Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Gang of Eight hits the sweet spot

Sens. John McCain, Jeff Flake and fellow Gang of Eight members Sens. Chuck Schumer and Michael Bennet will be using some time during the spring congressional recess to tour the Arizona-Mexico border as part of their work to sell their comprehensive immigration reform package.

According to recent polling data, the senators have hit the sweet spot. There is broad public support for an immigration plan that strikes a balance between the country's economic and security needs.

Sen. McCain, Sen. Flake and their bipartisan coalition are on the right path. They deserve our support.

Here's the memo on the issue from the Chamber's pollster who, by the way, is one of the best in the nation.

On behalf of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Public Opinion Strategies conducted a statewide survey in Arizona on March 19-21, 2013.  The survey was conducted among 500 registered voters and has a margin of error of +4.38%.

Key Findings on Immigration Reform

Voters in Arizona are enthusiastic about a bi-partisan approach to immigration reform.
Survey respondents heard the following description of the Gang of 8 bi-partisan immigration reform plan:
Now I'd like to describe an immigration reform plan and get your reaction. The plan has four main elements:

  • Create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already here that is contingent upon securing the border and combating visa overstays
  • Improving our legal immigration system and attracting the world’s best and brightest.
  • A strong employment verification system that holds employers accountable for knowingly hiring undocumented workers and makes it more difficult to falsify documents to obtain employment
  • Admitting new workers only when Americans cannot be found to fill jobs and protect the rights of workers.

Fully 72% of voters support the immigration reform plan as described. 
  •  This includes the support of 74% of Republicans, 75% of Independents and 69% of Democrats.
  • The plan knits together a coalition of self-described liberals (76%) and Tea Party identifiers (73%).

Support for the reform plan is high among Anglo (71%) and Hispanic (76%) voters.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Hearing makes clear the need for rigorous ed standards

The Senate Education Committee yesterday saw a display of just how critically important the Arizona’s education environment is to the state’s business community.

Anyone watching the hearing now knows that a state’s tax, labor, regulatory and legal environments are all important to companies considering investment, but a quality K-12 education system can be the ultimate difference maker.

Over 200 groups and individuals signed-in at yesterday’s hearing to indicate their support for Arizona’s Common Core standards and a new assessment to replace the AIMS exam, which only measures whether a student has achieved 10th grade competency and gives little to no insight into whether a student is ready to move on to higher education or the workforce.

Former Intel Chairman and CEO Dr. Craig Barrett, who chairs the governor’s AZ Ready task force and is not only one of the state’s but the world’s foremost experts in education, gave extremely persuasive testimony about the need for higher standards in Arizona schools.

To explain the disconnect between our students' potential and the current readiness levels of high school graduates Dr. Barrett explained, “I don’t think we have a kid problem. I think we have an adult and a system problem. We have had lower standards and lower expectations than most of the world.”

Rep. Doris Goodale deserves credit for her work to take the AIMS test offline and move Arizona education into the future. Rep. Goodale has remained steadfast in the face of unsubstantiated and false rumors about some sort of U.N.-directed curriculum from those who prefer to stop progress than offer solutions to improved education. Legitimate concerns over whether Arizona will maintain sufficient control over its education fate have been addressed by our state’s education leadership and the Board of Education, ensuring that Arizona’s education system will be shaped by decisions made here at home, not in Washington.

“We cannot – we must not – continue a 10th grade assessment which translates into a 60 – that is six zero – percent remediation rate in college readiness and scores on college placement exams well below the national average,” Rep. Goodale said.

One of Arizona’s brightest stars, Eileen Klein, who is now heading the Arizona Board of Regents after recently departing as Gov. Brewer’s chief of staff where she wrote the book on how to manage an executive office, was on hand to drive home the point of the inextricable links between a state’s economic success and the quality of education output.

“Sixty four percent of all of our future jobs in the state are going to require some level of college education,” Klein said. “If you look at our neighboring states, in Colorado, they have a 10 percent higher degree attainment rate; they have about a $10,000 per capita salary that’s higher than Arizona. If we were even achieving at their level we’d add $60 billion to our economy.”

All of these efforts to align the education and business community could not be done without the hard work of leaders who are relentless in their belief that a good education will bring more opportunity to their business and their state.

Pearl Chang Esau, the talented and inspiring president and CEO of Expect More Arizona, has been invaluable in leveraging her organization’s powerful voice to affect major changes in Arizona education policy.

We at the Chamber are also fortunate to have Becky Hill of R&R Partners representing us on a host of issues, but especially education, at the Capitol. Becky has forgotten more about education policy than most of us will ever know. Having Becky on our team is an incredible asset for an Arizona business community that is putting more effort into education than ever before.

Just last week, dozens of CEOs and business leaders from across the state wrote to legislators making clear the business community’s support for teaching to higher education standards. As we wrote in the letter, “too many Arizona students graduate high school without the necessary skills to succeed in the 21st century.” 

Following the hearing, positive things are beginning to happen on the legislative front. Language to end AIMS cleared the Senate and has been sent to the House. We’ll keep the pressure on and continue to ensure our legislators understand the importance of higher standards and an aligned assessment.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Time for adult leadership at county GOP

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus just released a 100-page report on how the Republican Party can attempt to win back the large swaths of the electorate that has abandoned it over the last few election cycles.

The report contains discussion of the party’s posture towards women and minority voters, how young voters view the party and where the party has been deficient in its use of technology and social media.

But no matter what the party does on Twitter and Facebook, it will continue to be viewed as a bastion of angry cranks if outbursts like the one that occurred in yesterday’s state House Appropriations Committee are tolerated.

Apparently Maricopa GOP Chairman A.J. LaFaro didn’t get the Priebus memo. He needs to be consigned to the kiddie table.

For a county party chairman to use his platform for what was supposed to be a discussion on policy to instead blast a Republican governor is offensive enough. But to use such outrageous, unhinged rhetoric is an embarrassment to the entire party structure.

I commend House Speaker Andy Tobin for swiftly condemning LaFaro and calling for his resignation. Gov. Brewer is a good and decent person. No one deserves that sort of treatment, especially her.

Aside from LaFaro’s rhetoric, the hearing was five hours of substantive, thoughtful discussion.

I know the GOP (I am a Republican for those keeping score at home) is better than what was displayed yesterday by one barely-relevant party poo-bah. But that will become an increasingly more difficult case to be made if scenes like the one yesterday are not forcefully condemned.

You may be entitled to a financial settlement!

A state’s legal environment is a major contributing factor in its attractiveness to business. If you’re in the job creation business, you don’t want your state to show up on the American Tort Reform Foundation’s list of Judicial Hellholes.

The Arizona Chamber this session has joined with Sen. Kimberly Yee on Senate Bill 1452, an effort to make significant improvements in the area of class action lawsuits. It’s a move that will definitely keep Arizona off the hellholes list. SB 1452 is now a strike everything amendment on SB 1346 offered by Rep. Eddie Farnsworth in the House Judiciary Committee this morning.

Class action lawsuits can be useful vehicles for large groups of plaintiffs with identical claims, but over the last 20 years there has been a startling increase in the number of class action lawsuits filed in the United States. You can’t turn on the TV without seeing a commercial asking you whether you’ve used a certain product or device that was taken off the market, and you’ve probably gotten a postcard letting you know you’re eligible for a few bucks because at some point you did business with a company that was subject to a class action.

The cost of defending a class action suit and the possibility, no matter how remote, of losing against a sizeable class of plaintiffs, is enough to discourage a defendant from going to trial, even if they have a legitimate defense. The suits are just too expensive and too time-consuming. Often times, multi-state class action suits are taxing on state resources as well.

Sen. Yee’s bill (and the Rep. Farnsworth striker) would require the court to enter written findings after a hearing about whether the action should be maintained as a class. The bill will also permit an immediate appeal of class certification decisions and would establish that all proceedings would be stayed while the appeal is pending. This change would allow for defendants to obtain review of class certification decision, which are often the most important legal ruling in the case. The bill will let plaintiffs seek immediate review of a decision against class certification.

Currently, 12 states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas allow appeals from a class certification determination by a trial court, seven others and the federal system provide for appeals with leave of the appeals court.

We’ve got a very jobs-friendly legal environment in Arizona, but we should never stop looking for ways to improve. Implementing the changes in this reform legislation would help to ensure that only those actions properly suited to the class action mechanism would proceed and would continue to burnish Arizona’s reputation for a pro-business legal environment.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

Hiring our Heroes: Rep. Borrelli bill helps ease transition back into workforce for vets

As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Sen. John McCain’s release as a prisoner of war, I wanted to update you on the Chamber’s efforts to help our veterans transition back into the civilian workforce.

During Governor Brewer’s State of the State address she mentioned, among her Four Cornerstones of Reform, the importance of helping our vets get back to work when they come home.

Veterans possess many valuable skills and experience that are not just relevant in theater, but in the civilian world as well.  A couple of specific examples of military jobs that directly translate into the civilian working world are commercial drivers and licensed practical nurses.  The Department of Defense has identified these as common licenses and so should the State of Arizona.

The Chamber has facilitated many stakeholder meetings and as a result, HB2076, sponsored by Rep. Sonny Borrelli, would allow for military experience in these two professions to apply toward civilian licensure. 

It is critical to Arizona’s business community that we do what we can to make a transition from military life to civilian life as seamless as possible for our returning vets.  Not only will this foster a strong sense of community among our local businesses and veterans, but it will allow skilled workers to more easily transition into the civilian workforce, while providing more experienced workers to employers in Arizona. 

At the Chamber we believe there are likely other licensure areas where relevant military experience can apply and we look forward to helping find those opportunities for improvement as well.  Until that time we very strongly support HB 2076 and opportunities it will provide to veterans and Arizona businesses. The bill, which has already passed the House and the Senate Commerce Committee, will be heard March 19 in the Senate Transportation Committee.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Drone-ing on

Thanks, Sen. Paul, for bringing the rarely used filibuster to the Senate floor last night. It was fun to watch. If you were looking to earn headlines, you succeeded. But if the filibuster was intended to carry out a serious policy discussion, you fell short. As The Wall Street Journal pointed out in its editorial today, if only your “reasoning matched the showmanship.”

Does anyone really believe that any American president would be so indiscriminate in using force that he or she would level an American shopping mall? We’re talking about enemy combatants, not Americans shopping at the Gap. As Sen. McCain said, Paul’s concern that the government could kill any American with a drone is “totally unfounded.”

The rhetoric over unmanned aircraft systems has really hit a fever pitch in some corners, and much of it is way off base. UAS is a growing area of aerospace technology, bringing with it jobs that states are clamoring for. It’s a technology that should be celebrated. UAS are the way of the future in waging war, as well as in other civilian and public safety uses, such as fighting forest fires, and we are better off for it. They are used in parts of the world none of us would want to send our sons or daughters into, while protecting American lives.

Sen. Paul was entertaining last night, but he was not right on the facts.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Response to Wes Harris' post on Common Core, Sen. Yee

State Senator Kimberly Yee is a model state legislator. Her record during her  tenure in public service is exemplary. Senator Yee has advanced civil justice reform, tax cuts, regulatory reform and supported efforts to protect the public from the uncontrolled use of toxic substances.  

Sen. Yee also has deep experience in education reform. She understands the importance of increasing our standards so that Arizona students can compete in a global economy. The notion put forward by individuals such as Wes Harris, a Phoenix area political organizer, that Common Core standards are some sort of federal or UN effort to control Arizona kids is laughable.  

The Common Core standards are increased standards that 46 states are in the process of implementing. The business community has strongly supported this effort. Why? In the teeth of the Great Recession – the greatest economic calamity since the Great Depression – most employers in virtually every industry still could not find enough qualified workers – even when the unemployment rate was hovering around 10 percent. A big part of the reason is that there is a mismatch between necessary skills for employment and what is being taught to our K-12 students. 

As we transition to Common Core it is important for the testing to change as well. While well-intentioned, the current Arizona testing regime – AIMS – has outlived its usefulness. Passing it only proves that a student has mastered a 10th grade education! The PARCC assessment should help us determine whether Arizona students are mastering the skills necessary to make them college and career ready.  

Governor Brewer’s AZ Ready Council, under the leadership of former Intel Chairman Craig Barrett, has made the implementation of Common Core and the transition to PARCC a priority. The leading Republican education reform mind in the U.S., Jeb Bush, also supports Common Core.

As the father of three girls I want to thank Sen. Yee and all those in our Legislature who care to improve the educational system in Arizona.

I do agree with Mr. Harris on one point: We do indeed need to remember all in the Senate who voted in favor of Common Core and PARCC.  But rather than punish, we need to thank and support those supporting a more rigorous educational system in Arizona.