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Arizona Views: Legislature does not make the honor roll

May 13, 2018 GMT

If the just completed legislative session were a school year, the Class of 2018 would not be making the Honor Roll.

Oh, sure, there were a few outstanding successes, like coming up with a comprehensive plan to deal with opioid abuse from all angles. And even the vote to give teachers a 19 percent pay hike probably rates an A, even though educators wanted far more — such as restoring state aid to at least 2008 levels.

There also were some Bs for dealing with problems, like having the state license sober-living homes for the first time ever and removing Arizona from the list of states where there was no minimum age to get married.

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But much of the 116-day session resulted in what could be described as just average, run-of-the-mill alterations to existing state law, much of it to satisfy one or another business interest.

And there were more than a fair share of Fs — and incompletes in particular — for things left undone, particularly anything dealing with gun violence and school safety.

Still, there were examples of being able to work and play well together, notably the package of changes designed to deal with the spike of opioid-related deaths.

Coordinating with members of both parties and affected interests, Gov. Doug Ducey put together a plan that does everything from limit the number of pills that patients can get at any one time and the strength of their dosages to training for doctors to a “Good Samaritan” provision allowing people to call for help when a buddy overdoses without fearing they will get arrested themselves.

Still even that had to be picked apart, with lawmakers rejecting some ideas like a “needle exchange” program to ensure that addicts weren’t sharing disease as they were sharing needles.

Ducey and the Republican legislative leadership did focus on K-12 funding, not only with the pay hike but also a move to start restoring $371 million in other annual school district assistance that they had taken in prior years.

There also was a decision to extend the 0.6-cent sales tax for education that was set to expire in 2021. Still, it did take a bit of prodding from a newly energized group of teachers, organizing under the #RedForEd banner.

Lawmakers also did agree to require recess periods for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. They also spelled out that schools that offer kindergarten incorporate play as an instructional strategy and be “academically meaningful.”

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School districts are now barred from refusing to sell unused buildings to charter schools.

Substitute teachers can now use some of their time in front of a classroom toward the experience requirement to get a teaching certificate.

And schools are now free to put up the state motto of “Ditat Deus” including its English translation of “God enriches.’’

INCOMPLETE

Then there’s the list of what did not get done.

The most spectacular — and perhaps most far-reaching — failure was the inability to enact any changes in laws designed to deal with gun violence, particularly at schools. While there has been no shortage of mass shootings, the killing of 17 students and teachers at a Parkland, Florida, high school appeared to put some momentum into the movement to address the issue, both nationally and in Arizona. Even Ducey came up with a plan.

But the governor found few friends, with some pointing up his refusal to propose universal background checks on gun sales and a ban on “bump stocks,” even as others sniped at the idea of allowing a judge to order someone locked up for evaluation to determine if that person is such a potential danger to self or others that his or her ability to have a firearm should be curbed.

Lawmakers also refused to enact stiffer penalties for the intentional abuse or killing of pets, even after being told that those who commit those crimes often go on to become mass shooters.

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