AZ Legislative Update 4-02-2021
It’s a new month and a new phase of the pandemic at the Arizona Capitol. Legislative leaders ended their mask mandates, choosing to encourage – rather than require – face coverings while legislators are at work. They did so over objections from legislative Democrats, who said it was premature to lift the public health requirements that have governed the 2021 session.
House and Senate Republicans approved a bill to provide civil liability exemption for a range of businesses, health care professionals, and other organizations that act in good faith during a public health pandemic. The bill was one of Governor Ducey’s priorities for the year, and he is expected to sign it soon.
Not all debates were divided by political party lines, though. A bill that would have put some limits on short-term home rentals failed because of opposition from Republicans who oppose restrictions on property rights and Democrats who believe the bill didn’t give local governments enough authority to regulate those rentals.
And not every bill was controversial. Legislators unanimously agreed to continue the work of the State Library, provide a tax break for guest ranches, require more time off for employees who leave their day jobs to serve with the military, and create a tax credit for environmental technology companies that invest in biomass processing. Members of the House and Senate all voted to give Arizonans more time to file their state income taxes this year, moving the tax deadline to mirror the federal government’s on May 17.
Committees Revive, Advance Controversial Bills
Appropriations Committees met this week for one last opportunity to consider bills – the committees are not expected to convene again until there are state budget bills. The hearings were hours long and featured sharp debate on a variety of topics – some that had failed to advance in other bills earlier this session.
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to raise legislators’ pay, prohibit businesses from requiring vaccinations and ban vaccine passports, outlaw any abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, and limit the Arizona Corporation Commission’s authority over renewable energy.
The House Appropriations Committee revived a bill to reduce prison time for some inmates, created new oversight of the Arizona State Hospital, and designated $1 million for the Arizona Attorney General’s voting integrity unit.
This week, the House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved SB 1529 (education programs; county jails; appropriation), which expands county jail education programs.
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 9-1 in favor of HB 2817 (group B weight; gifted pupils), which establishes a G support level weight for gifted pupils and appropriations $850,000 for two years of gifted student assessments.
It’s not entirely clear what comes next in this unusual legislative session. There are no more regularly scheduled policy committee meetings, and there isn’t any sign of agreement on a state budget proposal. Budget teams are still negotiating under uncertainty about whether federal COVID-19 aid will limit their ability to cut state taxes this year, though many Republicans say they will proceed with their tax cut priorities regardless of limits the federal government may try to place on state-level decisions.
Approximately 450 bills are still moving through the legislative process, and the House and Senate will focus on those during their daily floor sessions. Most of those are not controversial, though, and legislators are entering a phase of the session that will give them a lot of time to sit around and wait.
Legislators Continue Debate on Emergency Authority
In Arizona and around the country, policymakers are looking to the COVID-19 experience to identify what needs to change in case of future emergencies. There were more than 20 bills relating to emergency declarations this session; most – including proposals that would immediately end the COVID-19 emergency declaration – stalled. Others are still advancing in the House and Senate.
Primarily, Arizona lawmakers seek to change how much an Arizona Governor can act unilaterally during a state of emergency. They are considering several proposals that would ensure the legislature has a seat at the table:
- HCR 2037 would ask Arizona voters to change the Arizona Constitution to increase the likelihood of a special legislative session during a state of emergency. It would allow the legislature to declare a state of emergency and require a Governor to call a special legislative session within two weeks of declaring a state of emergency. If that emergency declaration limited any person’s or entity’s actions, the Governor would have to call the special session right away. The proposal would also outline a different balance of power between the legislature and the Governor during a state of emergency.
This measure awaits final Senate action; it has advanced with Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing.
- SCR 1003 would ask Arizona voters to amend the Arizona Constitution to end any state of emergency after 30 days or earlier, if the Governor or the legislature terminates it. It would require the Governor to call a special session of the legislature within ten days after declaring a state of emergency and would limit a Governor’s ability to call a new state of emergency for the same reasons as a prior state of emergency.
This bill awaits final House action; it has advanced with Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing.
- SB 1719 would require a Governor to consult with the State Emergency Council throughout a state of emergency and would expand the current membership of the Council to include legislative Democratic leaders.
This bill received unanimous support in the Senate and bipartisan support in a House committee but has not yet advanced for final House action.
- HB 2570 would prevent a state or local government from permanently revoking a business license because of a violation of orders issued under a state of emergency and would cap the fines that apply to specific breaches of COVID-19 public health guidelines.
This bill awaits final Senate action; it has advanced with Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing.
- SB 1258 would suspend time limits on permits and other governmental approvals for construction or property improvements during a state of emergency, so those projects are not set back by emergency-related delays.
This bill awaits final House action; it has advanced with unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats.
HB 2770, which exempts a business from any government mask mandate, passed the House and Senate on party lines and awaits the Governor’s action.
Legislature Advances Higher Unemployment Benefits
This week, Appropriations Committees in both the House and Senate advanced bills that would increase unemployment insurance benefits for Arizonans. Both bills got bipartisan support, but each faces some opposition because of ongoing disagreement about whether Arizonans should continue to access unemployment benefits for 26 weeks. Republicans are divided on whether that timeline should be cut; Democrats oppose any reduction to the duration of benefits.
Sponsors of the two bills say they’re confident they can find agreement on the details in time to advance the changes to the Governor’s desk.
Governor Lifts Some COVID-19 Restrictions
Governor Ducey rescinded three executive orders this week, lifting limits that were put in place early in the COVID-19 emergency because he believes they’re no longer needed. This action removed limits on elective surgeries and most restrictions on nursing and other long-term care facilities.
In the Elections
Arizona Senate Republicans connected Cyber Ninjas with Maricopa County ballots. State and Congressional candidates in Arizona can start collecting signatures to run in the 2022 election even though the U.S. Census data is delaying the state’s redistricting efforts. Representative Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley) is facing a recall and running for Secretary of State.
In the Courts
Arizona’s prisons told a court that they couldn’t meet health care standards for inmates because of staffing and resource limitations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Arizona Republicans want the courts to help determine whether they need another leadership election.
In the News
A majority of Arizonans say they’re optimistic about the COVID-19 situation in the next 30 days. Governor Ducey wants the federal government to pay for an Arizona National Guard presence at the border. Some local governments will not repeal their mask mandates; the Governor said he would not enforce his executive order that bans them from requiring masks, but several legislators want the Attorney General to decide. Arizona’s Department of Health Services is not seeing eye-to-eye with FEMA or Pima County. This Arizona woman was appointed to a federal Environmental Justice Advisory Board. This Arizona sheriff was removed from the Homeland Security Advisory Council. The Arizona National Guard increased its role in Arizona’s COVID-19 vaccinations and the state increased staffing at the vaccination sites. Many state employees will continue working from home.
On the Bright Side…