Legislature may sidestep English-education order
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 15, 2007
Jessica Coomes and Matthew Benson
Senate President Tim Bee said the Legislature may not officially adjourn this
summer, a maneuver to sidestep a federal court order to fund English-language
learner education adequately before the close of session.
Thus far this session, lawmakers have shown no signs of complying with U.S.
District Judge Raner C. Collins' order. They're now asking that he not enforce
his order until their appeal is heard.
At issue in the 15-year-old case is education funding for the state's 160,000
students struggling to learn English. Collins has called the state's funding for
those students insufficient and arbitrary, even fining the state
$1 million a day at one point. But the Republican-led Legislature has fought his
rulings and responded with charges of judicial interference.
The latest maneuver being considered, that of recessing the session to dodge the
court order, doesn't sit well with the attorney representing the plaintiffs in
"I consider that a violation of the court order, and I think the court would, as
well," said Tim Hogan of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest.
Bee said he and House Speaker Jim Weiers also have discussed calling lawmakers
back to the Capitol for a special session devoted to English-learner education
later this year.
Three months ago, Collins told lawmakers they had until the end of the session
to provide adequate funding for English-language learners, which would cost the
state at least $150 million next year.
Some lawmakers don't feel compelled to act this session because the state has
asked the judge to hold off on enforcing his order until the case is appealed.
Collins hasn't ruled yet on that request.
"Absent a decision from the court . . . our options would be either to keep the
session open until we hear from the court, which could be months - or sine die
(end the session) and come back to a special session," said Bee, R-Tucson.
Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, said the Legislature would be acting properly
by holding a special session later this year.
"If the court was serious about this, they would've denied the stay," he said.
But if the Legislature doesn't act by the end of the current session, Hogan
promised, "I'll be in court the next day.
"We'll ask for sanctions, but I don't yet know what they'll be."
Collins may impose fines, as he did last year, or hold lawmakers or state
officials in contempt of court.
The judge may look more favorably upon the no-adjournment maneuver if it's done
with the intent of calling lawmakers back to the Capitol in the weeks ahead for
a special session.
Still, the looming deadline concerns Sen. Jay Tibshraeny, R-Chandler, who
wonders if he and his colleagues could be held in contempt.
"This has big ramifications for all 90 of us down here," he said.
Tibshraeny said he thinks the English-language learners issue already has been
addressed, "but the fact remains, we have a court order."
Rep. David Lujan, D-Phoenix, who's also the president of the Phoenix Union High
School District Governing Board, has been pushing for funding and is
disappointed no progress was made this session.
"If we don't come up with extra money, we're in violation of a court order,"
Lujan said. "I'm definitely worried."