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Legislative session wraps with wins for business

Ninety state legislators and Gov. Jan Brewer made their way through a myriad of bills in workmanlike fashion in the recently completed legislative session, wrapping up their work in an efficient 101 days.

The session produced a number of wins for the Arizona Chamber and the larger business community demonstrating once again why Arizona has a reputation for doing more than any other state in the last several years to improve its economic climate.

On the tax front, the Arizona Manufacturers Council and the Chamber were pleased to see the Legislature pass and the governor sign into law legislation introduced by Sen. Steve Yarbrough that will ensure manufacturers won’t pay sales tax on their electricity or natural gas consumption, bringing Arizona into alignment with most states around the country.

The governor also signed HB 2377 into law, a bill by Rep. Justin Olson that in tax year 2015 will index income tax brackets to inflation. This is a commonsense policy that seeks to stop a backdoor tax increase that results from rising inflation.

A world-class education system is an integral part of Arizona’s economic development strategy. We helped to ensure that Arizona would continue to implement the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards. The key areas identified by the business community for additional funding – performance assessments, a student data system, career and technical education and performance funding – all received critical dollars in the fiscal year 2015 budget.

The Chamber worked hard this year to ensure that in addition to a tax and education environment that encourages job growth, that our legal environment does the same. We were proud to work with Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and Rep. Justin Pierce on HB 2567, which protects employers from the theft of trade secrets, an area of our existing theft statutes that, until now, had not kept pace with technology. And we were also pleased that SB 1248 became law, legislation by Sen. Adam Driggs that establishes a fund that is used to pay jurors’ expenses in cases that last longer than five days. This program has been recognized nationally as one that encourages higher quality juries.

An important reform to our state’s unemployment insurance system was made possible by HB 2115, a bill by Rep. Karen Fann. The bill defines severance pay and prevents double dipping by making important clarifications as to when an individual who has received severance can access the unemployment insurance system.

In addition to these bills, the Legislature and governor came together on a responsible, pragmatic budget that included a number of items important to the business community, including increased funding for the state’s universities, a new trade office in Mexico City and a reduction in the shift of dollars out of the Highway Users Revenue Fund. Senate President Andy Biggs, Majority Leader John McComish and Majority Whip Driggs did a masterful job of spearheading the passage of a budget that received support from their entire Caucus.

While we had a number of successes, there is unfinished business.

The tax treatment applied to the insurance industry is still unfair compared to regular corporate income taxpayers. Despite strong bipartisan support throughout the committee process, our attempt to reduce the insurance premium tax did not make it across the goal line.

Also not reaching the finish line this year was legislation that would have implemented some important reforms to the conduct of the legislative session and the interim periods between sessions, as well as legislation that would give the Industrial Commission exclusive jurisdiction in bad faith claims in workers’ compensation cases.

We will work hard over the interim to ensure bills addressing those issues are in a good position for passage next session.

A special session to make reforms to the state’s child welfare system still looms, but the just completed regular session represents the last regular legislative session for Gov. Brewer and Speaker Andy Tobin.

Gov. Brewer will go down in Arizona political history as what Arizona Board of Regents President Eileen Klein referred to her as at the Chamber’s Heritage Award dinner in February: the Iron Lady of Arizona. She leaves the state much, much better off than she found it. Speaker Andy Tobin has been one of the most consequential Arizona legislators in a generation. Few can match his record on tax, regulatory and tort reform, not to mention the heavy lifting required to repair Arizona’s budget. Both have worked tirelessly to help grow our economy make the state a far more attractive destination. They will both be missed.

Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which is committed to advancing Arizona’s competitive position in the global economy by advocating free-market policies that stimulate economic growth and prosperity for all Arizonans.