up food chain.

Dennis Welch:
It seems like people have been trying to down play some of the stuff from the beginning. When Kirschner was brought in as the guy that is going to be looking into this, he told us at the press conference, he said listen, these things are the kinds of things that happen when you go and inspect a nursing home which means, you know, I asked him if I go to any nursing home, I should expect to find this kind of stuff? He said: yes, if you dig deep enough.

Mark Brodie:
Last year one of the people on the team with the inspectors testified at the same hearing when they looked last year at the same facility, there were 13 deficiencies. She said none of them were nearly as serious as they found at this time. 13 deficiencies or 13 problems at this facility it seems like these are things that need to be taken care of.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think we'll see hopefully the legislative panel will get into how much money plays into this. The health department director was saying that there are certified nursing assistants often make $8 to $10 an hour. Which is not a lot of money which leads to a lot of turnovers which leads to a lot of these systematic problems not just at the veteran home but at all long-term care facilities.

Michael Dixon:
And there's nobody that monitors certified caregivers. There's nobody who actually monitors those people. They don't have licenses. They have certifications. So that makes it a whole different ball game. And your right I mean you can work at a fast food restaurant and as much or more and all you can eat.

Dennis Welch:
That's what Sue Girard said during the committee hearing. She said listen, my people probably can go to McDonald's and make more money than what they can make at the home right now. This is hard, backbreaking, grueling probably sometimes heartbreaking work because these are people at end of their lives. It's a tough job.

Michael Dixon:
With all the things that come with that, I mean this is not a pleasant job. You have to be a Mother Teresa in order to do that.

Dennis Welch:
You're going to do that for $8 an hour? I mean that's a tough gig.

Michael Dixon:
What is the next step in the story? [ laughter ]

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well the hearings will resume. We don't know yet when. And sort of as a side note, I'm told that the next round of hearings will happen in the house chambers. That's significant because there was bit of dustup when hearings were held this week in the senate chambers. It's protocol as to which lawmaker gets to run the meeting. And Senator Jack Harper went off on a line of questioning that drew a lot of condemnation from his fellow Republicans. The belief is that if they move it over to the house and they put Representative John Nelson in charge you won't see the same kind of antics.

Michael Dixon:
But realistically what is going to come out of this? What do they hope to discover? They have discovered the problem in the hospital. We have Susan Girard who has a fine reputation as a legislator and in this position. She looks like she's at it. What remains to be done that's substantive as opposed to political.

Dennis Welch:
Well I think you know what we're talking about here is we saw the story shift from we were looking at what went wrong. How the problem started. We looked at how the governor's office managed the situation. I think you're going to see some more talk maybe here pretty soon about money about the funding for the nursing home and the care over there and we're going to start looking at that kind of thing.

Michael Dixon:
Very good. It's always a pleasure to have you around. Thank you very much, Mark and Mary Jo. We have more time. Good. That's good. Because I really did want to ask Mark about this. It's completely different but about the smoking ban.

Mark Brodie:
Let's talk about smoking.

Michael Dixon:
Let's do that. Give us that story.

Mark Brodie:
Voters approved proposition 201 in November which was one of two smoking bans on the ballot. The more restrictive of the two. It basically said you can't smoke anywhere in any public buildings in Arizona. Some of the issues were left to the department of health services to figure out what the rules were going to be and how it was going to implemented and possibly the biggest rule they had to implement was what was the buffer zone going to be in front of a restaurant or building or office. What they decided was 20 feet. They you have to have a 20-foot buffer zone between where people can smoke and the entrance to the building. There are all sorts of variations as to whether or not the patios were out in front and public right of ways and sidewalks out front. Basically you won't be able to smoke from 20 feet into the building starting on May 1.

Michael Dixon:
That's going to be really tough for a lot of businesses and a lot of people.

Dennis Welch:
Maybe they will just write their own memo saying you can just ignore this one all together. [ laughter ]

Dennis Welch:
We can start that whole process. A precedent has been set.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
And the state has said they are not going to come down real hard on businesses from the get go. They understand this could be a difficult transition for some businesses.

Mark Brodie: And it's going to be complaint driven. They're not going to have the smoking cops out looking for people violating. If you see something you don't like and if you think someone is smoking somewhere they shouldn't be, you need to take the initiative to make the call to the health department and get them to investigate.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Yea but what I can't figure out about that it wouldn't take very long to stomp out the cigarette and wave the smoke away. How are they going to catch anybody?

Michael Dixon:
Well it's kind of like being back at the barn isn't it? I mean when your 14 years old, and, quick, here they come. Pass me the sin sin.

Dennis Welch:
Well if they learn anything. I mean look at Tempe. I don't think they will be coming with badges and lights going. I think they will sneak in there and taking look around to see if people are smoking behind closed doors.

Michael Dixon:
We're going to leave it there. Mary Jo, thank you very much. Mark, always a pleasure. Dennis, good to see you again. Thanks very much for being with us on "Horizon."

Larry Lemmons:
two political pundits go head to head on state government issues and events. A conversation with Sir Crispin Tickell one of the first researchers to write about global warming. And we hear from chambers of commerce about the potential impact of legislation that mandates employer sanctions for hiring illegal immigrates. Monday night at 7 on Channel eight's "Horizon".

Michael Dixon:
Thanks for being with us on "Horizon." I'm Michael Dixon. Have a great weekend.

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