Good News For Fans Of Public Libraries In Arizona

According to its Legiscan page, Arizona HB 2379 has been in the House Rules Committee since February 17. I’ve been told that this means that the bill is effectively dead and that it’s too late in the legislative session for this to be passed.

It certainly looks like the bill’s legs have been cut out from underneath it. If you look at the Legiscan page in depth, you can see how fast things were moving on the bill from January to February. And then it hit a wall and promptly stopped moving, likely due to the massive public response that supporters of the library raised in opposition of this legislation.

There are a few ways for bills to die. They can die dramatically from a governor’s veto, which is what happened with SB 1062. They can also die quietly, buried in committee until the world has forgotten that they ever existed. HB 2379 seems to have died that quiet death.

It’s unfortunate when such a destructive bill dies quietly because for those whom the bill would have harmed, it’s hard to say when the battle is really over. There’s no moment to take a victory lap and celebrate the fact that we won. There’s just a vague feeling of unease that slowly lifts as we look at one another and ask “is it over?”

But we did win and our public libraries are safe, at least for another year. This cynical blogger has a cynical feeling that we’ll be seeing another version of this bill come January 2015. There was an incarnation of HB 2379 that was vetoed by the governor back in 2011. If a veto wasn’t enough to keep this revenant piece of legislation down, I can’t imagine that a quiet death in committee will either.

But that doesn’t matter right now. What matters is that we won. And we couldn’t have won if the people our libraries serve hadn’t stood up and spoken out against this bill.

Well done, Arizona. Thanks for standing up for your libraries.

 

Arizona SB 1062 Is Dead But Arizona HB 2379 Is Very Much Alive

Arizona SB 1062 is dead and that is a very, very good thing for everyone, both in Arizona and the other states in the Union who were considering their own versions of this bill. It’s even good for the people who were supporting the bill, although they’ll never admit it.

But although the “Gays Stay Away” bill is dead on arrival, the other piece of legislation that has my ire raised is still very much alive. Despite reports to the contrary, Arizona HB 2379 is still very much alive.

The Arizona Daily Star reported that:

A major change to House Bill 2379, written by Rep. Justin Olson, removes language limiting how much the secondary property taxes levied by county free library, county jail and public-health-service districts can be increased.

A strike everything amendment, passed by the House Ways and Means Committee, replaces the original text with new language requiring the taxing entity to annually disclose tax-rate information.

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said the bill has essentially been neutralized and the county does not oppose the current version of the bill.

On the one hand, hooray for us, we get to keep our libraries, the state government doesn’t get to arbitrarily tell us what to do with our communities and I get to keep my job for at least another year. But to celebrate in the streets à la the protesters of SB 1062? Not so fast.

This is where an understanding of language in politics comes in handy. Politicians choose words very carefully and words don’t always mean the same thing in a political context as they do in others. Sure, “neutralized” might mean “killed” in a military context, but in a political one, it means exactly what it says; the bill is neutral now. It’s not moving forward . . . but it’s also not dead. It’s “gutted” . . . but a gutted beast can recover. It can still inflict harm.

Neutralized is a good thing, but it’s not a great thing for fans of public libraries in Arizona.

Maya Castillo, president of SEIU Arizona had this to say about the neutralization in a Facebook post:

HB 2379, despite Joe’s [Arizona Daily Star] article, is not dead. The striker does gut it to an extent. But I hate this striker too! Why? First, there shouldn’t be any additional restrictions on how library increases happen. It’s our money and any additional requirements are designed to hinder increases– we shouldn’t be hindered, especially when it comes to our library.

Second, it’s a legislative trap. So here’s what happens: we choose through our elected to raise the rate 3%, have public hearings, etc. The next year we do the same but say 4%. Year three, the state leg[sic] comes back and says “See! We told you they needed more oversight! 7% in two years?!” And then we’re back where we started!

Consider the fact that Justin Olson, the sponsor of this bill, has been trying to pass a version of this legislation since 2009. Consider that it seems like Republicans were trying to fast track this bill before anyone could raise an outcry. With that in mind, I don’t think that anything short of a resounding defeat in the state House or state Senate or a veto from the Governor will fully kill this odious bit of legislation.

There’s some lobbying muscle behind this bill and I doubt we’ve seen the last of it. I’d rather not have to worry about half the libraries in Pima County suddenly vanishing every single year and I don’t think members of the public (who have been overwhelmingly supportive of us) want that, either.

I hope the momentum keeps up against this bill. We saw the power of political pressure against SB 1062. Hopefully that power will kill HB 2379. If not, the library’s collective neck will certainly come up on the chopping block again, perhaps even from the next version of the same bill.

HB 2379 isn’t dead. Until it is, it’s too early to let our guard down.

Arizona HB 2379

HB 2379 sounds innocuous on the surface: Special Districts; secondary levy limits. Where’s the harm in that? The average person likely doesn’t even know what that’s referring to. Even if you look at it more closely, it doesn’t sound that bad: “HB 2379 limits secondary property taxes levied by county free library, county jail, and public health services districts.”

Well, shit, those librarians don’t need their own secondary property tax, right? Do people even need libraries? We all have computers, right? This won’t be so bad.

Here’s what happens if this bill passes.

Long story short: ten libraries get closed while the rest get gutted. If you’re curious, yeah, I’m biased, since my library is one of the ones on the chopping block. So that’s awesome.

I’ve seen several comments on the various newspaper articles mention something to the extent of “they’re not cutting funding, just limiting funding, it’s not the same thing, so shut up.”

Here’s the thing; the current budget is unsustainable long-term. It’s kind of like how when your personal budget is tight so you hold off going to the doctor or the dentist or getting some work done on your car? It’s a short-term solution. Eventually, your transmission will explode or your teeth will rot or you’ll get sick and then you have to address those things.

Well, yes, we’re operating on a cut down budget for this year because that is what you do when money is tight. You buckle down and cut what you can, knowing that it won’t be permanent and that when money starts flowing again, you can address some of the things you let slide during the hard times.

If the budget gets cut down right now, when it’s already been set as something unsustainable in order to practice fiscal discipline, it’s a death sentence.

If you’re in Arizona, contact to your representatives and oppose this bill. Because even if you think that libraries are archaic now that we all have computers, even if you think that books are a waste of time, please keep in mind that for some people who are not as privileged as you to own your own computer and have Internet access, the public library is the only place they can go to get this vital access.

And there are some people who actually read books. Made from dead trees and everything! Imagine that.