Monday, June 20, 2011

Rep: Uranium ban needed to protect Grand Canyon

People want the Grand Canyon protected

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX -- Rep. Daniel Patterson, D-Tucson (District 29), released the following statement today regarding U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s moratorium extension on uranium mining at the Grand Canyon:

“I applaud Secretary Salazar’s decision to extend the moratorium on uranium mining at Arizona’s natural point of pride, the Grand Canyon. This decision is as a win-win for Arizona to protect our beautiful lands, public safety and tourism for years to come.

“Uranium mining has a disastrous history from deadly abandoned sites to dams breached and radioactive waste seeping into aquifers and contaminating water. We already know uranium mining isn’t a good idea. It’s a threat to public health and safety as well as to the tourism business in Arizona.

“Along with other fellow House Democrats, for years I asked Secretary Salazar to make sure that our state’s natural wonder and beautiful lands that draw millions here from all over the world are protected from those who threaten to destroy it. Today, those people were held accountable.

“Secretary Salazar’s decision is key to our state’s tourism economy and public health, and today, we took one step forward in preserving and conserving the Grand Canyon for generations to come.”

Representative Patterson is an ecologist and the Ranking Member on the Arizona House Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He formerly worked with US Interior agency BLM.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Reps hit Brewer & Horne on med marijuana delay

Democrats defending the will of the voters

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX -- Read this important letter sent Friday:

ARIZONA LEGISLATURE
1700 W. Washington St.
Phoenix AZ 85007

June 10, 2011

To: Jan Brewer, Governor
Tom Horne, Attorney General
Will Humble, Director, AZ Dept. of Health Services

Dear Governor Brewer, Tom Horne and Director Humble:

We are writing to express concern about the delays relating to the implementation of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA). Prior to receiving United States Attorney Dennis Burke’s letter, it was our understanding that you were expeditiously working towards implementing the provisions of AMMA. However, since the receipt of US Attorney Burke’s letter, you have pursued legal action which will inevitably result in unnecessary delays.

While we applaud any attempt to comply with federal law, a plain reading of US Attorney Burke’s letter establishes no reason to seek out a judicial opinion on the matter. Prosecution of state employees was never mentioned in the letter, and US Attorney Burke said himself that using his letter as grounds for a lawsuit was “disingenuous”. We sincerely hope that it is not your intent to use a federal suit to delay compliance with a law with which you disagree.

As you know, AMMA expresses the will of the Arizona voters through the voter initiative process. The Department of Health Service’s failure to begin accepting applications for dispensary licenses on June 1st, as required by administrative rule, is without legal authority and is clearly circumventing the will of the voters. A significant amount of time and money has been invested by many of these voters who have rightfully relied on the law’s timely implementation, many of whom are patients who are suffering or physicians who have made significant investments in preparing to dispense such medicine.

It is our sincere hope that you will revisit your decision to halt dispensary applications and immediately move toward implementing the law. Any action to the contrary is in clear violation of the Arizona State Constitution and will be adjudicated as such at the unfair expense of the taxpayer.

Sincerely,
Representative Daniel Patterson
District 29

Representative Matt Heinz
District 29

Representative Catherine Miranda
District 16

Representative Bruce Wheeler
District 28

Representative Macario Saldate
District 27

Representative Sally Ann Gonzales
District 27

Representative Lela Alston
District 15

Representative Ruben Gallego
District 16

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Cuts, politics cripple AZ air pollution enforcement

Maricopa County: Bad air, dirty politics

CUTBACKS CRIPPLE ARIZONA AIR POLLUTION ENFORCEMENT. Despite Looming EPA Sanctions, County Signals Corporate Kid Glove Treatment

PHOENIX -- Even as it faces federal sanctions for noncompliance with air quality standards, Maricopa County is laying off so many inspectors and other staff that it will no longer routinely issue fines for air pollution violations, according to an Air Quality Department (MCAQD) email posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This internal email was forwarded by the MCAQD Director to an unofficial advisory committee with representatives from industry, including the state Chamber of Commerce, contractors and gravel mines, among others.

With nearly 4 million people, Maricopa County is the biggest in Arizona and one of the largest counties in the U.S., including the megalopolis of metro Phoenix, with a bigger population than 23 states. In a May 27, 2011 email, MCAQD Director William (Bill) Wiley told his kitchen cabinet of corporate, government and non-profit advisors:

“Below is an email, I sent to County Air Quality employees yesterday. It has been a challenging time and we have now reduced our staff by over 20 positions this year. With the reductions in previous years we are now down over 100 positions in 2 years.”

The loss of 100 positions would be a nearly 50% reduction in the MCADQ workforce which was listed as 156 employees earlier this year before the latest layoff. In his email to employees, Wiley ordered them to avoid taking enforcement action against polluters except as a last resort:

“Moving forward, we will shift our focus to creating a culture of Compliance Assurance. Compliance Assurance focuses on increasing the percentage of facilities operating in compliance by utilizing a variety of approaches. This may include outreach, business assistance, training, targeted inspections as well as enforcement. Enforcement should be both potent and effective but used as a final option when other efforts have failed.”

“Director Wiley might as well have told Arizona’s biggest polluters that his department has declared a permanent enforcement holiday,” stated Southwest PEER Director Daniel Patterson, noting that industry could save substantial sums if it did not have to follow increasingly strict air quality controls to protect public health. “How do you encourage clean air compliance when there is no penalty for cheating?”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found Maricopa County in violation of Clean Air Act standards. If MCAQD does not reduce pollution emissions it can face escalating sanctions, such as denial of federal transportation funding.

Wiley’s “heads up” was delivered to an unofficial advisory committee comprised of several industry lobbyists and attorneys which meets every month in the MCAQD building but the meetings are not publicly noticed or open to the public. Making outside scrutiny more difficult, agency management even moved the meetings from the 5th floor to the 8th floor in the MCAQD office building so as to hold them in space rented by a private firm. In February, a local group requested an investigation from the Attorney General into alleged state Open Meeting law violations but the Attorney General declined to take action.

“Even if this arrangement is not illegal, this sort of clubby, closed door dealing on matters affecting public health and quality of life is bad practice,” added Patterson. “Industry insiders should not be privy to information about departmental enforcement that is not available to everybody.”

Link to documents, etc.

Chance to fix AZ jobless aid better late than never

Back to Capitol Friday

UPDATE, Mon. Jun 13: House Democrats: ‘Shame on GOP for failing to fix jobless aid’

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX -- House Democrats, who urged Gov. Jan Brewer and Republican lawmakers in April to make a fix to jobless aid, say they fully support a special session that’s better late than never to help middle-class Arizonans.

“Unfortunately, a special session wasn’t necessary to make this fix,” said House Minority Leader Chad Campbell. “We notified Gov. Brewer and Republicans about this back in April and urged them to make the one-word fix while we were on the House floor in the middle of the night.”

House Democrats even provided an avenue to make the fix by proposing to amend HB 2619 to include the fix. But Republicans refused.

“We aren’t sure what changed their minds between now and then,” said House Minority Whip Anna Tovar. “We’re just happy to help struggling Arizona families continue to put food on the table while they search for jobs and help local businesses by bringing $3.5 million a week to our economy.”

If Republicans, who control all of state government, fail to make the fix, 15,000 unemployed Arizonans could lose jobless aid at the end of this week and nearly 30,000 by the end of the year.

"Arizonans need a legislature that's on their side for a better quality of life, but too many majority Republicans have been badly out-of-touch," said Rep. Daniel Patterson of Tucson, a member of the House Employment and Regulatory Affairs Committee. "Families need a hand now in this tough economy and helping people out of work helps us all."

“It’s about time,” Campbell said. “We hope that Republicans finally will listen to us and now the governor and do what is right. Otherwise, we know that Arizonans will hold them accountable.”

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

NM Gov Martinez, NMDGF encouraged on wolves

Citing Decreasing Predations on Livestock, Conservation Groups Ask Governor to Continue State Support of Wild Wolves. New Mexico Gov. Martinez and Appointees to Consider Policy on Endangered Mexican Gray Wolves at Meeting Thursday.

LAS CRUCES -- A new analysis by conservation groups finds that the number of wolf depredations on livestock in the Southwest decreased in 2008, 2009 and 2010 after authorities made clear that no more wolves would be removed from the wild for depredations. The analysis was part of a letter sent to New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez this week asking her to continue state support for endangered Mexican gray wolves in the wild.

In the previous five years, 2003 through 2007, depredations had increased each year during the same span that federal agents shot or trapped increasing numbers of wolves in retaliation. The removals ended, at least temporarily, because they harmed the population of endangered Mexican gray wolves along the New Mexico/Arizona border and prevented its growth. Last year only 50 Mexican wolves, including two breeding pairs, could be counted in the wild.

Thirteen national and New Mexico conservation organizations cited this encouraging trend in requesting that Gov. Martinez and her appointees: (1) continue to support the successful preventive measures that have keep stock losses to a minimum (just nine deaths due to wolves in all of New Mexico and Arizona last year); (2) maintain state opposition to removing wolves from the wild; (3) resume state support for additional releases of wolves into New Mexico; and also (4) oppose premature congressional removal of Mexican wolves from the endangered species list just as scientists are developing, for the first time, criteria for recovery and subsequent state and tribal authority and management of the Mexican wolf.

The governor’s New Mexico State Game Commission may make changes to wolf policy at tomorrow’s game commission meeting in Las Cruces.

“New Mexico has a critical role in Mexican wolf survival,” said Daniel Patterson, Ecologist and Southwest Director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “We encourage Gov. Martinez to follow facts and continue state leadership to keep wolves in the wild.”

“The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has helped keep the Mexican wolf from extinction over the past three-and-a-half years by prevailing on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not to remove any more wolves from the wild,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The data show that when government removal of wolves ceased, depredations went down as well. That may be because livestock owners, who are reimbursed for losses to wolves, have greater incentive to prevent losses through practicing sound animal husbandry when the possibility of wolf removal is taken off the table.”

Successful measures used to promote coexistence include moving calving operations away from wolf den sites and disposing of the carcasses of livestock that die of non-wolf causes such as disease, accidents, birthing complications, poisonous weeds or starvation. Carcasses can be rendered inedible through lime and other means, thereby preventing wolves from being attracted to areas of vulnerable stock.

The conservationists’ letter to the governor concludes: “Your leadership can help ensure the survival and recovery of the Mexican gray wolf, and thereby also improve the health of the entire vast and wild Gila ecosystem — which would in turn benefit our own species, now and for future generations.”

Monday, June 06, 2011

Arizona source for informed views on forest fires

TUCSON -- Follow me @RepPatterson on twitter and/or facebook for Arizona wildfire news and views.

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

Who's fighting for AZ's middle-class? Democrats

Callous, reckless, out-of-touch AZ GOP

by Rep. Daniel Patterson

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX -- State government in Arizona in the past three years has made massive cuts to education, given away our money to big corporations, chose to do nothing about foreclosures and hasn’t created a single job.

That toughens the hardship of Arizona’s middle-class families struggling to put food on the table.

But this year, Republicans, who control all of state government, went even further to harm middle-class police officers, firefighters and teachers.

These public safety officers and educators keep our families safe and prepare our kids for the worldwide economy.

Yet because of a few bad apples at the top of the tree, Republicans decided to use a chainsaw to destroy it altogether.

First, let’s be clear: Certain bad actors did scam our state pension system. Take for example, a Phoenix Isaac School District superintendent, who reportedly was allowed to retire, get a pension, then return to work the next day and get the same salary, thus getting both a pension and a salary, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. This happened at the same time the district planned to lay off employees.

We can’t ignore the problem — this is happening.

We also can’t punish police officers and firefighters who risk their lives for us, or teachers who impact our children’s lives because of the malfeasance of a few bad actors.

They are middle-class families who are also struggling to put food on the table.

Yet when Republican lawmakers saw their chance to make life harder for our public safety officers and teachers — middle-class Arizonans — they went for it.

Now the new pension law will do the following to police, firefighters, correctional officers and teachers:

• Make it difficult to recruit and retain public safety officers and protect family members’ when an officer is injured or killed in the line of duty.

• Not allow for a cost of living adjustment for approximately 15 years for employees in the state retirement system, including teachers. The adjustment is currently used to offset increasing health care costs because public safety officers don’t qualify for Medicare or receive social security.

• Require law enforcement personnel to work five years longer before being eligible to retire.

• Increase the amount that public safety officers and teachers are required to contribute from their salary, reducing their take-home pay.

The new law also violates the will of the voters because it trumps a voter-approved initiative, making it unconstitutional.

According to Article 29 of our state Constitution, membership in a public retirement system is a contractual relationship, and public retirement benefits shall not be diminished or impaired, which was approved by voters in 1998.

Requiring employees to pay more into their retirement and receive reduced benefits in the long term violates the state Constitution.

The crafters of this anti-constitutional legislation claimed, falsely, that our retirement systems are on the verge of collapse. Other states across the country did have problems with their pension systems, and some states even had to pay pension benefits out of their general fund.

But Arizona is a different story; our four state pension systems are stable, and the average pension payout is less than extravagant. In fact, teachers receive an average pension of $19,000.

The largest state retirement system, the Arizona State Retirement System, which includes state, county, city employees and teachers, has $27 billion in assets, which is more than three times the entire state budget. The average pension payout to a retiree is $19,840.10 per year.

The next largest fund is the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System, which includes firefighters and police officers which has net assets of $6.63 billion, and the average pension payout is approximately $36,000 per year. But unlike members in the state system, the public safety system members don’t pay into or receive social security or Medicare benefits. Therefore, they pay for their own health care out of their own pension benefits.

The Corrections Officers Retirement Plan has net assets of $683.2 million, with an average pension payout of $25,499 per year.

The smallest plan is the Elected Officials Retirement Plan, which has net assets of $326.16 million, with an average pension payout of $45,768 per year.

Numbers don’t lie. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that these funds are stable. There was no need for the desperate, last-minute and sweeping legislation aimed at “fixing” a stable system instead of going after the few bad actors.

There was no need to punish middle-class police officers, firefighters and teachers that we rely on every day. It’s not uncommon for police officers to sacrifice their lives in order to protect our way of life here in Arizona. This is not how our state will recruit and retain the best and brightest to serve our communities.

We should be fixing the problem at the top, not penalizing our teachers who receive a less-than-mediocre pension because of the bad acts of just a few.

It doesn’t mean we should cut benefits to the widows of police officers who gave their lives protecting our citizens.

But that’s exactly what Republicans did.

Daniel Patterson, a Democrat, represents District 29 in the Arizona House of Representatives. District 29 includes parts of Tucson and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

as published in the Arizona Capitol Times, May 27, 2011