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By Cris Balzano,
Principal at Balzano Government Relations – @NMLobbyist


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New Mexico Legislative Updates
By Cris Balzano, Principal at Balzano Government Relations-@NMLobbyist

NEW MEXICO

OCTOBER 2018


Gubernatorial Candidates – One Month to go
A recent debate between Gubernatorial candidates Democrat Michelle Lujan-Grisham and Republican Steve Pearce showed how different they are in terms of Education, Healthcare, raising the minimum wage and other public assistance programs.

Both candidates have stated that it is their intent to overhaul the teacher evaluation system to address a lagging system that ranks New Mexico behind most states in student performance.  The difference, however, as shown in a recent video of Pearce speaking to a conference of educators was released where he states that his system may very well reflect what is currently in place.  Lujan-Grisham, on the other hand, seeks to revamp the evaluation system that is seen as ineffective.  The current system factors in student performance into teacher evaluations which is seen to diminish teacher enthusiasm and crush student morale.  The New Mexico chapter of the National Education Association is concerned that a small faction of teachers that support the current system will sway the new governor.

In other areas, the candidates disagreed on raising the minimum wage, legalizing recreational marijuana and tapping into the state’s lang grant permanent fund for early childhood programs.  Additionally, Pearce supports a work requirement for people who get their healthcare via Medicaid or who use other public assistance programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  Lujan Grisham pointed out that Pearce has repeatedly voted against public benefit programs.

Lujan Grisham supports raising the minimum wage is three stages.  First, immediately raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour and later to $12 per hour.  Finally, the minimum wage would be adjusted according to inflation.  Pearce states that government-mandated wages increases will hurt people and businesses that will reduce employee hours.  Lujan Grisham argues that a wage increase will help small businesses by giving people more money to spend.  She points out that raising the minimum wage is especially important for families and women.

There are two more televised debates scheduled before the November 6 general election – October 16 sponsored by KOB-TV and October 24 co-hosted by KOAT-TV and the Albuquerque Journal.

SEPTEMBER 2018


Groundbreaking Lawsuit Finds New Mexico Education System Unconstitutional
First Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton has ruled in the Yazzie v. New Mexico class action lawsuit filed in March, 2014 that the state’s public education system is a “dismal failure” and violates students’ constitutional rights to a sufficient education.  Plaintiffs argued that funds are distributed in arbitrary and inequitable ways that leave at-risk students without a basic education to go to college, or pursue a career.

Lead Plaintiff Wilhelmina Yazzie provided examples of the inadequate funding in the Gallup-McKinley County Schools which included teachers requesting parents to donate old socks to be used to clean dry-erase boards, and an insufficient supply of textbooks for students.  The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the school district did not respond to Yazzie’s complaints for years.  “All we’ve heard is ‘Sorry we cant do that, or sorry we don’t have that, or sorry we can’t give that to your children.  But its not a good enough excuse,” Yazzie said. Judge Singleton ruled that the state is responsible for assuring that students receive an adequate education.

AUGUST 2018


Local Election Act Voter Impact
A substantial rewrite of New Mexico’s election law is beginning to have its impacts felt by voters, school board and town councils.  The Act requires most nonpartisan local elections to be combined into one larger election on one ballot.  Backers hope this will increase the number of voters who participate.  Additionally, the Act requires that governments that conduct special elections, such as for bonds and tax proposals, all be conducted by mail.

The are three major implications of how the Local Election Act changes the way people vote: 1) fewer election.  Many school boards, town councils, and water conservation district boards all have varying election dates.  The new Act will combine all of these various elections onto one ballot to take place on regularly scheduled “Election Day.”  One downside will be longer ballots, and that cities were not included in the Act, thus, allowing them to continue to conduct elections on different dates. 2) Ballots will be sent in the mail.  The Act specifies that all special elections will be conducted entirely by mail.  A voter will receive a ballot in the mail, make their selection, and return it in the mail.  Postage will already be covered.  Proponents hope this will increase voter participation.  Voter fraud is a heightened concern of the mail ballot objectors.  3) Cities could adopt ranked-choice voting.  Some cities have already implemented a ranked-choice system of voting – voters rate multiple candidates rather than just choosing one.

 

JULY 2018


Independents vie for State Legislative Seats
Several Independents have filed for State Legislative seats bringing competition to otherwise uncontested races. Independents have gained seats in the legislature before, but only after winning an election as a Democrat or Republican. Still an Independent winning a legislative seat is unusual. Two have filed in reliably Democrat Northern New Mexico – Tweeti Blancett is running for the House in District 40; and Jarratt Applewhite is running for the House in District 50. Both Blancett and Applewhite positions include opening up primary elections to Independents and third-party candidates to make it easier to gain a position on the general election ballot and end gerrymandering.

Pearce Campaign Attorneys Demanding Legal Fees
Gubernatorial Candidate Steve Pearce’s attorneys are demanding the payment of legal fees stemming from a lawsuit against the Secretary of State last year which they won. The legal fees amount to $133,000 which Pearce’s campaign is counting on before election day.

Andrea Goff, a senior adviser to Pearce, said the outstanding legal fees go against the campaign’s budget. “To not know whether we’re going to have anywhere between $130,000 to $180,000 in our account is a massive issue when we’re 137 days from an election,” she said. “It absolutely is an urgency,” Goff added. “It is not a wildfire, and I get that, but it absolutely is an urgency.

JUNE 2018


Gubernatorial Candidate Releases Tax Returns. Calls for Republican Candidate to Follow Suit.
Amid criticism of business activities and profits from a health insurance company co-founded by Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham has released the last five years of tax returns. The returns indicate that Lujan Grisham shared in profits from her company Delta Consulting which provided access to health care to the severely ill or those with complex illnesses, and to undocumented immigrants who are ineligible to purchase health insurance from the marketplace. Lujan Grisham divested from Delta Consulting last year. In spite of criticism, Lujan Grisham’s campaign focuses on raising the minimum wage to $12, increase investments in local business, and make New Mexico a clean energy state. additionally, Lujan Grisham has a plan to address the low national ranking of the state’s education system. The plan includes raising teacher salaries and limit school testing all in an effort to raise graduation rates.

The lone Republican candidate Steve Pearce has yet to release any tax returns to the public even after he announced his intention to release copies after Lujan Grisham releases hers. Pearce’s campaign is focused on job-creation in a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Pearce was an entrepreneur in the state’s oil fields, and is looking to expand the state’s economy by the expansion of the natural gas and oil industries. Pearce is also using his childhood experience with poverty in an effort to reduce poverty by endorsing a requirement for every able-bodied Medicaid recipient to find employment.

Pearce’s main obstacle will be to distance himself from the Trump Administration in a state where Democratic registered voters outnumber registered Republican voter 2 to 1. Although Pearce supported the Trump tax cuts, he publicly opposes Trump’s border wall plans.

MAY 2018


Governor’s Vetoes Ruled Invalid by NM Supreme Court
The New Mexico Supreme Court upheld a judge’s ruling that vetoes issued by Governor Martinez in 2017 were invalid, and ordered the laws to go into effect.

The bills in question were mostly noncontroversial including authorization for research of industrial hemp production and the awarding of scholarships to medical students who agree to working in underserved areas. The Supreme Court ruling, however, clarifies that the Governor must provide some reasoning at the time of a veto before the last three days of a legislative session. The timing and reasoning of a veto provides an opportunity for the legislature to review a bill and determine whether to pursue amendments, or to attempt an override.

The Legislature took the position that the Governor’s vetoes were a political response during a contentious period during the 2017 session when it had not approved a budget or approved some of the Governor’s appointees.

APRIL 2018


State makes additional money available for Summer school programs
Additional funds have been made available for the upcoming Summer school program which will serve more than 22,000 low-income children. The additional funds will add an extra 25 instructional days to the program. A total of $28 million is available statewide for Summer school. All 50 school districts and charters schools that have applied for the funds will participate. Additionally, the program is being expanded to include fourth and fifth graders in a pilot program this year. The goal of the Summer school program is to narrow the achievement gap for low-income children.

Governor’s appointees seeking to secure positions
As Governor Susana Martinez’s term comes to an end, political appointees that serve at-will are seeking to secure more permanent positions within the state government. At least four appointees have moved to classified (permanent) positions, some newly created, since the beginning of the year.

Four Corners Native Women’s Business Summit
Native Women business owners mainly from the Four Corners region gathered in a sold-out summit to network and share collective business experience to ultimately increase the number of native women business owners. The goal of the summit is to encourage and increase the number of Native women business owners. Tribal leaders and business owners led sessions on topics such as finance to employment practices, and how to access capital. The summit was attended by over 200 attendees.

Arizona Legislative Updates
By Cris Balzano, Principal at Balzano Government Relations-@NMLobbyist 

ARIZONA

OCTOBER 2018


Mood of Voters heading in to Midterm Elections
In a poll by Suffolk University/Arizona Republic, 500 likely Arizona voters were asked:

  1. Approval or Disapproval of the job by Donald Trump – 47.6% approve while 48.2% disapprove.  Virtually a tie with 4.2% undecided.
  2. Do Voters aim to send a message to Trump? – 39.8% want to change Trump’s direction; 39.6% support Trump’s direction; and 15.8% do not factor this into their plans.
  3. Favorability of candidates – Gubernatorial candidates: Ducey (R) 6% favorable to 35.4% unfavorable; Garcia (D) 33.6% favorable to 34.6% unfavorable.  Senate candidates Cinema (D) 44.2% favorable to 35.6% unfavorable; McSally (R) 40.8% favorable to 42.8% unfavorable.
  4. 8% think that Arizona is heading in the right direction compared to 36.6% who think Arizona is heading in the wrong direction. 19.6% were undecided.

Margin of error is + or – 4%

SEPTEMBER 2018


Gov. Ducey Names Kyl as McCain Successor
After the passing of Sen. John McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey has appointed former Sen. Jon Kyl to serve out the remainder of the late senator’s six year term.  Ducey commented at the press conference announcing his selection that “now is not the time for newcomers, and not the time for on-the-job training.”  Further that Kyl is a “beacon of integrity, highly regarded by people on both sides of the aisle and able to work across party lines to get results.”

Kyl, a Republican, has indicated that he is willing to serve until the end of the year, but would not comment on any timeframe afterward.  If Kyl steps down at the end of the session, the governor would be required to appoint another replacement.

Court Removes Education Funding Measure from November Ballot
The Arizona Supreme Court struck down and removed Proposition 207 which would have increased income taxes for individuals making more than $150,000 finding that the description of the tax was not clear.  Opponents of Prop. 207 claimed that the use of a “percentage” rather than “percentage points” increase was deceptive illustrating that the tax rate would have been increased by 76 and 98 percent increase rather than 3.46 and 4.46 percent increase.  The Court found that the language “creates a significant danger of confusion or unfairness.”

Proponents of Prop. 207 claim the measure was the work of thousands of volunteers, which had the backing of the Arizona Education Association, and the state’s teachers union, now emphasize the importance of electing officials that support public education.  The intent of Prop. 207 was to increase education funding for public and charter schools in response to the years of cuts experienced since the recession.  The measure could have brought in an additional $690 million to help restore the $1 billion in cuts to education by the legislature.

AUGUST 2018


McCain passes the torch of International Republican Institute
Sen. John McCain has resigned as the Chairman of the International Republican Institute, a position he has held since 1993.  In his stead, Alaskan Senator Dan Sullivan will serve as McCain’s replacement.  McCain intends to continue as a board member of the International Republican Institute.

The non-profit International Republican Institute works to support and strengthen “democracy in places where it is absent.”   In a letter to the board, McCain said that “Serving as Chairman has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life.”

JULY 2018


19 Vie for Navajo Nation Top Job
19 individuals have filed to vie for the Navajo Nation President including incumbent President Russell Begaye and incumbent Vice President Jonathan Nez. The top two vote getters in the August primary elections will be on the General Election ballot in November of this year. After the August primary, the top two vote getters will select their running mates.

Others meeting the filing deadline include former two-term President Joe Shirley, Jr., former Navajo Council Delegate Hope MacDonald-Lonetree, along with two other women – Emily Ellison and Trudie Jackson. A majority of the candidates are from the Arizona portion of the Navajo Nation, two from New Mexico and none from Utah. Popular Presidential candidate Chris Deschene announced on May 23, 2018 that he would not be filing for the Presidential election. Deschene was a top vote getter in the prior Presidential election but was disqualified based on his Navajo language fluency. The successful candidate will be tasked with undertaking challenges to the Navajo Nation including declining coal revenues, underdeveloped infrastructure, and sustainable economic development.

JUNE 2018


Legislative Highlights for Education in Arizona
Amid talks of teacher raises dominating the news from this year’s legislative session, the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind, and the state’s various vocational school will realize an increase in funding from the 2018 session. Additionally, $1 million was allocated for a new initiative to instruct teachers in coding, which will then in turn be taught to students.

Trump Appointee Takes Position to Force CAP to Purchase Power from Navajo Generating Station
Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Timothy Petty, who oversees the US Bureau of Reclamation, notified the Central Arizona Project (CAP) that per the Colorado River Basin Project Act of 1968, it is mandated to purchase power from the Navajo Generating Station (NGS). NGS is a coal powered station located on the Navajo Indian Reservation and employs coal miners mainly from the Navajo and Hopi Tribes. One of President Trump’s campaign promises was to coal mining jobs.The NGS is scheduled to close at the end of 2019 if a buyer is not found to take over operations. Arizona power utilities Salt River Project, Arizona Public Service, Co., and Tucson Electric Power are turning to the open market for cheaper sources of power from natural gas.

MAY 2018


#RedforEd movement prompts Teacher strike
Similar to other national teacher walk outs, Arizona teachers in an initiative called #RedforEd held a 6 day strike that had many schools closed, and thousands marching on the state capitol. The teacher demand is for an increase in teacher salaries, more education funding, and increased wages for support staff such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers. Governor Ducey proposed a $10.4 billion budget plan that will increase teacher salaries 20% by 2020, but protestors argue that the budget plan takes funds from needed services to disabled students, and not all teachers will qualify for the raises. Ultimately, lawmakers approved a budget that included $273 million for teacher pay raises during its final week of the annual legislative session.

Navajos commemorate return to homeland
The Navajo Nation is preparing to commemorate a dark period of its history of the signing of the Treaty of 1868. The Navajo Long Walk is an event in 1865 that saw many Navajo people rounded up from their traditional homelands and marched to Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Many Navajos died en route to Bosque Redondo where they were held captive until Navajo leaders agreed to the Treaty of 1868.

Once the Treaty was signed, Navajos were allowed to return to their traditional homelands in Northern Arizona and Northwest New Mexico. Recently, an original copy of the Treaty of 1868 was discovered and will go on display at the Bosque Redondo Memorial, and another copy will be displayed at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona.

APRIL 2018


President Trump signs McCain sponsored bill to expand the Amber Alert program to Indian Country.
The McCain bill, co-sposored by ND Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D), is a bi-partisan effort to address gaps in the Amber Alert program that oftentimes leaves Indian Country, especially rural areas, in the dark. The bill provides additional resources to Tribes to improve public safety by hastening child abduction alerts with the goal of saving lives.This effort was in response to the abduction and murder of 11 year old Ashlynne Mike of the Navajo Nation who was abducted near Fruitland, NM. An alert was issued several hours after her reported abduction. Her body was later found near the Shiprock pinnacle.

Governor Doug Ducey signs abortion questionnaire bill into law
Gov. Ducey signed into law a bill that requires doctors and clinics to ask a list of questions to women seeking an abortion. The questions include whether the abortion being sought is elective, or due to a list of medical conditions; whether the pregnancy is due to rape or incest, and whether the woman is being coerced into the abortion, or is a victim of sex trafficking. Although a doctor or clinic are required to ask the questions, a woman is not required to provide any answers.

Arizona teachers begin vote to strike
Arizona teachers began voting on Tuesday, April 17, 2018 whether to strike despite a proposal made by Gov. Ducey to raise teacher salaries by 20% over three years. The Governor’s proposal plans to fund the raises with a combination of spending cuts, lottery revenues, and positive revenue projections. Education advocates, however, still demand details on the funding sources, and are seeking to ensure sufficient funds to provide raises to support staff such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers. Many support staff still work for minimum wage, and teachers do not want to widen the current pay gap.

 

Colorado Legislative Updates
By Cris Balzano, Principal at Balzano Government Relations-@NMLobbyist 

COLORADO

OCTOBER 2018


Gubernatorial Candidates differ on Healthcare
The candidates differ on many areas, but none as contentiously as their respective approaches to healthcare.  Democrat Jared Polis is a supporter of “Medicare for all,” and has included a 100-day healthcare road map for the first year he is in office.  Republican Walker Stapleton has three priorities for healthcare including seeking a federal waiver to allow insurance companies to sell policies that only cover “catastrophic events.”  Each campaign has criticized the other for lack of details and vision.

Critics claim that Polis’ approach will create a single-payor system which could double the state’s budget.  Polis’ ultimate goal is to make sure Coloradans don’t have to worry about the cost of healthcare.  The details are still left open and one he encourages as an effort to creatively seek solutions.  One idea is to negotiate a multi-state consortium that will be large enough to expand coverage and keep costs low. The challenge will be to work with neighboring governors and state legislators, and may not benefit Colorado as its residents are some of the healthiest in the nation.  One other proposal is to allow the public to buy into the state’s employee health care program.  There would be no additional cost to the state as individuals would be paying 100% of their own premiums.  This is a novel approach as no other state is currently offering a public buy-in option.

Opponents of Walker’s proposals claim his plans would kick thousands of individuals off of Medicaid.  Walker proposes a plan for an outcomes-based Medicaid which is intended to curb the cost of the program, thus freeing up government funds that can be redirected to education and roads.  Walker is also proposing a task force to improve the administration and monitoring of Medicaid which will reduce wasteful spending, abuse and fraud.  Walker plans to seek a federal waiver to allow individuals to buy short-term or catastrophic health care plans.  He says any options must include protections for pre-existing conditions and allowing young people to stay on their health care plans.  This option will have high-deductibles, but can offer cheaper monthly premiums.  The plan will not cover routine health care costs, but is instead to be there in case of a health emergency.

SEPTEMBER 2018


Redistriciting Measure on November Ballot
Colorado is taking its political boundary matters to the voters this November.  Constitutional amendments Y and Z changes the way the state’s political boundaries are drawn for both the statehouse and Congress.  Currently, the controlling political party at the General Assembly has much of the power to drawing districts.  If approved, those duties go to an independent commission.

The most controversial ballot measure would prohibit oil and gas drilling within 2,500 feet of home and schools.  If approved, the proposed setback would all but ban drilling in the state which is one of the state’s largest economic drivers.  Both gubernatorial candidates have voiced opposition to the initiative claiming that it goes too far.  The oil and gas industry is expected to spend millions of dollars to defeat the measure which is being proposed by environmentalists.

AUGUST 2018


Opposing Protests Make Effort to Listen to Other Side
A recent protest brought opposing positions on gun rights to the state capitol where the two groups were ready to voice their point of view.  On one side of the street was a gathering of people expressing their support of the Second Amendment.  The other side of the street were proponents of gun control to make sure people are safe from mass shootings.

Although the viewpoints of these groups differ, people made an effort to have civil discussions about the different points of view.  The state capitol site was not chosen by coincidence, but the opposing groups were hoping to set an example for the people who work inside the state capitol building.  Participants said that “change cannot happen on one side of the aisle.” And that legislators have to “make sure that when you are making law that they represent all of the people of your state, all of the people of your area.”

JULY 2018


Democrats Gain Momentum After Primary Votes
Democrat Jared Polis and Republican Walker Stapleton will be facing off in the General Election to become Colorado’s next governor. Polis garnered 279,642 votes which is 44.43% of Democrats voting. Stapleton garnered 237,421 which is 47.67% of Republican voting. The primary voter turnout indicated that more Democrats than Republicans headed to the polls. The party will need to maintain that energy in order to hold the Governor’s office.

New Tariffs Threaten Colorado Exports
Tariffs imposed on Colorado exports in retaliation to new Trump administration tariffs could put $276.9 million worth of goods and thousands of jobs in the state according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce report.

The Chamber report stated that “tariffs imposed by the United States are nothing more than a tax increase on American consumers and businesses. This is the wrong approach, and it threatens to derail our nation’s recent economic resurgence.” Although not heavily dependent upon trade, Colorado is important to the state which exports $8 billion in commodities and goods last year. According the Chamber and U.S. Census Bureau 733,900 Colorado jobs are supported by international trade. Chief among the industries to be impacted by the retaliatory tariffs are pork and related products producers. Mexican consumers are the big buyers of Colorado pork, related products at $121.6 million, and cheese at $35.9 million.

Higher tariffs don’t necessarily mean that international consumers will stop purchasing Colorado products, especially if the producers absorb some of the financial burden, but it could make U.S. products less competitive and cost jobs. Additionally, U.S. imposed tariffs on imports could increase prices and raise inflation economists have warned.

JUNE 2018


Over 1 million Unaffiliated Voters Will Be Able to Vote in Primaries
For the first time, unaffiliated voters will be able to participate in primary elections. Past elections required a voter to declare a party affiliation in order to receive the relevant ballot. A ballot measure – Proposition 108 of 2016 – created a new process for unaffiliated voters. An unaffiliated voter may now receive a primary ballot for the Democratic and Republican candidates. The voter, however, may only send one ballot to be counted. in the event both ballots are submitted, they are both invalid. Of course, a voter may still vote in person.

MAY 2018


Compromise Senate deal on CO Civil Rights Commission faces House Democratic objections
A bipartisan compromise bill approved by the Senate shifts some panel appointment power from the Governor to the legislature is facing objections from House Democrat leadership. The Senate bill ensures a mix of Republican, Democrat and Independent voters on the Commission. The bill does not change the mission of the Commission, but rather which body has the authority to appointment members to the Commission.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran and Rep. Leslie Herod, both Democrats, released a joint statement saying, “The changes added in the Senate go too far, reworking the commission dramatically. We cannot support the current changes, and hope that we can find common ground and pass a bill reauthorizing the Civil Rights Division and Commission before the end of the session.” Without House approval, differences in the reauthorization will have to be quickly worked out in a conference committee between the Senate and House. The current Colorado legislative session ends on May 9.

The deal raises the panel membership from seven to nine, with five appointed by the Governor, and four appointed by legislative leaders from the opposite party. additionally, five members must be from a protected class, and the nine seats will be apportioned equally amongst Republicans, Democrats and Independent voters.

APRIL 2018


Colorado lawmakers consider bill to increase sexual misconduct requirements for colleges and universities
A proposed bill to require Colorado colleges and universities to adopt and periodically review sexual misconduct policies has passed the House Education committee and heads to the full House for consideration. The Senate version has secured a sponsor. The sexual misconduct policies will be required to include options for reporting, investigation and judgement procedures, and protections for accusers and alleged abusers. Protections include the prohibition of using sex histories during court proceedings, and any retaliation.

Colorado teachers rally at the capitol
Joining teachers from West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona, Colorado teachers rallied at the state capitol seeking better salaries and education funding. According to the National Education Association, Colorado ranked 46th in teacher salaries with the average salary being $46,155.

Teachers are also seeking increased funding for mental health services that include the ability to have a psychologist at each school. Advocates point out that rural areas of the state have a hard time recruiting and retaining teachers due to the low salaries. Advocates argue the state has seen an increase in tax revenues from the marijuana industry, and a portion of those funds should be made available for education and schools.

 

Utah Legislative Updates
By Cris Balzano, Principal at Balzano Government Relations-@NMLobbyist 

UTAH

OCTOBER 2018


Prop 2 Compromise Creates First State-run Dispensaries
In a behind-the-scenes compromise deal announced in the state capitol, both sides of the Proposition 2 – legalizing medical use marijuana – a deal that will create the nation’s first state-run medical marijuana dispensaries.  State lawmakers, faith leaders and advocates worked out the weeks in the making, but Gov. Hebert has vowed to call a special session after the election no matter the outcome of Prop. 2.  “The good news here is that whether Prop 2 passes or fails, we end up at the same point,” Hebert said at the compromise announcement.

Qualifying patients will not have access to medical marijuana from county health departments, and up to five “medical cannabis pharmacies.”  The compromise differs from the initiative in that a centralized pharmacy will be created to supply health departments with marijuana in “medicinal dosage form.”  The intent of the state-run operation is to increase safeguards and lessen the likelihood of the medical marijuana from reaching the black market.

Both sides of the Prop 2 debate have agreed to de-escalate the number of political ads attacking the opposing party.  Advocates, however, still caution and encourage voters to turn up at the polls.  There are still areas that are unsettled such as the requirement that marijuana flowers be packaged in blister packs.  The intent is to send a clear signal to law enforcement that an individual is legally in possession of marijuana.  Opposing concerns is that additional packaging requirements will drive up the cost.

SEPTEMBER 2018


Ballot Measures Include Medical Marijuana Initiative
Utah is another state where voters will be deciding the future of medicinal use of marijuana on the November ballot.  If approved, Proposition 2 the Utah Medical Cannabis Act will allow patients, on the recommendation of a physician, obtain a medical marijuana card and to buy cannabis products from private run dispensaries sanctioned by the state.  A recent poll in June indicates that 66% of voters are in favor of approving the Utah Medical Cannabis Act.

Proposition 3 asks voters for fully expand Medicaid to provide health-care coverage to 150,000 lower income Utahns.  The state currently has a Medicaid waiver before the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that partially expands Medicaid while imposing work requirements on recipients.  If approved, Prop. 3 will bypass the waiver process to fully expand Medicaid under the terms of the Affordable Care Act.  The initiative proposes to combine $90 in state funding through a 0.15% sales tax increase with approximately $800 million in federal Medicaid funding.

Proposition 4 will create an independent, unelected redistricting commission to recommend electoral maps which then must be approved or discarded by the Legislature without amendment.  Better Boundaries, the proponent of Prop. 4, said the initiative is meant to fix a broken redistricting process. “There’s an inherent conflict of interest when legislators draw their own electoral boundaries, as they have power to choose their voters instead of voters choosing their representatives.”  Opponents of the initiative claim the initiative is unconstitutional by interfering in the Legislature’s redistricting process.

AUGUST 2018


Mining Claims Questioned as Litigation Continues
Senate Democrats are demanding that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinae explain how a Canadian mining company secured mining claims inside a the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument when litigation is still ongoing.  The litigation challenges President Trump’s authority to decrease the size of the National Monument.  The lawsuits filed by environmental and wildlife groups contend that President Trump cannot reduce the monuments under a 112 year old law.

Senator Tom Udall and 22 fellow Democrats believe President Trump’s proclamation is invalid and that any mining claims with the National monument are “illegal.”  Glacier Lake Resources, based in Canada, purchased mining rights within an area previous protected by the national monument status.  Company president, Say Dhillon said in a statement that “surface exploration work will start this summer on the Colt Mesa property and drill permitting will be initiated shortly. The Bureau of Land Management has not yet approved any new mining in the area.

JULY 2018


Poll Shows Support for Independent Commission
A new poll shows 2-1 support to maintain an independent commission that is tasked with drawing political boundaries every 10 years. “We continue to see from this poll that a majority of Utahns agree that voters should choose their leaders, politicians shouldn’t choose their voters,” said Jeff Wright, co-chairman of Better Boundaries and a former Republican congressional candidate. His other co-chairman is Ralph Becker, a Democrat who was mayor of Salt Lake City.

“We are confident that, as we continue to have a dialogue with voters, the Better Boundaries initiative will pass, making Utah’s government more accountable to the people,“ Wright said. The initiative would create a seven-member commission appointed by the governor and majority and minority party leaders of the Legislature. It would be banned from using partisan data, and instructed to follow city, county and geographic lines where possible. The Better Boundaries Initiative allows voters to create the Commission and will appear on the November 6 General Election ballot.

JUNE 2018


Ballot Initiative Proponents Agree that Laws Need Reform
Whether groups were striving to get their initiatives on the ballot, or challenging those efforts, all agree that the laws describing and regulating the initiative process are in need of reform. Currently, requirements to get an initiative on the ballot are considered one of the most difficult in the country. Some initiative proponents characterize the requirements as constitutionally problematic by blocking voters right to legislate by initiative.

Recommendations to reform requirements include lessening the number of signatures needed, allowing online signature gathering, limiting the ability to withdraw a signature from a petition, and stopping the Legislatures ability to change or discard initiative that do pass. Currently, opponents of an initiative can approach signers to encourage them to withdraw their name from a petition. Opponent’s efforts can disqualify an initiative from appearing on the ballot by having just enough people to withdraw their signatures. This is seen as inherently unfair as its possible for 100 people withdrawing signatures to override the voices of 131,000 voters.

MAY 2018


Governor Herbert divided on voter initiatives
Governor Herbert has come out strongly opposing voter initiatives that will legalize medical marijuana use and the expansion of Medicaid for low-income Utahns. Additionally, during his monthly press conference, the Governor endorsed Senate candidate Mitt Romney and US Representative John Curtis who were selected during the GOP state convention, but face primary election opponents who will appear on the ballot as a result of collecting signatures.

The Governor’s opposition to medical marijuana includes issues relating to which medical providers will be authorized to prescribe the medical marijuana. The initiative expands the authorization from medical doctors to include physician assistants and nurse practitioners, optometrists and podiatrists. He also points out that federal law still lists marijuana as an illegal substance. The Governor calls for more research about the benefits of medical marijuana and how to appropriately use it.

The Governor sees Medicaid expansion as unnecessary and expensive. His concern is rising costs that are not addressed in the bill that will become a “budget buster.” The organization Utah Decides Healthcare, pushing the initiative, is proposing a sales tax on nonfood items from 4.7% to 4.85%. Medicaid expansion is projected to add an additional 150,000 people to the program.

APRIL 2018


Legislature poised to override Governor’s veto of bills that address separation of powers
The Utah state legislature will convene to vote to override Governor Herbert’s veto of two bills and a budget line-item veto related to the bills.

The first bill —SB 171 – authorizes the legislature to intervene in court cases that impact laws passes without depending upon the state Attorney General. The Governor’s position is that this creates separate state positions on lawsuits challenging bills. The second bill — HB 198 – requires the Attorney General to provide the legislature will written legal opinions even if a party objects and raises attorney-client privilege as its basis. HB 198 was in response to the Governor’s block of a legal opinion by the Attorney General citing attorney-client privilege.

Lastly, a constitutional amendment will allow the legislature to call itself into special session. Currently, the legislature can only call a session to conduct a veto override. The constitutional amendment will be before voters this November.

Utah ranks high in lung cancer rates due to air pollution
According to the American Thoracic Society, Utah is one of five states where lung cancers are likely caused by exposure to air pollution as reported in its latest annual report. It is estimated that 4 to 29 Utahns develop lung cancer due to small particulate pollution that accumulates on the Wasatch front during winter inversions. Currently, Utah does not meet federal standards for particulate or ozone pollution.

Ballot measure faces tough opposition
The Utah Psychiatric Association (UPA) has added its opposition to the Utah Marijuana Initiative joining the Utah Medical Association, the LDS Church and Governor Herbert. A statement released by the UPA says that it was “concerned that backers of the Utah Marijuana Initiative are misrepresenting and misappropriating the position of the medical profession in Utah to garner support for their initiative.” Additionally, that the UPA “recognizes that cannabis may have potential treatment benefits, and we encourage more research to further evaluate these effects.”

The Utah Marijuana Initiative has gathered the 200,000 signatures needed to make it on the November ballot in 24 Senate districts.

 

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New Mexico Updates
By Cris Balzano,
Principal at Balzano Government Relations-@NMLobbyist 

NEW MEXICO

OCTOBER 2018


Gubernatorial Candidates – One Month to go
A recent debate between Gubernatorial candidates Democrat Michelle Lujan-Grisham and Republican Steve Pearce showed how different they are in terms of Education, Healthcare, raising the minimum wage and other public assistance programs.

Both candidates have stated that it is their intent to overhaul the teacher evaluation system to address a lagging system that ranks New Mexico behind most states in student performance.  The difference, however, as shown in a recent video of Pearce speaking to a conference of educators was released where he states that his system may very well reflect what is currently in place.  Lujan-Grisham, on the other hand, seeks to revamp the evaluation system that is seen as ineffective.  The current system factors in student performance into teacher evaluations which is seen to diminish teacher enthusiasm and crush student morale.  The New Mexico chapter of the National Education Association is concerned that a small faction of teachers that support the current system will sway the new governor.

In other areas, the candidates disagreed on raising the minimum wage, legalizing recreational marijuana and tapping into the state’s lang grant permanent fund for early childhood programs.  Additionally, Pearce supports a work requirement for people who get their healthcare via Medicaid or who use other public assistance programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  Lujan Grisham pointed out that Pearce has repeatedly voted against public benefit programs.

Lujan Grisham supports raising the minimum wage is three stages.  First, immediately raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour and later to $12 per hour.  Finally, the minimum wage would be adjusted according to inflation.  Pearce states that government-mandated wages increases will hurt people and businesses that will reduce employee hours.  Lujan Grisham argues that a wage increase will help small businesses by giving people more money to spend.  She points out that raising the minimum wage is especially important for families and women.

There are two more televised debates scheduled before the November 6 general election – October 16 sponsored by KOB-TV and October 24 co-hosted by KOAT-TV and the Albuquerque Journal.

SEPTEMBER 2018


Groundbreaking Lawsuit Finds New Mexico Education System Unconstitutional
First Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton has ruled in the Yazzie v. New Mexico class action lawsuit filed in March, 2014 that the state’s public education system is a “dismal failure” and violates students’ constitutional rights to a sufficient education.  Plaintiffs argued that funds are distributed in arbitrary and inequitable ways that leave at-risk students without a basic education to go to college, or pursue a career.

Lead Plaintiff Wilhelmina Yazzie provided examples of the inadequate funding in the Gallup-McKinley County Schools which included teachers requesting parents to donate old socks to be used to clean dry-erase boards, and an insufficient supply of textbooks for students.  The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the school district did not respond to Yazzie’s complaints for years.  “All we’ve heard is ‘Sorry we cant do that, or sorry we don’t have that, or sorry we can’t give that to your children.  But its not a good enough excuse,” Yazzie said. Judge Singleton ruled that the state is responsible for assuring that students receive an adequate education.

AUGUST 2018


Local Election Act Voter Impact
A substantial rewrite of New Mexico’s election law is beginning to have its impacts felt by voters, school board and town councils.  The Act requires most nonpartisan local elections to be combined into one larger election on one ballot.  Backers hope this will increase the number of voters who participate.  Additionally, the Act requires that governments that conduct special elections, such as for bonds and tax proposals, all be conducted by mail.

The are three major implications of how the Local Election Act changes the way people vote: 1) fewer election.  Many school boards, town councils, and water conservation district boards all have varying election dates.  The new Act will combine all of these various elections onto one ballot to take place on regularly scheduled “Election Day.”  One downside will be longer ballots, and that cities were not included in the Act, thus, allowing them to continue to conduct elections on different dates. 2) Ballots will be sent in the mail.  The Act specifies that all special elections will be conducted entirely by mail.  A voter will receive a ballot in the mail, make their selection, and return it in the mail.  Postage will already be covered.  Proponents hope this will increase voter participation.  Voter fraud is a heightened concern of the mail ballot objectors.  3) Cities could adopt ranked-choice voting.  Some cities have already implemented a ranked-choice system of voting – voters rate multiple candidates rather than just choosing one.

JULY 2018


Independents vie for State Legislative Seats
Several Independents have filed for State Legislative seats bringing competition to otherwise uncontested races. Independents have gained seats in the legislature before, but only after winning an election as a Democrat or Republican. Still an Independent winning a legislative seat is unusual. Two have filed in reliably Democrat Northern New Mexico – Tweeti Blancett is running for the House in District 40; and Jarratt Applewhite is running for the House in District 50. Both Blancett and Applewhite positions include opening up primary elections to Independents and third-party candidates to make it easier to gain a position on the general election ballot and end gerrymandering.

Pearce Campaign Attorneys Demanding Legal Fees
Gubernatorial Candidate Steve Pearce’s attorneys are demanding the payment of legal fees stemming from a lawsuit against the Secretary of State last year which they won. The legal fees amount to $133,000 which Pearce’s campaign is counting on before election day.

Andrea Goff, a senior adviser to Pearce, said the outstanding legal fees go against the campaign’s budget. “To not know whether we’re going to have anywhere between $130,000 to $180,000 in our account is a massive issue when we’re 137 days from an election,” she said. “It absolutely is an urgency,” Goff added. “It is not a wildfire, and I get that, but it absolutely is an urgency.

JUNE 2018


Gubernatorial Candidate Releases Tax Returns. Calls for Republican Candidate to Follow Suit.
Amid criticism of business activities and profits from a health insurance company co-founded by Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham has released the last five years of tax returns. The returns indicate that Lujan Grisham shared in profits from her company Delta Consulting which provided access to health care to the severely ill or those with complex illnesses, and to undocumented immigrants who are ineligible to purchase health insurance from the marketplace. Lujan Grisham divested from Delta Consulting last year. In spite of criticism, Lujan Grisham’s campaign focuses on raising the minimum wage to $12, increase investments in local business, and make New Mexico a clean energy state. additionally, Lujan Grisham has a plan to address the low national ranking of the state’s education system. The plan includes raising teacher salaries and limit school testing all in an effort to raise graduation rates.

The lone Republican candidate Steve Pearce has yet to release any tax returns to the public even after he announced his intention to release copies after Lujan Grisham releases hers. Pearce’s campaign is focused on job-creation in a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Pearce was an entrepreneur in the state’s oil fields, and is looking to expand the state’s economy by the expansion of the natural gas and oil industries. Pearce is also using his childhood experience with poverty in an effort to reduce poverty by endorsing a requirement for every able-bodied Medicaid recipient to find employment.

Pearce’s main obstacle will be to distance himself from the Trump Administration in a state where Democratic registered voters outnumber registered Republican voter 2 to 1. Although Pearce supported the Trump tax cuts, he publicly opposes Trump’s border wall plans.

MAY 2018


Governor’s Vetoes Ruled Invalid by NM Supreme Court
The New Mexico Supreme Court upheld a judge’s ruling that vetoes issued by Governor Martinez in 2017 were invalid, and ordered the laws to go into effect.

The bills in question were mostly noncontroversial including authorization for research of industrial hemp production and the awarding of scholarships to medical students who agree to working in underserved areas. The Supreme Court ruling, however, clarifies that the Governor must provide some reasoning at the time of a veto before the last three days of a legislative session. The timing and reasoning of a veto provides an opportunity for the legislature to review a bill and determine whether to pursue amendments, or to attempt an override.

The Legislature took the position that the Governor’s vetoes were a political response during a contentious period during the 2017 session when it had not approved a budget or approved some of the Governor’s appointees.

APRIL 2018


State makes additional money available for Summer school programs
Additional funds have been made available for the upcoming Summer school program which will serve more than 22,000 low-income children. The additional funds will add an extra 25 instructional days to the program. A total of $28 million is available statewide for Summer school. All 50 school districts and charters schools that have applied for the funds will participate. Additionally, the program is being expanded to include fourth and fifth graders in a pilot program this year. The goal of the Summer school program is to narrow the achievement gap for low-income children.

Governor’s appointees seeking to secure positions
As Governor Susana Martinez’s term comes to an end, political appointees that serve at-will are seeking to secure more permanent positions within the state government. At least four appointees have moved to classified (permanent) positions, some newly created, since the beginning of the year.

Four Corners Native Women’s Business Summit
Native Women business owners mainly from the Four Corners region gathered in a sold-out summit to network and share collective business experience to ultimately increase the number of native women business owners. The goal of the summit is to encourage and increase the number of Native women business owners. Tribal leaders and business owners led sessions on topics such as finance to employment practices, and how to access capital. The summit was attended by over 200 attendees.

 

Arizona Updates
By Cris Balzano,
Principal at Balzano Government Relations-@NMLobbyist 

ARIZONA

OCTOBER 2018


Mood of Voters heading in to Midterm Elections
In a poll by Suffolk University/Arizona Republic, 500 likely Arizona voters were asked:

  1. Approval or Disapproval of the job by Donald Trump – 47.6% approve while 48.2% disapprove.  Virtually a tie with 4.2% undecided.
  2. Do Voters aim to send a message to Trump? – 39.8% want to change Trump’s direction; 39.6% support Trump’s direction; and 15.8% do not factor this into their plans.
  3. Favorability of candidates – Gubernatorial candidates: Ducey (R) 6% favorable to 35.4% unfavorable; Garcia (D) 33.6% favorable to 34.6% unfavorable.  Senate candidates Cinema (D) 44.2% favorable to 35.6% unfavorable; McSally (R) 40.8% favorable to 42.8% unfavorable.
  4. 8% think that Arizona is heading in the right direction compared to 36.6% who think Arizona is heading in the wrong direction. 19.6% were undecided.

Margin of error is + or – 4%

SEPTEMBER 2018


Gov. Ducey Names Kyl as McCain Successor
After the passing of Sen. John McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey has appointed former Sen. Jon Kyl to serve out the remainder of the late senator’s six year term.  Ducey commented at the press conference announcing his selection that “now is not the time for newcomers, and not the time for on-the-job training.”  Further that Kyl is a “beacon of integrity, highly regarded by people on both sides of the aisle and able to work across party lines to get results.”

Kyl, a Republican, has indicated that he is willing to serve until the end of the year, but would not comment on any timeframe afterward.  If Kyl steps down at the end of the session, the governor would be required to appoint another replacement.

Court Removes Education Funding Measure from November Ballot
The Arizona Supreme Court struck down and removed Proposition 207 which would have increased income taxes for individuals making more than $150,000 finding that the description of the tax was not clear.  Opponents of Prop. 207 claimed that the use of a “percentage” rather than “percentage points” increase was deceptive illustrating that the tax rate would have been increased by 76 and 98 percent increase rather than 3.46 and 4.46 percent increase.  The Court found that the language “creates a significant danger of confusion or unfairness.”

Proponents of Prop. 207 claim the measure was the work of thousands of volunteers, which had the backing of the Arizona Education Association, and the state’s teachers union, now emphasize the importance of electing officials that support public education.  The intent of Prop. 207 was to increase education funding for public and charter schools in response to the years of cuts experienced since the recession.  The measure could have brought in an additional $690 million to help restore the $1 billion in cuts to education by the legislature.

AUGUST 2018


McCain passes the torch of International Republican Institute
Sen. John McCain has resigned as the Chairman of the International Republican Institute, a position he has held since 1993.  In his stead, Alaskan Senator Dan Sullivan will serve as McCain’s replacement.  McCain intends to continue as a board member of the International Republican Institute.

The non-profit International Republican Institute works to support and strengthen “democracy in places where it is absent.”   In a letter to the board, McCain said that “Serving as Chairman has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life.”

JULY 2018


19 Vie for Navajo Nation Top Job
19 individuals have filed to vie for the Navajo Nation President including incumbent President Russell Begaye and incumbent Vice President Jonathan Nez. The top two vote getters in the August primary elections will be on the General Election ballot in November of this year. After the August primary, the top two vote getters will select their running mates.

Others meeting the filing deadline include former two-term President Joe Shirley, Jr., former Navajo Council Delegate Hope MacDonald-Lonetree, along with two other women – Emily Ellison and Trudie Jackson. A majority of the candidates are from the Arizona portion of the Navajo Nation, two from New Mexico and none from Utah. Popular Presidential candidate Chris Deschene announced on May 23, 2018 that he would not be filing for the Presidential election. Deschene was a top vote getter in the prior Presidential election but was disqualified based on his Navajo language fluency. The successful candidate will be tasked with undertaking challenges to the Navajo Nation including declining coal revenues, underdeveloped infrastructure, and sustainable economic development.

JUNE 2018


Legislative Highlights for Education in Arizona
Amid talks of teacher raises dominating the news from this year’s legislative session, the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind, and the state’s various vocational school will realize an increase in funding from the 2018 session. Additionally, $1 million was allocated for a new initiative to instruct teachers in coding, which will then in turn be taught to students.

Trump Appointee Takes Position to Force CAP to Purchase Power from Navajo Generating Station
Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Timothy Petty, who oversees the US Bureau of Reclamation, notified the Central Arizona Project (CAP) that per the Colorado River Basin Project Act of 1968, it is mandated to purchase power from the Navajo Generating Station (NGS). NGS is a coal powered station located on the Navajo Indian Reservation and employs coal miners mainly from the Navajo and Hopi Tribes. One of President Trump’s campaign promises was to coal mining jobs.The NGS is scheduled to close at the end of 2019 if a buyer is not found to take over operations. Arizona power utilities Salt River Project, Arizona Public Service, Co., and Tucson Electric Power are turning to the open market for cheaper sources of power from natural gas.

MAY 2018


#RedforEd movement prompts Teacher strike
Similar to other national teacher walk outs, Arizona teachers in an initiative called #RedforEd held a 6 day strike that had many schools closed, and thousands marching on the state capitol. The teacher demand is for an increase in teacher salaries, more education funding, and increased wages for support staff such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers. Governor Ducey proposed a $10.4 billion budget plan that will increase teacher salaries 20% by 2020, but protestors argue that the budget plan takes funds from needed services to disabled students, and not all teachers will qualify for the raises. Ultimately, lawmakers approved a budget that included $273 million for teacher pay raises during its final week of the annual legislative session.

Navajos commemorate return to homeland
The Navajo Nation is preparing to commemorate a dark period of its history of the signing of the Treaty of 1868. The Navajo Long Walk is an event in 1865 that saw many Navajo people rounded up from their traditional homelands and marched to Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Many Navajos died en route to Bosque Redondo where they were held captive until Navajo leaders agreed to the Treaty of 1868.

Once the Treaty was signed, Navajos were allowed to return to their traditional homelands in Northern Arizona and Northwest New Mexico. Recently, an original copy of the Treaty of 1868 was discovered and will go on display at the Bosque Redondo Memorial, and another copy will be displayed at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona.

APRIL 2018


President Trump signs McCain sponsored bill to expand the Amber Alert program to Indian Country.
The McCain bill, co-sposored by ND Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D), is a bi-partisan effort to address gaps in the Amber Alert program that oftentimes leaves Indian Country, especially rural areas, in the dark. The bill provides additional resources to Tribes to improve public safety by hastening child abduction alerts with the goal of saving lives.This effort was in response to the abduction and murder of 11 year old Ashlynne Mike of the Navajo Nation who was abducted near Fruitland, NM. An alert was issued several hours after her reported abduction. Her body was later found near the Shiprock pinnacle.

Governor Doug Ducey signs abortion questionnaire bill into law
Gov. Ducey signed into law a bill that requires doctors and clinics to ask a list of questions to women seeking an abortion. The questions include whether the abortion being sought is elective, or due to a list of medical conditions; whether the pregnancy is due to rape or incest, and whether the woman is being coerced into the abortion, or is a victim of sex trafficking. Although a doctor or clinic are required to ask the questions, a woman is not required to provide any answers.

Arizona teachers begin vote to strike
Arizona teachers began voting on Tuesday, April 17, 2018 whether to strike despite a proposal made by Gov. Ducey to raise teacher salaries by 20% over three years. The Governor’s proposal plans to fund the raises with a combination of spending cuts, lottery revenues, and positive revenue projections. Education advocates, however, still demand details on the funding sources, and are seeking to ensure sufficient funds to provide raises to support staff such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers. Many support staff still work for minimum wage, and teachers do not want to widen the current pay gap.

 

Colorado Updates
By Cris Balzano,
Principal at Balzano Government Relations-@NMLobbyist 

COLORADO

OCTOBER 2018


Gubernatorial Candidates differ on Healthcare
The candidates differ on many areas, but none as contentiously as their respective approaches to healthcare.  Democrat Jared Polis is a supporter of “Medicare for all,” and has included a 100-day healthcare road map for the first year he is in office.  Republican Walker Stapleton has three priorities for healthcare including seeking a federal waiver to allow insurance companies to sell policies that only cover “catastrophic events.”  Each campaign has criticized the other for lack of details and vision.

Critics claim that Polis’ approach will create a single-payor system which could double the state’s budget.  Polis’ ultimate goal is to make sure Coloradans don’t have to worry about the cost of healthcare.  The details are still left open and one he encourages as an effort to creatively seek solutions.  One idea is to negotiate a multi-state consortium that will be large enough to expand coverage and keep costs low. The challenge will be to work with neighboring governors and state legislators, and may not benefit Colorado as its residents are some of the healthiest in the nation.  One other proposal is to allow the public to buy into the state’s employee health care program.  There would be no additional cost to the state as individuals would be paying 100% of their own premiums.  This is a novel approach as no other state is currently offering a public buy-in option.

Opponents of Walker’s proposals claim his plans would kick thousands of individuals off of Medicaid.  Walker proposes a plan for an outcomes-based Medicaid which is intended to curb the cost of the program, thus freeing up government funds that can be redirected to education and roads.  Walker is also proposing a task force to improve the administration and monitoring of Medicaid which will reduce wasteful spending, abuse and fraud.  Walker plans to seek a federal waiver to allow individuals to buy short-term or catastrophic health care plans.  He says any options must include protections for pre-existing conditions and allowing young people to stay on their health care plans.  This option will have high-deductibles, but can offer cheaper monthly premiums.  The plan will not cover routine health care costs, but is instead to be there in case of a health emergency.

SEPTEMBER 2018


Redistriciting Measure on November Ballot
Colorado is taking its political boundary matters to the voters this November.  Constitutional amendments Y and Z changes the way the state’s political boundaries are drawn for both the statehouse and Congress.  Currently, the controlling political party at the General Assembly has much of the power to drawing districts.  If approved, those duties go to an independent commission.

The most controversial ballot measure would prohibit oil and gas drilling within 2,500 feet of home and schools.  If approved, the proposed setback would all but ban drilling in the state which is one of the state’s largest economic drivers.  Both gubernatorial candidates have voiced opposition to the initiative claiming that it goes too far.  The oil and gas industry is expected to spend millions of dollars to defeat the measure which is being proposed by environmentalists.

AUGUST 2018


Opposing Protests Make Effort to Listen to Other Side
A recent protest brought opposing positions on gun rights to the state capitol where the two groups were ready to voice their point of view.  On one side of the street was a gathering of people expressing their support of the Second Amendment.  The other side of the street were proponents of gun control to make sure people are safe from mass shootings.

Although the viewpoints of these groups differ, people made an effort to have civil discussions about the different points of view.  The state capitol site was not chosen by coincidence, but the opposing groups were hoping to set an example for the people who work inside the state capitol building.  Participants said that “change cannot happen on one side of the aisle.” And that legislators have to “make sure that when you are making law that they represent all of the people of your state, all of the people of your area.”

JULY 2018


Democrats Gain Momentum After Primary Votes
Democrat Jared Polis and Republican Walker Stapleton will be facing off in the General Election to become Colorado’s next governor. Polis garnered 279,642 votes which is 44.43% of Democrats voting. Stapleton garnered 237,421 which is 47.67% of Republican voting. The primary voter turnout indicated that more Democrats than Republicans headed to the polls. The party will need to maintain that energy in order to hold the Governor’s office.

New Tariffs Threaten Colorado Exports
Tariffs imposed on Colorado exports in retaliation to new Trump administration tariffs could put $276.9 million worth of goods and thousands of jobs in the state according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce report.

The Chamber report stated that “tariffs imposed by the United States are nothing more than a tax increase on American consumers and businesses. This is the wrong approach, and it threatens to derail our nation’s recent economic resurgence.” Although not heavily dependent upon trade, Colorado is important to the state which exports $8 billion in commodities and goods last year. According the Chamber and U.S. Census Bureau 733,900 Colorado jobs are supported by international trade. Chief among the industries to be impacted by the retaliatory tariffs are pork and related products producers. Mexican consumers are the big buyers of Colorado pork, related products at $121.6 million, and cheese at $35.9 million.

Higher tariffs don’t necessarily mean that international consumers will stop purchasing Colorado products, especially if the producers absorb some of the financial burden, but it could make U.S. products less competitive and cost jobs. Additionally, U.S. imposed tariffs on imports could increase prices and raise inflation economists have warned.

JUNE 2018


Over 1 million Unaffiliated Voters Will Be Able to Vote in Primaries
For the first time, unaffiliated voters will be able to participate in primary elections. Past elections required a voter to declare a party affiliation in order to receive the relevant ballot. A ballot measure – Proposition 108 of 2016 – created a new process for unaffiliated voters. An unaffiliated voter may now receive a primary ballot for the Democratic and Republican candidates. The voter, however, may only send one ballot to be counted. in the event both ballots are submitted, they are both invalid. Of course, a voter may still vote in person.

MAY 2018


Compromise Senate deal on CO Civil Rights Commission faces House Democratic objections
A bipartisan compromise bill approved by the Senate shifts some panel appointment power from the Governor to the legislature is facing objections from House Democrat leadership. The Senate bill ensures a mix of Republican, Democrat and Independent voters on the Commission. The bill does not change the mission of the Commission, but rather which body has the authority to appointment members to the Commission.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran and Rep. Leslie Herod, both Democrats, released a joint statement saying, “The changes added in the Senate go too far, reworking the commission dramatically. We cannot support the current changes, and hope that we can find common ground and pass a bill reauthorizing the Civil Rights Division and Commission before the end of the session.” Without House approval, differences in the reauthorization will have to be quickly worked out in a conference committee between the Senate and House. The current Colorado legislative session ends on May 9.

The deal raises the panel membership from seven to nine, with five appointed by the Governor, and four appointed by legislative leaders from the opposite party. additionally, five members must be from a protected class, and the nine seats will be apportioned equally amongst Republicans, Democrats and Independent voters.

APRIL 2018


Colorado lawmakers consider bill to increase sexual misconduct requirements for colleges and universities
A proposed bill to require Colorado colleges and universities to adopt and periodically review sexual misconduct policies has passed the House Education committee and heads to the full House for consideration. The Senate version has secured a sponsor. The sexual misconduct policies will be required to include options for reporting, investigation and judgement procedures, and protections for accusers and alleged abusers. Protections include the prohibition of using sex histories during court proceedings, and any retaliation.

Colorado teachers rally at the capitol
Joining teachers from West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona, Colorado teachers rallied at the state capitol seeking better salaries and education funding. According to the National Education Association, Colorado ranked 46th in teacher salaries with the average salary being $46,155.

Teachers are also seeking increased funding for mental health services that include the ability to have a psychologist at each school. Advocates point out that rural areas of the state have a hard time recruiting and retaining teachers due to the low salaries. Advocates argue the state has seen an increase in tax revenues from the marijuana industry, and a portion of those funds should be made available for education and schools.

 

Utah Updates
By Cris Balzano,
Principal at Balzano Government Relations-@NMLobbyist 

UTAH

OCTOBER 2018


Prop 2 Compromise Creates First State-run Dispensaries
In a behind-the-scenes compromise deal announced in the state capitol, both sides of the Proposition 2 – legalizing medical use marijuana – a deal that will create the nation’s first state-run medical marijuana dispensaries.  State lawmakers, faith leaders and advocates worked out the weeks in the making, but Gov. Hebert has vowed to call a special session after the election no matter the outcome of Prop. 2.  “The good news here is that whether Prop 2 passes or fails, we end up at the same point,” Hebert said at the compromise announcement.

Qualifying patients will not have access to medical marijuana from county health departments, and up to five “medical cannabis pharmacies.”  The compromise differs from the initiative in that a centralized pharmacy will be created to supply health departments with marijuana in “medicinal dosage form.”  The intent of the state-run operation is to increase safeguards and lessen the likelihood of the medical marijuana from reaching the black market.

Both sides of the Prop 2 debate have agreed to de-escalate the number of political ads attacking the opposing party.  Advocates, however, still caution and encourage voters to turn up at the polls.  There are still areas that are unsettled such as the requirement that marijuana flowers be packaged in blister packs.  The intent is to send a clear signal to law enforcement that an individual is legally in possession of marijuana.  Opposing concerns is that additional packaging requirements will drive up the cost.

SEPTEMBER 2018


Ballot Measures Include Medical Marijuana Initiative
Utah is another state where voters will be deciding the future of medicinal use of marijuana on the November ballot.  If approved, Proposition 2 the Utah Medical Cannabis Act will allow patients, on the recommendation of a physician, obtain a medical marijuana card and to buy cannabis products from private run dispensaries sanctioned by the state.  A recent poll in June indicates that 66% of voters are in favor of approving the Utah Medical Cannabis Act.

Proposition 3 asks voters for fully expand Medicaid to provide health-care coverage to 150,000 lower income Utahns.  The state currently has a Medicaid waiver before the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that partially expands Medicaid while imposing work requirements on recipients.  If approved, Prop. 3 will bypass the waiver process to fully expand Medicaid under the terms of the Affordable Care Act.  The initiative proposes to combine $90 in state funding through a 0.15% sales tax increase with approximately $800 million in federal Medicaid funding.

Proposition 4 will create an independent, unelected redistricting commission to recommend electoral maps which then must be approved or discarded by the Legislature without amendment.  Better Boundaries, the proponent of Prop. 4, said the initiative is meant to fix a broken redistricting process. “There’s an inherent conflict of interest when legislators draw their own electoral boundaries, as they have power to choose their voters instead of voters choosing their representatives.”  Opponents of the initiative claim the initiative is unconstitutional by interfering in the Legislature’s redistricting process.

AUGUST 2018


Mining Claims Questioned as Litigation Continues
Senate Democrats are demanding that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinae explain how a Canadian mining company secured mining claims inside a the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument when litigation is still ongoing.  The litigation challenges President Trump’s authority to decrease the size of the National Monument.  The lawsuits filed by environmental and wildlife groups contend that President Trump cannot reduce the monuments under a 112 year old law.

Senator Tom Udall and 22 fellow Democrats believe President Trump’s proclamation is invalid and that any mining claims with the National monument are “illegal.”  Glacier Lake Resources, based in Canada, purchased mining rights within an area previous protected by the national monument status.  Company president, Say Dhillon said in a statement that “surface exploration work will start this summer on the Colt Mesa property and drill permitting will be initiated shortly. The Bureau of Land Management has not yet approved any new mining in the area.

JULY 2018


Poll Shows Support for Independent Commission
A new poll shows 2-1 support to maintain an independent commission that is tasked with drawing political boundaries every 10 years. “We continue to see from this poll that a majority of Utahns agree that voters should choose their leaders, politicians shouldn’t choose their voters,” said Jeff Wright, co-chairman of Better Boundaries and a former Republican congressional candidate. His other co-chairman is Ralph Becker, a Democrat who was mayor of Salt Lake City.

“We are confident that, as we continue to have a dialogue with voters, the Better Boundaries initiative will pass, making Utah’s government more accountable to the people,“ Wright said. The initiative would create a seven-member commission appointed by the governor and majority and minority party leaders of the Legislature. It would be banned from using partisan data, and instructed to follow city, county and geographic lines where possible. The Better Boundaries Initiative allows voters to create the Commission and will appear on the November 6 General Election ballot.

JUNE 2018


Ballot Initiative Proponents Agree that Laws Need Reform
Whether groups were striving to get their initiatives on the ballot, or challenging those efforts, all agree that the laws describing and regulating the initiative process are in need of reform. Currently, requirements to get an initiative on the ballot are considered one of the most difficult in the country. Some initiative proponents characterize the requirements as constitutionally problematic by blocking voters right to legislate by initiative.

Recommendations to reform requirements include lessening the number of signatures needed, allowing online signature gathering, limiting the ability to withdraw a signature from a petition, and stopping the Legislatures ability to change or discard initiative that do pass. Currently, opponents of an initiative can approach signers to encourage them to withdraw their name from a petition. Opponent’s efforts can disqualify an initiative from appearing on the ballot by having just enough people to withdraw their signatures. This is seen as inherently unfair as its possible for 100 people withdrawing signatures to override the voices of 131,000 voters.

MAY 2018


Governor Herbert divided on voter initiatives
Governor Herbert has come out strongly opposing voter initiatives that will legalize medical marijuana use and the expansion of Medicaid for low-income Utahns. Additionally, during his monthly press conference, the Governor endorsed Senate candidate Mitt Romney and US Representative John Curtis who were selected during the GOP state convention, but face primary election opponents who will appear on the ballot as a result of collecting signatures.

The Governor’s opposition to medical marijuana includes issues relating to which medical providers will be authorized to prescribe the medical marijuana. The initiative expands the authorization from medical doctors to include physician assistants and nurse practitioners, optometrists and podiatrists. He also points out that federal law still lists marijuana as an illegal substance. The Governor calls for more research about the benefits of medical marijuana and how to appropriately use it.

The Governor sees Medicaid expansion as unnecessary and expensive. His concern is rising costs that are not addressed in the bill that will become a “budget buster.” The organization Utah Decides Healthcare, pushing the initiative, is proposing a sales tax on nonfood items from 4.7% to 4.85%. Medicaid expansion is projected to add an additional 150,000 people to the program.

APRIL 2018


Legislature poised to override Governor’s veto of bills that address separation of powers
The Utah state legislature will convene to vote to override Governor Herbert’s veto of two bills and a budget line-item veto related to the bills.

The first bill —SB 171 – authorizes the legislature to intervene in court cases that impact laws passes without depending upon the state Attorney General. The Governor’s position is that this creates separate state positions on lawsuits challenging bills. The second bill — HB 198 – requires the Attorney General to provide the legislature will written legal opinions even if a party objects and raises attorney-client privilege as its basis. HB 198 was in response to the Governor’s block of a legal opinion by the Attorney General citing attorney-client privilege.

Lastly, a constitutional amendment will allow the legislature to call itself into special session. Currently, the legislature can only call a session to conduct a veto override. The constitutional amendment will be before voters this November.

Utah ranks high in lung cancer rates due to air pollution
According to the American Thoracic Society, Utah is one of five states where lung cancers are likely caused by exposure to air pollution as reported in its latest annual report. It is estimated that 4 to 29 Utahns develop lung cancer due to small particulate pollution that accumulates on the Wasatch front during winter inversions. Currently, Utah does not meet federal standards for particulate or ozone pollution.

Ballot measure faces tough opposition
The Utah Psychiatric Association (UPA) has added its opposition to the Utah Marijuana Initiative joining the Utah Medical Association, the LDS Church and Governor Herbert. A statement released by the UPA says that it was “concerned that backers of the Utah Marijuana Initiative are misrepresenting and misappropriating the position of the medical profession in Utah to garner support for their initiative.” Additionally, that the UPA “recognizes that cannabis may have potential treatment benefits, and we encourage more research to further evaluate these effects.”

The Utah Marijuana Initiative has gathered the 200,000 signatures needed to make it on the November ballot in 24 Senate districts.

 

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