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School consolidation among Chamber's key issues for 2007

By: Doug Snover

March 31, 2007

The Tempe Chamber of Commerce wants small-business owners to be able to tap into state-subsidized health care for employees without the mandatory six-month “bare” period required by state law.

The chamber also wants businesses that actively enforce a drug-free workplace policy to be protected from liability when an employee who is under the influence is injured.

And while they’re at it, chamber policy-planners have a couple of dozen other matters they would like to discuss with the Arizona Legislature, including two issues of keen importance within the Kyrene Corridor—school district consolidation and minimum-wage for developmentally disabled workers.

Each year the Tempe Chamber’s Government Relations Committee drafts a list of legislative positions that form the backbone of the Chamber’s lobbying effort at the state Legislature.

Many of the issues are standard Chamber of Commerce fare: Recognizing the positive economic impact of school funding; asking the state for more money to promote tourism; opposing expansion of the state sales tax.

The Tempe Chamber’s 2007 Legislative Positions paper has several more pointed issues, however, notes Mark Thompson, a former state representative and current lobbyist who chairs the Tempe Chamber’s Government Relations Committee.

For example, the Tempe Chamber wants the Legislature to do its job and stop passing difficult issues to voters via referendums, Thompson said.

There were a record 19 referendums and initiatives on the November 2006 ballot, and some of those issues could have been handled by the state’s elected leaders, he said.

The Tempe Chamber is on record in 2007 as supporting “efforts to increase requirements for ballot referendums and initiatives, including but not limited to the elimination of paid petition gatherers.”

“We think there should be more hurdles,” said Thompson, the District 17 representative from 2003 to 2005.

“Basically, it comes down to the Legislature should do its job as opposed to referring issues to the voters…issues that may be politically difficult.”

Thompson is a long-time health care businessman who recently turned the family business – Adult Care Consultants/ ACC Homecare – over to his wife, Connie, so he could begin a lobbying firm called Arizona Advocacy Group.

He said one of the Tempe Chamber’s top issues in 2007 is to make it easier for small businesses to contract for employee health care insurance under Healthcare Group of Arizona, an AHCCCS (Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System) provider.

Under current law, small businesses can buy employee health care coverage at discounted rates but only if they can prove they have had no insurance program in place for at least six months.

The Tempe Chamber and other Valley chambers want the law amended to eliminate or reduce the 6-month “bare” period, Thompson said.

As a small business owner, he said he knows first-hand the potential savings of buying insurance through Health Care Group of Arizona. He and his wife paid $575 per month for health insurance before they qualified to buy insurance through Health Care Group of Arizona at a price of only $270 per month, he said.

The Tempe Chamber also is stepping into the swirling debate over raising Arizona’s minimum wage with no exceptions for developmentally disabled workers. Arizonans approved Proposition 202 in November to raise Arizona’s minimum wage to $6.75 but without the exemption for developmentally disabled workers that is included in the federal minimum wage law.

As a result, several thousand Arizonans who are developmentally disabled may lose their jobs because their employers, including The Centers for Habilitation in the Kyrene Corridor, will not pay the higher minimum wage to employees of limited productivity.

Thompson points to Proposition 202 as one of those “difficult” issues that was dodged by the Legislature and referred to voters by “outside interests.”

“The minimum wage act should have been dealt with by the Legislature,” he said.

On the other hand, the Tempe Chamber wants the state to go easy on issues the Chamber deems matters of local control.

That includes the controversial mater of whether the Kyrene and Tempe elementary school districts should be consolidated with the Tempe Union High School District.


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