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Arizona Legislature Debates Graduation Attire, Medicaid, Tax Breaks For Movies

MARK BRODIE: State lawmakers will have busy committee agendas this week as they come back to the capital with bills set to be considered on issues ranging from what students can wear at their graduations to a proposal aimed at boosting the movie industry here in Arizona. With me for our weekly look at what to expect at 1700 W. Washington is Howie Fisher of Capitol Media Services. Hey, Howie.

HOWARD FISCHER: Hey. The inmates are back for another week of fun and games with our laws.

BRODIE: All right. So let's start with the House Education Committee, which is scheduled to meet later today. A couple of bills dealing with what students can and maybe what the state cannot disallow them to wear at the graduation ceremonies. What's behind this?

FISCHER: Well, this appears to be largely driven by the Native American community. The bill that's likely to go forward by Rep. Teller says the school governing boards cannot establish a dress code that prohibits a policy that says a student may not wear "traditional tribal regalia or objects of cultural significance at a graduation ceremony." Obviously, this is aimed at things like wearing eagle feathers or an eagle plume or things like that. And on some level, that certainly makes sense. But you can raise some interesting questions there. Number one is let's talk even within the native community. So if I decide as a white kid from Brooklyn, I want to wear traditional eagle feathers, can I do it? Or is that cultural appropriation? And then number two becomes, well, what about outside the native community? I mean, for example, if if my dad's from Jamaica, can I wear dreadlocks? You know, it's opening up an interesting area. And I think that the sentiments are there. I think where they may get stuck is the question of how do you apply that, and who does it apply to, and what is an "object of cultural significance"? Is it limited to Native American communities? And if so, well, why not other communities?

BRODIE: Does it seem like this might be one of those bills where some work needs to be done on it between committee and getting to the floor?

FISCHER: Oh, I think you do, because it's fine to say that we're going to apply this solely to native communities at the very least. I think you have to decide: What's cultural appropriation? You know, can anybody wear eagle feathers, or do you have to prove you're a tribal member? Now you're down a real rabbit hole in terms of, well, which tribe? Well, do the Hopi say this is traditionally ours and a Navajo student shouldn't be wearing it? I think this is headed for at least some amendment before it goes any further.

BRODIE: All right. So Howie, tomorrow the Senate Appropriations Committee will be meeting and one of the bills that they will be considering would provide dental care for pregnant women who are on AHCCCS, the state's Medicaid program, dental care for pregnant women is it is a big deal, can have a big impact on the health of their babies. Any sense of what this might cost or how what kind of a what kind of OK this might get from the committee?

FISCHER: Well, it is a couple of issues there. As a child, you can get routine dental care under AHCCCS, which is the state's Medicaid program. As an adult, I think that there's like $1,000 a year you can get in emergency medical care. And so the question becomes, you know, what else is is necessary? I think that there's a fairly consistent view that if you are pregnant, and if you have problems with with oral care, that you end up not only harming yourself but harming your baby. And then it gets really expensive. If you have a premature child ... you're going from a $5,000 birth cost to perhaps a $500,000 birth cost. Now, the question becomes, as an all these things, the devil is in the details. You know, you've got a cost question. There was a belief when the bill came up last year that it would be about $360,000 in the general fund. And the feds would put in maybe about $800,000, and that would do it. But now you've got this whole issue of these new Medicaid block grants that the Trump administration wants to do.

BRODIE: Right.

FISCHER: And so you get into the issue of how much will the feds pick up? Or will the states be required to pick it all up? And then, what local revenues can they use? And there's a lot of questions that a whole Medicaid block grant. I think it's a lot of sentiment for this. I think lawmakers would like to understand the details.

BRODIE: All right, Howie, something else — the details of which over the years have become fairly controversial — tax breaks for the movie industry in Arizona. This has been really a huge deal at the Capitol for what seems like forever now. What will the House Ways and Means Committee be taking a look at on Wednesday?

FISCHER: Oh, definitely forever. I mean, back to the days when John Ford was filming up in Monument Valley. The question is, you know, Arizona is a wonderful place to film, but if in fact, it's cheaper to film in New Mexico, then why would you come here?

BRODIE: Right.

FISCHER: This one appears to be a relatively small one. It says that if you buy things here, and if you make a qualified movie — which would also be a commercial, it could also be an educational film — we will refund the sales taxes that you paid. Well given the state and local taxes can run 8-9%, that's a fair amount of money. It's designed to provide a little bit of an incentive. We're nowhere near as generous as a place like New Mexico. I mean, I remember, you know, there was a film that was supposedly set in Tucson a number of years ago — and they talked about Tucson being a place where dreams go to die — well, it was filmed in northern New Mexico, which is sort of adding insult to injury to Tucson. So the question becomes, how do we get films to film here? And, you know, at what point do we draw the line? I think a lot of the concern is, what are we going to be filming? You know, there was a bill a number of years ago that said, "but it can't be pornographic." Now we're down to the question of, well, what's pornography, which gets back to the Supreme Court saying, "I know it when I see it." You know, do we really want the Department of Revenue to decide what's pornography?

BRODIE: Yeah, that seems like something that might be a little bit outside their wheelhouse. All right, that is Howie Fisher of Capitol Media Services. As always, Howie, thank you.

FISCHER: You're very welcome.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.