After 100 days, the first regular session of the 50th Legislature adjourned sine die on April 21 capping off what was a successful legislative session for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Arizona Manufacturers Council. A number of priority bills identified in the 2011 Business Agenda have been signed into law, marking this session as the Chamberís most successful in years.
The passage of a sweeping and historic economic competitiveness package was a major highlight this session. The Legislature and governor acted decisively and proved that job creation was their number one priority. By advancing a bill early in the session that cut the corporate income tax rate, reduced the business property tax rate, instituted reforms that make Arizona more attractive for export-oriented manufacturers, and created the Arizona Commerce Authority, which will offer new tools to attract businesses to the state, the Legislature set the tone for what would soon become a monumental session.
We saw the Arizona Chamber Foundationís thoughtful work play a significant role in the legislative session. The Foundationís research in the 2010 policy brief, Bonds: Appeal Bonds, examined whether defendants have full access to the appeals process in Arizona. We were pleased that S.B. 1212, sponsored by Sen. Al Melvin, which protects due process right by placing a monetary cap on appeal bonds, was signed into law. Another tort reform victory included the passage of H.B. 2423, which provides guidelines and requirements for the Attorney Generalís office when entering into contingency fee contracts with private attorneys. The billís sponsor, Rep. Kimberly Yee, and Attorney General Tom Horne were critical to the bill becoming law.
A number of the concerns raised by the Foundation policy brief,Pension Tension were addressed in this yearís major public pension reform bill, S.B. 1609. Thanks to the leadership of Speaker Kirk Adams and Sen. Steve Yarbrough, these reforms will improve the long term funding status of the plans and ease the pressure that rising pension costs place on state and local government budgets.
Governor Brewer also signed two important reforms (S.B 1363 and S.B. 1365) to the stateís labor laws, which will provide additional protections to an employeeís paycheck and allow employers to protect their private property from trespassory assembly. Sen. Frank Antenori, who sponsored both measures, should be applauded for his commitment to protecting the interests of job creators.
Rep. Amanda Reeve this session picked up on the progress in the regulatory arena made by Gov. Brewer by advancing some important regulatory reform bills to the governorís desk. Rep. Reeveís bills that became law give businesses more information when they receive notices of violation from regulators, as well as a bill that will help the Maricopa County region avoid sanctions from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Lastly, Sen. Steve Pierce and former lawmaker Jonathan Paton saw to it that Arizona voters will have the opportunity to revisit the subject of publicly funded political campaigns and decide in November of 2012 whether the current funding source should be prohibited. In a time of razor-thin budgets, itís borderline obscene that any public dollars would be directed toward politicianís junk mail and yard signs.
One moment of tremendous courage this session was the defeat of five immigration bills in the Arizona Senate. Many of the bills were likely unconstitutional and would have invited additional litigation. Over 20 chambers of commerce from across the state and sixty CEOs and corporate executives signed a letter calling on the Legislature not to pass additional state-level immigration legislation and instead direct its energy to pressing Congress for meaningful immigration reform. Those efforts were successful in avoiding potential boycotts and other ill-conceived efforts to harm Arizona businesses. The commitment to preserving Arizona jobs by a group of state senators who voted no on all of these bills was inspiring.
There are a lot of people in the business community who deserve thanks for their leadership in ensuring that these bills did not advance, but special recognition goes to Michelle Bolton of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, who was steadfast in her advocacy for these billsí rejection.
While the business community earned many wins this year, there is still more to be done. A few tax related items did not reach the finish line this session and the Arizona Chamber will actively work on these issues during the interim in preparation for next year. In particular, we need to find a way to ensure that businesses that sell services out of state receive the same tax treatment as those that sell a manufactured good beyond our borders.
In addition, as the budget deficit continues to put vital services at risk, including the AHCCCS program, the Arizona Chamber will work with legislators on alternative ways to properly fund these types of programs without shifting the costs to private employers.
Having achieved such successes, I would be remiss if I didnít recognize the outstanding staff at the Chamber. Starting with the crafting of the 2011 Business Agenda, to turning a concept into legislation, to working with legislators, and finally shepherding a bill to the governorís desk, weíre fortunate to have such dedicated professionals amplifying the voice of job creators at the Capitol.