José Cárdenas: Good evening, I'm José Cárdenas. The Arizona Latino Caucus outlines its priorities for the legislative session. You'll hear from caucus leaders. Thank you for joining us. The Arizona Latino Caucus outlined its legislative and public policy priorities for this year's session. Joining me to talk about their agenda is senate Democratic leader and Arizona Latino Caucus chair, senator Anna Tovar. Also here is Arizona Latino Caucus cochair, state representative, Martin Quezada. Thank you for joining us on "Horizonte."
Anna Tovar: Thank you.
José Cárdenas: Before we get into the caucus and the priorities, just a little bit about the districts you represent. Maybe a brief description.
Anna Tovar: I'm district 19, which is out in the west valley, covers west Phoenix, a portion of Laveen, Tolzien, and Avondale as well.
José Cárdenas: And representative Quezada.
Martin Quezada: I represent district 29, covers Maryvale, Glendale, and a small part of Litchfield Park.
José Cárdenas: And both of them heavily latino districts?
Anna Tovar: Absolutely. I think representative Quezada's and I's districts are the two top minority districts in the state.
José Cárdenas: The caucus itself, you don't have to be a latino to be a member and you don't have to have a heavily latino district to be a participant as well. Right?
Anna Tovar: Yes. This year we have 26 members from the latino caucus. Some of them being nonlatino. But if they are interested in pushing latino caucus priorities forward, they are welcome to join. Today we just had our first Republican join, T.J. Shope, so definitely we are an open caucus that encourages members to participate and definitely move forward our latino caucus agenda.
José Cárdenas: And speaking of that agenda, as I understand, this year you announced the priorities in conjunction with the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Anna Tovar: Yes. For the first year we had a collaboration of a press release and a press conference with the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. And we laid out what is our latino priorities for the state for this upcoming session. So it was great to work hand in hand with the Chamber of Commerce, and laying out our priorities for this next session.
José Cárdenas: Why don't you just give us a quick rundown, then we'll go into detail.
Anna Tovar: Essentially what our priorities are is what all Arizonans want -- Great health care, education, when it comes to immigration as well, and keeping our children safe. So essentially what our priorities for the latino caucus are, are for what every family in the state of Arizona deserves.
José Cárdenas: And representative Quezada, I understand one of the first steps the caucuses take in terms of moving towards these priorities is a meeting with the new head of child protective services, Charles Flanagan.
Martin Quezada: Yes. The caucus had a meeting with the new director recently because the issues happening with CPS are hugely important, particularly to latino families. What we learned as part of that meeting and in other research we've done is that a large number of these uninvestigated cases are taking place in ZIP codes where there are large latino populations living. So the result of that is that these are latino children, latino families that are being caught up in this mess at CPS.
José Cárdenas: What did you hear from Mr. Flanagan that made you feel good, bad about what's going to happen in the future with these families?
Martin Quezada: There's a lot of effort to fix the problem. We're happy to hear that. This is definitely at the top of everyone's radar list. So the attention is there, the focus is there. But our concerns are mostly that we need to ensure that the resources are also there. And that the preventive services are there as well to ensure the families aren't put into this program in the first place.
José Cárdenas: So senators, does that mean insisting on more funding than what the governor has already asked for and obtained from the legislature?
Anna Tovar: Essentially more funding would be a key aspect of it, because we know as representative Quezada mentioned, preventive services were cut to the bare bone in years prior, so we know that is an extreme issue we need to focus on, and that does require money. I know for our latino caucus, the ultimate goal is here for CPS, we have the opportunity to set the reset button for CPS and create a system and an agency that its ultimate goal should be never having kids enter the system. So we have a very strong focus on our preventive service and along with having a functional CPS system, one thing we learned from director Flanagan and the care team is that there was many dysfunctional and many ways that children fell through the crack. And we know that, which was the 6,000 uninvestigated cases. At representative Quezada mentioned, many of those were in our minority districts, so again, we're pushing not only for preventive services, but have a very well-run CPS system, and one thing that we're pushing for as well is making sure that our caseworkers are in those -- That are in our neighborhoods, that affect our communities, and to have the caseworkers be bilingual and be able to relate with our families, because ultimately the caseworkers and the preventive systems that are in our community really place an emphasis on speaking to the families, helping out the families, so again, that's going to be our major focus in driving and making sure our voice is heard at the table and creating a new CPS system.
José Cárdenas: So are we talking about legislation that your caucus will be proposing, or are you talking about more oversight and just seeing how things go and reacting to that?
Anna Tovar: I think it's a partnership between being at the table, the stakeholder table, when the new legislation is being proposed. Essentially we -- The cases have been found that over -- Maybe to 30-40% of them have been minority children, so definitely we have a invested interest in bringing a positive solution to the table.
José Cárdenas: Representative Quezada, the reform of CPS so to speak was a big part of the governor's state of the state address. Were there other aspects of the state of the state address that you care to comment on, whether they're consistent with what the caucus is looking for or not?
Martin Quezada: In regards to CPS, the big aspect that was missing from the governor's state of the state was the resources that were going into that. She talked about the separation of the division from DHS, but there was no talk about the resources that were going into the program. Without the talk of the resources, we know that the same problems are still going to occur, there's still the structural deficiencies of a program are still going to exist and the same problems are going to happen to the children and families caught in the system. There was also like we said, the lack of mention of the preventive service and the restoration of those services. Without that, again, these families are going to get caught up in that system again.
José Cárdenas: What about the emergency funding that was approved just last week?
Martin Quezada: The emergency funding helps. It's a drop in the bucket, but it's something that helps. It's obviously something that we all voted on, it was a very bipartisan effort to get this through. We understood the need for this extra funding. But it doesn't solve the entire problem. There's still a lot more that is needed.
José Cárdenas: Senator, any concerns about the governor's state of the state?
Anna Tovar: I think one issue in particular was education. And I know she had an emphasis of having a performance assessment piece to the student achievement portion. I know that it's something that's in the latino caucus perspective, we want to make sure our funding is going to our most vulnerable children and making sure they're well-funded. We haven't seen the numbers yet on her proposal and the data, and the data is really important on making sure our most vulnerable children are taken care of and are not essentially held behind in this new piece she's pushing forward for performance achievement as well.
José Cárdenas: Speaking of education, I understand the second meeting of the caucus involved teacher education.
Anna Tovar: Yes. Absolutely. That for us is a big issue. As you know, we passed a bipartisan budget last year that addressed the issue of education. But we're coming off since 2008, and nearly $3 billion cut to education. So what we did last year was a step in the right direction, but again, it was a drop in the buckets on education investment. Working hand in hand not only with the Hispanic chamber of commerce, but investing in our children. And knowing that we have new standards that are coming into play, we need to have the correct amount of resources for our teacher preparation, and having a true investment in our educational and public educational system. Essentially what we want, we want to have a work force that is ready for our 21st century, but that's going to require a true investment in our public education system.
José Cárdenas: Representative Quezada, I understand the third meeting of the caucus involved transportation that was the subject, and you met with supervisor Wilcox from Maricopa County and also with the supervisor from Coconino County.
Martin Quezada: Yes. And the supervisors that met with us described the lack of H.E.R. funding in the governor's budget. This is something that is desperately needed, and both parties at the legislature agree on that, the need for that H.E.R. funding, which will allow for the roads to be properly serviced and maintained. That's hugely important, especially in our southern part of Arizona where we're dealing with commerce with Mexico. In order to continue that commerce, in order to continue to keep business strong, we need to have functioning and drivable roads. That funding is going to get us there.
José Cárdenas: Let's talk about some of the hot issues in the legislature. One that receives a lot of attention lately is house bill 2305. First explain what that's all about and what the concerns are.
Martin Quezada: House bill 2305 was the bill passed literally in the middle of the night last year that enacted several restrictive measures on our voting statute. Removing people from the permanent early voting list, criminalizing voter engagement efforts to help people collect ballots, it was a Christmas tree bill that includedment measures. The latino caucus opposed this bill last year because of its effect on get out the vote efforts, particularly in the latino neighborhoods. Our community responded to the passage of that bill by referring house bill 2305 to the ballot. Now what Republicans are trying to do in the house, it's been one of the bigger issues, they're trying to repeal house bill 2305 from last year. What that would do is that would essentially cancel the referendum election.
José Cárdenas: Why is that a bad thing?
Martin Quezada: That's a bad thing for one particular reason. Because we don't trust that they are not going to then turn around and reenact those exact same measures, which would force us to go back and rerefer them to the ballot. There have been statements made by several Republican legislators that say they absolutely intend to introduce those bills.
José Cárdenas: So the principle sponsor says that's not going to happen.
Martin Quezada: Well, actually Representative Farnsworth, he didn't go so far as to say it wouldn't happen. He said he himself had no intention of doing, that but he said there were issues that were contained in house bill 2305 that still needed to be addressed.
José Cárdenas: And as I understand it, the concern is if they break it up into separate pieces, you would need six or seven referenda to do this.
Martin Quezada: Six or seven sets of hundreds of thousands of signatures that need to be collect and submitted, and six times the amount of money that would be needed to raise -- To get this accomplished.
José Cárdenas: So what's the likelihood, as I understand it that's cleared the house?
Martin Quezada: It has passed the house judiciary committee. It's waiting a vote by the full house. But an identical measure is moving throughout senate and is about to be heard on Monday.
José Cárdenas: What are the prospects there, senator?
Anna Tovar: Like representative Martin Quezada said, this notion of repealing a bill that is a voter suppression bill is an absolute tragedy. It's a slap in the face to the voters. It tells the voters that the legislature knows best, and we all know that this bill puts up barriers for our minority community and for our seniors as well. So this is a real threat to Arizona voters, and Arizona voters should be furious at the fact that legislators feel they know what's best for Arizona's voters. That we as a latino caucus demand that the repeal allow -- That the repeal go into effect and allow the voters to vote on this. There is more than enough signatures to get this on the ballot, the voters demanded that this go on to the ballot, and they should have the voice at the voters' box.
José Cárdenas: Another hot issue has been in the press a lot lately is a bill that the sponsor describes as guaranteeing people have the right to exercise their religious beliefs.
Anna Tovar: Yes. That's on the hot topic issue gaining momentum in the house and the senate. The latino caucus feels the members feel that this is a step in in the wrong direction. This actually -- This bill promotes hate and discrimination not only to our LGBT community, but also within our religious communities as well. So what is thought of many years ago when SB 1070 was passed, it was detrimental and a black eye to our state. We feel this religion bill is as equally as damaging.
José Cárdenas: You view this as the SB 1070 of this session.
Anna Tovar: Absolutely. It attacks the civil rights of people based on who they love, and based on what religion they believe. It is an absolute tragedy that this is moving forward. We've worked very hard for the state of Arizona to focus on two issues that will move our state forward and this bill takes us decades back and in the wrong direction.
José Cárdenas: We've got a number of weeks ahead of us in the legislative session. I'm sure we'll have you both back to talk about how we're doing, where we're going on these. Thank you so much for joining us.
Anna Tovar: Thanks for having us.