Transplant Funding Returned, Says Brewer

The news that Gov. Brewer and Arizona Senate Republicans have restored transplant funding to the state budget may have brought  a bit of hope and relief to the over 90 people counting on Medicaid support to help them pay for life-saving operations, but until these desperate patients hold letters in their hands which guarantee their spots on the transplant list, their lives still hang in the balance.

After a months-long, controversial debate over the topic of transplant funding, which had been axed from Arizona’s AHCCCS program last year, Brewer announced that coverage for lung, liver, pancreas and heart transplants had been reinstated.  Two patients have died while waiting for this decision, and though Brewer and other Republican lawmakers have reiterated that the return of funding is unequivocal, there are some who warn of conditions.

“According to what the governor and other Republicans are touting, yes, they’re celebrating the funds being put back in.  But what they’re saying isn’t necessarily the case.  The funding is based on conditions, contingent on a waiver of approval by the federal government until funding is restored.  The same way they took it out, they should have put it back in,” said Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix over the phone last week.  The caveat has been raised by Landrum Taylor and others because the budget does not make is explicitly clear how these operations will be paid for under AHCCCS, only that they are once again eligible.

If Republicans can be believed, however, this news gives hope back to people such as 48-year-old David Hernandez, a Tucson resident who needs a double lung transplant.  Hernandez was diagnosed with an interstitial lung disease in 2010 and told he needed both lungs replaced or that he would die in 3 years.  The cause of his condition isn’t certain, but is suspected to relate to his work in the heavy construction industry, where he was exposed to asbestos.  The National Transplant Assistance Fund  is heavily involved in cases such as Hernandez, and helps in fundraising efforts.

Hernandez has deteriorated in the last year, and remembers the letter he received in August 2010 telling him he would not be getting his transplant.  The father of five, who used to coach his daughter’s softball team and worked out regularly at the gym, now spends most of his days bedridden, hooked to an oxygen tank.  He says that a seventy year old with emphysema could outrun him, and that every small movement he takes is a painful endeavor.

He sees new hope in Brewer’s decision to restore the funding, but until he receives a physical letter assuring him of his status, he says he will be holding his breath.


Breaking Down the New AZ Budget

Picture from: AP Photo

Lawmakers in Arizona have had a lot on their plate recently, but four years of fiscal crisis demanded a solution.  Last week, the Legislature approved the current incarnation of the budget, sending the plan to Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk this week for the final word.

It will probably be signed.

The plan was designed as a compromise between Brewer, who wanted fewer education cuts, and the Republican senate, who had wanted more.  As with so much of what Arizona lawmakers do, the budget is fiercely divisive.  The plan proposes deep cuts to education, despite Brewer’s earlier promise to defend K-12 funding.

Some critics are incensed at drastic health care cuts, pointing to jobs in health care and the private sector that will be lost, as well as a possible legal conflict with Prop 204, which increased coverage of Arizona’s state Medicaid program, AHCCCS.  Supporters say the budget is the first financially responsible plan in five years, one that matches spending with revenue.  Republican legislators consider the cuts necessary in order to return to fiscal stability.  Both sides of the discussion are busy spinning their narratives, but what does this budget actually mean for people?

The Numbers

$8.3 billion – Total proposed spending for the fiscal year beginning July 1.  Down from $8.5 billion spent over the last fiscal year.

$3.8 billion Total state debt, with $332 million accumulated over the last fiscal year.

$1.1 billion – Total proposed spending cuts, primarily towards…

$510 million – Medicaid

$450 million Education, encompassing K-12, community colleges and universities, which breaks down roughly into…

$198 million Universities

$148 million – K-12

$73 million – Community colleges

$313 million – Additional costs deferred to universities and Medicaid

$47 million – Cuts to the Arizona Department of Economic Security, which provides healthcare and other types of aid to low-income families, domestic violence victims, the elderly, the mentally disabled, and the homeless.

$0 – State subsidies for child care services

Thankfully, not everything is seeing cuts…

$10 million – Increase in prison funding

But money can only say so much.  About 13,300 children in low-income families will be turned out of child care.  Tuition at the University of Arizona is expected to rise to $10,000, with ASU and NAU projecting similar hikes.  About 160,000 people are predicted to lose their health care when Arizona suspends the Medicare eligibility of childless adults.  96 people waiting for organ transplants will lose the means to pay for the operations that would save their lives.  Meanwhile, Arizona’s prisons now account for 11.5% of the budget.

Rising tuition costs in Arizona are just part of a greater national trend as states face a contagion of debt lingering in the wake of the recession.  While universities try and deal with unrelenting budget cuts, a lot of the outrage from critics of the plan focuses on the decision to stop Medicaid coverage of organ transplants.  These are people that the state had agreed to cover, people who have been waiting for years, now having their eligibility revoked.  Types of operations that will be excluded from AHCCCS include lung transplants, bone-marrow transplants, and some heart operations.

But hey, at least we have nice prisons to fill.

Note: Figures were compiled from the following sources

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This week in AZ law

There have been plenty of developments in Arizona this last week.  Here’s a roundup of stories that may affect you more than you know.

The debate over Arizona’s “Clean Elections” campaign financing policy, passed in 1998, will head to the U.S. Supreme Court.  The court will determine whether the policy is in violation of First Amendment rights.  The policy essentially allots a lump sum of voluntary public funds to candidates whose campaigns are outspent by opponents in return for turning down special interests.  Opponents of the policy say these matching funds restrict their freedom of speech, that the disincentive to outspend rival campaigns unfairly limits their own campaigns.  Proponents of the policy argue that public campaign financing evens the playing field and gives candidates a chance no matter the resources at their disposal.  The court’s decision could set an influential precedent for U.S. federal policy regarding campaign financing, and affect campaign laws in many states.

AZStarnet takes a look at Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu’s claims that immigration-related crime in his county are far worse than in other counties, including Pima.  These claims are part of Babeu’s ongoing attempts to justify $5 million in border security funding.  The article looks at why the numbers might support a different narrative than the one Babeu is pushing.  Pinal has comparatively low incidents of drug seizures compared to border counties like Pima, Santa Cruz and Cochise.  Nonetheless, Babeu makes the case for why Pinal needs a new helicopter, new guns, and new armored vehicles.

Rules for how medical marijuana dispensaries are set up in Arizona pursuant to the passing of Proposition 203 were released Monday.  AZCentral takes a look at what is required of those who wish to set up dispensaries, and how they will be distributed throughout the state.  This law has been through many drafts, and its final version states that dispensary owners will have to go through a two-part process to become legitimate.  This process includes applying for a registration certificate and an operating license.  The state will officially start processing patient applications on April 14.




Paul Babeu Gets $5 Million for Border Security, Dupnik Excluded

The Sheriff of Pinal County, Paul Babeu, is going to receive $5 million from state legislators to help enforce border security, while Sheriff Dupnik of Pima County, whose county actually shares a border with Mexico, was left out of the budget.  An article in the Daily Star goes into the details of the intentional exclusion, a decision which might seem like a highly politicized display of favoritism to outside observers.  But looking at the larger political context of these two individuals, this move by the Republican legislation to send a symbolic message is unsurprising.

Babeu is a vocal Republican known for his tough position on border security and illegal immigration.  He is a particularly strong supporter of SB 1070 and has made a point to let people know his views, making the rounds on all the major outlets like CNNFox News, CBS, and MSNBC.  Dupnik, on the other hand, is a democratic sheriff strongly opposed to SB 1070, initially refusing to enforce the measure.

Not all coverage of Babeu has been positive, and some stories surrounding Babeu remain very controversial.  The sheriff appeared as a guest on a Tennessee hate group-affiliated radio show.  The sheriff denied he had any knowledge of the show’s affiliation, and there have been some contradictory accounts on this which are detailed here, but the incident has continued to follow him.  Another incident which drew controversy involved a deputy of his, Louis Puroll, who claimed he suffered gunshot wounds at the hands of drug cartel gangsters, though the physical evidence contradicted his account.  Puroll later threatened the life a journalist and Babeu had him fired, though he had been one of Puroll’s biggest supporters throughout allegations of lying.

Babeu has not ruled out the possibility of running for office.

Guns Okay at Schools, Says AZ GOP

Far from cracking down on gun possession in the wake of the Jan 8 shootings in Tucson, the Arizona senate is actually trying to loosen up restrictions on guns.  On Monday, the senate approved a bill that allows guns on college and university campuses, with the caveat that they cannot be brought indoors. A link to the news:

Wait, what?

Yes, its true.  The logic being pushed by Republican supporters is that shooters like Jared Lee Loughner might be deterred if everyone had more guns.  Mass shootings at schools might be prevented if anyone could shoot back.

The original version of the bill, sponsored by State Senator Ron Gould of Havasu City, would have allowed guns into every college dormitory, library and classroom in Arizona.  It was too much, even for Arizona legislators, and the bill was diluted with an amendment that limits guns to the streets and sidewalks within campuses.  The bill then passed overwhelmingly, and now heads to the house.

Current gun laws in Arizona are already among the most lenient in the nation.  No permits are required to purchase rifles, shotguns or handguns.  There is no need to register any firearms that are purchased.  No licenses are needed.

On March 13, the Daily Star published an open letter written by President Obama expressing his concerns about gun control and how he thinks the issue should be approached and handled.  In the letter, he appeals to common sense, not as a way to impede the 2nd amendment rights of gun owners but as a way to screen dangerous individuals.  He outlines several steps he believes would contribute to smarter, preventive gun laws:

“First, we should begin by enforcing laws that are already on the books. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is the filter that’s supposed to stop the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun. Bipartisan legislation four years ago was supposed to strengthen this system, but it hasn’t been properly implemented. It relies on data supplied by states – but that data is often incomplete and inadequate. We must do better.

Second, we should in fact reward the states that provide the best data – and therefore do the most to protect our citizens.

Third, we should make the system faster and nimbler. We should provide an instant, accurate, comprehensive and consistent system for background checks to sellers who want to do the right thing, and make sure that criminals can’t escape it.”

There is evidence that the majority of Americans, including gun-owners and advocates, would agree with Obama.  The idea of a system that is better at identifying those who would use their weapons for violence  is something people overwhelmingly support, according to a Newsweek study.  The article reports that over 2,400 people have been shot to death since the Giffords shooting two months ago.  The article examines the issue of gun control in light of tragedies such as the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre and the Tucson shooting.  It also remarks upon Obama’s lack of engagement with the issue, and illuminates the power of the NRA gun lobby in Washington.



Immigration News Roundup

For this week, I thought I’d try something different and highlight news stories circulating on the internet about developments in immigration law.

The Arizona Republic reports that sweeping anti-immigration measures have been put on hold while lawmakers tackle the state budget.  The new legislation, sponsored by State Sen. Russell Pearce, would impact a huge range of areas including healthcare, education, employment practices and citizenship.  The article indicates that the budget is what people want their state government to prioritize, and points to growing disharmony between Republican hardliners and more moderate conservatives who want to focus on the state’s budget issues before proceeding with any more immigration legislation.

Los Angeles Times examines the failures of Republican legislators in states all over the country to replicate the success of SB 1070.  The article raises the possibility that momentum has swung away from the lawmakers who pushed through SB 1070, citing opposition within the Republican party to new anti-immigration bills supported by State Sen. Russell Pearce.  Utah is the only state that has managed to pass anything similar in spirit to SB 1070, albeit a watered down version, which Nicholas Riccardi writes, “moved in contradictory directions, trying to satisfy activists who want a tough approach to illegal immigration and business and religious leaders who urge flexibility and compassion for working families.

The Washington Post takes a closer look at the newly passed Utah immigration bill, and how it compares to SB 1070.  Although Utah passed an enforcement measure similar to Arizona’s, which allows police to question the immigration status of anyone who commits a felony or serious misdemeanor, it was passed with a companion bill outlining a guest  worker program which some opponents equate to amnesty.   The guest worker program would let illegal immigrants apply for a permit to work in the state.

The New York Times published a comprehensive reflection on SB 1070, its implications and the scrutiny it has faced since coming into law.  It looks at a federal court’s decision to strike down some of the more controversial language in the law, specifically the provisions which require law enforcement officers to ascertain immigrants’ citizenship in the course of enforcing other laws, and one that mandates that immigrants have their papers on hand at all times.  The article looks at SB 1070 in light of the new immigration proposals being pushed by Republicans regarding public benefits and citizenship, and the legal challenges and constitutional questions that will likely be raised.


Local journalists in Utah take a look at the immigration debate unfolding there.



More and more anti-immigrant laws passed

Arizona has gone ahead and approved SB 1308, creating a two-tier system of birth certificates based on the parent’s legal status.  If one of the two parents’ legal status is in question, the child may be denied a normal birth certificate  ensuring full citizenship, and instead be handed a certificate which could be used to deny that child access to public benefits within the U.S. such as healthcare and education.

The man behind SB 1308 is Sen. Russell Pearce, the architect of SB 1070 and a staunch supporter of HB 2281, which took aim at banning ‘Raza’ Ethnic Studies.  The aim this time is to force a reexamining of the 14th amendment of the constitution, which grants anyone citizenship if they are born in the country.  Though Pearce declares himself a constitutionalist, seen through his rigorous adherence to the right to bear arms (even supportive of a measure that would allow guns onto school campuses), apparently, this is one part of the constitution he doesn’t hold in high regard.

On the heels of SB 1308 comes SB 1611, a law seen by some as a spiritual successor to SB 1070.  Again, Pearce is the driving force behind this piece of legislation, which will set up a number of precedents, including denying the children of immigrants entry into any kind of public education institution, including the K-12 system, community colleges, and universities.  The children of illegal immigrants will be denied citizenship, as Pearce believes the 14th amendment to be outdated and abusable.  Nurses will be required to check the immigrant status of patients who come in for any kind of care, and to deny health care to immigrants.  State social workers will be required to report immigrant women seeking shelter from domestic violence.  The reasoning behind this weighty piece of law:

“Arizonans fork out nearly $1.3 billion annually to pay for all of the costs incurred from illegal immigration: around $810 million for education, $400 million for health care-related expenses, $80 million in incarceration costs, and the remainder in welfare benefits. All of this is required while Arizona runs a $500 million deficit annually. According to the Federation for American Immigrant Reform (FAIR), Arizonans shelled out over $312 million annually to educate illegal alien students, and a whopping $437 million annually to educate the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants in 2004, as illegal immigrants and their children constitute over 10 percent of the student body in the K-12 public school system,” said columnist Daniel Sayani