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This week at the Capitol: Hobbs faces deadline on Arizona Starter Homes Act

Woman wearing striped shirt
Gov. Katie Hobbs speaking with attendees at the 2024 Legislative Forecast Luncheon hosted by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry at Chase Field in Phoenix on Jan. 5, 2024.

Gov. Katie Hobbs faces a deadline Monday to act on a bill that passed the Legislature with bipartisan support, known as the Arizona Starter Homes Act.

Supporters say it would make it easier to increase the supply of houses in the state. Critics say it would generally strip cities and towns of their ability to regulate zoning.

It’s one of a handful of measures dealing with housing that’ll be top of mind at the state Capitol this week. With The Show, as he is every Monday during the legislative session to talk about what to expect this week, is Howie Fischer of Capitol Media Services.

Full interview

MARK BRODIE: Good morning, Howie.

HOWARD FISCHER: Good morning. We're all recovered from St. Patrick's Day.

BRODIE: Right. I sure hope so. So the governor has a deadline. This bill, as I mentioned, had bipartisan support also bipartisan opposition, we should say. I'm not gonna ask you to sort of read the tea leaves, but this seems like a fairly significant moment in this year's session. 

FISCHER: Well, it certainly is, because remember that the governor stumbled badly last year with her veto of the "tamale bill," which was supported widely by both parties. Now she's got something that's a little closer. It's not quite the same as a, as a sort of shoe-in that the tamale bill should have been, but she has to figure out, OK, what is the best way to deal with the housing problem? Everyone acknowledges we have a housing problem. We have a rental shortage. We have a an affordability problem with, with homes and how best to solve it again. Everybody has a solution. You know, some of that is bills, for example, that are coming up later this week to allow casitas, these sort of accessory dwelling units, they call them in backyards. There are measures to require cities to convert a certain amount of their parking in commercial areas for housing use. 

This one gets really tricky because it tells cities you have to allow small homes sometimes on lots of small as 1,500 square feet you have, it will override some of your zoning, it will override some of your setbacks. And cities say, well, wait a second, you know, this is inherently a local function. You know, we work this out with our neighbors. They decide how best to preserve their neighborhoods, which gets into the whole NIMBY argument. On the other hand, it comes down to if not in certain neighborhoods, where do you put affordable housing? And she's between the proverbial rock and hard place on this

BRODIE: Howie, we know that she's taken basically the full amount of time on, on this bill, the Starter Homes Act. Do we have a sense of how she feels about any of the other housing bills that you mentioned going through the Legislature looking to come up for votes this week.

FISCHER: I think those are gonna be much easier cells again. Let's talk about casitas. Phoenix and Tucson already have ordinances allowing casitas in their yards. Now, you're gonna get it down to some specific fights. How many should you allow? How close should they be to the neighbors properties? The issue of conversion of commercial property, I think, also is much more popular. This one, like you say, you don't, nobody wants to lay odds. I mean, you know, I suppose we could all call Draft Kings and decide, you know, do we, do we want to parlay here on what she's gonna do with this bill and the next two. If I were a betting man and remembering, you know, that, you know, you can lose a lot of money betting on what politicians would do, I'd say the odds are 2-to-1 that she vetoes it and says, look, we've got other bills come back to me with something else that we all can live with.

BRODIE: OK. Howie, you mentioned the tamale bill, and that one is also coming up in the Senate this week. Does it seem as though the changes have been made and, and feathers have been unruffled from last year on this?

FISCHER: Well, there's two issues in there, as we've talked about, on Monday mornings, the changes to the bill from the version she vetoed last year, I think are largely cosmetic. They, they do fix a few things having to do with licensure and such. But I think that she recognizes that she stumbled badly. And so she was looking for a way to sign this. It's gotten broad support. I think that she said she sent the signal saying, OK, I'm happy with it now. My health department is happy with it now. And remembering that this is already occurring. I mean, you'd have a hard time going to a parking lot, let's say of a Food City, and not finding somebody selling tamales there. So it's, it's acknowledging what is already occurring and doing it with some form of state regulation, but without it being overly burdensome.

BRODIE: Right. Howie, I want also want to ask you about a bill coming up this week in a house committee dealing with the kind of gasoline sold in Maricopa County, and it seemingly has to do or has some relation to the price that we're paying for, for gasoline here.

FISCHER: Well, Maricopa County, because of our unique geography here, we're, we're in sort of a bowl and all you need to do is drive around from the edges into the city during the winter, in particular, when you have those temperature inversions. And you see this sort of brownish gray cloud, that's the stuff we can see. There's stuff we can see having to do with carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, things like that. The EPA has required us to use what they call a boutique blend of gasolines. Only thing is it seems to be fairly unique, the blend we're using here vs. let's say they have certain boutique blends that they allow in California, in some cities in Texas. The legislation would say we are going to use our powers as the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House to tell our Department of Environmental Quality to seek a waiver of some other form of gasoline. 

Now, the fact is because we're the only one who uses this particular boutique blend, it can be more expensive, particularly if one of the refineries that produces it goes down or a pipeline goes down. And so there's a belief that if we have more options, whether during an emergency or any other time that it may make a difference. Now, how much of a difference, you know, if gas is $3.69 a gallon this morning for unleaded, does it make a dime difference? Does it make 20 cents difference? That's harder to tell. And now we're down to the other part of the question, which is, will the EPA approve it? You know, do they have some belief that this is the version we need here to keep our air clean. Now, this is part of several efforts in Arizona to, you know, to deal with this whole issue of not just clean air, but there's also a bill going through to say, if you have a car that's been manufactured since 2018, you'll never need to get inspected. Remember, the current law now is after it's five years old, you have to have inspect the premise being that, first five years, usually things don't go wrong. This says that any time going forward, you're never going to need to get that inspected again. I think that one if you want to talk vetoes is veto bait.

BRODIE: Interesting. All right. That is Howie Fisher of Capital Media Services. Howie, great to start the week with you again. Thank you.

FISCHER: 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.