This afternoon, Gov. Katie Hobbs delivered her second State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate. Heading into Opening Day, there was a sense of cautious optimism that a divided government could work together to address critical issues, like water and housing, in the upcoming legislative session. It’s safe to say there’s more emphasis on the “cautious” than the “optimism” after Republican lawmakers gave the Democratic governor a less-than-enthusiastic response as she outlined her policy goals for the year ahead.
Here are the key highlights:
Water: Gov. Hobbs committed to advancing recommendations from her bipartisan Water Policy Council, including:
- Proposing bipartisan legislation to close build-to-rent and wildcat development loopholes.
- Calling for legislation to update Arizona’s 40-year-old groundwater management laws to allow rural groundwater users to have a say in how their water is used.
- Directing the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) to pursue an alternative path to designation to expand options for housing development within AMAs without 100–years of groundwater supply.
Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs): It is no secret that Gov. Hobbs is strongly opposed to expanded ESAs – also referred to as the school voucher program – which allows parents to use public funds for private-school tuition and other education costs. Throughout her campaign and since taking office, she has vowed to reign in the program (critics say expansion of the program is largely responsible for the state’s $400 million deficit, while backers say the expansion lets parents choose the best school for their children). In her address today, the Governor committed to establishing guardrails for the program, creating immediate contention among Republicans who have deemed any changes to the program a “non-starter” in budget negotiations. The Governor’s plan to address ESAs (a detailed overview of which can be found here) includes requiring private schools that receive voucher funding have minimum education requirements for teachers and that students attend public school for 100 days before becoming eligible for the vouchers. Also on the topic of education, the Governor asked for help from lawmakers to help her overhaul Proposition 123—the 2016 ballot initiative that has infused $3.5 billion into K-12 education over the past decade.
Healthcare Licensing: The Governor called for a new bill package to bring accountability to healthcare licensing for long-term care homes and sober living homes, both of which were at the center of fraud and scandals last year. Her proposal will:
- Ensure offending facilities cannot erase their violation history by transferring ownership.
- Empower the Department of Health Services to assess fines based on the scope and severity of violations rather than an arbitrary cap.
- Standardize inspection frequency for nursing and residential care facilities.
- Provide Adult Protective Services with authority to seek a protective order on behalf of a victim whose caregiver is the alleged perpetrator.
- Create standards for certification of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and memory care.
Affordable Housing: Touting historic investments secured in last year’s budget for affordable housing, Gov. Hobbs intends to build upon that success with a new mortgage assistance program. The “Arizona is Home Program” will aim to assist working class Arizonans with their down payments and deliver mortgage interest rate relief. The program will:
- Expand homeownership opportunities for qualifying moderate middle-income and rural homebuyers through enhanced down payment assistance and mortgage interest rate relief.
- Expand down payment assistance and mortgage interest rate relief for families making 80% of the Area Median Income (e.g., families of four making $75,000 or less in Phoenix will qualify).
- Enhance homebuyer assistance in Arizona’s rural communities by providing access to less costly home loans through collaboration with Arizona Industrial Development Authority and the Department of Housing.