Arizona Governor Doug Ducey kicks off the legislative session with many topics needing attention. Public education and health care are expected to be the top issues up for debate.
Governor Ducey is facing ongoing pressure to increase funding for the state's K-12 schools. Reports say funding for Arizona public schools is among the lowest in the country and teacher pay is also near the bottom. However, Ducey says he's pushed to increase spending by $700 million since 2015 and that more will come this year. In an interview with Capitol Media Services, he said it wouldn't come with tax hikes. Instead, ducey insisted he can find the money elsewhere in the budget.
This year Ducey is also facing a health care emergency. The Republican governor is expected to propose stricter limits on the number of opioids doctors can prescribe. He is also expected to propose similar limits to what all other doctors in Arizona can prescribe.
Meanwhile, the state is also waiting for Congress to finally reauthorize the Children's Health Insurance Program. It provides nearly free care to children in families whose parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but still have trouble with commercial health insurance premiums.
After the Governor's state of the state address, lawmakers will get right into session. Several bills have already been filed.
One of the bills would raise the legal smoking age for tobacco from 18 to 21. Some lawmakers argue the bill could have big health benefits by potentially delaying the age at which young people start smoking or even preventing them from starting. They say it would be simple to enforce because drivers younger than 21 already get a vertically-oriented driver's license, which makes it easy to identify them as underage. Arizona could become just the third state with that rule. However, a similar measure *failed to pass last year.
One lawmaker wants to stop public schools from suspending or expelling students unless it's required by federal law. The argument is that it helps build a sense of belonging, safety and social responsibility in the school community.