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Bill to make Arizona school board elections partisan fails in committee

Posted at 9:18 PM, Jan 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-25 23:18:40-05

PHOENIX — A bill that would have made several changes to the laws around school boards and their conduct failed to advance out of a state legislative committee Tuesday.

The bill would have required candidates for Arizona school boards to declare a party affiliation when they run for office and allowed for peaceful protests of district policies on school grounds.

The bill was proposed in response to protests at school boards across the state as districts considered various policies to mitigate COVID-19, including remote learning and requiring masks.

"Parents are screaming they are upset, they are shocked, shocked at how school boards were reacting to COVID and other things," said state Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale) at the Senate Education Committee hearing.

The bill's sponsor, Ugenti Rita was one of those parents who protested at a chaotic Scottsdale school board meeting in May that was eventually canceled due to the unruly behavior.

At that and other instances, Ugenti-Rita says she and other protesters were forced to demonstrate on a street corner after police removed them from school property.

Her bill would have prevented that from happening as long as protesters were peaceful. When asked by a fellow lawmaker to define what would make a protest not peaceful, she replied "You know it when you see it."

State Senator Martin Quezada thinks Ugenti-Rita's answer is too ambiguous. Quezada is a member of the Pendergast Elementary School District's school board.

"What we are seeing lately is not a peaceful protest. What we're seeing is organized efforts to disrupt meetings and to cause chaos," Quezada said.

Lawmakers did not seem opposed to allowing peaceful protests, but the part of the bill requiring school board candidates to declare a political party affiliation is another matter.

Across the state, 250 school board positions were appointed during the last election cycle because there were not enough candidates. Lawmakers did not see making races partisan as an answer to fixing that problem. "

My concern primarily is the cost but also the dynamics of the race," state Senator Paul Boyer, chairman of the education committee, said.

The bill failed to earn enough support to advance out of committee, but Ugenti-Rita said she was encouraged by both Democrats and Republicans to return with a bill that deals with only the protest issue.