2021 In Review: Arizona Legislature Highlights
More people are moving to the great state of Arizona, and there's good reason for the population boom.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual estimate, the Grand Canyon State ranked third in the nation for numeric growth between July 2020 and July 2021, trailing only Texas and Florida, which are all states led by Republicans. Experts believe an increasing number of people from California and other major metro areas on both coasts are running from higher taxes, while looking for a better quality of life in Arizona.
This past year, Arizona State Senators worked tirelessly crafting policy to help maintain this desirable reputation for our state- that's driving new residents here.
Economic growth, responsible spending and conservative budgeting by the Legislature and the Governor's Office produced billions of dollars in surplus for Arizona. As a result, lawmakers created a budget in 2021 that provides the largest tax cuts in history for every Arizona taxpayer, no matter the income. Under the plan, an average taxpayer will see a savings of over $300 each year.
"We also paid off $1 billion in state debt and an additional $1 billion in pension liability. This will save the state $273 million annually," said Chairman of the Finance Committee, Senator David Livingston (R-22). "With the federal government raising the debt ceiling and inflation soaring to a near 40-year high, the Biden Administration could stand to learn a thing or two from Arizona."
The men and women in uniform who are fighting for our freedoms are also getting some financial relief. Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator David Gowan (R-14), championed a veteran's tax exemption.
"Starting this year, military pensions received by retired members of the armed forces will be exempt from state income tax," said Gowan. "This makes Arizona the 23rd state to exempt this pay from state income taxes and demonstrates an ongoing commitment to supporting veterans who have served this country.”
With COVID-19 cases continuing to impact communities across our state, policy aimed at protecting businesses and health care providers acting in good faith during the pandemic also became a priority this year. Senate President Pro Tempore Vince Leach (R-11) sponsored SB 1377, which ensures medical professionals, businesses, schools, nonprofits, governments, religious institutions, and property owners have the legal framework to be protected from 'frivolous lawsuits' during a state of emergency for a public health pandemic.
Furthermore, Chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee, Senator Nancy Barto (R-15), took the lead in paving the way for patients to get the treatments they need and desire with crafting SB 1416.
"The Patient Pandemic Protection Act safeguards a patient's ability to obtain information and care without bureaucrats second guessing their doctor, especially when treatment is needed most, like in the midst of a pandemic," said Barto. "The policy helps both doctors and patients at a time when all are concerned about saving lives and avoiding COVID-19 hospitalizations."
This legislation ensures state licensing boards and agencies won't improperly interfere with a doctor's ability to offer information about, provide, or prescribe off-label treatments, which is especially important during a pandemic.
Also this year, Arizona took a big step in defending second amendment rights, with legislation that protects against unmerited gun lawsuits. SB 1382, sponsored by Senator Wendy Rogers (R-6), is mirrored after a federal, bipartisan law that prevents gun control activists from placing the blame on this industry for criminal misuse of legal firearms that are lawfully sold. The legislation also specifies stores that sell guns and ammo as 'essential businesses' during state-declared emergencies.
An effort to boost election integrity and voter confidence was established with the passage of HB 2569. This 2021 legislation now bans the use of private funds during elections, including voter outreach, staffing and other expenses. Sponsored by Senators Nancy Barto (R-15), Sonny Borrelli (R-5), Sine Kerr (R-13), David Livingston (R-22), Warren Petersen (R-12), Kelly Townsend (R-16) and Wendy Rogers (R-6), the goal is to keep dark money and influence from corporations and wealthy donors out of our democratic process.
First responders battling job-related cancers can now spend more time focusing on their health, instead of fighting insurance companies and cities for benefits. With the passage of SB 1451, championed by Senator Paul Boyer (R-20), this legislation will ensure health benefits for Arizona’s firefighters by expanding workers’ compensation for diseases presumed to be a direct result of their job. It also protects women in the field by adding breast and ovarian cancers to the list of qualifying cancers.
Meanwhile, additional help to prevent and combat explosive wildfires in Arizona is coming from state inmates. Thanks to a new partnership enacted in 2021 from SB 1442, which was sponsored by Senator Sine Kerr (R- 13), more than 700 Arizona inmates will remove fire-prone vegetation from communities over a two-year period. These inmate crews will also gain invaluable work experience that will help them connect with job opportunities after their release, create better lives for themselves, and ultimately help reduce recidivism across the state.
Creating a stronger pool of talent for our state's economic boom was the goal with this year's passage of SB 1453, sponsored by Chairman of the Education Committee, Senator Boyer. This legislation now allows community colleges to offer four-year degrees. In addition, the Arizona Promise Program, which was approved by the legislature earlier this year, is providing $7.5 million in college scholarships for students who are qualified to attend an Arizona public university but can't afford it.
“As more and more jobs come to Arizona, we need to make sure our workforce is ready to meet the demand,” said Boyer. “Community colleges equip students with much-needed skills and expanding their degree programs will benefit adult students of all ages and strengthen Arizona’s workforce. It will also draw more talented students and diverse employers to our state.
Conservative, commonsense policies work. We're looking forward to making Arizona an even better place to live, work and play in 2022.