January 24, 2020

Journalists roundtable, Florence prison closure, treating chronic pain

Plus, a former inmate discusses challenges of transitioning from prison.

As predicted in the world of politics, 2020 is off to a busy start. While Arizona’s Capitol is abuzz with a new legislative session, all eyes are on the impeachment trial on Capitol Hill. Plus, Sen. Martha McSally and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick also found themselves in the national spotlight. Lorraine Rivera explored these issues and more with local journalists Dylan Smith, publisher of the Tucson Sentinel, and Edward Celaya, opinion writer for the Arizona Daily Star.

On pressing issues facing state lawmakers:

“What sort of steps are we going to take for the future for our education system in the state?” Smith asked. “School districts are still really very pressured all over Arizona. Especially in places that can’t afford significant budget overrides.”

On Sen. McSally’s gone-viral exchange with a CNN journalist where she called him a “liberal hack”:

“I think that serves a two-fold purpose. Number one, to raise some much-needed cash. The fourth quarter just came out and she raised $2 million less than Mr. Mark Kelly. And then another thing is to kind of shore up her support from the right,” Celaya said. “This, for me, really looks like it was a way for her to tie her star to the president.”

On whether Rep. Kirkpatrick’s decision to seek treatment for alcoholism makes her vulnerable to a primary challenger:

“What we don’t know is how long she won’t be participating actively in the House, not being able to show up and vote, because of getting treatment. And if that goes on, some momentum might build toward somebody else jumping into that,” Smith said. “But the window to actually do that and build a credible, effective campaign is pretty short.”

On the significance of Rep. Debbie Lesko’s appointment to President Trump’s impeachment team:

“For those that are already supporters of Congresswoman Lesko, this is just another kind of feather to put in her cap. Something that she’ll be able to point back to,” Celaya said. “Ultimately, I think it was kind of a reward from the Trump Administration to a person in Congress they felt was doing a good job kind of carrying the water for the administration.”

After announcing plans to close the Florence State Prison in his State of the State address, Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed executive budget calls for $33 million to cover the costs of moving forward. The governor said shuttering the prison would save the state $274 million, over three years, that would otherwise go toward facility maintenance and upgrades.

The initial announcement came as a surprise to Florence officials, who now hope to have a seat at the table in ensuing discussions. Spokesman Ben Bitter discussed the prison’s economic impact on the town and potential consequences should it close.

Since inmates are counted as part of the town’s population, Florence receives about $400 per inmate through state shared revenue. With the possible relocation of more than 3,500 inmates, the town anticipates a $1.3 million loss in state shared revenue that would account for about 10% of its annual budget.

“We certainly would have to tighten the belts and figure out the best way to maximize the efficiencies within our operations and do all we can to ensure our public is not harmed,” Bitter said.

In an effort to expand transitional and educational services for inmates, Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive budget proposal includes $9 million for such programs and additional substance abuse counselors. The issue is personal for Maggie Maloney, who served two sentences in Arizona’s prison system and now advocates for inmates as they try to rebuild their lives after they’re released. She shared more about the challenges waiting on the outside.

“You don’t always know who you can depend on or you who can rely on to sort of walk you through just the day-to-day life experiences,” Maloney said. “We as a community, especially those of us who have been in those shoes and are now out here and being successful, need to take to time to give back to the women, the men, who are coming out of those facilities to whatever capacity to help guide them.”

When Arizona declared an opioid emergency it rolled out new prescribing guidelines to counter the increasing number of deaths from prescription opioids. As awareness rises about the risks these medications pose, so has interest in alternatives for treating chronic pain. As part of Arizona Public Media’s special reporting series Arizona Addicted](https://news.azpm.org/arizonaaddicted/), reporter Judy Alley looked into some emerging options.

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