KINGMAN - The committee assignments for next year's session of the Legislature are out, with all three members from Mohave County landing leadership positions.
Sen. Ron Gould is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the chair of the Senate Ethics Committee, the vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a member of the Senate Finance, Government Reform and Water and Rural Development committees.
Rep. Nancy McLain has been selected to serve as the chair of the House Banking and Insurance Committee and as a member of the House Appropriations Committee and Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Doris Goodale will serve as the chair of the House Education Committee and as a member of the House Higher Education, Innovation and Reform Committee.
One of the items the Senate Judiciary Committee plans to look at in the new legislative year is election security. Gould and other members of the committee have received stories of unregistered voters and illegal immigrants trying to vote.
One item Gould said he does not plan to bring before the committee is the question of reducing prison sentences or changing sentencing guidelines in order to cut costs.
"I believe in punishing evil-doers," Gould said. Prisons and the protection of the public from criminals is a basic duty of government. Prisoners shouldn't be let out early just because of budget cuts. There are plenty of other areas in the state budget that can be cut, he said.
There is a reason why the voters approved mandatory sentencing guidelines and why some sentences run concurrently instead of consecutively, Gould said. Voters wanted to make sure that criminals were properly punished.
"Sitting on a couch with an ankle bracelet is not the same thing as sitting in a prison cell," he said.
Gould also plans to work on victims' rights next year. The victim of one of the three men who escaped the Arizona State Prison-Kingman Complex in Golden Valley was not properly notified of the man's escape, Gould said. He isn't sure why the victim wasn't notified, but he plans to clarify the law to make sure that it doesn't happen again.
As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Gould will once again be looking at ways to balance the state budget.
He also expects the Senate Finance Committee to consider possible tax package for businesses and a state pension reform package. Several state employees are double - and even triple - dipping into the state pension fund by retiring early and getting rehired under a different title.
McLain said the House Banking and Insurance Committee plans on focusing on setting up the exchange system for the state as required by the new federal healthcare law. The exchange system will allow Arizona residents and small businesses to log onto a website or contact the state and look for healthcare coverage, she said.
The federal healthcare bill requires states to be in the process of creating or have an exchange up and running by 2013, McLain said. The state wants to get a jump-start on creating the exchange so that any changes to the bill by Congress or by lawsuits can be quickly fixed before the 2013 deadline, she said.
However, there are a number of questions the committee has to wade through first, McLain said. The federal government did not provide a whole lot of guidelines to set up the new healthcare exchanges, she said. There are multiple ways the exchange could be set up. The state could set up an exchange that simply allows individuals and businesses to check out quotes from different insurance companies and then link them to the insurance company's website. The state could also create an exchange that would allow people to purchase insurance directly from the state website, she said.
And then there is the requirement that states subsidize health insurance for low-income residents, McLain said. The state could directly give a check to low-income residents that they would use to help purchase insurance. Or the state could reimburse a resident for part of the cost of the insurance premium. The state could also set up a plan where the resident would pay part of the premium and the state would then send a direct payment to the insurance company to cover the rest of the premium, she said.
That all has to be worked out before the exchange system can be set up, McLain said.
She plans to meet with some of the committee members and health insurance groups in mid-December to discuss the situation.