Ducey focuses on education, opioids, wrong way drivers

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey during a 2016 trip to the Mexico/U.S. border in Nogales, Arizona.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey during a 2016 trip to the Mexico/U.S. border in Nogales, Arizona.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s (R-Arizona) key points in his state of the state address Jan. 8 included curbing the opioid epidemic affecting the state, reforming education, providing stricter penalties for drunk wrong way drivers, reducing recidivism rates in state prisons and providing income tax exemptions for veterans.

Opioid epidemic

“Since I last stood at this podium, we’ve lost more than 800 Arizonans to opioids. These are real lives and real people. Gone. Someone’s mom, their dad. Daughters and sons. All ages. All incomes. Families, marriages and lives torn apart, tragically and unexpectedly because of a potent drug mis-prescribed, overprescribed — and then, before you know it, it’s too late. There’s no turning back,” Ducey said.

Ducey said steps have been taken such as cracking down on physician shopping, making Naloxone readily available to stop overdoses and limiting first prescription fills. However, he said the epidemic requires a more aggressive approach.

“When we have four doctors, in one small, rural county of 200,000 people, prescribing 6 million opioid pills in just one year — 6 million — something has gone terribly, terribly wrong. And we know that 75 percent of heroin addicts started on opioids,” he said.

Ducey declared a public health emergency last June to raise awareness and find solutions for the opioid crisis. He said he plans to call a special legislative session to focus on the crisis.

“Our package will attack this issue from all angles, hear this, while protecting individuals who suffer from chronic pain and maintaining compassion for those struggling with addiction,” he said. “This much I commit: All bad actors will be held accountable —whether they are doctors, manufacturers or just plain drug dealers.”

Education reform

Ducey is promising to spend more money in education this year. He said for too many years Arizona has spent too much money on prison facilities and not enough in K-12 education.

“Not any more. For the second year in a row, my budget will add no new prison beds. All of this while fighting crime and improving public safety,” he said.

He did not say where the money would come from or what that amount would be. He did say his staff had identified wasted money in the budget that could be used in education.

“My cabinet continues to identify millions in wasteful spending, opportunities for consolidation and streamlined services,” Ducey said.

“But before we talk dollars and cents — let’s address something. Some folks think the best argument for a greater investment in our public schools is to claim that our schools are failing. Well, they’re wrong,” he added.

Ducey said he wants to spend more money on public schools and for teachers’ use.

“This week, I will release my budget. It will include a full commitment to accelerate the state’s K-12 investment and restore long-standing cuts from the recession made before many of us were here,” he said.

Wrong way drivers

Ducey said wrong way drivers who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol should not be tolerated. He proposes to pass a bill implementing mandatory felony convictions and prison time for those caught in the act.

“You’d think it was obvious by now, but to anyone out there who hasn’t gotten the memo: booze, drugs and driving don’t mix. Your actions are beyond foolish — they are lethal. And we will not tolerate it,” he said.

Increased veteran exemptions

According to Ducey, Arizona has more than 600,000 veterans. For the military retirees who quality for the exemption, inflation has chopped exemptions in half. He wants to increase exemptions for veterans.

“Their service has earned them a lifetime benefit from our nation. So please, send me a bill that increases the exemption and demonstrates to our vets that we value this service,” Ducey said.

Prison recidivism rates

According to Ducey, the state has seen a 10 percent drop in recidivism rates in the state prison system and said Arizona is experiencing the largest drop in the number of inmates in Arizona prisons since 1974.

He said one of the greatest challenges parolees face is the lack of a legal form of identification. He wants to change that.

“I’ve instructed the Department of Transportation to work with the Department of Corrections, to do everything they can to start getting soon-to-be released inmates IDs before they walk out the doors,” he said. “Let’s get people off the streets and in a job — with the goal of shutting down prisons, not building new ones.

Firefighters, law enforcement and border security

Additionally, Ducey commended police and law enforcement officers for their acts of valor over 2017 as well as the more than 150 Arizona firefighters who stepped-up to assist California during their fire season. He also recognized the efforts of Border Strike Force, who, over last two years have helped stop the flow of illegal drugs, weapons and cash into Arizona.

“So far, the stats are staggering. 238 guns. Seized. 167,745 rounds of ammunition. Seized. 47,842 pounds of marijuana. Seized. And 11 million — 11 million — hits of heroin. Seized. All by our brave and smart Troopers working alongside local, federal and Mexican authorities. This is without a doubt making Arizona — and America — a safer place, and it’s worthy of our continued investment,” he said.

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